Category Archives: Health & Wellness

A Guide to Healthy Screen Time for Kids

Getting through the long, dark winter can be a challenge. Kids have fewer chances to play outside because of colder temperatures and less daylight. This is also cold and flu season, and sick days out of school may mean more hours in front of a screen.

What is screen time?
Screen time refers to the time spent watching TV or using a device such as a computer, tablet, video game console or smartphone. There are benefits and risks of screen time, so it is important to make sure that kids don’t spend too much time in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics gives the following suggestions:

  • Children under 18 months should avoid the use of screen media other than video-chatting.
  • Children 18-24 months can watch high-quality programs, but an adult should watch or play with them to help them understand what they are seeing.
  • Children aged 2-5 should limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programs that interest the children and support learning with adults watching or playing with them. 
  • Children aged 6 and older should have regular limits on the time spent using media and the types of media used.

Benefits of Screen Time
Screen time and media can be good for children for many reasons. Media can help children learn new and important skills. For example, children can learn about counting and letter names through shows like Sesame Street. Activities like computer games with friends can give children opportunities to learn social skills like turn-taking and cooperation. Creating a presentation for school could help your child learn PowerPoint or other video-editing skills.

Media can also connect children to the world around them. By exposing children to new ideas and information, and raising awareness of current events and issues, children can learn about cultures different from their own. And through the use of social media, families and friends who live far apart can now connect with each other through technology.

Risks of Screen Time
While there are benefits to screen time, there are also risks to consider. Using a screen for long periods of time can lead to inactivity and contribute to obesity. Too much screen time can also cause physical ailments like sore, irritated or dry eyes; headaches and fatigue; and discomfort in the neck and spine.

Too much screen time can also have a negative effect on the development of language and social skills. Screen time can affect children’s ability to keep eye contact, read body language and have conversations. Children need real-life interactions to develop these skills. Screen time at night can also disrupt sleep, which can in turn negatively impact school performance.

Finally, some media sources can also pose safety risks. Children can come across dangerous content or people through chat rooms, online games and social networking. Therefore, it is a good idea to monitor the content children can access on the internet.

Tips for Reducing Screen Time
Understanding the pros and cons of screen time empowers parents and caregivers to make informed choices. Here are a few steps you can take to provide a healthy balance of screen time for your family:

  • Create a family media plan. Technology is a central part of families daily lives, and a family media plan can offer a realistic way to manage media and devices at home.
  • Set aside media-free times, such as during dinner, and media-free unplugged rooms in the home, such as bedrooms.
  • Turn off screens one hour before bedtime.
  • Be a good role model by turning off your own screens.
  • Find alternate activities to do during the times when your children most often use screens. Reading, art or music projects, playing with friends or family game time are all good options.
  • Find ways to get your child moving. Take part in a team or club sport, dance class or family activities that include walking (like going to a museum or the zoo).

Written by: Hannah de Vries

The Power of Play

As the new year begins, many parents make resolutions, set new priorities and shift routines. But how many of these changes in daily living include increasing children’s imaginative play?

Imaginative play, or pretend play, happens when a child uses his or her imagination to act out a situation based on their experiences and interests, and often includes props.During this type of play, children act out events in a scenario (e.g., restaurant, safari, pirate ship) but there are no set rules or goals. The focus is on creativity.

Research shows there are many important reasons for children to engage in pretend play. Here are a few reasons to prioritize play this year:

1.Play Gets Kids (and Adults) Moving
Child-directed play promotes movement. During play, children constantly move, run, crawl, climb and jump. In a day and age where it is so easy to live an inactive life, researchers suggest that taking time to play can encourage healthy activity and get everyone in the house moving!

2.Play Connects Children and Caregivers
Research shows that play is important for building emotional connections between children and parents, allowing them to build healthy relationships that are a necessary part of child development. These positive connections built through play help both children and parents manage stress well. The moments that caregivers and children spend together stampeding through the living room on horses or playing restaurant servers can make all the difference in building strong and safe bonds.

3.Play Builds Confidence
Play is a safe way for children to practice being adults. Children constantly imagine they have new roles and often pretend they are adults. In the world of pretend play, children can drive the local bus, give their stuffed animal a wellness checkup, parent their baby doll or talk on the phone to a good friend. This kind of play is important for children to take on new roles, practice resiliency and master new skills, routines and ideas. Play gives children a safe place to practice life and build confidence.

4.Play Boosts Social-Emotional Skills
Unstructured play with peers is important for boosting children’s social skills. For example, when two children pretend they are in a bakery, one child might be the cake decorator and the other the customer or the baker’s assistant. Maybe they will decide to switch roles, or in a change of events, they will host a cake party. Even in a simple game, children practice taking turns, figure out what happens next, make decisions and solve problems. Research shows that these skills are important for a child’s development and lead to strong social skills as adults.

5.Play Gets Kids Talking
Research shows that creative play can help children to learn new words in a new setting. For example, when children pretend they are dinosaurs, a unique scene unfolds. In the land of dinosaurs, the kitchen table becomes a cave or the bookshelf a volcano ready to erupt at any minute. Maybe there are dinosaur nests, teeth or tails to talk about. Creative play gives children and parents a unique way to use new words and strengthen language skills.

There are so many strong reasons for giving children time to engage in pretend play. We hope you all have a playful and fantastic 2019!

Written by: Jessica Anderson

Coping with Holiday Stress

It’s the holiday season. Anna is filled with hope and excitement about having her children at home for two weeks during their school’s winter break. Anna’s home is picture-perfect – filled with winter warmth and holiday cheer…and chaos. Her children are running at full-speed through the kitchen, excited about the days off from school and a routine-free schedule.

Anna’s thoughts are swirling about how to create a “perfect” winter break with her children. She thinks to herself, “How do I reduce their noise and focus their attention? How do I plan exciting and interesting days that don’t break the bank? How can I increase our family connection and happiness while still having time to enjoy the season myself? How do I turn ‘wild’ into ‘wonderful’?” Collecting her thoughts, Anna finds a quiet space and takes a few minutes to write a list of activities and events that she hopes will accomplish her goals for family fun.

Does Anna’s story sound familiar?
Research shows that the holidays are a joyful time for many families. However, around 38% of people also say that their stress increases at this time of year. This isn’t surprising considering the many demands the holidays bring, like hosting guests from out of town, planning special activities, finding the perfect gifts and being able to afford all the holiday fun.

Luckily, research also reminds us that there are simple ways to de-stress the holiday season.

Top Tips for Handling Holiday Stress
1. Plan ahead. Research shows that planning and managing your time are key ways to handle stress.

Think ahead this holiday season about your family’s goals and consider which ones are top priorities. You don’t have to do it all, and that’s okay! Does your family love to go ice skating every year? Plan the outing in advance so you know you’ll have time to go. Does last-minute shopping overwhelm you? Plan ahead and get your shopping done before the holiday events. Remember to set aside some time for yourself this season. Try baking cookies, watching a favorite holiday movie or going for a walk. Dust off your old planner or family calendar if that helps you to stay organized.

2. Pay attention to the positive. Research shows that people who regularly pay attention to the positive are better able to cope with stress.

It’s understandable that the holiday season might stress you out, but try to focus on the parts of the holidays that you love! Things don’t always have to be perfect. Instead, set realistic expectations and look on the bright side if things don’t go exactly as planned. Think ahead about positive ways to manage the many events at this time of year. If plans change at the last minute, focus on turning this into an opportunity rather than a disappointment.

3. Spend time strengthening your social connections. Research shows that building and maintaining positive relationships with others is a key way to manage stress.

Plan time with your family to enjoy each other’s company! Spend an evening driving around to look at holiday lights, visit a neighbor, take an afternoon to create a craft, cook or bake together or visit local holiday events. Check out Imagine Children Museum’s event calendar for upcoming events like Polar City and the New Year’s Eve Pajama Party!

Happy holidays to all!

Written by: Caitlin Courshon