One Father’s Power

by Chris Marchioni, MD, a fan of Fathers

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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!

Smiles: Electric and Contagious

by Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Psychologist, Healthy Learning Paths’ Instructor, and Mom

Cute Kid

 

 

What is a smile?

♥  A friendly communication
♥  A connection between people
♥  A sign of happiness and enjoyment
♥  A reflection of humor
♥  A shared moment of joy
♥  A picture of kindness

 

 

What do smiles make better?

♥  Your health
♥  Your overall mood
♥  Your relaxation
♥  Your connection with others
♥  Your happiness
♥  Your experience everyday

I was reminded of the power of smiles and the importance of spreading them when I was teaching about communication at a partner school.  The children had to communicate together to get a ball from one side of the room to the other and make sure that all classmates were included.  While they were passing the ball, they looked each other in the eyes, smiled and said their neighbors’ names to pass the ball.  It was electric and contagious!  When one student received a smile, they passed it to the next student along with the ball!  Soon, each student was smiling and giggling!  And the ball made it across the room with ease.  A smile is a simple gesture that conveys so much and enhances the feelings of joy and sharing between children and adults.

February is a month of connection and kindness.  Our society gives us plenty of reminders to share the celebration of connection and love with our family.  But this lesson from the classroom made me realize how important it is to share a simple connection with others.  A smile serves as a friendly gesture, a shared moment with another, an infection that increases the well-being of others.  A smile often breaks walls, changes a tense moment into a relaxed moment, or provides an offer of connection to someone who may really need it.  Did you ever imagine that you have the power to help someone simply by sharing a smile?

As we enter the month of February, let’s remember to share special moments with our family and loved ones.  Let’s make an active effort to smile with others.  Smiles improve your mood, your overall health, and quite possibly spread a little bit of joy and connection to others, lightening everyone’s load!

Be healthy and happy, and share a smile!

What If Challenges Are Opportunities in the New Year?

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director Healthy Learning Paths

IMG_20140826_184807_269With the New Year, comes new opportunities and challenges.  What if all of our challenges are simply unrecognized new opportunities?  Could this be the key to solving the many challenges we face?  What if the power to make this world better for our children lives in each of us?

Listening to children helps us recognize this power lives in each of us.  A grateful mother shares her true story of a young child named Miguel.  Miguel was a typical active boy, curious with innocent eyes, and full of excitement for exploration of life even when struggles crossed his path.  Like many children, he hungered for learning through first-hand experience.  One morning Miguel rushed out of bed bright and early before others were awake.  His mother heard a noise and was startled to find Miguel with his face pressed against the sliding glass door.  “Miguel, what are you doing up so early?” she asked.  With a wide smile and saucer eyes, Miguel answered, “I can’t wait to see what the sun will bring for the new day!”  He stood ready to welcome whatever the new day would bring.  For Miguel, every challenge was a welcomed opportunity to conquer.

The image of this young child’s spirit burns in my mind.  What if each of us carried such excitement for every new day?  Each day is an opportunity to act to help someone.  Each new day is an opportunity to be an advocate for a child. Children are doing the best they know how to do.  They depend on guidance from caring adults.  A simple act of kindness such as listening to a child makes a difference.  Taking the time to play outside with a child shows play is healthy for all of us.  Advocating for the safety of children sends a message that we care about children and they are important.  Each of us has the power to turn challenges children face in health into opportunities.  No one can take away all the pain and suffering of mental and physical illness for children, but each of us can take away some.

Let’s be a voice for the child who has no voice.  Let’s work together to help children experience the joys of being healthy.  Health is not a number, shape, or size.  Health is a state of being.  A state in which we develop the tools to keep our minds, bodies, emotions, and spirits in balance.  A state where we can be excited about what the sun will bring for every new day during this New Year!

What is the Most Precious Gift for Kids this Holiday Season?

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

IMG_20140524_154328_596What is the most precious gift for kids this season?  This is a question that many of us ask our family, friends, and search the web in pursuit of pleasing children of all ages with the latest, most coveted toys and gadgets.  Some say it is the latest Star Wars toys and games, while others look to flying drones, and still others look for the newest smart phones, watches, or other technological advances.  While these gifts may hold our children’s attention, what holds their hearts?

Each year, we work with more than a thousand children.  What lights up their faces and fills their hearts does not come in a box and it is not wrapped with ribbons.  What calms their fears and comforts them, when faced with the chaos of uncertainty that children are exposed to in today’s culture is love.  Love that is simple and pure, such as being there to listen to a child who is hurt and lonely.  Love that is kind, such as putting the mental and physical needs of the child above your own.  Love that is patient and understanding, nonjudgmental and unconditional.  Love that can only be offered by giving the gift of your time to children.

While it is easy to shower children with toys and gadgets, these are far from the most precious gifts, we have to offer children of all ages.  These are not the gifts that fill a child’s heart or mind with peace and joy.  Although, we may be led to believe the material gifts are what children seek most, this is only a result of magnificent marketing.

Have you ever asked a child what she or he treasures most?  Just yesterday, one mother shared this story.  “My company is down-sizing and I, unfortunately, am one of the employees that is being let go.  I have a long history with my company, so I am worried about what opportunities are out there for someone my age.  But then I hear the voice of my five year old daughter.  She is asking if she can spend more time with me.  Some days, she does not want to go to school because she wants to be with me.  I can’t wait to tell her that in a few months, she will have more time with Mommy!”

The gift of time with your children is the most precious gift.  Giving your time to children makes a lasting impression of love that fills your child’s heart for a lifetime!

“Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back.” explains Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?

Happy and Healthy Holidays!

Healthy and Happy Tips for Fall

By Virginia Hrywnak DO, Healthy Learning Paths’ instructor, imperfect parent of 2 school-aged daughters, family physician, avid reader, and hiker.

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Fall is a busy time of year.  School is in full swing.  The holidays are fast approaching with many fun activities to experience.

 

Here are some ideas to “Be Well, Learn Well” with your kids this Fall.

  • Try to get outdoor play time every day. A few minutes before or after school or work make a difference. Playing in colorful leaves, a quick game of flashlight tag, or a nature walk are fun ways to enjoy the changing season.
  • Visit your public library and read books about the season.
  • Try a new craft activity. Collect different leaves or paint and decorate pumpkins and gourds.
  • Finding time to cook a healthy dinner can be really challenging with after school activities, but it’s a sure way to bring a smile to everyone! Save time by using the crock-pot or slow cooker once a week!
  • Staying up late on weekends and sleeping in on cool mornings are so tempting! But kids do best with a consistent sleep routine.  School-aged kids need 10-11 hours of sleep every night.
  • Get the entire family their flu vaccine. Influenza is a serious illness that no one wants.
  • Give back to your community. Explore ways to share your time, donate food, or household goods to those in need.   These acts of kindness teach kids empathy, compassion and the importance of community.
  • Schedule downtime. Yep- schedule it!  Plan ahead so everyone gets some relaxing, restful, hang out time together at least once a week.
  • Cold and flu season is here. Handwashing with soap, water, and rubbing those hands together is so important.  Model it for your kids, sing the ABC’s together, and talk about how kids have the power to make healthy choices.  Let teachers know that you appreciate their support of proper hand washing during the school day, as this leads to less missed school due to illness.
  • Catch your kids making healthy choices. Celebrate their efforts and hard work at home and at school.

Happy and Healthy Fall!

Community: Feeling Valued, Necessary, Needed, and Safe

by Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Psychologist, Instructor,  &  Community Member

photo 4Having and feeling part of a community is necessary for everyone – it’s a human need. We all want to and need to feel we belong and are needed in our homes, our schools, and our communities. This need is genuine for all babies, toddlers, preschoolers, children, teenagers, and adults. Having these connections help us feel important, necessary, and valued. They help us know we have a place to go to feel safe and accepted. When we feel we belong, we feel we matter. When we have a place where people value us, we are better able to face any challenge. In school, when children and teenagers feel they are necessary and valued, they are free to focus to learn, able to participate, and excited to contribute. A sense of belonging and community increases school safety, school completion, and academic achievement.

Some individuals are lucky and feel this belonging everywhere they go. But others have some parts of their day that they feel disconnected, not wanted, excluded and alone. To truly support each other, we need to foster a sense of belonging with others in locations around us and in the activities in which we participate. We need to search for community for ourselves, and we need to build a community for our children.

Connect with your children’s teachers. Greet them during drop off and pick up. Ask, email, or call to gather an update about progress. When we feel connected to the teacher and school, it increases the connection our children feel. It also prevents difficulties from arising.

Stop and talk to other parents at your children’s school. Sometimes we are in a hurry and cannot stop long, but on the days when you have more time, take a moment to connect. Play dates grow from these connections, which forms a community for our children. Parents discuss fun experiences and express the trials of parenthood too. We need that time with each other to feel supported and that we are not alone in the world.

Search out activities you as a parent might enjoy. As parents we need to remember to relax once in a while and to connect with others. This connection may look like a formal group at a religious organization, a class at a recreation center, a walk with a neighbor, a meeting with a mothers’ or fathers’ group, or having a cup of coffee with another parent at the park while watching your children play. Find an activity that helps you feel connected and engaged with others.

Search out activities your children may enjoy. Think about opportunities where they can feel connected with and accepted by others. Be ready to try out different activities and experiences because children’s interests and needs develop and change as they grow. Having a place where they feel connected fosters their sense of value.

Keep on communicating and connecting at home. Talk, connect with eye contact, put down electronic devices, ask about each other’s day, listen and respond with empathy. Celebrate your traditions, and learn new ones together. Play games together, cook together, eat together, read together, laugh together, and sometimes you might need to cry together too. This connection builds the sense of community in our houses and lays the foundation for always having a safe place to come back to, even when we had challenges in school, work or other places during the day.

Community is something we need at every age to feel connected and to make it through any challenges we encounter. Everybody’s sense of community is different, but everyone needs one to feel valued, necessary, needed and safe. Together we can build it for ourselves and lay the foundation for our children.

What’s Your Goal?

By Chris Marchioni, MD, Healthy Learning Paths, and parent

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“Healthy Learning Paths makes me feel that I am not alone and other parents face some of the same challenges.”

Kids will be back to school soon. Some parents want their kids to make new friends, like their teacher, or even do better in math. But have you ever asked your child, “What is your goal this school year?”  You may be surprised to learn what your child has to say.

All kids can set individual goals and parents can help kids learn this skill.  The most important goals go beyond reading, writing and arithmetic.  In fact, medical research shows your child’s health is the key to success in school.  The health of the child ranks much higher than technology, school choice, or classroom size for educational success.  So if you haven’t started yet, this is the perfect time to set a health goal or two with your child.

What is a health goal?  It is a goal for mental, physical, or social emotional health of a child. Mental health is the health of the brain.  The brain controls everything for the body, mind, emotions, and learning. Physical health is the health of the heart, muscles, bones, and other parts of the body.  Social emotional health is how kids react to others and care about others.  It is a very important part of health to be connected to and understand each other as humans.

Each year, we ask hundreds of parents what their health goals are for their children. Parents are encouraged to discuss goals with their children.  We partner with parents to make a plan of action to achieve their goals.  We love the honesty and genuine concern parents show when sharing these goals.  Here are some health goals parents shared with Healthy Learning Paths last year. See what you think.

“I am worried about his emotional feelings and behavior.”

“Keep him away from the video games.”

“I would like JJ to drink more milk, stay healthy, get more sleep, and to laugh more. I love to see him happy. It’s good for the heart and soul.”

“I want my son to like more veggies and eat more fruit. Less time in front of the TV.”

“Better sleeping habits. Not so sick so often.”

“To have her learn to ride a bike. She has learned to use a scooter this year.”

“To exercise more and eat less sugar treats! To stop sucking her thumb.”

“Have regular bowel movements.”

“Stop eating bakery goods, soft drinks, fast food, fried things, and eat more healthy with fruits and vegetables.”

“I want her to eat a whole complete meal without complaining.”

I would like for Liz to improve how well she washes her hands. I would like for her to improve the variety of vegetables she eats.”

“To keep him active, safe, and healthy.”

“To drink more water and to get through winter colds without lingering congestion.”

“My goal is to keep Leah active, healthy and happy.”

“I teach my daughter why it is always good to live with care.”

“To brush his teeth more and get him to drink more water and milk. He won’t.”

“Better sleep patterns.”

“Take more control and be more independent.”

“More activity, less screen time, and independent teeth brushing in the morning.”

“My goal is that my child is very healthy by having good physical and mental development.”

As one parent writes, “Healthy Learning Paths makes me feel that I am not alone and other parents face some of the same challenges.”  How true.  We share many of the same challenges when trying to do our best for kids.  We are in this together and together, we can help and learn from each other.

Share your health goal for your child with us on facebook. We look forward to hearing from you.