With school out soon, and summer just around the corner, I wanted to talk a bit about about fitness in young children, and how to encourage it. But rather, I think the discussion will trend more toward why it’s really important to develop. We are bombarded with all sorts of things about health in young children. Don’t let your children eat this, and don’t let them eat that. It feels like all the don’ts and not the why’s. As you may know, childhood obesity is very high in the United States. To me, that is a good reason to try and keep kids fit and healthy.
The next time you go to the grocery store, remember to really take a look at what you are buying. Read the labels. You would be absolutely amazed at what you find. On many of the things we buy for children, high fructose corn syrup and other types of sugars are the first ingredients listed. If you can’t eliminate these things, then pick items that have healthier ingredients listed first. The first ingredients are usually the ones that make up the highest percentage of the food, and so on down the list. Try to look at foods that will give children a variety throughout the day. As a general rule, in larger grocery stores, shop mostly on the outside isles, because the isles on the inside of the store have prepared foods, like boxed cereals, cookies, crackers, chips, corn chips, bread, fruit juice, canned fruit and puddings, all high in sugar, high fructose corn syrup, food coloring, salt, and other artificial additives. Most larger stores have nutritionists or health nurses who will help you with your shopping, give you suggestions, and show you where the healthier items are located in the store.
Another important thing parents should monitor is exercise. Kids should be outside playing. On an earlier blog I talked about parents checking in their smart phones and other devices, so they could spend quality time with their children. Children need to check in their devices as well, so they can spend quality time developing their bodies and their health. They need to run and play outdoors when possible. You might work outside the home, and when you come home you are tired. They are tired, too. But maybe you and they can take a walk around the block, run around the backyard a couple of times, play catch, shoot hoops, or anything that will get the kids moving. Perhaps you could challenge your children to every night run around the back yard one more lap than the night before. Or shoot five more hoops than they shot the night before. Or catch the football five more times than yesterday. Or jump rope five more times than the night before. Post a chart for them to keep track of their progress. Help them set goals. It could be very motivating.
For older kids, encourage them to participate in organized sports through school. For your part, help them get to and from practice, make sure they have the proper safety equipment, if not provided through the school. If you have trouble with funds for extra equipment, discretely talk to the coach, the school counselor, or the principal. Remind your children to pack snacks and water, and support them with your attendance at games or meets. Who knows where this could lead—a college scholarship in track, basketball, or football; a place on the Jr. Olympic team; a career in basketball; or a career in football. Most importantly, it will help them control their weight, blood pressure, and overall health.
Who's Listening Now?
In my profession as a teacher of the deaf or hard of hearing, we teach how to develop listening skills in children who are just beginning to listen with a hearing aid or cochlear implant. Unfortunately, too often teachers present parents with structured activities to do with their children that hold no meaning for the very young child and are frustrating for parents. For example, sometimes the 1-year-old child is supposed to indicate that he has heard the sound presented, such as “ee,” by dropping a block or other object in a container. Many babies do not understand this activity since they have not heard well or at all up to this point. Providing practice throughout the day with these sounds is much more meaningful to the child and parent. Parents or teachers who present these sounds with meaning, intentionality, and purpose are much more appropriate and successful. Once the baby or child has had a lot of meaningful practice listening to sounds in his/her environment, then the baby is ready for more structured practice as mentioned above.
Mr. (Fred) Rogers once said, “Listening is where love begins.” How does a person show love by listening? A parent or teacher consistently listens to a child, follows the child’s lead, and routinely works suggested listening sounds into the child’s play and other activities. For example, when the parent is providing practice with the listening sound "ee", the parent brings out a box of cars for the child. While the child is playing with the cars, the parent stops a car in front of the child’s foot or another car, and says, “Beep, beep!” Another day, the parent gives the child a couple of sponges (cut full-sized ones in half), a bucket of soapy water, and goes outside with the child to wash the child’s dirty picnic table. The parent models for him, “Squeeze. You are squeezing the sponge. Look! The water is coming out. Now you can wash the table.” There you have loving, fun and meaningful practice listening to the “ee” sound.
The road to intentionality is paved with listening. One must be “in the moment” with a child and focused on what he is doing in order to be intentional when communicating. The parent or teacher must listen to what the child is trying to say, and pay close attention to what he/she does, sees, or hears. Then the parent/teacher has to pair the child’s actions with a model of the language the child needs to hear.
Talking with purpose is another way to show love and caring. Talking with purpose is sometimes called “being present” or “in the moment.” It takes purposeful concentration on the child and what he/she is doing, seeing, hearing, or saying in order to respond with appropriate language models. This listening does not end in infancy. Listening and language skills become more advanced and specific as the child grows older.
Some of the most important listening is during infancy or as soon as the child is implanted or amplified. Why is this? It has been mentioned in earlier blog posts that the most important listening and language experience is from birth to three. This is the time that the plasticity of the nervous system is most receptive to new information.
Listening is not only extremely helpful for learning, it also shows respect. When a child or an adult has something to say, if at all possible, we should pay attention and listen. If it is not possible, and Mom is on the phone, for example, it is perfectly reasonable to tell your child that he will have to wait, “Mommy is talking on the phone. You need to wait." Moms, Dads, and Grandparents have the right to listen as well, whether in conversation or on the phone. If the conversation or phone call can wait, try to cut it short and call back after the children are occupied in play or are in bed.
"Listening is where love begins*,” has a lot of meaning for families with a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, learning to listen with a cochlear implant or hearing aid. "Listening is where love begins" is not a bad way to live all of our lives!
*Mr. Fred Rogers