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Family meals help kids’ physical and mental health

Original source: http://prowellness.vmhost.psu.edu/family-meals-help-kids-physical-mental-health

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The value of a family dinner isn’t exaggerated, according to a new study. It found that children who eat meals with their family benefit from better physical and mental health.

Sharing a family meal has been linked to children having a better diet. Research has also suggested that these meals promote language development in children.

Study follows kids and meals

In the new study, researchers followed a group of about 1,500 children in Canada. They already knew a lot about these kids, so they felt they could determine if family meals were making a difference.

When the kids were age 6, the researchers asked their parents about the family meal environment. They focused on the family’s enjoyment of the meal and if it felt like a chance to talk. Families were also asked if they could confide in each other or if they had bad feelings toward one another.

When the children turned 10, the researchers focused on their well-being. They asked the children, their parents and their teachers about academic success, eating habits, and behavior at home and school.

Benefits of family meals

The results were telling: Having better-quality family meals was linked to better physical fitness in the children. It was also linked to drinking less soda.

Kids who had a higher quality of family meals were less likely to fight, attack others and dominate other children. They were also less likely to be defiant, steal and tell lies.

The study didn’t find a link between family meals and success in reading and math. But the researchers noted that teacher and student relationships, which affect academic success, are often related to the family environment.

Why do family meals have such a positive effect? The researchers said family meals give parents a chance to connect with their children and monitor their activities. Parents can act as role models for healthy eating. And family meals may give kids a sense of belonging, as well as a chance to talk about issues that bother them.

The study was published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

Bring your family together

The researchers pointed out that family meals aren’t the only characteristic of a good home environment. But it’s an easy place to start to improve a child’s well-being.

Making an effort to share family meals is worth the effort, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says. If you don’t share family meals already, you can get started with one meal a week. Keep the menu simple, and ask your family to help prepare the meal.

To learn more about the positive influence of eating together as a family, you can read this article: “Family meals: A time for health and happiness.”

How to nurture your child’s mental health

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Original source: https://pennstatehershey.netreturns.biz/HealthInfo/Story.aspx?StoryId=a6b9f73e-414b-4fd4-ae16-970e88056387#.WucccVw-dBw

You can’t protect your kids from stress and difficult times. But you can help them develop good self-esteem and give them the tools to cope with adversity in a healthy manner.

As parents, we want our kids to be happy. But no matter how hard we try, we can’t guarantee their happiness. What we can do, however, is help them build a strong foundation for lifelong mental health.

To support good mental health, parents can help kids feel good about themselves, develop healthy strategies for coping with difficult times and strive for physical health. Parents should also be able to recognize the signs of more serious mental health problems—and know where to go for help.

Building Self-esteem

Kids with good self-esteem are happier, says Jane Meschan Foy, MD, FAAP, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) who served on the Mental Health Leadership Work Group and is a professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “They are also less subject to peer pressure and able to make better decisions under stress.”

To help children build self-esteem, parents can:

Offer sincere encouragement and praise.
It’s important to acknowledge kids’ efforts—not just their accomplishments. Be descriptive in your feedback—for example: “Good job turning your book report in on time. You included a lot of great details about the main character.” Try to avoid vague feedback, like: “You’re so smart!” or “You’re terrific!”

Give Kids age-appropriate responsibilities.
Help children develop a sense of purpose and contribution by giving them age-appropriate tasks that matter. Then, let them do the job without your constant supervision.

Let them know they belong.
Every child needs one-on-one time with parents, Dr. Foy says. This should be a time when phones, TVs and computers are shut off.

“Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, it should be protected and should never be subject to discipline,” she says.

Let the child decide, within reason, what he or she would like to do during that time—such as reading, singing, playing a game or just talking.

Promoting Resilience

Resilience is a key component of overall mental health, according to the AAP.

“We can’t give our children perfect childhoods, but we can help them learn from stress and loss,” Dr. Foy says. “Most children will experience some sort of loss during childhood. Many experience multiple losses—moving, divorce, deployment of a parent, death of a grandparent or loved one, or change of school.”

Each child responds differently to stress and trauma, but all kids can benefit from certain tools, such as:

Good Communication Skills
“Help children from a very early age put emotions into language and to use language to reach out to others,” Dr. Foy says. By being a good role model, you can help kids learn how to express their own needs—and to respond kindly to the needs of others.

Good Relationships
“It’s important that kids have a social network they can rely on,” Dr. Foy says. Help kids build relationships early by teaching them how to help, how to take turns, how to win and lose graciously and how to accept responsibility.

Methods for Managing Stress
For example, teach kids ways to relax, such as stretching, exercise and spending time in nature.

A Positive Outlook
“Parents can help children feel appreciative of the good things in life,” Dr. Foy says. “Draw attention to positive things about life.” A gratitude journal is a good tool, for example. For some people, prayer can also express appreciation, she says.

Minding the Body
Mental health requires a healthy body. Kids need sufficient sleep, a balanced diet and regular exercise.

“Sleep is very critical to mental health,” Dr. Foy says. “Children who are sleep-deprived may have symptoms of emotional disturbance.”

Help kids get the sleep they need by establishing a regular bedtime routine. And make sure kids use beds for sleeping only—not for homework or texting. If they have their own cellphones, have them give you their phones at a set time every night to ensure that they aren’t on them all night.

A healthful diet and daily exercise are also important to mental health, in part because they help kids maintain a healthy weight. “Being overweight is associated with lower self-esteem and more stress,” Dr. Foy says.

All children have to cope with challenges. Parents need to monitor their child’s reaction to problems and know when to seek help.

“Children will vent in different ways,” Dr. Foy says. “Some vent through misbehavior and acting out. Some internalize and become more anxious or dependent or cautious.”

Often these behaviors will pass as the child works through the difficult situation. Talking with your child and listening to his or her concerns and fears may help. But sometimes outside help is needed.

“If a child settles into a pattern of being irritable or sad most days, withdrawing from friends, or struggling academically, these could be signs that a child is in trouble,” Dr. Foy says. If problems persist, talk with your child’s doctor.

Why some adapt to time changes easier than others

Source: http://prowellness.vmhost.psu.edu/adapt-time-changes-easier-others

Whether you barely noticed the time change or are still feeling the effects of the end of Daylight Saving Time, you probably have your genes to blame.

Dr. Sheila Asghar, a pediatric neurologist at Penn State Children’s Hospital who is trained in sleep medicine, said changing the clock by an hour twice a year may seem like a simple thing that your body can work around, but it isn’t always easy for everyone.

“The effects – and reasons you feel them – can be more far-reaching than we thought,” she said. “Genetics play a role in why some of us are very adaptable but others are not.” It’s those same genes that are responsible for whether you are a night owl or a morning lark.

Every living thing – including animals and plants – has its own particular circadian rhythm; an intrinsic biological pattern of physical, mental and behavioral changes that follows a cycle of approximately 24 hours as it responds to light and darkness in the environment.

“An older child might adapt more easily than an infant,” Asghar said. “The infant may start waking up an hour earlier than usual after the end of Daylight Saving Time.”

Adults who are already sleep deprived may suffer the most from the twice-a-year time changes.

“We are limited on how quickly that circadian rhythm can adjust,” said Dr. Amy Meoli, medical director of the Penn State Sleep Research and Treatment Center.

She said people who are more sensitive to the time change should start shifting their bedtime by 15-minute increments every few days in preparation for springing forward or falling back: “It can take a week or two.”

Other effects of the time change may not be so obvious right away. Meoli said chronic sleep deprivation and disruption can lead to increased cortisol and insulin levels and problems metabolizing glucose. “That can cause weight gain over time,” she said.

Asghar said there can also be unpleasant longer-term side effects of spending more of our waking hours in the dark. “When it’s dark out we are not doing a lot of activity outside like playing and exercising, so sometimes you can put on more weight in the winter,” she said.

Those who already suffer from depression may find themselves affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition in which a lack of sunlight is thought to cause depression.

“If an adult goes to work in the dark, comes home in the dark and had a rough day at work, they can feel a bit down,” Asghar said. “Most people bounce back, but if you are already depressed, that’s a whole different ballgame.”

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