Category Archives: Your School Age Child

Articles related to helping you raise your school age child.

You Are Your Child’s Best Coach

family_walkingWhen was the last time you spent time with one or more of your children in an unplanned, unstructured activity? Do you feel anxious when you have time with your children alone? Do you feel that you should arrange play dates when your children “have nothing to do”? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone.

More often than not, parents in today’s society have never learned how to “be” with their children or to “play” with their children. In fact, I believe that many of them are afraid to be with their children. They want to do what’s best for them, and yet they don’t trust that unstructured time with them can be what is best. They have simply lost that instinct.

Many experts have come out and told parents that over-scheduling is not healthy for their children, but for many it is still a way of life for their family. They plan so many activities per child that a computerized scheduling system seems necessary to coordinate the carpools, coaching, games, dance recitals, etc. Some children are stressed; others seem to go with the flow. But I have never met a parent in this situation who is not stressed by the constant on the go schedule.

So why do parents get themselves and their children into this situation and seem unable and unwilling to change it? Somewhere over the past few decades, parents lost confidence in themselves as those that knew what was best for their children. At the same time, a proliferation of sports and activities for children developed along with the idea that early involvement was necessary for a child to be able to become competitive and successful when they were older.

A corresponding competitive spirit among parents emerged and seemed to match the growing industry of coaching, tutoring, and instructing young children in everything from soccer to computer science. Parents feared that their children would be at a disadvantage were they not included in these sorts of activities and so the idea that time spent with teachers, coaches, instructors and the like was “better” than time spent as a family arose. What’s more, for some parents, living vicariously through their children’s achievements, can become a powerful force of its own. With all of these competing factors, where does this leave the role of the family in a child’s life?

If you see signs of this kind of behavior in your own family and are tired of this lifestyle for yourself and for your child reflect on the following… Children do best when they are involved in sports or arts programs that stress enjoyment rather than intense competition. Children also avoid stress and the associated “burnout” when they have a variety of activities and are not pushed into “one” sport or activity to the exclusion of all others and of family time.

Children need time with you. Throwing a ball, shooting baskets, playing music, dancing in the living room – enjoying one another — are all very important ways to connect with your children. Sounds old fashion? Well it is! But try spending some unstructured time with your child and work through the anxiety you will feel that your child is “missing something”. Then follow some simple rules:

  • One team in one sport per child per season, and one non-sport activity such as in music, art, dance, creative writing, theater or computers.
  • Avoid very intense competitive leagues or traveling teams that require a child to practice more than one to two times a week or that demand play on holiday weekends and during vacation time.
  • Avoid intensive dance, gymnastic or music programs that require rehearsals more than two times per week.

If you follow these rules there will be plenty of “off time” for both parent and child. And you will hopefully see your anxiety decrease and your confidence increase as you spend more time with your child.

Lastly, remember — the chances of a child becoming a professional ball player, an Olympic gymnast, or a professional singer are really very small. But the chances that they will become a parent themselves who will have children who need them is really much greater. Try focusing on life lessons and developing skills that will help them meet those challenges and become better human beings. You will likely find far greater reward and satisfaction in these pursuits – and so will they.

Let the Children Play

 “Play is the work of children” is a quote from a famous turn of the century psychologist. I use that phrase a lot when describing how vital play is for a child’s development. From the moment they can reach for an object, play and the exploration of the world become one. Just watch a six month old reach for an object, shake it, transfer it from hand to hand and then put that object in their mouth for further exploration. As the child grows, exploration of the world becomes more complex and we see this as we watch toddlers manipulate objects and watch the joy on their face when they bang two objects together, put puzzle pieces in place or get the circle in the circle hole in a shape sorter.

Play is also how children work through strong feelings such as anxiety . Peek a boo is a perfect example of this. As soon as a nine month old starts worrying about separation from parents, they also begin loving the game of peek-a boo. It starts with mom or dad pulling a blanket over their head and watching the delight on the baby’s face when they pull it off and say “peek-a-boo”.  They will do it over and over again, even starting to pull the blanket down them selves,  “mommy is gone, mommy is back. As they get older, imaginative play takes over and children will imitate everything they see in the adult world. And to help them overcome feelings of being small and powerless, suddenly a four year old becomes his favorite super hero, with super strength and able to fly.

For school-aged children, play helps them learn self control. A game like Simon Says, for example, teaches kids impulse control. And board games teach them organization and how to follow rules and take turns. Playground games help kids learn negotiation as rules are often changed to fit the situation and kids have to compete in a “child created” hierarchy.

 Play helps children at every age , but something is happening now when children reach age five and enter school. Suddenly the time allowed for free play starts to disappear. Playtime is replaced with playdates, often structured by parents. And what happens on a playdate has changed. By this age imaginative free play has too often been replaced by video and computer games. In school, recess used to be a time of free play with kids learning how to navigate the playground games with rules set by the kids themselves. But now schools have cut down on recess time because of fears of liability and the need to increase time for academics. After school used to be a time of neighborhood play with kids of all ages engaged in pretend and pick up games. But now many parents do not let their children play outside without supervision because of fear for their safety.

Another factor is parents feeling pressure to help children achieve academic and athletic success. Parents fear that if they do not start lessons in sports or other activities at a very young age, their children will have a disadvantage as they grow. So kids are enrolled in ice skating classes and soccer teams at very young ages. This has replaced the free unstructured play time that kids used to have.


3.Talk about the movement to bring play back for children.  

 Many specialists are warning parents about the dangers of “play deficit”. Depriving children of free imaginative play as they grow may have harmful effects on their growth and development. The experts are saying that most of the social and intellectual skills one needs to succeed in life and work are first developed through childhood play. Children need child centered unstructured imaginative play- time. This is play that does not involve electronics and computers, X boxes, and iPads. It’s play that puts the child in charge of what happens. As soon as parents impose the rules, it becomes “parent play”.


4. What can parents do to help their children have more time for play?  

 Make a commitment to play. Whatever the age of your child, think about how they spend their free time. If you have small children, remove the electronics and unplug their play: look for toys like blocks, legos, dress up, pretend kitchens and tea sets. And avoid toys that are marketed to promote movies and TV shows. Look for toys without a story, ones that a child can impose their imagination on and can create their own stories.Take a look at your children’s schedules. Is there enough time for free play. Are all those classes necessary for an eight year old? Ask your kids what they really enjoy doing.


Create a fun room for play that other kids will like to come and play in. Make it safe, but adult free. Learn to tolerate mess. Making forts out of furniture cushions is messy, but very creative. Look at your backyard. Make it play friendly. Take some trips to the park with other parents.  Let the kids play by themselves. They need to create the rules. Advocate for recess time in schools. Connect with other parents or local advocates like your pediatrician who may feel the same way about the need for exercise as well as play during the school day. Most importantly, get out and play with your child. Play is fun for all ages!


Hearing Loss on the Rise in Adolescents

A recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that hearing loss is now affecting 20% of US adolescents age 12-19 a rise of 5% over the past fifteen years. The study was led by Ron Eavey, MD  a professor in Otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University. The authors looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys since the 1980s. The survey included data on actual hearing test results in adolescents.

Another study performed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) found two disturbing pieces of information: teens listen to their iPods and MP3 players at volumes considerably louder than adults and, no surprise, the same teens are experiencing symptoms of hearing loss.

The surveys, done by telephone, asked 1,000 adults and 301 high school students across the U.S. about their listening habits. More than half (59 percent) of students reported playing their MP3 players “loudly,” compared with only 34 percent of adults.

The surveyed teens and adults were also asked if they suffered from the common symptoms of hearing loss including:

  • The need to continually turn up the volume while listening to music (28 percent of students and 26 percent of adults)
  • Regularly asking people to repeat themselves during normal conversation (29 percent of students and 21 percent of adults)
  • Suffering from ringing in the ears (17 percent of students and 12 percent of adults)

The researchers in the Vanderbilt study hypothesized that the increase in hearing loss was a result of increased sound volume that teens were exposed to, but admit the data has not confirmed the source of the problem. Experts have been concerned because improved headphones (buds deliver sound in a very directed and concentrated way)  be another factor. The ASHA survey concluded that it’s the combination of length of time and volume at which the teens are listening to music through headphones that is responsible for the damage.

Thankfully, teenagers seem to have some understanding of this. The ASHA’s survey shows that nearly 70 percent of students say that they are “likely” to turn down the volume of music when listening to it through earphones. However, 58 percent said they weren’t likely to cut down on the time they spent listening to music with earphones on. “Louder and longer is definitely not the way to use these products,” says Brenda Lonsbury-Martin, PhD, ASHA’s chief staff officer for science and research. Dr Eavey has also advised that any sound over 85 decibels exceeds what hearing experts consider to be a safe level and some MP3 players can reach levels of 120 decibels.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) offers three basic rules for limiting the damage done to your children’s ears by listening to iPods and MP3 players:

1. Make sure that he or she can hear normal conversation voices while listening to music through headphones

2. Limit the amount of time he or she spends listening to any type of music through headphones to one hour a day

3. Set the volume of their music player no higher than 60 percent of the maximum

Children and Anxiety

Anxiety is a necessary part of the human condition. All of us have anxieties and our children are no exception. Anxiety is our natural alarm system, which alerts us to uncertain or potentially dangerous situations.

It can begin in infancy as some babies experience anxiety when left alone at night or when separated from their parents. To an infant this is perceived as a life threatening situation, as they depend on their parents for survival. Some experts feel much of the anxiety we experience throughout our lives is related to this “separation” experienced early in life.

In this article we will discuss childhood anxiety disorder and focus on the school age child, with a special word on school phobia.

Anxiety Disorder

This disorder is described as excessive worrying or having intense fears that interfere with the child’s daily existence and enjoyment of life. Dr. Sharon Ryan Montgomery, a child psychologist in Morristown, NJ , stresses that all children may experience anxiety at some time in their childhood as a response to a new situation or developmental challenge. The birth of a sibling, a move to a new home, the start of the school year, and illness or death of a close family member or pet are common examples of situations that can provoke anxiety in any child.

Some children, because of their own temperament, may be more prone to anxiety and have ore fears than other children. These are children who are shy, have always had difficulty with separation or new situations, or with change or transitions. As infants they may have had more difficulty settling down and may have reacted more suddenly to loud noises.

When a child is experiencing anxiety, a parent may observe a change in appetite, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, or physical symptoms such as head-aches, dizziness or stomach aches. Some children may suddenly not want to be left alone or go to a friend’s house to play or sleep over. For most children or adolescents, these symptoms will be short lived and the child will work through these fears and develop a feeling of mastery over the challenge. In fact, learning how to face fears and cope with new experiences are vital skills for our children to learn.

However, for some children, the anxiety begins to intensify and become more pervasive, and fear may spread beyond the original source of the anxiety. For example, an initial reaction to parents leaving a child at home with a relative while they take a trip, may extend to fear of any separation between parent and child. Difficulty sleeping or eating will worsen the child’s physical state and decrease the child’s ability to cope. These greatly magnified fears and anxieties will then begin to interfere with the child’s enjoyment of daily life.

Dr. Montgomery offers the following advice for parents who suspect their child is having anxiety or increased fearfulness.

  • Talk to your child about what he or she may be afraid of (remember children will not understand what anxiety is). Find out what is happening in the child’s world, especially school. What changes or losses have occurred for your child?
  • Make adjustments if possible to ease the situation, but don’t overprotect. Remember that it is unrealistic to think that you can remove all of the stress from a child’s life. So, try to help your child face his or her fears with gentle support. Encourage your child’s independence in age appropriate areas.
  • Maintain structure and set limits on behavior. These make a child feel safe.
  • Reduce your child’s exposure to frightening media reports. These alone have been responsible for some children’s sudden fears.
  • Anxiety is very contagious. Children can easily pick up on a parent’s anxiety. In addition, remember to examine family stresses to see if your child is picking up on someone else’s anxiety.
  • For the same reasons, be aware of your own anxieties and fears. Be careful not to discuss these with your child.

When do you need to seek professional help?

If a child’s symptoms last longer than a month, seem to be getting worse instead of easing, have spread to other areas of the child’s life, or are interfering with school functioning, or if all your attempts to help your child cope are not working, then it is time to speak to your pediatrician or seek help from a child therapist.

Our aim as parents should be to teach our children better coping for handling stressful situations, rather than trying to eliminate stress in our children’s lives. Because the reality is – whether child or adult – we live in a stressful, rapidly changing world, that requires coping skills to survive.

School Phobia
An important type of anxiety disorder is when a child suddenly develops tremendous anxiety about going to school. Physical symptoms are very common with stomachaches and headaches leading the list. Once a medical cause has been ruled out, the school avoidance has to be acted on immediately. This is the one situation that a parent should not wait several weeks before addressing. The child should be firmly, but gently, returned to school as soon as possible. The worst thing is for a child to get into a pattern of staying home. The longer this goes on, the harder it is to return the child to the classroom. To achieve this sometimes requires a collaboration and cooperation of parents, teachers, the pediatrician, and the therapist.

Caffeine and Your Kids

caffeineCaffeine consumption in kids can lead to health concerns if not monitored by parents and physicians alike. Here are answers to three basic questions on the subject.

Which soft drink has more caffeine?
Which soft drink has more caffeine? Coca Cola, Pepsi, Surge or Mountain Dew? Food companies do not have to list how much caffeine is in their drinks on the labels. So a recent article in Zillions (the kids offshoot of Consumer Reports) detailed the results of a study of these popular soft drinks and the results might surprise you. Mountain Dew had 55mg and Surge 53 mg of caffeine in a 12 0z. bottle compared to 47mg for Coke and 37mg for Pepsi. Most people associate caffeine with the cola color and assume that Mountain Dew has no caffeine like 7 UP and Sprite. The research shows that this is clearly not the case.

How can caffeine affect my child’s health?
Caffeine, even in doses of 20 to 50 mg, can have an effect on a child. As a stimulant, it revs up your nerves and can make kids feel more alert and less sleepy. Sensitive kids can feel anxious, restless, jittery and have trouble sleeping. The effects of caffeine can last up to 24 hours.

Is caffeine addictive to children?
There is also an addictive effect which can create cravings in kids who drink these drinks on a regular basis. If they don’t get the caffeine they can feel more sleepy and may experience headaches and irritability from caffeine withdrawal. So be aware of how much caffeine your children are consuming and be an educated consumer when you are in the supermarket.