The Best Gift of All

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director Healthy Learning Paths

December brings excitement, anticipation, and joy. For some families, it is also a time of reflection, memories, and unwelcome stress.  The holidays can bring a season of exhausting emotional roller coasters.

Although holidays are a time for family celebrations, for some there is a looming emptiness left from the absence of loved ones.  From serving in the military overseas to suffering from chronic illness to loss of a grandparent through death,  these situations often overshadow holiday joys and add to a hollowness we carry from missing family members.

As we struggle with this stressful burden, it is important to know that you are not alone.  We have a connection with many others around us, both friends and family.  As we rush in holiday preparation with shopping, decorations, and meal planning, each one of us benefits from a long pause—a pause to offer a smile or a gentle squeeze to the arm of a friend or relative.  A pause to offer a listening ear or an understanding heart for loneliness or sadness one may bear.  A pause to recognize how important every child, parent, and grandparent are to us and to others.  A pause to simply slow down and connect to others.

We all have soothing strengths and fragile weaknesses.  However, the holiday season puts each of us to the test.  Even young children and teenagers experience some of the emotional challenges of the holiday season.  To ease the pain of these feelings, sometimes it only takes talking with a friend, parent, or counselor.  What really matters is to find the courage to seek some help to work past the sadness or stress, whatever the cause.  Keep in mind that this does not mean that we are flawed because of these feelings.  It only means that we are amazing humans!

As we create our gift list this season, here are some unique ideas that will make shopping much more enjoyable.  Let’s take the time to listen and to talk with children and adults who experience holiday stress or sadness, this is more valuable than any brightly wrapped toy or gift.  Let’s connect to others with compassionate conversation and kindness, as this fills the hollowness and sadness with hints of peace and joy.  We cannot forget to make adequate sleep a priority, eat healthy foods, drink water, and venture outside the malls for a walk to sustain positive mind and body energy. These gifts are not sold in any stores or on the web.  In fact, these gifts are so valuable that they are priceless, utterly impossible to measure in dollars.

Perhaps the most important, the absolute best gift of all, the gift of kindness and connection to one another is what we all need under our tree.  Happy and Healthy Holidays!

 

Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director, Healthy Learning Paths and Child Advocate

5vc8qkyt-1393473615Is technology changing our children?  We are in awe over the ease in which young children tap through apps on ipads and phones.  Frequently a parent comments, “My child is wicked smart.  It is incredible how quickly she navigates my phone!”  There is no doubt that young minds process technology patterns at lightning speeds.  How does technology impact the healthy brain development of a child?

Research shows that children need more than screens for healthy development.  In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social emotional skills.  Because of their immature symbolic, memory, and attention skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers, and they have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their 3-dimensional experience.”[1]

While media use may have some positive impacts, common problems are arising from this form of interaction in children.  “My 4 year old is really hard to get off of the ipad.  When I take it away from him, he is uncontrollable, kicking and screaming,” explains a frustrated father.  “I found my child staying up late at night to play on her ipad.  She is too tired for school because she is playing games at night,” explains a mother.  “I don’t like what it is doing to our family.  These video games put my grandson in a mean mood and we can’t even enjoy a meal together,” reveals a grandfather.  Does any of this sound familiar?  These stories are the norm for today’s families.  So are screens too much of a good thing for young children?

Screen time has been linked to behavioral challenges, sleep problems, obesity, cognitive delays, social emotional delays, and speech delays in children.  Yet, many parents fear that their child may fall behind in school if they are not immersed in the use of technology.  Some parents feel pressure from teachers who say children will be behind even in the early elementary years.   This fear is not based in fact.  In fact, children perform better in school when they build cognitive, language, and social emotional skills through interactions with trusted caregivers.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement with recommendations on media use for young children.  The policy was a result of literature and research review.  The article, “Media and Young Minds” is essential reading for every parent, grandparent, educator, and pediatrician.   Below are actions for families, and recommendations for pediatricians and industry can be found in the full article at:
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2591 .

Families

  • Avoid digital media use (except video-chatting) in children younger than 18 to 24 months.
  • For children ages 18 to 24 months of age, if you want to introduce digital media, choose high-quality programming and use media together with your child. Avoid solo media use in this age group.
  • Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early; interfaces are so intuitive that children will figure them out quickly once they start using them at home or in school.
  • For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, coview with your children, help children understand what they are seeing, and help them apply what they learn to the world around them.
  • Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, and any violent content.
  • Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use.
  • Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation. Ask your pediatrician for help if needed.
  • Monitor children’s media content and what apps are used or downloaded. Test apps before the child uses them, play together, and ask the child what he or she thinks about the app.
  • Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent–child playtimes screen free for children and parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.
  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime, and remove devices from bedrooms before bed.
  • Consult the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Use Plan, available at:
    healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan.”[1]

    [1] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2016/10/19/peds.2016-2591.full.pdf
    American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics Volume 138, number 5, November 2016

What Is Your Checklist for Childhood?

Parents want the best for children, but our peculiar culture drives us to make decisions that do not always benefit our children.  Watch Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford, share powerful wisdom from her experience in working with thousands of youth as she explains, “How to Raise Successful Kids.” 

Where Is Colorado Among Healthiest Schools?

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation shared the news below in their Sept. email blast.  This article is created and written by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and it is worth sharing.  Where does Colorado stand?  Click on the “See America’s Healthiest Schools” below to find out.  You may be surprised!
2016AllianceforHealthierGenerationMakesSense

“Young people spend the majority of their day at school. It’s where they spend most of their time outside the home. If we want to create a healthier generation, we need to start with healthy schools.

It makes academic sense.
Kids who eat healthier and move more perform better in school. Studies show that healthy kids get better grades, attend school more often and behave better in class.
It makes economic sense. 
School districts can lose tens of thousands of dollars annually in attendance-based state funding because of absenteeism.
It makes lifetime sense. 
Healthy kids have better attendance.
Each of America’s Healthiest Schools is a best-in-class example of the nationwide movement to create a culture of health at school. All award winners have met stringent guidelines for serving healthier meals and snacks, getting students moving more, building lifelong healthy skills during physical and health education and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models to the great benefit of their students.”

#HealthiestSchools

Note:  Full article content, photos, artwork, and links created by Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Funky Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables are the perfect back to school snacks.  But, have you ever wondered what causes those spots you see on some fruits and vegetables?  Are they safe to eat?  Educator Elizabeth Brauer may change how you pick your produce after watching her TED talk:  Are Spotty Fruits and Vegetables Safe to Eat?

Why Didn’t Anyone Find a Way to Help?

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director, Healthy Learning Paths

513hucDCkzL“My family suffered enormously due to this reluctance to raise a fuss.  Why hadn’t a concerned uncle or aunt followed up on his or her suspicion that, despite appearances, something wasn’t quite right with Dr. Sam and the house on Highland Avenue?  Why weren’t there ever any extended-family holiday gatherings at a house that seemed designed for them?  How come the doc’s kids had such trouble looking you in the eye?  Why didn’t someone break through the veneer of gentility and modesty to rescue us?” asked Frank Shorter in his new book, My Marathon, Reflections on a Gold Medal Life.

Within days of listening to Mr. Shorter speak about his personal marathon of abuse, three  individuals shared their painful stories with me asking the same question, “Why didn’t anyone find a way to help?”  From college sports such as the Penn State sexual abuse scandal to some religious organizations where clergy abused children for decades to inside the walls of their very own homes, too many children experience violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect in what is a disturbing epidemic in American culture.

Do you know someone who has been abused?  Have you been a victim of abuse?

You are not alone.

In fact, some studies predict that 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18.  Similar studies predict that 50% of all children will experience either sexual abuse, other violent physical abuse, emotional trauma, or neglect by the age of 18.  Research shows child abuse occurs across all education levels, all income levels, all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and all religions.  So how do we solve the problem of child abuse?

Prevention is the key.  But for prevention to work, we must first abandon denial and admit the problem.  Giving ourselves permission to speak openly and honestly about child abuse without casting judgement or shame on the many victims opens the door to find a way to help children and help each other.

One of the most important steps is to talk among ourselves or with health care professionals about the pain we carry from our own experiences.  Finding a safe and trusted environment to share these stories helps healing and gives others the strength to feel and process their pain and disappointment to reclaim emotional and physical health.  While this may create anxiety, it can also be liberating as the walls of loneliness and guilt are replaced by bridges of friendship and understanding.  Once we help ourselves, we will find the power to effectively work together to help children to prevent child abuse.

Thank you, Mr. Frank Shorter for courageously sharing your story and starting this conversation.

 

One Father’s Power

by Chris Marchioni, MD, a fan of Fathers

IMG_20140524_154328_596

Almost 50 gathered with no idea of what to expect.  Some doctor was talking about how kids learn.  Do doctors really understand what helps kids learn?  After all, aren’t schools the experts when it comes to learning for kids?

True or false:  nutrition is important for healthy brain development in kids.  “Overwhelmingly true,” shouted the audience.  True or false:  Nutrition helps kids do better in math.  “Of course this is false,” laughed the audience.

Do you agree?

 

Healthy nutrition feeds and grows a healthy brain for a child.  Healthy nutrition helps a child perform better in math, reading, writing, science, and even peer relationships.  Yes, this is true.  This is why a doctor is an expert when it comes to learning for kids.  A child’s health has a huge impact on the success of a child’s learning.

Filled with questions, hands in the room popped up like kernels of popcorn sizzling in hot oil.  One concerned mom had a point to make, “Poor families can’t eat healthy.  It’s too expensive.”   Some in the room nodded in agreement, while others went to work using their problem solving skills.  One by one courageous parents shared solutions.  “I buy fruits and vegetables that are on sale and in season.  Wednesday is the best sale day at my grocery store.  I buy frozen fruit and veggies in the winter that don’t have added sugar or salt.”

The concerned mom insisted loudly, “Look, I work at a grocery store.  There is no way poor families can afford to eat healthy.”

Do parents who are poor have the right to make their own decisions?  Do parents who are poor love their children just as much as anyone else?  Of course they do.  Wealth does not measure love or caring.  Even parents who have limited resources love their children and want the best.  In fact, these parents work hard and make sacrifices for the health and education of their kids.  Parents who are poor have the right to make their own decisions.  None of us have the right to take away their power.

At the end of the discussion, a father waited patiently in line to speak to the doctor.  When he approached the doctor, there was a tear rolling gently down his cheek.  In a strong voice, he shared, “Thank you for what you said.  I am one of those poor fathers who does not earn much even though I work very hard.  I love my children and care deeply about their health and learning.  No one has ever explained to me how important nutrition is for learning and development of my children.  This was the best program that I have ever experienced.  I will make changes now that I understand what my children need.  I am grateful.”

In that room of 50, at least one father refused to give away his power and that made all the difference.
Happy Father’s Day!

Message to Mom from the Other Side

by Chris Marchioni, MD, an admirer of Moms

707Thank you for giving me a baby brother
When I asked for a baby doll.
You taught me that people are more precious than toys.

Thank you for encouraging me to work harder
Rather than showering me with praise.
You taught me that praise lives within my own soul.

Thank you for feeding others
Even when our table was bare.
You taught me helping others is more powerful than accumulating wealth.

Thank you for watching me struggle with problems
Rather than running to my rescue.
By letting me practice, I grew the confidence and courage to face challenges.

Thank you for granting me the privilege
To make my own mistakes.
Now, I have control over my destiny even during recovery from failure.

Thank you for trusting me to cook, clean, and sew
At the age of 5.
You taught me skills that I mastered, enjoy, and use all my life.

Thank you for ignoring the popular trends,
Social media, and latest gossip.
You taught me to use my brain and my heart to find my own brand of happiness.

Thank you for caring about our family, neighbors,
Friends, country, and especially our Earth.
You showed me that each one of us has the power to make this world a better place.

Thank you for teaching me how to work hard
Even when I thought I reached my limits.
You taught me that working hard is something to never take for granted.  Now, I understand that the best things in life are not what you are given, but what you earn.

Thank you for showing me how to laugh and appreciate humor
Even during the most challenging of times.
You taught me not to take myself or my problems too seriously.

Thank you for sharing love not through toys, games, and material things,
But through stories, family meals and traditions, going without comforts,
And putting others first even under criticism.
You taught me compassion, independence, and how to carry a gentle strength that serves as my life compass.

Who Wants A Healthy Brain?

by Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Psychologist, Instructor, Mom

Kids have the power to make healthy choices for restful sleep every night!

Who wants a healthy brain?  Hope you answered, “I do!”  Are there things you can do to keep your brain healthy? Absolutely!  By the way, did you know that the brain is the key to mental health?  That’s right, mental health is the health of the brain.  What makes for a healthy brain?  Glad you asked.  Read on.

Secrets to a healthy brain:

  • Eat fresh fruits and veggies, brain food!
  • Practice a regular sleep pattern
  • Find some outdoor activities you enjoy
  • Get to know your emotions, see them as your friends
  • Learn to communicate your feelings calmly and clearly
  • Practice controlling your emotional impulses
  • Think of ways to solve daily problems successfully
  • Ask for help from family, friends and professionals
  • Remember, we are all in this together, so let’s help each other out

Even when we think we have it all under control, sometimes things go wrong.  That’s part of being human.  We all have moments when we need support from each other.  We may find our brain crying out in pain.  During these times, our mental health suffers.  It happens to everyone at some point in life, so let’s not be embarrassed or isolated. Let’s find the courage to ask for help.  Fortunately, Colorado has several ways to ask for help.

The State of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners have ways for us to ask for help during a crisis.  Their help lines are detailed on their site: http://coloradocrisisservices.org/.  They even have phone and text numbers available to all individuals to ask for help.  The new text message crisis line is safe and encrypted just like banks encrypt their transactions.  The phone and text lines are available to offer help when we need it.  The crisis phone and text lines:

Phone: Colorado Crisis Support Line [1-844-493-TALK (8255)]

Text:  Anyone can text the word TALK to 38255 anytime, from anywhere in Colorado and ask for help for you or someone you care about.

Remember, brain health is the key to all health, so never hesitate to ask for help to take care of your brain.

 

So What Is Healthy Anyway?

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Healthy Learning Paths

DSC_5082Recently, I was in a meeting with a group of smart strong people.  As we were discussing strategies for our nonprofit, a member of the group asked, “So what is healthy anyway?”  Good question, in fact, great question!

Let’s think about this through a child’s eyes.  What messages do kids get about being healthy?  Is it going to the gym, lifting weights, and completing the WOD (workout of the day)?  Is healthy running a marathon?  Does healthy mean filling up on green smoothies after yoga?  Or maybe healthy is downing a handful of vitamins?  What about fitting into tight jeans or going to a tanning session?  Is that healthy?  Caffeine, chocolate, and wine, they are all in the media frequently touting health benefits.  With all these things that are supposed to be healthy, we should all be in great health, right?  Guess again.

It seems that there are many brands of healthy bouncing around today.  But what do kids need to know to stay healthy?  How do kids learn to sort out what is healthy and what is marketing confusion?  Let’s start by distinguishing between health and healthy.  All kids want to enjoy good health.  According to the World Health Organization, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (illness).”  Wow!  So health is a lot more than just not being sick.  In all the messages about health, how often do kids get to hear about mental health and social well-being?  Maybe it’s time to bring mental health and social well-being into the discussion of health and healthy.

Healthy is an adjective that describes choices that one makes that lead to a state of positive health.  For example, if one choses to eat broccoli over cream puffs, this is a healthy nutrition choice.  If one choses to use appropriate communication skills such as, “I am frustrated,” over punching someone in the face, this is a healthy social emotional choice.  And if one chooses to stop running a marathon over passing out, this is a healthy physical, mental and social emotional choice.  So how often do kids hear about healthy choices?  Probably not often enough.

Want to try something simple, fun, and healthy?  Wherever you are and even if you don’t have kids, practice some healthy choices for mental health.  For example, you can take a walk with a friend because exercise is a healthy choice for mental and physical health.  Or you can share a kind word and a smile with a child, friend or even a co-worker.  Practicing kindness is a healthy choice for mental and social emotional health.  Kind words are golden in a child’s eyes.  Sharing laughter is priceless!

So let’s get started to experience health and make healthy choices by sharing a few kind words!  You are terrific and very much appreciated for reading this article!  Please, pay it forward!