Tips for Reducing Your Child's Screen Time


If you're like many parents, you may worry that your child devotes too much time to television, computers and video games. While these devices can be handy sources of entertainment and can sometimes provide education, too much screen time is something to keep an eye on.

For children age 2 or younger, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises no TV - even programs and DVDs that claim to make children smarter. Your little one will gain much more from playing and socializing with you and others, and spending lots of time outdoors. For kids over 2, the AAP advises no more than two hours of TV and other screen time per day. Children this age need at least 60 minutes of exercise daily. Television, computers and video games often get in the way of that goal.

So parents need to set clear rules and limits. Start with a few basics: there will never be a television in any child's bedroom, and a young child will never have unsupervised access to the Internet. Then decide how much screen time is reasonable for your child.

Before cutting back your child's screen time, first talk with them about why you're doing so. Explain that this is not a punishment, but rather a new, positive change. Be ready to adjust your own habits to set a good example.

When their screen time is reduced, kids will find new things to do. (At first there may be some whining and complaining. Ignore it!) Help your child fill their free time in fun and positive ways. Load up on library books that will encourage a new hobby such as cooking, magic tricks or origami. Pull out some lively board games, and learn a new family card game. Pump up the bicycle tires, get some colored chalk for the driveway, create a scavenger hunt, or pack a picnic and try out a new park. Turn on some music or a read-along CD and book set. How about taking part in a family-friendly charity walk or run?

Reducing your child's screen time doesn't have to mean cutting off all access. Consider allowing extra computer time for educational games or granting free television time for exercise DVDs. Do what makes sense for your family!

Download more information about screen time and your child (PDF).

Scooter Safety Gear Should Include Pads


Does your child have a scooter? These lightweight, folding, foot-powered vehicles are fun - and great exercise! But when riding a scooter, kids should wear a helmet plus kneepads and elbow pads. Of all scooter injuries, 42 percent affect arms and hands, 27 percent affect the head and face, and 24 percent affect legs and feet. Properly fitting safety gear protects these areas and reduces the risks of broken and dislocated bones and bad scrapes.

Be sure your child's gear fits properly, is comfortable and is in good shape - especially if it's a hand-me-down. When buying new safety gear, bring your child along to be fitted, and to choose a style they like and will wear every time they ride.

Download our bike helmet quick-fit check (PDF).

How to Encourage Reluctant Readers


For many children, reading doesn't come easily. Some learn slowly, while others know how but aren't eager to practice. Parents can encourage reluctant readers. Read to your child often, even after they can read on their own. Take turns reading aloud from books written for their skill level, then they can relax while you read them a more challenging story.

A librarian can recommend books your child is sure to enjoy. It's okay if you're not crazy about all your child's reading choices - comics and joke books are great, as long as they keep your child's attention. You can also play board games that require reading, or try a computer game that builds reading skills. In the car, play with flashcards and read the signs you see aloud.

It can take time for reading to click with children, so be patient and steady. If you sense your child needs extra help, talk with their doctor and/or teacher. For issues such as vision problems and learning challenges, early help is key.

To learn more about encouraging your child to read, visit our Education and Learning articles.

Five Types of Play Are All Important


Children have one vital job: they need to play! Luckily, kids are naturally "on the job" from the time they are born. Playing is how they learn about themselves and the world around them. Through five different types of play, kids develop and practice key skills for life.

Motor play happens when a child figures out how to perform a physical task. A baby shakes a rattle, a toddler pounds a toy hammer, an older child dribbles a basketball or skips a rock on a lake - all are skills in motion. Motor play increases strength and coordination, and helps the brain develop properly.

Social play occurs when children interact with others and learn how to share, cooperate and compromise. Children of all ages need lots of social play to prepare for adulthood.

Constructive play happens when children make things: when they stack blocks into a tower, paint pictures or create music. By using materials to create something new, children become capable and learn what works and what doesn't.

Fantasy play involves pretending and imagining. By thinking beyond the literal world around them, children "stretch" their brains. Later, this type of flexible thinking is used for math and writing, and to solve complex problems.

Games with rules teach children that rules are needed so things run smoothly. Even the simplest games aren't fun when people ignore the rules. Children will apply these lessons in life, when they choose to follow laws and behave with honor.

Parents can encourage and support all types of play. Provide your child with free time and opportunities, plus some basic toys, games, musical instruments and art materials.

Learn more about toys and play.

Thinking About Potty Training?


What's the best age to start potty training? It depends on how ready your child is, plus your own reasons for wanting your child trained. Whenever training begins, adults must have realistic expectations, and it should be a happy experience for everyone.

There are some newer trends in potty training. "Potty Boot Camp" is intense and short term. "Elimination Communication," or EC, is for babies; it requires being tuned in to baby's signals, plus frequent trips to the potty chair. These methods are not for everyone, and demand lots of time and energy.

Teach Your Child Healthy Heart Habits


Did you know your heart is only about the size of your fist? This small muscle has a big job: pumping blood that delivers oxygen and nutrients to your body. So keep your hard-working heart in good shape, and teach your child to do the same.

Be active and have fun! Swim, jump rope, play basketball or dance to get your heart rate up. Kids need 60 minutes of exercise each day, and it's fine to break it into 10- or 15-minute segments if you need to.

Eat a variety of healthy foods, including at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Be kind to your hearts by being active and eating well together as a family!

Visit our Nutrition and Fitness section for more on this topic.

Strength Training for Kids


Strength training is popular among teen athletes, but is it okay for children ages 8 to 12? In general, yes - but be sure to follow some important guidelines. Kids should first get a check-up, and their workouts should be supervised by an adult who will enforce safety and correct form.

Free weights, elastic tubing and resistance training using one's own body weight (like pushups) are best. In general, kids should do more repetitions with lighter weights - and avoid machines designed for adults. Finally, remember that it's important to strengthen all major muscle groups, including the core muscles. Warm up and cool down, and drink plenty of water.

To learn more, read the American Academy of Pediatrics' Policy Statement, Strength Training by Children and Adolescents.