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Archive for October 2013


The Halloween Hangover

Tooth decay? Pediatric obesity? Sleep deprived the next morning from all night trick-or-treating?  How are you going to handle the day after Halloween? How will you deal with the sudden abundance of sweets your children will drag home?

After you inspect the candy, to insure it’s safe, and maybe claim the best treats for yourself, you need a plan. On average, kids bring home two plus pounds of sugar, cocoa butter, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm oil, and many other things few of us can pronounce or identify. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no prohibitionist. I love Halloween. I’ve been known to shake down clients for Kit Kat bars and Peanut M&M’s well into mid-November. But there have to be some guidelines to handle the confectionery loot.

Here are a few great ideas:.

Out of Sight… Out of Stomach

It’s simple, but it helps: By keeping most of the candy out of visual range, many children won’t be as tempted to dive in and overeat. I know parents who set up rules, before their kids don costumes. They establish the firm expectation that parents will be in charge of the candy once it arrives home. If kids don’t accept this, there isn’t any trick-or-treating. Tough love meets Halloween!

Treats for Track!

Walk or ride or run around the playground could earn a treat later on. Beyond the healthy, regular exercise all kids need, extra physical activity justifies being able to have an additional treat. This is a version of smart calorie counting. Children who learn to think about what they are eating each day, and how much they are burning off, will likely grow into young adults more aware of their bodies, nutrition, and more willing to engage in physical exercise.

Space It Out.

Candy has a very long shelf life. Break it up for long-term enjoyment. Spill out the contents of all those plastic pumpkins and pillowcases to visually plan what you want to do with so much candy. Maybe a few pieces at the end of the week, perhaps for getting to school on time or getting teeth brushed, for eating healthy dinner, for homework done. Maybe limit one or two a day after eating a health dinner.

Enlist your child’s help.

That may sound like asking the fox to guard the hen house, but children often come up with great solutions if you tell them they need to be in charge of their bodies and tell them they are smart enough to brainstorm solutions with you. “I need your help,” one parent I know recently said to her seven year old. “We have too much candy. I know its fun to eat, but we have to figure out a way to handle so much of it. I want you to enjoy it, but how can we keep from eating it all at once?

Give Away and Share.

Finding people with whom to share your candy is a loving, caring act. Maybe it’s an elderly person on your block with whom your children don’t interact with very much. Maybe it’s your regular postal carrier, teachers, or a new potential friend. This is a great way to turn something often seen as frivolous, and sometimes greedy, as fueling positive social interactions.

Throw Away?

When all else fails and there’s just too much candy, it might be time to throw some of it away. Better inside the garbage pail than too much inside your child’s tummy. Yet, is this the right message to be giving to your kids? Isn’t it wasteful to throw food away? Yes. Fortunately, there’s nothing of much nutritional value inside the colorful, shiny wrappers. Sometimes, throwing things away that we don’t need teaches kids not to be wasteful in the first place. Given how much we spend on Halloween candy, upwards of two billion dollars a year, it seems better we buy and consume less to start with. If the idea of throwing it away still bothers you, some communities have candy

Buy Back Programs help reduce the amount of candy consumption. Start one in your school or town.

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.

Homework Battles Won

I hear from parents all the time: “How do I handle the Homework Struggles?” Here are some tips for winning this battle at home:

First things first…before starting a better homework routine and getting results, set up the right conditions to ensure success:

1. Select a quiet space. Kitchens are great for younger kids- you can watch over them… make sure they’re staying on task… and you’re there to help and prod if they need it. But beware, kitchens have some drawbacks. Watch for for these distractions: sounds, movements of other people, the smell of food… some kids do fine with screening all that out while others need a quieter, more private space to do their homework.

2. Don’t give away rewards until they get some homework done. All electronics and screens should be off limits until they get through their work. Nobody can easily switch from fun entertainment into difficult work. If you find your kids rush through homework and are sloppy just to get to their rewards… check the quality and send them back.

3. Sometimes brief outdoor play or brief rest and snack before starting homework helps. Outdoor activity in particular sharpens senses, recharges mental energy, and helps keep body movements down.

4. Consider letting your child stand while doing homework. for boys especially, we find that engaging those lower leg muscles seems to help keep them stay focused. Sitting long periods of time is difficult. And frankly, long periods of sitting are not healthy for anyone. Try it yourself. Read the morning paper while standing and having your coffee. You’ll get a sense of why this might work for your child too.

Now with the stage set, The Program:

1. Start small. Don’t expect an hour of homework (even if the teacher tells you that is the expectation). If you can get a good 10-20 minutes out of your child, that’s a great place to start. Let them take brief motor breaks and then return. You can increase the time sitting and focusing over a few weeks or months. The goal here isn’t to get everything done – all worksheets finished all the time. The real goal is to slowly condition your child to hunker down and focus on schoolwork outside the classroom. That’s the skill they will need in the real world.

2. Make it their choice. Tell your child it’s their choice to comply or not. You can’t force them to do their homework. Tell them they can choose to walk away from homework that afternoon, but the consequence they are choosing is to lose all electronics/screens, or scheduled play dates, or sports… and frankly that’s ok. You won’t nag them or be angry. It’s their schoolwork, not yours’. Don’t let this become personal. Stay clear away from charged arguments between you and them. That never helps.

3. Stick to the plan. Many parents who don’t get immediate success with this program think it won’t work. It works great, it takes several days… maybe even a good week or two before things turn around. You have to follow through and make certain that the consequences are delivered. You have to remain calm and in control. I know one parent who puts it this way. “If you want to give up your homework today, that’s your choice. You can talk with your teacher about why you decided not to do it. The rule is you spend a quiet day in your room with no electronics/screens. I won’t be mad. Then tomorrow, you can see how that worked out for you – how you felt about it – and see if you can figure a way to do this differently.”

4. Don’t get into long drawn out battles or lectures about homework. Don’t make it emotional. Keep in mind you’re building a positive work-ethic, slowly, piece by piece. You’re also helping your child to own their own decisions and directly feel the consequences they bring.

5. Keep parental anxiety in check. Parents get nervous that their child will fall behind if they aren’t getting all their homework done or if they see a slip in grades. Think long-term. Your child may need to experience a decline before they decide to put in more effort.

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.

Worried about your kid catching the flu? It’s also ADHD season

Moms and dads are checking in with me very worried, because teachers are complaining that their kids are tuning out and most likely have ADHD. Many parents are being told stories of other kids who got treated with meds and how everything turns around. I see this push to diagnose every fall. So do researchers. It’s ADHD season, when kids are diagnosed and medicated more than at any other time of the year. Why? Because of the transition back to school. Keep in mind, studies show that teachers tend to see ADHD symptoms in their students at rates that far exceed what is likely really occurring.

I too am pulled in by stories of how meds suddenly turn things around for struggling kids. These anecdotes are deceiving. ADHD diagnosing is complex. There’s a high rate of false positives with the disorder. There are no objective tests and much professional disagreement. For every positive story I know there’s a negative story too, of a child medicated unnecessarily while something else was overlooked.

Truth is, all kids (with or without ADHD) do better on these drugs sitting in class and while taking tests. I’m not set against using meds, I just don’t want parents to rush and miss other things that might be causing school-related problems. Many things look like the symptoms of ADHD. We have to take a better approach than using only check-lists or getting diagnosed in rushed 15 minute doctor visits.

Here are three simple tips to keep in mind:

(1) Be cautious who you get referred to. Some hospitals and programs and specialists are known to medicate more than others. Look for someone who is an expert, with lots of years of experience, but who doesn’t see every struggling kid as having ADHD.

(2) Look deeper. Find out why your son or daughter is tuning out. Since a myriad of learning challenges and other issues look like ADHD, you may want to consider getting a good neuropsychological assessment done (through the school or privately). It’s a helpful way to rule out other neurological and learning issues. Also, look into things now being correlated to this disorder, such as excessive TV/screen time, poor exercise, poor sleep, diet with high amount of preservatives, and not getting enough outdoor time.

(3) If a child is anxious or having problems sleeping or eating, keep in mind most ADHD meds may make these things worse. However, a qualified physician who is willing to see your child over several weeks can conduct a safe trial. You don’t want to leave with a prescription without making sure you have regular check-ins and follow up.

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.