Resources for Support – Handling the Aftermath of Tragedy

As a national community, we grieve for the children and school personnel lost on Friday in Newtown Connecticut.

When events such as these occur, we search for ways to support our children, students, and ourselves.  Resources from organizations such as National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and American Psychological Association (APA) help to guide us as professionals, parents and community members.  Several ideas for helping to reassure our children of their safety are:

  • Reduce exposure to television and news for the near future to reduce anxiety and intense emotional responses.
  • Calmly discuss with your children that the event occurred but reinforce their safety by telling them that many people at home and in the school help to keep them safe.  Relate that educators’ priority is safety.
  • If your children come home from school with questions about comments they may have heard, truthfully clarify and answer.  Follow the answers with statements that calmly relate that they are safe and that they have many adults who focus on their safety.
  • Focus on describing the compassion that comes from the community and nation in your discussions with your children to reinforce the caring that people so often share with each other.
  • Let your children know that any emotions they feel are acceptable and provide the support and comfort they need.
  • Keep your schedule normal to continue comfortable routines, but allow for emotional expression and flexibility in activities as needed.
  • Get to now the safety plan at your children’s school and ensure that you are linked to the communication notification system that your school or district provides.

(Gathered from NASP and APA)

There are extremely helpful resources available for parents and educators on the Internet.  Please take time to read them and utilize the suggestions and ideas as needed.

As a community we can support the needs of our children.  These helpful resources can guide our discussions to allow us to comfort our children and help them know we strive to keep them safe.


– Written by Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Psychologist, Board of Directors, Healthy Learning Paths

Healthy, Happy, Tasty Turkey Time!

Thanksgiving is just days away, and we have some ideas about how to avoid overindulging on this holiday of thankfulness… and seemingly endless food! It may seem virtually impossible to enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner and feel “just right” afterward.  Too often our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and the “clean plate club” mentality creeps in, forcing us to eat too much and feel too full.

When approaching the holiday, keep in mind your favorite Thanksgiving foods and the fact that Thanksgiving is just one day.  Think “moderation.”

Start your day with a healthy breakfast and a small snack.  A morning walk or run (or any form of physical activity) will boost your metabolism and dissipate some holiday stress. Remember to drink plenty of water; you’ll need to re-hydrate, and drinking water throughout the day will help you to feel satiated and control your appetite.

When it comes to the big meal, start with a smaller plate (if possible) and load up on the fruits, salads, and veggies first.  Then remember your favorites.  Bypass those foods that aren’t special to you, and take small portions of your holiday favorites.  For example, mashed potatoes and rolls are not high on my list and I can have those any time of the year.  I plan to bypass those in favor of sweet potatoes and turkey. To drink, I’ll be sticking with water.

Next, eat slowly and have great conversation. It takes time for your stomach to signal your brain that you are full.  By eating slowly, you are allowing yourself to realize that fullness before that stuffed feeling begins. (Psst… remember your water!)

Desserts are inevitable, but if you remember portion sizes and to savor each bite, they can be satisfying without being overindulgent.  Take small portions of your favorite(s) and eat slowly. Wash it down with some nice, cool, straight-from-the-tap… okay, you get it.

As we move further into the holiday season, remember to keep your activity levels high and your healthy food choices at a maximum, and those holiday parties and feasts won’t derail your otherwise healthy lifestyle.  Make good food choices daily so that when it is party time, you aren’t tipping the scales (figuratively and literally).  Most importantly, remember that Healthy=Happy, so when you care for your body, you’re caring for your heart and mind as well.

With that in mind, have a stress-free, delicious, and happy Thanksgiving from Healthy Learning Paths!


Written by Darby S. Petitt, Ph.D.

Exercise That Mother Nature Provides

Now that Halloween has passed, and colder weather is coming, exercising outdoors becomes less and less appealing. For those who don’t want to go to a gym or who need a different kind of motivation, look to Mother Nature to keep you healthy.

The leaves are busy falling right now and while it might seem like a chore to pick them up, raking provides great exercise for you and fun for the kids! Raking leaves engages your abdominal, arm and back muscles while burning calories. Once raked, the leaves provide simple entertainment for the kids. Little ones love to run around and jump into them, and throw and push them around. This simply means you get to rake them again and get more exercise! The whole family gets to be active thanks to a yard full of leaves.

Snow in November is not unheard of in Colorado either. Snow also brings exercise and entertainment value. Building snowmen requires that you pack and roll large balls of snow, which can really increase your heart rate! Snow forts entertain the kids as well. Shoveling snow in your yard to form the snow fort delivers similar benefits to raking: stronger muscles and more calories expended. You will be your children’s hero, providing them hours of entertainment while getting some exercise at the same time.

In addition to snow, winter weather provides opportunity for other forms of exercise and fun. There are several local places to try ice-skating that include the entire family. Both outdoor and indoor skating provides health benefits like walking, but it is a low-impact activity, so it’s easy on the joints. While burning calories and having fun, you can also reduce your stress during skating!

Another fun winter activity is sledding. Walking through snow up hills and sledding down is a fun workout. Try carrying one of your kids up the hill to increase your energy expenditure! Sledding engages your leg muscles and increases your heart rate. By increasing your heart rate through regular exercise, you can improve your mood (via endorphins that are released during exercise), decrease stress, and improve your immune system, in addition to improving your heart health and increasing muscular strength. Exercise is a simple way to stay healthier and happier during the cold months ahead.

As always, with any exercise, moderation is key. If your body is not used to physical activity, start slow to avoid injuries that are common with raking and shoveling, and talk to your physician before beginning any exercise routine. Enlist your kids to help, and have fun being healthy together!

Written by Darby S. Petitt, Ph.D.

A Healthy Halloween: It’s Possible!

If you think that trick-or-treating and eating tons of candy are the only ways to celebrate Halloween, think again.  There are many ways to celebrate Halloween without gorging on sugar, which affects kids’ behavior, their appetite for healthy meals, and their teeth!

The web is loaded with spooky and healthy snack ideas – for some great ideas, check these. Dried fruits can be made to look like eyeballs, cheese sticks or carrots like dismembered fingers, and melons like brains!  These healthy ideas are fun to look at, which might even encourage your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables!

In between eating fun, healthy snacks, kids can play exciting Halloween-inspired games.  Games like these encourage kids to play and be active, which helps behavior, attention spans, attitude, and overall health. You can also take a family trip to your local pumpkin patch or corn maze, carve or paint pumpkins, or try apple picking. In addition to getting outside and moving, you might come home with some healthy snacks; and kids are more likely to eat a food if they get to pick it. For some activities for “quiet times,” there are many printable coloring pages, games, masks, decorations and cards that will keep a child busy.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with snuggling in to read your favorite Halloween story – but you may have to leave the nightlight on!

Halloween candy is everywhere, and celebrations begin earlier and earlier every year.  Incorporate some healthy treats in your basket to minimize sugar consumption.  Try offering play-doh, stickers, pencils, erasers, and other non-candy items to trick-or-treaters this year.  You will be surprised how excited the kids are to get something other than candy!

This year, try celebrating Halloween in healthy ways. You may even start some new family traditions!

Have a healthy Halloween!

Written by Darby S. Petitt, Ph.D.

Healthy Teeth, Happy Smiles!

What is the first thing you notice about a person? Is it their smile?

Healthy teeth begin in the womb even before we are born!  After birth, children can acquire bacteria that cause cavities from caregivers who share spoons, test food before giving it to children, and any other action where saliva is shared.  Once dental caries (the disease process that leads to tooth decay and cavities) sets in, a child is more susceptible to cavities throughout his or her life.

Follow these five steps to give your child the best chance for healthy teeth:

1) Encourage healthy eating habits – plenty of fresh veggies and fruits, with infrequent snacking between meals.

2) Brush her teeth twice daily (with fluoride toothpaste for children who can spit) and floss before bedtime!

3) Drink tap water (that has fluoride in it!)

4) Discourage sharing of utensils and straws, and other actions that share saliva.

5) Seek early and regular dental care for your children.

The better you care for your child’s teeth early on, the better chance they have to avoid tooth decay and have a happy smile into their adult life.  That way, the first thing everyone will notice about your child will be his brilliant smile!

For more information, you can see the CDC Division of Oral Health, National Maternal and Child Oral Health Policy Center Trendnotes, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Children’s Dental Health Policy.

Written by Darby S. Petitt, Ph.D.


P.S. Support kids’ health (including dental hygiene!) around Colorado by making a donation to Healthy Learning Paths today. The first 100 people to donate $10 or more are automatically entered to win a Family Four (4) Pack to the Denver Zoo! Donate here.

The 1-2-3 for Successful Learners

Families are happiest when the kids are happy, and when kids are healthy, they are more likely to be happy as well.  Tired, undernourished, or sedentary kids are not given the opportunity to thrive. When kids reach school age, it is vital that they go to school ready to perform at their best.  Healthy kids get a full night of sleep, eat a healthy diet with a wide variety of foods, and get at least an hour of playtime a day.


1) Sleep

A good night of sleep results in better behavior, better school performance and reduced risk for obesity.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers (1-3 years) need about 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, while preschoolers need 11-13 hours of sleep per night.  Once children reach school age (5-12 years), they need 10-11 hours of sleep per night.  For more information on the effects of sleep on growth and learning, along with tips on how to foster healthy sleep habits for yourself and your child, see Waking up on the Right Side of the Bed and Back to School!  The Importance of Sleep.

2) Nutrition

In addition to maintaining a healthy body weight, a healthful diet can reduce risk of heart disease, Type II diabetes, and some cancers, while also improving energy and reducing stress.  The National Health Information Center released dietary guidelines in 2010 to help Americans focus on eating a balanced, nutritious diet. In these, a table with data from an NHANES study lists the top sources of calories in children and adults. For children ages 2-18 years, these included include grain-based desserts, pizza, and sodas!  It is important to give children a good variety of foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, to ensure they receive all the nutrients needed to play and learn at their best.  And don’t forget, a healthy lifestyle includes both a healthy diet and physical activity!

3) Exercise

In kid terms, exercise simply means play!  Children need at least an hour of physical activity per day.  This isn’t about going to the gym or hopping on the treadmill – for children, think about playing on the playground, riding bikes, playing tag, and jumping rope.  While active video games (video games that involve movement of the upper and lower body) may appear to you as exercise, studies have not found that these activities deliver the same benefits as regular play.  If you have ever been near a school while kids are at recess, you can hear the squeals, chatter, and laughter as kids run, jump, climb and chase.  Nothing beats the old-fashioned kind of exercise…play!

There is a lot of pressure on kids to excel academically from elementary to high school.  Without a solid foundation of sleep, good nutrition, and exercise, kids cannot perform optimally in school. Forming those healthy habits will ensure that kids’ brains are ready to learn, and that starts with you: the parents.  Lead by example, and your kids will reap enormous benefits.  Healthy kids are happy kids!


Written by Darby S. Petitt, Ph.D.


Food-Borne Arsenic: How to Reduce Your Family’s Exposure

Consumer Reports recently released a review of arsenic levels in 200 every day foods, including rice and rice products such as Rice Krispies cereal.  Earlier this year, they also reported on arsenic levels in apple and grape juices.

Arsenic, a chemical element in the environment, is a known carcinogen and is found in two forms, inorganic (of most concern) and organic.  Trouble is, arsenicnaturally, and sometimes unnaturally, occurs in soils and waters in which foods are grown.  While found in fruits, juices, vegetables, and seafood, rice in particular absorbs arsenic more readily from soil or water than other plants.

How can you reduce your exposure to dietary arsenic?  The FDA is weighing in and suggesting not changing dietary intake of rice.  However, they do support a balanced diet so that consumers do not suffer consequences of eating too much of a particular food.  On the other hand, Consumer Reports suggests taking a few measures to reduce your risk of arsenic exposure.  First, test your drinking water or find out your city’s water levels and find alternative drinking and cooking water if necessary.  Second, rinse raw rice thoroughly and cook rice in 6 parts water to 1 part rice, draining after it is cooked.  Third, clean vegetables thoroughly and limit your children’s juice consumption.  Last, eat other grains such as oats, quinoa, millet and amaranth, while limiting rice consumption to one and a quarter servings per week for children and two servings per week for adults.  Further, they recommend just one serving per day of infant cereal for babies.

Consumer Reports and the FDA want to inform consumers of their possible risks and to offer research-based information.  The FDA will release further information, based on their study of 1200 samples of rice and rice products in the U.S. marketplace later this year.  The FDA, Consumer Reports, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry offer further information.


Whether your child is just starting school or returning to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones, she is bound to make countless memories this year. The first day, a favorite teacher, best friends and captivating field trips – kids carry these with them for years to come.

Unfortunately, children might bring along other things from the classroom as well: germs. Schools are exciting, full of information and imaginations; but they’re also stocked with bacteria and viruses, some of which can make children sick.

Of course, not all germs are bad. For children, though, hand washing is the first step to preventing sickness from those unwanted germs so easily spread on desks and playgrounds.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics have sites dedicated to hygiene and hand washing. They contain important information for any parent. We at Healthy Learning Paths have condensed these recommendations into the following kid-friendly, easy to remember graphic.

Keep your child germ-free by following these steps for hand washing!

Soap and water are always your best options before hand sanitizer, and for schools with air dryers, kids need only turn off the water with an elbow and dry hands thoroughly. In general, though, following this simple sequence can make your kid an excellent Germbuster – with memories of being healthy, happy and ready to learn!


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