Archive of ‘Children’ category

Move, Eat, and Sleep Your Way to a Healthier Brain

A client in their early thirties told me recently that losing his mental faculties would be one of the scariest things he could imagine. I think most of us would agree that the thought of losing our memory or having decreased cognitive functioning is terrifying. New studies are showing that memory complaints are linked (across all age groups) to poor health and lifestyle factors. The bad news is that more young people are reporting memory problems. The good news is that exercise, learning, and making healthy lifestyle choices might improve your cognitive functioning.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

One study reported in Medical News Today suggested that thinking skills tend to be best in individuals who had better cardiovascular fitness when they were young. Another study, also from Medical News Today, said that research now shows a connection between narrowing arteries and memory issues. A new study by University of California, Los Angeles, published in PLOS ONE, found that risk factors like depression, diabetes, obesity, and smoking increased the probability of memory complaints across all age groups, including young adults (ages 18-39). And, regardless of age, the strongest risk factor found was depression for perceived memory issues.

Of course, there are genetic factors and diseases that may unfortunately negatively impact cognitive function in individuals who are making healthy lifestyle choices. However, here are tips from researchers and experts to best protect your brain:

  •  Get regular exercise
  •  Avoid smoking
  •  Further your education/learn/keep your brain stimulated
  •  Have your blood pressure checked regularly
  •  Seek help/treatment for depression/depressive symptoms
  •  Have an active social life
  •  Eat a healthy diet
  •  Get quality sleep (95% adults who get less than seven hours on a routine basis experience decreased physical and mental performance)
  •  Find ways to manage your stress

We urge parents who might be reading this to help your children start learning about living a healthy life now. Here are some ideas:

  •  Exercise as a family
  •  Go on family walks
  •  Play ball/chase/tag outside
  •  Go swimming
  •  Plan meals and snacks that are healthy (it’s a good idea to shop the perimeter of the grocery store where most of the whole foods are)
  •  Teach them fun ways to unwind (reading, playing, taking deep breaths, moving their bodies, dancing)
  •  Have consistent bedtime routines and schedules. See below to make sure everyone is getting enough sleep:
    • < 12 months old: 14-16 hours per day
    • 1-3 years old: 12-14 hours per day
    • 3-6 years old: 10-12 hours per day
    • 7-12 years old: 10-11 hours per day
    • 12-18 years old: 8-9 hours per day
    • Adults: varies but generally 7-9 hours to function optimally

Family Time in the School Year

girl swinging pic

It seems like the middle of summer but the next school year is right around the corner. As you stock up on pencils, paper and other supplies, it is a good time to set family goals and have important conversations about finding balance this year.

School often brings with it extracurricular activities, homework, endless laundry, and large to do lists. It is easy for family time to be replaced with children playing sports, studying, and attending birthday parties and other social events while parents hustle to run errands, keep up with housework and their career, and shuttle their kids from place to place.

Because there are only so many hours in a day, something has to give. And all too often, it is family time together. Uninterrupted, device-less, quality time is a precious commodity these days. But maybe this year, you and your family can be intentional about making it a necessity.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider it:

  • Children whose parents are involved are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and are more likely to do better in school.
  • Families are better able to adapt to challenging situations if they are emotionally close.
  • Children whose mother communicates frequently with them (listening, answering questions, and talking) are more likely to perform well academically.
  • Children whose father spends time with them doing activities tend to have better academic success, as well.
  • Adolescents whose parents are involved in their lives tend to exhibit fewer behavioral problems.
  • Youth who participate in activities with their parents and have close relationships with them are less likely to engage in violence.
  • Eating dinner together frequenting reduces the risk of substance abuse for teens.
  • Adolescents whose parents are home with them after school and during the evening hours are less likely to experience emotional distress.

Spending time together doesn’t have to be costly or elaborate. Often, it is more about the frequency of checking in, talking with one another, eating meals together, playing games or playing outside with one another, and other low-stress activities that help family members bond the most. Now is a good time, before it all begins again, to sit down and talk about setting up regular rituals and routines for connecting with one another and committing to make family time a priority this year.


Emotion Focused Parenting

As a therapist, I am frequently asked why feelings and emotions matter. Certainly, our feelings are constantly changing, and may not even give us an accurate assessment of the situation at hand. However, they ARE always valid. Our feelings alert us to how we are doing in the world and give us the opportunity to respond instead of react. Our emotions give us a great deal of information, including alerting us when our boundaries being violated, our physical or emotional safety is being threatened, knowing when we need to ask for help, and when we feel safe and our needs are met. As a parent, we can help build our child’s emotional intelligence by helping them recognize what they are feeling and what is driving those feelings.

Being emotionally connected to our children will greatly enhance our relationship with them and is the foundation of attachment. Regardless of their age, and despite the way they may act, children and teens of all ages still need help in learning how to manage and regulate their emotions. Part of emotional intelligence includes helping children manage their feelings in a positive way so that eventually, they can regulate their own behavior, have successful social relationships, and feel confident in themselves.

To teach emotional intelligence and to be connected emotionally to our children, we must remember that humans are hardwired for emotional communication. We all feel emotions, and we all need to express them. It is important to recognize our child’s expression of emotion as an opportunity for connection. Perhaps some parents only encourage more positive emotions and dismiss or become frustrated when their child displays negative emotions. Or maybe they feel overwhelmed when their child displays intense feelings. Part of emotion focused parenting means that you will have to tolerate your child’s big feelings, recognizing that the best thing you can do is encourage healthy expression of emotion, explore why your child is feeling a certain way, and help them figure out what to do about the reaction they are having. It is very important to not shame your child for their feelings or be dismissive of their emotions.

Many parents fear that by encouraging their child to talk about their negative emotions, the child will feel worse. However, the opposite is true. When we lean in and express our emotions, we tend to feel better and they tend to become less overwhelming. On the other hand, bottled up feelings can lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and other negative symptoms and outcomes.

Certainly, we will all mess up sometimes as parents and miss opportunities to connect with our children. However, we can use these situations to repair with our child, an important relational tool in which we apologize and repair the interaction. If we ourselves are becoming overwhelmed by emotions, it is important to take a break to self-soothe and calm down, just as we can help teach our children self-soothing skills when they are flooded with emotions.

Goals of emotion coaching:
  1. Be aware of your child’s emotions
  2. Recognize emotions as an opportunity for teaching and connection
  3. Help your child verbally label the emotions
  4. Communicate empathy and understanding.
  5. Set limits and problem solve
Examples of emotion dismissing versus emotion coaching:

Child: Mommy, I just stubbed my toe.

Emotion dismissing: You’ll get over it. You shouldn’t have been playing over there anyway.

Emotion coaching: Ouch! Let me see where you hurt it. I hate it when I stub my toe! Do you need a hug?


Child: I don’t want to play with Charlie anymore.

Emotion dismissing: Too bad. Charlie is your brother and you have to play with him.

Emotion coaching: It sounds like something happened between you and Charlie to make you sad or angry. Do you want to tell me about it?


Child: I don’t want to take a bath.

Emotion dismissing: Tough. It’s bath time.

Emotion coaching: I know you are sad it is time to stop playing to take a bath. It is almost your bedtime now, though. We can definitely play more tomorrow.


Teen: I hate English! I am not even going to try anymore.

Emotion dismissing: Oh yes you are. School is important. Now go upstairs and start your homework.

Emotion coaching: It sounds like something is going on in English. Are you frustrated or angry with your teacher? Come tell me what is going on.

Information adapted from the Gottman Institute’s Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting.


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