How Focused Attention Can Help Our Kids Battle Stress and Anxiety

With focused attention we can actually change the physical structure of our brain.

In the midst of my worst moments of anxiety and panic, I would focus incessantly on the physical sensation and fear that it was something serious and harmful. But, as I learned over time from several experts, my attention was directed on the wrong thing. What if I could shift my focus to something else – something more interesting and positive?

As it turns out, scientists have discovered over the past several years the incredible power we have within ourselves to transform our brain, and therefore, our thoughts. In “The Whole-Brain Child,” author Daniel J. Siegel M.D. explains how the brain physically changes in response to new experiences. “With intention and effort, we can acquire new mental skills. …when we direct our attention in a new way, we are actually creating a new experience that can change both the activity and ultimately the structure of the brain itself.”

How does this work? Our new thoughts activate neurons in our brain, a process referred to as neural firing. This leads to the production of proteins that create new connections between neurons. Therefore with focused attention we can actually change the physical structure of our brain.

This entire process is called neuroplasticity, a very exciting new realm of science that experts are trying to learn more about every day. Because our brain can change based on what we experience and focus on, we can alter the way we respond to and interact with the world around us. We can even reduce negative patterns and form new, healthier ones.

How we can change our brain

A collection of scientific evidence shows how focused attention can reshape our brain, as Daniel J. Siegel points out. Brain scans of violinists, for example, show dramatic growth and expansion in regions of the cortex that represent the left hand, which is the main finger used to play the violin strings. Another study showed that the hippocampus, which is critical for spatial memory, is enlarged in taxi drivers.

The magic of focused attention is that we can use it to help get over negative emotions like fear. We can redirect our attention towards something that relaxes us.

“By directing our attention, we can go from being influenced by factors within and around us to influencing them. When we become aware of the multitude of changing emotions and forces at work around us and within us, we can acknowledge them and even embrace them as parts of ourselves – but we don’t have to allow them to bully us or define us. We can shift our focus to other areas of awareness, so that we are no longer victims of forces seemingly beyond our control, but active participants in the process of deciding and affecting how we think and feel,” Siegel writes in his book.

Fortunately, we have many effective tools to use to achieve more focus and create deep connections in our brain. We can use mindfulness meditation, yoga, Qi gong, breathing techniques, guided imagery, cognitive behavioral therapy, and even brain exercises to develop our focused attention. All of these approaches involve directing our attention to a specific object, image, sound, mantra, or even our own breath.

In addition, Siegel developed a whole new technique called “Mindsight” to become mindful of all our mental activities, reorganize them, and then re-wire our brain. It goes a step further than mindfulness because it’s not just about being present in the moment, but about having the ability to monitor what’s going on and then to make a conscious change. This can have huge implications for those suffering from stress and anxiety.

Ways for kids to practice focused attention

Teaching our children this special trick of focused attention can help them in so many ways throughout their lives. By being aware of their emotions and learning how to shift their concentration, they will be empowered and feel in control of their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. From an early age, we can start to introduce some fun ways for kids to build up their focused attention muscle.

  • Point out the positive. When faced with setbacks or unwelcome news, ask your children to find the positive in those situations. Paying attention to the positive rewires our brain for happiness and increases our awareness.
  • Play listening and conversation games. Because of all their technology use, our children are missing out on really important skills like listening and how to hold an in-person conversation. Play games like “whisper down the lane” or verbal memory so that your kids can improve their ability to listen carefully.
  • Creative arts. When our children are immersed in art – whether it be music, painting, writing, or drawing – they reach a state of flow, the sense of being completely engaged in an activity to the point of being in a near meditative state. When we are in a state of flow, we forgot about all our thoughts and lose track of time. Sign your kids up for an art class or music lesson, encourage them to spend time journaling, and bring out the karaoke machine to get them focused through creativity.
  • Mindful play. Choose toys and games that require your children’s full attention, such as spinning tops, dominoes, building a house of cards, brain teasers, or board games like Operation and Memory.
  • Breathing exercises. One of the most basic and commonly used meditation approaches is deep breathing, which has been found to help return our breathing back to normal and alleviate unsettling feelings of stress and anxiety. Practice breathing exercises with your children so they can learn how to do it on their own when they are stressed.
  • Yoga practice. Yoga offers so many incredible benefits to our children, including a time for inner focus and to connect to their bodies. Enjoy doing poses together as a family and showing your kids that they can tap into the skills learned during yoga throughout their day to address the pressures and stress they endure.
  • Enjoy nature scenes. Focusing on awe-inspiring scenes of nature – whether in person or through pictures and videos – can engage our children’s attention. Schedule some outdoor time, sit down and watch a nature show, or enjoy gorgeous photographs of our natural environment. Teach your children that just sitting quietly and staring at these images is relaxing and a helpful focus exercise.

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18 Simple Ways to Infuse Each Day With Learning

Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.

Teaching your child about World War II or how to do double digit addition is important. But those are limited facts and skills. Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.
Here are 18 easy ways to foster a love of learning in the midst of everyday life.

Read to them

Reading not only has physical and emotional benefits. There is concrete evidence that it helps brain development and academic growth as well. With so much possibility, reading is the perfect way to help kids fall in love with learning.

Let them see you read

While reading to your children has many benefits, letting them see you read shows kids that reading is forever. It’s not just for babies. It’s not just for school. Read in front of them (and Facebook doesn’t count).

Be outdoors

Time outside provides opportunities for fine and gross motor development, risk-taking, and exploring, all of which prove beneficial to learning. There is also a direct correlation between time outside and reduction of stress, confidence building, and exposure to different stimuli.

Sing, play, and listen to music

The brain benefits of music are numerous. Plus, music has the ability to bring joy, relaxation, and express ideas.

Relax

True learning goes far beyond grades in a classroom. Show them you believe that by spending time with your kids doing nothing much in particular except enjoying each other’s company.

Embrace what they love

Give kids the opportunity to explore the things they love. If your child is into trains right now, find books about trains, build a train, draw a train, watch trains at the train station. Allow your child to guide their learning through their passions.

Talk about learning

Let them know when you discover something new. “Wow, I never knew that popcorn could burn so quickly. I wonder why?” Kids need to see that we are always learning, even in the ordinary.

Ask questions

I know it feels like all we do is answer questions. So start asking. “How did that bird know I just put birdseed out?” or “Why are there police officers guarding the construction workers?” Questions are the foundation of learning.

Give them money

I know it can be painfully slow, but letting them pay at the store and count change is real life learning. If you use plastic for all your payments, talk about how that works, too.

Wonder

Encourage your children to think freely about things, without boundaries. Some of the best ideas started with wild wondering!

Play

School keeps kids busy learning good things. But there is not a lot of room for play in a regular day. Giving kids the opportunity to play with no agenda allows them to be better thinkers.

Ask random math questions

Math facts are foundational for good mental math, but kids don’t always want more schoolwork. Make math facts fun by asking them when you’re doing something else, like driving, hiking, or making dinner. Make it easy, fun, and short.

Keep reading picture books

Even as kids get older, picture books can provide unique opportunities for learning. Increased connection with the text, vocabulary, and a more sensory approach to reading keeps the experience enjoyable and beneficial.

Go places

Visit the sea or a mountain. Spend time at the free art museum or check out the historical house in town. Experiences make learning part of life and create schema, a personal framework for learning.

Create

Giving kids the chance to create through art, music, science, or any imaginative play helps them develop better thinking skills that translate far outside the classroom.

Enlist help

Helping with adult tasks gives kids new skills and shows them the need to learn throughout life. Cooking, taking pictures, changing the oil, and doing laundry all show kids that there is always something new they can do.

Fail

Often. Let them see that failure is part of learning. Recognizing failure as part of the learning process rather than an end to learning shows kids to keep going. Demonstrate that it’s okay, even good, to fail because it’s all part of the process.

Did I mention read?

It’s one of the simplest things you can do with endless possibilities. Read to learn, for fun, and for life.

Bee-fore You Put the Garden to Rest, Get Your Wildflower Planting On

Consider at least one more backyard foray this Fall that the kids, the neighbors, and the bees will thank you for – prep a wildflower garden.

Outdoor family-time is waning (for some) as the daylight slips faster and further down into the southern hemisphere. But before you start dreaming of snow forts, consider at least one more backyard foray this Fall – one that promises many entertaining hours for kids, environmental payoff, and a jumpstart on a low-maintenance garden in the Spring.

Prep a wildflower garden. Native wildflowers are easy to plant and care for, produce long-lasting blooms, and support many crucial pollinators in your area. Optimal planting time is coming up fast (for all regions of the United States). Below, you’ll find all the direction and inspiration (facts, videos, books & gear, and a playlist) needed to transform those weedy flower-beds or incessant lawns into a hands-free meadow.

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graphic of bee and wileflower
 

When to plant seeds

Fall planting is best in all regions of the U.S.

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[su_spoiler title=”When to plant if you get no frost”]January or February. You can expect your seeds to pop up 2-4 weeks after planting. This is a great way to take advantage of the precipitation winter often brings to the warmest zones, where warm springs and early summer temperatures can sometimes cause stress to young, tender seedlings.[/su_spoiler]
[su_spoiler title=”When to plant if you get mild frost”]about 60-90 days before the first frost arrives. This will allow perennial wildflowers an opportunity to grow strong enough and establish root systems that will endure.[/su_spoiler]
[su_spoiler title=”When to plant if you get more than 60 days of frost”]When to plant if you get more than 60 days of frost:[/su_highlight] when ground temperatures are below 45 degrees. Be patient! Planting too soon will cause seeds to sprout (and then die). Planting now will give you a 2-4 week “jump start” on the more traditional spring planting.[/su_spoiler]

Plan, prep, plant

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[su_column size=”3/4″]Purchase regional wildflower seed mixes that target pollinators. Poppies, sunflowers, mint, and thyme are all big winners with bees. Make sure you find a good mix that’s Non-GMO, Neonicotinoid-Free, and nectar rich. (Get 10% off a great pollinator mix)[/su_column] [/su_row]
 
[su_row][su_column size=”1/4″][/su_column] [su_column size=”3/4″]Clear a patch of earth by digging up grass or clearing weeds. Spread a thin layer of potting soil over the area. Alternately, fill window boxes or free-standing pots.[/su_column] [/su_row]
 
[su_row][su_column size=”1/4″][/su_column] [su_column size=”3/4″]Shake the seeds over your preped area and gently press the seeds into the soil (some flowers won’t germinate if they’re covered with soil).[/su_column] [/su_row]
 
[su_row][su_column size=”1/4″][/su_column] [su_column size=”3/4″]Water immediately and then follow the directions on the packet for watering frequency.
Get even more details about planting your wildflower patch.[/su_column] [/su_row]

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Parent Co. partnered with American Meadows  because they’re committed to keeping the bees happy, healthy, and buzzing about.


10% off all wildflower seeds with code: [su_highlight background=”#fef4b1″]FEEDTHEBEES[/su_highlight]

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Facts, books, gear, and songs related to the outdoors. Turn this into a learning opportunity…

Facts about bees for the kids

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Check out all 13 fun facts about bees

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Videos for kids about bees and our planet

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The Honey Bee

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Can plants talk to each other?

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repurposed plastic from the ocean makes new (old) art

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Stephen Colbert and Viggo Mortensen: Save the Bees

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Forms in Nature

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The color blue is rare in nature

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bees and flowers

For home and hive

(Tap to learn more about a book or product)

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Get your groove on

Buzzworthy jams

 

  1. “Sugar, Sugar” – The Archies
  2. “Mother Nature’s Son” – Beatles
  3. “Down to Earth” (from WALL-E) – Peter Gabriel
  4. “Beautiful Day” –U2
  5. “Bein’ Green” –Kermit
  6. “Big Yellow Taxi”—Counting Crows Version
  7. “The 3 R’s” –Jack Johnson
  8. “Circle of Life” (from Lion King)
  9. “Society”—Eddie Vedder
  10. “Clear Blue Skies” –Crosby, Stills & Nash

 

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Parent Co. partnered with American Meadows  because they’re committed to keeping the bees happy, healthy, and buzzing about.


Get 10% off all wildflower seeds with the code:

[su_highlight background=”#fef4b1″]FEEDTHEBEES[/su_highlight]

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We’ve selected these items because we want these great products to be on your radar! If you decide to purchase a product using one of these links, Parent Co. will earn a small share of revenue because we are an Amazon Affiliate Partner. By supporting us through this program you are helping to keep the lights on and the banner ads off.

 
 

How to Know You’ve Turned Into a Country Bumpkin

When you first move to the country, after living in the city your whole life, you stick out like a perfectly manicured thumb.

When you first move to the country, after living in the city your whole life, you stick out like a perfectly manicured thumb. You don’t know the rules, the customs, or the subtle societal mores dictating behavior. You have misgivings about fitting in: Why doesn’t anyone else wear bangs? Am I supposed to dry clean this Carhartt coat? Will I lose my chopstick dexterity without a Korean barbeque within walking distance? To your rural neighbors – most of whom belong to one of three familial factions – you are an outsider, an interloper, a passing transient who won’t last through the harvest.
But you do.
You make it through that harvest and the next, and before you know it, 10 years have passed since you moved to the sticks. Your initial reservations dried up long ago like the spring mud that evaporates into filthy summer dust and covers everything. Now, you feel like Linda Hamilton in “Terminator 2” with a chiseled resilience to endure any hardship thrown your way: 15 snow days in one month due to impassable roads? Meh. Local grocery store doesn’t carry Sriracha sauce? Whatever.
But be honest, City Girl, you are still a socially-driven creature with a hardwired need for acceptance. A fleeting doubt escapes: Do I pass? Am I one of them? If you’re still not sure whether your transition from City Slick to Country Hick is complete, here are 18 ways to tell:
1| You’ve conceded that it takes 30 minutes to drive anywhere, but you have zero tolerance for traffic. If you can’t go 65 mph the whole way without stopping, you fly into road rage – UNLESS you spot a turtle moseying across the highway, in which case you slam on the brakes and help the little feller to safety.
2 | When your friend’s baby registry includes a camouflage crib set, not only do you not snicker, you buy it for her.
3 | You’ve synched your kids’ vaccination schedule to match your septic tank evacuations so you don’t fall too far behind on either. Let’s see, the last time we had the septic tank pumped, little Janey got her MMRI … and now the toilets are overflowing, so she must be due for her booster shot!
4 | When you say “My hood has some rough places” you literally mean “The triangular amenity attached to my coat that covers my head in a storm has some places where the material is not smooth.”
5 | You’ve witnessed at least one squirrel/possum/rabbit giving birth, then Googled: “What do I feed newborn squirrels/possums/rabbits?” Followed by: “How to raise baby squirrels/possums/rabbits?” And finally: “How to dispose of dead, possibly diseased, baby squirrels/possums/rabbits?”
6 | The Lands End catalog makes you feel frumpy and out of style.
7 | What you find most offensive about the show “Naked and Afraid” isn’t its derogatory depiction of women, its cheesy dialogue, or the ridiculous premise; no, you’re most offended by the phony way they split firewood. An axe? Please.
8 | You’ve attended a donkey basketball game and knew most of the players.
9 | You don’t object to your husband’s decision to mow giant crop circles in the yard with the tractor in order to “add a little mystery to summer.”
10 | In the winter, you don’t drive anywhere without chains, a winch, blankets, boots, road flares, and a dish to pass, because country folk are known for their flash-mob-stuck-in-a-ditch potlucks.
11 | Your kids have spent more time in hunting blinds than in a shopping mall.
12 | You are proficient in vehicle mud spatter. By the subtle variation in color and texture of the muck dried onto someone’s car, you can tell the exact road they live on.
13 | Homegrown tomatoes have absolutely ruined you for the pale, mealy ones in the grocery store, and even though you spend a small fortune growing your own, every spring you feel compelled to plant a vegetable garden.
14 | You schedule your kids’ dentist appointments on the opening day of rifle season because you know there won’t be any school.
15 | You couldn’t care less about wearing white after Labor Day, but you wouldn’t be caught dead without the snowplow on your tractor after Halloween.
16 | When your husband gives you a diamond bracelet for your birthday, you smile politely and thank him, but deep down you’re disappointed because what you really wanted was that set of Waterhog floor mats.
17 | You’ve become a venison snob; if it’s not a bow kill, you want no part of it.
18 | You learn the secret to a happy marriage isn’t spending time together; it’s letting your husband have a pole barn.
Obviously, “You can take the girl out of the city, but you’ll never take the city out of the girl,” is just a meaningless adage intended to keep the blood lines pure. Rest easy, sister. You’re killing it in the country.
This article was originally published on Sammiches and Psych Meds.

A Mother's Proclamation About How This Day is Going to Go

Today, we will get out of the house. This will be no easy feat, but we will get out of the house.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Today, we will get out of the house.
This will be no easy feat, as I will need to dress both of you while you are fully committed to this riveting episode of Paw Patrol. It will be like attempting to tug clothes onto an angry octopus, or actually, like trying to dress two fighting octopi that can’t keep their tentacles to themselves.
But we will get out of the house.
I must pack enough snack rations to feed an entire small town for a week, even though we’ll only be gone for a couple of hours and you just ate your weight in muffins at breakfast. And I need to make sure I have exactly the same number of banana applesauce pouches for each of you. Strawberry applesauce is obviously not acceptable.
And you, my dear daughter, must go potty. I realize this is a 42-step process, and that you will shout “I pooped!” just as I am trying to wrangle your brother to the ground, pinning him down with my body weight so I can change his diaper. But we can do this. We must.
And then we will be ready – hooray! Dressed, bag packed, faces (somewhat) clean, hair brushed. We will just need to find your shoes and socks and put them on. Easy-peasy, right? Yes, I know we are missing one of your gray socks with blue whales, and that it is nearly impossible to go on living without it, but we will prevail.
Despite all of this, we will get out of the house.
We will figure out a way to get in the car, even though you will each insist that I buckle you into your car seat first.
We will go to the library to return our overdue books and pick out new ones, even though you, my sweet son, will sob, your little face scrunched in rage, because I have the audacity to insist that I hold you while we cross the street.
After the library (where one of you clearly will not respect the quiet rule), I will – despite my better judgment – take you to the bakery next door for a donut. You will argue over who gets the bigger half (news flash – they will be exactly the same size). You will coat every square inch of your face, the table, and the floor with cinnamon sugar.
But today, I will get out of the house.
Here is a list of things I will not do:

  • Fold the load of laundry that’s been waiting for me in the living room for three days.
  • Clean the kitchen, which may be reaching health code levels of dirtiness.
  • Spend any measure of quality time with my husband.
  • Clean out the back of my car, or finally take those clothes on top of my dresser to Goodwill, or do our weekly meal planning, or write, or go for a run, or take a nap.

I will not do any of those things today.
Some days I wonder – what am I doing with my life? Am I achieving enough? Am I reaching for my dreams? Am I doing anything really worthwhile? And importantly – will these kids ever sleep? Will my house ever be clean again?
I am often tired and frazzled, overwhelmed by how much you need me and by my inability to do it all. But I do know deep down that it is all okay, and that nothing lasts forever – not even these days, which are messy, mundane, and maddening … but also magic if I am determined enough to pay attention.
Today, I will get out of the house. I will take you to the park. I will watch as you play in the sand, giggle your way down the slides, and shriek with joy while you chase butterflies. I will push you on the swings, one hand on each of your little backs. I will raise my face to the warmth of the sun and be grateful.

That Fish Is Going to Be Caught: Determination or Stubbornness

Seeing your child try to accomplish something without your help is not stubbornness, that is “determination.”

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
I wasn’t going to give up. I knew if I tried hard enough I was going to be able to catch that fish with my bare hands just like my cousin did. Even though I was a girly girl and didn’t want to touch the fish, I knew if I could learn to do this I would never go hungry. Simplistic thinking for sure but I was a child, and it made perfect sense to me at the time to learn this skill.
My mom thought I was doing this just to prove I could. It wasn’t long before she yelled at me to “stop being so stubborn and give up.” If she had have given the whole situation half a thought she would have realized that I don’t enjoy touching yucky stuff, so there must have been a bigger reason for me to keep trying other than stubbornness. I was frustrated with her putting that negative word on me, so I yelled back to her “not being stubborn mom, I just want to catch one.” That was the start of my years of arguing with her about what she referred to as my “stubborn streak.” Even back then I knew it was motive that made the difference. I was not being defiant; I was just going to keep trying until I caught that fish.
My mother continued to use that horrible “s word” with me, and at times I would’t clean my room out of pure stubbornness. If she wouldn’t stop thinking I was stubborn, then “screw it,” I would be stubborn and show her what the difference was between the two.
What we say about our children tends to stick with them well into their adulthood. If you say to your child “stop being so lazy and go clean your room,” they will start to become more and more lazy. If you say “you worry way too much,” your child will worry even more.
Having my mother regularly call me stubborn tended to make me stubborn where my natural inclination was not defiance. It took me years to be able to articulate the difference between those two words, but once I did, I stopped feeling the need to be stubborn about anything, and just became “determined.” I no longer felt the need to try and prove my mom wrong, with the full understanding that my trying to prove her wrong was indeed stubbornness. Now, being aware of the full impact of the difference in those two words I had freedom to be as determined as I needed to be to accomplish my goals. Fortunately, the one benefit of being a determined child was that I didn’t give up trying to prove I wasn’t stubborn, so my mother’s negative words over me didn’t stick.
Seeing your child try to accomplish something without your help is not stubbornness, that is “determination.” If they have the wisdom to ask for your help when they realize sheer determination is not going to get them what they want, now you have a humble, determined child.
If you have a child that wants help with everything they do, this is not determination; this is laziness. But rather than point that out, just encourage them to try and figure out how to do something on their own. When your child has accomplished something on their own, whether big or small, you need to give high praise for that accomplishment. Establishing in their mind that you are proud of their determination will encourage them to do even more things on their own in the future.
Understand, I am not saying you should never help – you should help only when you see they tried and just couldn’t accomplish it on their own. Therefore allowing your child to learn to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses which will enable them to have both without guilt!

The Easiest Thing You Can do to Improve Kids' Eyesight

Scientists have now found a fascinating link between the amount of time children spend outside and their eyesight.

Have you noticed that more and more people are wearing glasses these days? Throughout the world there is a nearsightedness, or myopia, epidemic. This condition is when individuals need corrective lenses to see objects far away. The blurry vision is the result of the eye growing too long for distant rays of light to focus accurately on the back of the eye. Myopia can potentially lead to serious eye diseases later in life, such as retinal detachment or degeneration.
It is estimated that about one-third of the world’s population are nearsighted. Nearly half of young adults in the United States and Europe are nearsighted, which is twice the amount from a half century ago. For years, researchers have been trying to identify the reason for the rise in vision problems. Could it be all the computers, video games, and texting? Although that is the most obvious culprit, scientists have now found a fascinating link between the amount of time children spend outside and their eyesight.
Scientists reviewed data for nearly 5,000 children over 20 years as part of the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Ethnicity and Refractive Error (CLEERE) Study funded by the National Eye Institute. They made the following conclusions:

  • If a child has two nearsighted parents, the hereditary genetic effects increase the child’s chances of needing corrective lenses to about 60 percent if they spent little time outdoors.
  • More time outdoors, about 14 hours per week, can nearly remove genetic risk, lowering the chances of needing corrective lenses to about 20 percent (the same chance as a child with no nearsighted parents).
  • Time spent outdoors has little to no effect on how prescriptions change over time in children who are already nearsighted, although more studies are underway to explore this issue in more detail.

In another review that was presented at the annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, researchers at the University of Cambridge examined eight studies that encompassed data for 10,400 children and adolescents. They found that each additional hour spent outdoors per week could reduce the risk of developing myopia by up to two percent.
Finally, a research team in China looked at the effect of prolonged exposure to sunlight on eye health in 1,900 schoolchildren. The children were broken into two groups; the first group spent more time outdoors than the second group. Scientists found that the children who spent more time outdoors had a 23 percent reduced risk of developing myopia over a three-year period. Researchers also discovered that of the children who developed myopia, those who spent more time outdoors had less vision issues than those who did not.
Researchers have several theories to explain the connection between vision and time spent outdoors. Some believe that the outdoors provides a protective effect on our children’s eyes as the children grow. Others talk about how the exposure to more ultraviolet B radiation from the sun leads to a boost in vitamin D production that may improve eye health from a biochemical standpoint. Another theory is that children who are outside often tend to be more physically active, and that movement could protect the body. Finally, another idea is that bright light slows abnormal myopic eye growth by stimulating a release of dopamine from cells in the retina. Dopamine then causes slower, normal growth of the eye that is not impacted by myopia.What can parents do to take advantage of this new information?

Check vision annually

Nearsightedness typically begins during elementary school, so please be sure to have your children’s vision checked annually at school and/or at the pediatrician’s office. If an issue is identified, then you will be referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist for a more thorough exam.

Limit screen time

Whether is it natural light or the damaging effects of the electronics themselves, these studies give us more reason to limit screen time and send our kids outdoors.

Encourage daily outdoor play

Children are spending less time outdoors these days because of a number of factors. It is up to us to schedule fun outdoor activities throughout the week. This can include organized sports teams, free play with friends and neighbors, family bike rides, trips to the park, gardening, or even setting up a spot outside to do homework. Even though the goal is to have our children’s eyes exposed to more natural sunlight, it is still critical that we protect them with sunglasses and sunscreen.

Increase light exposure indoors

If the weather is not conducive to head outdoors, consider using daylight-spectrum indoor lights to minimize myopia. These are the same types of lights used to address seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

How to Keep Kids Calm During Shots (and a Bonus Reason For Doing so)

How do we possibly overcome what seems like an impossible task to keep our kids happy and calm before they get pricked? Here are some ideas.

It’s that time of year again when I have to keep a huge secret from my kids. Last time I took them they started crying, screaming, and demanding that we go home. No, I’m not talking about going to a haunted mansion for Halloween. I am referring to the dreaded flu shot at the pediatrician’s office.

Children are certainly not in a good mood when they know they have to get a flu shot. This could be more of problem than we ever realized. A new study at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom found a link between our mood when we get a flu shot and the effectiveness of the vaccine.

For years, researchers have been studying a range of factors that can affect our immune response to vaccines, such as sleep, stress, physical activity, and nutrition. This new research specifically looked at patients’ psychological well-being. The study began two weeks before the vaccine was administered when individuals took a blood test to check antibody levels. They were also asked to fill out diaries detailing food and drink intake, physical activity, stress levels, sleep, and mood patterns. For four weeks after the shot, they continued to record in their diary and had additional blood tests on weeks four and 16. Finally, the research team assessed the data and found that positive mood was the only factor that predicted higher flu antibody levels in the blood samples. In fact, the influence of the positive mood was especially strong on the day the participants received the shot.

Given this vital discovery, how do we possibly overcome what seems like an impossible task to keep our kids happy and calm before they get pricked? Here are some ideas.

Mindful breathing

Mindful breathing has been scientifically proven to minimize stress and anxiety. It’s times like these when we need to rely on the breath to get us through the stress. Try an easy tactic with your kids called Heart Hands in which you create a heart shape with your hands. Ask your child to breathe in as you expand your hands to a heart shape. As she breathes out, collapse your hands into two fists side by side. If you don’t have a free hand, then ask her to take a deep breath in and to pretend she is blowing out a candle or blowing bubbles. Repeat this exercise several times.

Music

Music is a magical mood shifter. It helps take our attention from fear to something more pleasing. Sing a song or play one on your phone as your child is about to have the shot. Consider putting together a special playlist for your kids to listen to when they’re stressed so you have it on hand in case they need it. Although slow, quiet classical music is known to have calming effects, it’s really a personal choice to discover which music your children find most soothing. Upbeat party music may actually be a more effective distraction than slow orchestral music.

Soothing imagery

Another option is to bring along some beautiful pictures of nature to look at. Research shows that viewing pictures of nature scenes can reduce stress because our parasympathetic nervous system (which helps us to calm down) is activated. To calm your child down, read a book with calming nature pictures or pull up some photos on your phone or iPad. Keep your children’s focus by asking questions about what they see even while the shot is being administered.

Laughter

Your child will think you’re crazy that you are telling jokes while he’s facing a traumatic event like getting a shot, but don’t let that stop you. The best way to help him is to try to get him to forget where he is – laughing can certainly help with that.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing improves our body and mind and is one of the simplest tools we have for reducing stress and anxiety. You can bring a joke book, tell a silly story, or make silly faces in the doctor’s office.

Texture game

Finally, children can find some comfort using their sense of touch. Sometimes doctor’s offices will provide a stress ball for your child to hold. You can also bring along a cozy stuffed animal or a soft toy like a rabbit’s foot. Another trick is to have her feel different textures one after another using a touch-and-feel book or cards.

Why do I Save Spiders?

I really thought I’d gotten over my fear of spiders, at least to the point where I could remove them from my kids’ rooms when needed. You always know when it’s needed. There is no shriek quite as piercing as a child spotting a spider in his or her room, or (even more terrifying) in the shower.

My newfound confidence went right out the window one morning when I was sitting in bed, working on my laptop, and saw movement along the baseboards out of the corner of my eye. Maybe it’s just a cricket, I thought.

Why would a cricket be any better than a spider? It would be much worse. You can’t catch those things, and they jump! At least spiders don’t jump. Not spiders this big. Dear God . . . That is a spider, right?

I crept out of bed and put on my flip flops, then took one off in case it decided to attack. Then I put it back on, because . . . that thing was huge. I didn’t trust my aim with a tiny flip flop against a behemoth arachnid. Smacking at it might just make it mad.

I ran (as quietly as possible) to the kitchen to get a large plastic cup, heart pounding. What if it wasn’t there when I got back? What then? It could be anywhere! The cats were perched on the dining room table, looking concerned.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s just an enormous spider. You would be helpless against it. Besides, it looks poisonous.”

Back into the bedroom. It was still there. Phew. I moved closer and closer, trying to get the cup into position before it spotted me. How do spider eyes work, anyway? Do they have more than two? Can they see in all directions? I feel like I really should know this before trying to sneak up on one.

No matter. The cup is all I’ve got. I brought it down slowly, slowly. The spider didn’t move. Plunk. Got it! Too late, I realized that the cup wasn’t flat on the floor. It was propped up on the – what do you call that thing at the bottom of the baseboard? A kickplate? My years of binge-watching HGVT failed me. In horror, I watched it scramble under the door of the closet.

I paused outside the closet door, cup in hand, for a very long time. Damn it. What now? I can’t start poking around in the closet, it’s sure to drop on me from whatever it’s attached to. I opened the doors and stared into the closet. Eventually I worked up the nerve to slowly push aside a four-pack of paper towels, expecting it to come charging at me from the other side of the package. Nothing.

I stepped back and noticed the flashlight on an upper shelf. That’s it. I’ll be able to see it better without having to physically enter the closet, and maybe I could paralyze it with the light. I didn’t know if that was possible but I really, really hoped so. It happens with deer, right? Spider in the headlights?

Betty (cat #1) entered the room. She loves chasing lights. I trained the light on the closet floor and she ran right in after it.

“No, Betty! Don’t startle the spider!”

I turned off the light, but before I did, I saw something on the floor, in the open, that looked a lot like the spider. I turned the flashlight on again and kept Betty at bay with my foot. I think that’s the spider! Just sitting there! Why is it doing that? Oh my God, it’s paralyzed by the light! It was like I had discovered fire.

I brought the flashlight closer and closer, testing the light paralysis theory. It didn’t move. Plunk. Just like that, he was trapped. Hooray!

Now, how to get him outside? The old “slide paper under cup” trick worked, but I couldn’t pick it up because the paper was flimsy. One wrong move and he would make a break for it, probably down my arm. I had to slide him across the floor, inch by inch, trying not to jump out of my skin listening to him skittering around in there. Six agonizing feet later, I remembered that there was a rug between me and the screen door. Foiled again.

What would Macgyver do? Duct tape. We have duct tape. Feeling accomplished, I ripped up what little duct tape was left on the roll into small strips, and started folding the paper up the side of the cup and taping it in place. Almost done . . . and then the tape ran out. One section of paper was going to be loose when I picked up the cup.

Sigh.

Holding that section tight against the cup with my hand, I maneuvered the screen door open. Carefully, gingerly, I walked to the very far end of the yard and put the cup down. The spider ran around the inside of the cup, but didn’t find the loose section in the paper. Still stuck in the cup. Dear Lord.

I untaped a few sections and put the cup back down, backing away just far enough to avoid accidental contact. Thankfully, the spider found its way out and disappeared into the grass.

Hopefully it will not find its way back in the house, because I’m all out of duct tape.

What You Need to Know for Taking Professional Outdoor Photos This Fall

Preparation and realistic expectations are key for those wanting memory making moments to be captured on film by professionals.

The autumn season makes for a beautiful backdrop when it comes to outdoor family pictures. Fall is the most in-demand season for professional photographers because the weather is typically great and the sunset lighting is magnificent. The changing of the leaves adds background color, while the gentle harvest breeze distracts the bugs from biting. Family photos taken during fall also have a practical essence because proofs can be ordered in time for the gift giving season or to be mailed as holiday cards.
As pretty as autumn is, it cannot dismiss the stress associated with booking a photo shoot, especially when extended family members need to be involved. Young children make pictures great, but they are still prone to tantrums no matter the time of year. Autumn also means school days are in full swing, as well as hectic extra-curricular activities. Preparation and realistic expectations are key for those wanting memory making moments to be captured on film by professionals.

Communication

The best way to be prepared for a photo session is to talk about it beforehand with the photographer and all of the adults planning to be in the picture. Things will go smoother if everyone is on the same page regarding date, time, and the length of the shoot. Most photographers like to have a pre-session consultation, which lets the professional behind the lens know exactly what a customer wants. This type of meeting can be short and take place in person, over the phone, or via email, text messaging, or social media. The photographer will be better prepared if details and expectations are shared.
Here is a list of items and questions that should be discussed with a photographer in advance:
1 | The number of people attending the photo shoot must be known because location and backdrops can change dramatically if too many or too few people are in a shot.
2 | The ages of children involved is important data to share for scheduling purposes, and also for establishing the amount of time needed to complete the session. Photographers often try to avoid nap times or meal times when dealing with younger children. They may also stage it so different families come at different times in order to avoid a lot of standing around time for all involved.
3 | Is the photo shoot for an immediate family consisting of just the parents and children? Or is it a multigenerational photo with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents? A photographer needs these answers beforehand in order to create a rundown list that accommodates all requests. Multigenerational photo sessions may include several families, plus pictures of just the grandparents with the grandchildren. By knowing the family dynamic before picture day, a photographer can be sure to take all of the necessary group poses.
4 | Is there a preference between candid or formal shots? What is the overall look hoping to be achieved? A photographer wants to know a person’s style and a good photographer never wants to waste time (or precious lighting) taking unwanted pictures. Outdoor family photos are meant to resemble the style and dynamic of the individuals being photographed. The poses and staging need to reflect a personality that is recognizable to the photo subjects.
5 | What kind of final print images are wanted? If there is anything specific one wants from a photo shoot make it known early and often to avoid disappointment when proofs are made available. A photographer needs to know when a person wants a large, rectangular canvas for over the fireplace because he or she can then take multiple shots that fit this desired horizontal look.

Clothing and hair

What to wear can be the biggest stress when it comes to getting family pictures taken. Matching outfits is never mandatory, but coordinating colors is a plus. The family member that is hardest to shop for should be the starting point for all of the other outfits. Find something for him or her and then work to get everyone else dressed in similar styles and complimentary colors.
Women should be cautious about wearing dresses or skirts because they make sitting difficult. They can also inadvertently add a few pounds to a person’s look due to an unflattering angle or sudden gust of wind. Little girls look cute in dresses, but getting them to sit with their legs together can be an impossible feat. Sometimes these unladylike poses are adorable and sometimes they are irritating.
Everyone wants great hair on picture day, so try to keep it simple. Ladies should avoid ponytails because pictures taken from straight ahead can give the look of having short hair. Pigtails are very cute and photograph well on young girls. Guys with spiky or parted hair may want to use gel to keep the look in place. However, above all else be natural because a family does not want to be unrecognizable due to fancy hair.

Props

Outdoor pictures include grass, dirt, and sticky tree branches. Bring a blanket along or ask your photographer to have one on-hand so that clothes and body parts do not become stained or dirty during the photo shoot.
Props are typically welcomed by photographers, but it is a good idea to discuss what items need to be brought and their importance so the photographer can make them a priority. If a family picture is to include a sports theme, than it would be smart to bring balls and equipment from home. Photographers typically have a stash of props they can bring, as long as they know to do it. Seasonal items, vintage decor, and more can all make a family photo cozier.

Timing

The best time for an outdoor photo shoot is the late afternoon leading up to sunset. Many professional photographers describe this time as “the golden hour” or “the magic hour” because the sun puts off a beautiful glow that is great for a variety of skin tones. If a photo session cannot be booked during this magical hour, than a spot with a lot of shade should be used so that photo subjects do not have to squint or worry about being washed out by brightness.
Weather cannot be controlled, so when a person plans an outdoor photo shoot they need to be flexible and realistic. Rain, fog, clouds, and extreme temperatures can all put a damper on pictures taken outside in the elements.

Memories

Ultimately family pictures should be celebrated and during the photo shoot it is important to try to have fun and let go of the worries. There is definitely stress associated with planning for professional photos because everyone wants to look their best. However, the goal is to capture the beautiful moments in life that are happening right now. A child’s toothless grin, a grandmother’s distant look, and the laugh lines (that may actually be wrinkles) make for great photographs. Childhood is fleeting and everyone ages, but professional photos lead to hard copy proof that a family cared enough to make the time and get together.
Capturing a family’s bond against the backdrop of changing leaves and harvest sunsets will showcase a moment in time that cannot be lost.