Breathe Easier Knowing You Are Protecting Your Child From Air Pollution

News articles that warn Americans of the dangers of climate change are not new; however, you may have recently noticed an increase in air-quality alerts and, perhaps, poorer air quality in your backyard. This situation is, in large part, due to smoke and fine particle matter from Canadian wildfires that are traveling hundreds of miles into the continental United States. Protecting your family’s health from air pollution is important at any time, but, with the increase in air-quality alerts, you may be particularly interested in addressing this concern and reducing your family’s risks.

Understand the types of air pollution.

The Clean Air Act regulates major air pollutants in the United States. Below are descriptions of two major sources of air pollution:

  • Particle pollution is a combination of solid and liquid droplets in the air, such as dust, dirt, smoke, pollen, mold spores, and soot. Particle pollution can be especially high when you are near busy traffic areas, when smoke is present (e.g., camp fires, wildfires), and when the weather is calm, and the air is stagnant (e.g., hot, humid day versus a windy, rainy, or snowy day). Particle pollution often has a seasonal pattern based on location (e.g., more wood stove use in cooler weather months in the mountains).
  • Ground-level ozone pollution forms in sunlight from sources like vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities (e.g., areas of fracking; large-scale animal operations) and can be found in products that are not environmentally friendly (i.e., paints or solvents). This type of air pollution intensifies with heat, so it is especially concerning in the afternoon and in the early evening on hot, sunny days. Therefore, it is best to plan your family’s outdoor activities when it is cool outside or in the morning when air quality is better.

National air-quality standards are set by the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to particle pollution and ground-level ozone pollution, the following chemicals are major pollutants that can impact air quality:

  • Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is colorless and odorless. It results from the incomplete burning of natural gas or products that contain carbon (e.g., wood, oil, coal, kerosene, propane). This gas can be produced within or around homes from sources such as gas water heaters, vehicle exhaust, faulty heating sources, and charcoal grills (Penn Medicine, 2021).
  • Sulfur dioxide is a naturally occurring gas that consists of sulfur and oxygen. It causes acid rain. This gas results from burning fossil fuels like coal (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2008).
  • Nitrogen dioxide is a respiratory irritant that precedes ozone formation. The main source of it is combustion sources like vehicles, power plants, and industrial engines (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2010).

Monitor air quality as air pollution is more problematic for children.

Children are at greater risk of incurring health complications due to air pollution. Monitoring your child’s environment for poor air quality is critical for the following reasons:

  • Children tend to be shorter than adults and are closer to the ground; therefore, they are more likely to breathe pollution particles that have settled.
  • Children are more likely than adults to spend time outdoors engaging in physical activity (e.g., play, school recess).
  • Children’s respiratory rates are faster than adults. So, they breathe in more air in comparison to their body weight than adults do.
  • Children’s bodies and their organs are still developing. This means that they are sensitive to environmental toxins. Air pollution can reduce lung-function development and affect the growth and development of the brain and central nervous system, which controls activities like learning, emotion, self-control, problem-solving, and memory (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021; Brumberg et al., 2021; Mahnke et al., 2023).

Remember, children, especially infants and toddlers, are unable to monitor their exposure to air pollution and modify their environment on their own. You play an important role in protecting them!

Check your local Air Quality Index regularly.

One of the simplest ways to be vigilant is to assess your local air quality. The official United States Air Quality Index (AQI) is a color-coded index, which is designed to inform individuals whether their local outdoor air quality is healthy or unhealthy. The highest ratings have a value over 151 and are coded red (unhealthy), purple (very unhealthy), and hazardous (maroon).

AirNow, is a website supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and its partners. This website allows users to enter a zip code, city, or state to immediately receive an Air Quality Index report for their local air quality. Users can also access a variety of other information on the website, including forecast air-quality reports, health activity guides, and interactive air-quality maps for more than 500 cities across the United States.

Stay apprised of circumstances that may impact your air quality! If you are concerned, check the Air Quality Index for your community before taking your child outdoors to engage in physical activity. This will empower you to take precautions as needed to protect your family’s health.

Recognize and prepare to guard against the dangers of air pollution.

Air pollution is a potential threat to all children’s health. It has been associated with respiratory infections, asthma, preterm births, low birth weight, infant mortality, abnormal lung development, neurodevelopmental disorders (i.e., growth and development of the brain and/or central nervous system), cognitive effects and IQ loss, autism, pediatric cancers, obesity, and risks for other chronic diseases later in adult life (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease; American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021; Brumberg et al., 2021; Mahnke et al., 2023).

Some populations are at increased risk from air-pollution exposure. Older adults and individuals with health conditions, such as heart or lung disease, are at greater risk when air quality is poor. For these individuals, the impacts of breathing polluted air can include hospitalization or death (AirNow, n.d.). In children with chronic health conditions such as asthma, allergies, or other chronic diseases, air pollution has been shown to worsen health conditions (Mahnke et al., 2023). Children living in poverty and children of marginalized races/ethnicities are more likely to reside in areas in which United States air-quality standards are not met and where they experience elevated exposures to hazardous air pollutants that are known to cause health conditions like cancers (Brumberg et al, 2021; Mahnke et al., 2023). Residents who live in geographic areas that are affected by environmental factors like extreme or prolonged heat, droughts, or wildfires can encounter increased risks; air pollution can present in these communities as smog, dust, smoke, and elevated ozone and carbon dioxide (Mahnke et al., 2023).

During times of poor air quality, any individual can experience symptoms like the following:

  • Undergoing eye, nose, or throat irritation;
  • Coughing or experiencing increased phlegm production; or
  • Having difficulty breathing (e.g., chest tightness, shortness of breath).

Children may have more trouble breathing than other individuals when the air quality is poor, especially when smoke or ash is present. Respiratory hazards, like mold, nuisance dust (e.g., pollen or dust from sanding wood), and wildfire smoke, can be reduced through the use of a respirator or mask by adults and children 2 years old or older. For information on the function and fit of different types of respirators and masks, review information provided by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Protecting Children with Asthma

If your child has asthma, have their relief medications readily available when air quality is poor. Also, discuss and/or complete an asthma action plan with your child’s doctor, and share the plan with your child’s school. The action plan can include content on how to recognize and treat asthma symptoms, how to manage and limit asthma triggers, and how to use medications. Sample asthma action plans are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Take small actions to make a big difference in the air we breathe!

Breathing is essential to life, and everyone can do their part to reduce air pollution. Natural experiments, like traffic restrictions during the 1996 and 2008 Olympics and curtailment of commercial flights during the COVID-19 pandemic’s state-of-emergency restrictions, have demonstrated that air-quality improvements are possible and can have positive impacts on community health (Brumberg et al., 2021; Friedman et al., 2001; Mueller et al., 2022; Wang et al., 2009). Below are some steps you can take to reduce the negative health impacts that poor air quality can cause, so the air your child breathes is safe and helps them grow healthy!

  • When air quality conditions are poor, remain indoors and keep windows closed. Limit vigorous outdoor activity.
  • If possible, choose a home and child care or school that are not located close to heavy traffic or sources of pollution (e.g., dry cleaning store, airports).
  • Plant trees and add plants to your outdoor green space to help filter the air. Mulch or compost leaves and yard waste instead of burning them.
  • Reduce carbon emissions with a cleaner commute—walk, cycle, carpool, or use public transportation.
  • Some emerging data suggest that vitamins C, D, and E might mitigate the oxidative effects of air pollution (Brumberg et al, 2021). Feed your child(ren) healthy meals that include quality proteins and fruits and vegetables (e.g., citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, seafood, eggs, mushrooms, asparagus, almonds). [Caution: Avoid feeding your child any foods that are known allergens for them.]
  • Purchase a portable carbon dioxide detector to monitor problems with air circulation in your home or travel sites. Elevated carbon dioxide levels can cause drowsiness, headaches, poor concentration, dizziness, increased heart rate or blood pressure, and nausea. At the highest levels, oxygen deprivation can result and lead to convulsions, coma, and death.
  • Consider upgrading your heating/cooling source to a heat pump or ductless heat pump, or use electric heat for more efficiency and to reduce carbon emissions. Use high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) air filters in your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
  • Purchase zero-emission vehicles, and combine trips for errands to avoid multiple ignition starts and idling. Keep your vehicle’s tires inflated to the recommended pressure, and try to avoid spillage when fueling. Ensure your gas cap is tightened after fueling.
  • Keep all vehicles’ (e.g., car, boat) engines maintained to prevent smoking.
  • Turn off lights and other devices (e.g., televisions, computers) when not in use.
  • Properly use environmentally safe household and garden products (e.g., cleaners, paints), and seal them well to prevent evaporation. Look for products marked as low-volatile organic compounds (i.e., low-VOC).
  • When buying appliances and equipment, purchase items with Energy Star labels as they will conserve energy.
  • Set your air conditioner at a higher temperature in the summer, and set your heating source at a lower temperature in the winter.
  • Reduce fireplace and wood stove use. Use gas logs instead of wood if possible. If you must burn wood, visit the Burn Wise Program for clean strategies. Limit the use of candles.
  • Avoid smoking tobacco products or exposing your child to second hand tobacco smoke from others.
  • Advocate for renewable energy; reduced reliance on coal, gas, and oil; and regulations on industrial emissions.

Additional Resources

AirNow – U.S. Air Quality Index

AirNow hosts an air-quality website, which is supported through a partnership of the United States Environmental Protection Agency; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; National Park Service; National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and tribal, state, and local air-quality agencies. The partners and others from across the country send their monitoring data to AirNow for local Air Quality Indexes to be displayed for users. In addition, the Department of State provides data from United States Embassies and Consulates to help inform military personnel and other citizens overseas of air quality outside the United States. In addition, the United States Forest Service contributes fire and smoke data.

Climate Kids – Air

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration hosts the Climate Kids website for children, and it includes information on air pollution. Climate change is explained using games, activities, and videos. Your child can learn about earth and ocean scientists and environmental topics like the weather, the atmosphere, water, energy sources, animals, and plants.


AirNow. (n.d.). Older adults and air quality.

AirNow. (n.d.). What you can do.

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021, May 13). AAP highlights impact of air pollution on children’s health.

Brumberg, H. L., Karr, C. J., Boyle, A., Ahdoot, S., Balk, S. J., Bernstein, A. S., Byron, L. G., Landrigan, P. J., Marcus, S. M., Nerlinger, A. L., Pacheco, S. E., Woolf, A. D., Zajac, L., Baum, C. R., Campbell, C. C., Sample, J. A., Spanier, A. J., & Trasande, L. (2021). Ambient air pollution: Health hazards to children. Pediatrics, 147(6), 1-13.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 16). Community respirators and masks. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, June 12). Wildfire smoke and children. Air Quality.

Friedman, M. S., Powell, K. E., Hutwagner, L., Graham, L. M., & Teague, W. G. (2001). Impact of changes in transportation and commuting behaviors during the 1996 summer Olympic games in Atlanta on air quality and childhood asthma. JAMA, 285(7), 897– 905.

Mahnke, S., Rai, P., & Friedman, E. (2023, July 6). How climate change, heat, & air pollution affect kid’s

Mueller, S. C., Hudda, N., Levy, J. I., Durant, J. L., Patil, P., Lee, N. F., Weiss, I., Tatro, T., Duhl, T., & Lane, K. (2022). Changes in ultrafine particle concentrations near a major airport following reduced transportation activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Environmental Science and Technology Letters, 9(9), 706-711.

Penn Medicine. (2021, February 12). What is carbon monoxide poisoning?

Pennsylvania State University. (2023, July 17). Wildfire smoke: Campus communities should monitor conditions, follow guidelines.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, June 26). What is particle pollution?

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2010, April 14). Nitrogen dioxide. In United States Environmental Protection Agency vocabulary catalog: Air permitting terms. Retrieved July 18, 2023, from

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2008, August 14). Sulfur dioxide. In United States Environmental Protection Agency vocabulary catalog: Acid rain glossary. Retrieved July 18, 2023, from

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, & School Flag Program. (2014). Air quality and outdoor activity guidance for schools (EPA-456/F-14-003). AirNow.

Wang, Y., Hao, J., McElroy, M. B., Munger, J. W., Ma, H., Chen, D., & Nielsen, C. P. (2009). Ozone air quality during the 2008 Beijing Olympics: Effectiveness of emission restrictions. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 9(14), 5237-5251.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services. (2023, March 29). Carbon Dioxide – Learn what you need to know about carbon dioxide.

Helping Children to “Shake it Off”: Releasing and Reducing Stress

Anyone can feel stress – adults and children. A combination of prior life experiences and other factors, like personality traits and genetics, influence how individuals perceive and respond to stress in their daily lives. Positive stress can motivate and help individuals focus their energy in ways that can improve their performance, help them problem solve, or encourage them to reach a goal or desire (e.g., learning to care for a new infant, preparing to graduate from high school). Negative stress can create mental, emotional, or physical distress, and it falls on a continuum that ranges from tolerable to toxic to traumatic.

Stress is the body’s normal response to change and challenges, and many of the stressors individuals experience daily are manageable and promote growth and well-being. For example, a kindergartner may have a meltdown and become frustrated as they try to tie their shoes, or a young a child may experience anxiety about visiting the doctor. For adults, examples of stress can include feeling overwhelmed when balancing work demands and child care or, perhaps, when dealing with sibling arguments among children. When individuals receive support, they can better navigate stress in ways that could build new skills, strengths, and connections to resources.

Stress, positive and negative, can activate the body’s flight-or-fight response systems. However, when a person experiences negative stress, their body reacts to a perceived threat, and feelings of helplessness, fear, and powerlessness may arise. Consider a time when you were previously in a stressful situation; you may have noticed physical reactions like your heart pounding, your breathing growing faster, your muscles clenching, or sweat dripping from your brow. These physical reactions occur because the brain processes the situation and stressful emotions and, then, sends signals to activate your body’s autonomic nervous system. This system has two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. In response to a perceived threat, the sympathetic nervous system sharpens your senses, like your eye sight and hearing, and it provides the body with increased blood flow, more oxygen for alertness, and energy to respond. The parasympathetic nervous system, conversely, calms the body after a threat has passed.

An old adage encourages individuals to free themselves of stress by “shaking it off.” For manageable, every day stress, this proverb can be true! Kinetic strategies, which involve movement or motion, can provide channels for preventing and reducing stress reactions in the body. Physical activities, like running, practicing tai chi, lifting weights, or engaging in balancing and stretching movements, can have the following effects on the mind and body:

  • Mood can improve when endorphins, which are hormones that are stimulated through exercise,  are released in the body. These chemicals can relieve pain and increase a sense of well-being.
  • Physical tension caused by muscle contraction, such as stiffening and clenching, can be released.
  • A sense of relaxation can be experienced as stored energy or tension is released as this allows muscles to return to their normal resting state.
  • Unhelpful mental and emotional processes can be interrupted. For example, rumination – dwelling on a situation or the continuous looping of repetitive, negative thoughts – can be diminished.

When parents and caregivers engage in physical activity, they are role modeling healthy habits and a way to teach emotional coping strategies to their children. You can help your child develop and maintain a sense of mental and emotional balance by encouraging your child to participate in regular physical activity and movement like yoga poses and walks in nature. Positive and negative stressors can cause powerful, or big, emotions in a child. For example, a child can become overstimulated at a birthday party or a child whose active duty parent is deployed may feel anxiety or anger and may lash out at a younger sibling. Physical dysregulation can decrease your child’s ability to reason, control impulses, and problem solve. When a child is dysregulated in this way, they become more vulnerable to overreacting to additional emotional triggers like feeling hungry, tired, or frustrated with a task or when instructed to transition from an activity.

If an everyday occurrence has caused your child to become distraught, allow them time to calm down and name and accept their emotions. Then, you can help them release the intense emotions and physical tension by engaging with them in movement. You can help them to “shake it off” with activities like jumping or dancing, or you can guide them in settling down and gently caring for themself with activities like simple stretches and deep breathing  (e.g., blow bubbles or pretend to blow out candles on a cake).

You can also make physical activity a relaxing, fun part of your family’s’ regular routines. For example, have an impromptu dance party while putting toys away or sweeping the kitchen floor. Physical activity provides an opportunity for family members to connect, promotes physical health and mental well-being, and helps individuals build coping skills for a lifetime! You can incorporate physical activity into every day moments. For example, use household chores as opportunities to encourage movement: vacuuming, putting away laundry, or playing fetch with a pet. Any movement can help the body release stored tension. To support your efforts, see resource guides on the Thrive website, like Breathe to Thrive and Moving to Thrive.

Resource Suggestion: The book, Good Night Yoga – a Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story by Mariam Gates, provides illustrated examples of simple yoga poses that children and parents/caregivers can try together. Doing these poses may help your child build their understanding that physical activity can be a relaxation and emotional coping strategy. This book highlights how movements like bending like a crescent moon, arching like a cat, rooting like a tree, and sparkling like a star can be fun and calming.

Try These Movement Activities Together to Release Stress:

(Activities adapted from the website Save the Children.)

Go Slow Like a Turtle!

  • Move like a turtle maneuvering across the beach.
  • Drip, drop! It is starting to rain. Curl up and hide under your shell.
  • Here comes the sun! Come out of your shell, and continue your relaxing walk towards the ocean’s waves.

Lounge like a Lazy Cat!

  • Curl up in a little ball on the floor like a sleeping cat.
  • Wake up with a big yawn and a slow meow.
  • Slowly rise up onto your hands and knees.
  • Arch your back.
  • Slowly stretch out your arms and legs.
  • Relax and lie down again like a lazy cat.

Float like a Feather and Freeze like a Statue!

  • Spread your arms and float through the air like a feather.
  • Now, freeze and stand still like a statue.
  • Slowly start to move and float like a feather again.
  • End in a relaxed state after floating like a feather.

Additional Resources:

InsightTimer: This online source and app provide a collection of more than 30,000 guided meditations and recordings for children.

American Psychological Association: How to help children and teens manage their stress

Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC): 7 stress relief techniques for kids

Nemours KidsHealth: Childhood stress: How parents can help

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Move your way


Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. (2020, July 6). Understanding the stress response.

Miller, C. (2023, January 26). How to help children calm down: Techniques for helping kids regulate their emotions and avoid explosive behavior. Child Mind Institute.

Save the Children. (2023). Relaxation activities to do at home with kids.

Play is Purposeful!

Play is generally defined as activity engaged in for enjoyment, pleasure, or recreation, but, for an infant or toddler, play is an integral part of promoting healthy development! Children learn through play, and play provides sensory, physical, cognitive, and emotional experiences that help build connections in their brains.

Play Promotes Skill Development

Your child is constantly watching you and the world around them and absorbing your actions and those of others. You can purposefully model interactions and teach through your interactions, and playing with your child makes doing so fun! You can use strategies during play interactions with your child to encourage and support skill development in several areas, such as the following:

  • Teach your child communication skills by helping them learn new words and calmly express feelings through words, gestures, and facial expressions.
  • Focus on literacy skills and academic readiness through activities like counting, shape identification, and singing the alphabet song.
  • Incorporate motor-skill development by playing games that include hand-eye coordination, like catching a ball, or grasping and moving objects.
  • Find ways to model and teach social-emotional skills like sharing, waiting patiently for one’s turn, and managing frustration.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to make choices and work on developing their problem-solving skills.
  • Explore your child’s curiosity and creativity through activities like imaginative storytelling.

Play Strengthens Attachment and Attunement

Play also provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate to your child aspects that are important for healthy attachment such unconditional love; safety; that they are heard, seen, and valued; and that they will be comforted and supported when needed (Brown & Elliott, 2016).

Consider this example. A parent and toddler are enjoying putting together a simple puzzle of animal-shaped pieces; while fitting the pieces into the puzzle, they are giggling as they make silly animal sounds. When the child becomes frustrated by not being able to fit a piece, the parent patiently reassures the child with gentle words and a loving touch. In this simple example, the loving interaction with this parent comforted the child and built skills for emotional regulation.

In addition, play gives you opportunities to share your culture and values. By doing this, you can help build your child’s sense of belonging while also molding pro-social beliefs (e.g., respect for diversity, compassion, honesty).

Furthermore, play creates opportunities to observe what your child is experiencing and expressing. It allows you to increase your attunement to your child, which means you can better recognize, understand, and engage with their inner thoughts and feelings. Parents and caregivers can learn so much about their children during play when they make an effort to notice! You can learn the following about your child if you purposely observe your child and their behaviors during play:

  • personality traits (e.g., sensitive, persistent, cautious, agreeable, optimistic)
  • temperament (e.g., activity/energy level, reactivity, adaptability)
  • interests (e.g., trains, dinosaurs)
  • likes and dislikes (e.g., song or book preferences, what frustrates the child)
  • signals and emotional cues (e.g., rubs eyes when tired)
  • preferred ways to be calmed and soothed (e.g., rocked, hugged)

Engage in Different Types of Play

There are different types of play, and each type provides interaction opportunities for connection, communications, affection, modeling, and teaching. For example, during constructive play, a child constructs, shapes, or builds something (e.g., using building blocks), and this type of play builds fine motor and problem-solving skills. Other types of play build social skills such as cooperative play (e.g., building sandcastles together) and competitive play (e.g., playing a board game). Imagination is sparked with dramatic or fantasy play (e.g., child acts out situations and roles with a puppet) or symbolic play (e.g., using a cardboard box as a house, drinking water from a play tea set). Some play is cognitively focused like language play (e.g., rhyming words), while other play is physical and builds gross- or fine-motor skills like functional play (e.g., using a toy vacuum) or physical play (e.g., throwing a ball).

Be Purposeful in Playful Interactions

It may take some practice to become comfortable with playing as play can be unstructured, repetitive, and even messy! Sometimes, parents or caregivers might select an activity with the intent of teaching their child, such as playing a game in which they match shapes. Other times, parents and caregivers can let their child take the lead! Their child will be learning verbal and social skills as the parent or caregiver follows along – talking with the child but not giving directives. Below are sample play and interaction activities you can try:

  • Get on your child’s level, and engage in floor play (e.g., put together a floor puzzle, stack blocks)
  • Read books together
  • Play simple games (e.g., what sounds do animals make, guess items in a bag by touch)
  • Sing silly songs
  • Facilitate exploration (e.g., find different types of fruit at the grocery store)
  • Play with tactile toys and expressive materials (e.g., water, sand, paint, playdough)
  • Make helping a game (e.g., match colored socks)
  • Find enrichment in your environment (e.g., go to the library, take a nature walk)
  • Be playful in simple daily activities (e.g., sing a song while dressing)
  • Set up a child-friendly cabinet with items (e.g., plastic bowls and spoons), and engage your child in stacking, banging, and shaking the items
  • Play imitation games (e.g., gesture rhymes like Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes)
  • Fill an album with photos of family and friends, and play a game to find specific people
  • Use a mirror to explore facial features and expressions (e.g., Where is your nose?)
  • Be physically active (e.g., playground, swimming pool, indoor obstacle course)
  • Count, sort, or match items (e.g., count the number of toy cars)

Communicate with Care During Play

How parents and caregivers interact during play is as important as the activities they chose to play. During play, your words and actions can communicate to your child that they are loved, valued, and supported, and you can teach them new vocabulary, how to make decisions, and how to socialize with others (e.g., taking turns). With each interaction, you build their skills and self-esteem! Try these strategies:

  • Give loving and nurturing touches during activities (e.g., rub your child’s back)
  • Name objects and their characteristics (e.g., colors, textures, tastes)
  • Use gestures (e.g., point to an item) to help a child connect names with objects
  • Provide explanations for actions (e.g., The doll is hungry, so I am going to feed her with this bottle.)
  • Comment on what a child is doing (e.g., You picked a bright yellow crayon for coloring.)
  • Ask open-ended questions (e.g., Where will you park the car?)
  • Expand on a child’s vocabulary with descriptive words (e.g., building words like “over” and “under”)
  • Offer praise for effort (e.g., You worked so hard to build that tall block tower!)
  • Use constructive language (e.g., please do this vs. don’t do that)
  • Avoid criticism, blame, and shame

When to Stop Playing

Play boosts children’s healthy development and can be part of meeting recommended physical activity requirements. Although infants need about 30 minutes a day of “tummy time” or interactive play and toddlers need about 3 hours total of physical activity each day (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2020), you should monitor your child’s energy and attention levels during play as children can grow tired of interacting or may need time to process and reflect on their learning. The following are some signs that a young child may need some rest from the stimulation of play:

  • Crying or making fussy sounds
  • Rubbing or closing eyes
  • Arching back
  • Turning away
  • Clenching fists and/or waving arms and kicking
  • Throwing tantrums
  • Refusing to continue or fulfill simple requests
  • Struggling to use words to convey feelings

Infants and toddlers grow quickly. Cherish this time of playful fun! Through play, you are helping your child to understand how to interact, that they have an impact on objects and other people, and to be a creative problem solver. While having fun, you are laying a foundation for your child’s future relationships, learning, and success!

Additional Resources

Zero to Three

American Academy of Pediatrics

National Association for the Education of Young Children

Empowered Parents

Genius of Play


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2020, August 5). Making physical activity a way of life: AAP policy explained.

Brown, D. P., & Elliott, D. S. (2016). Attachment disturbances in adults: Treatment for comprehensive repair. W.W. Norton.

Ginsberg, K. R., Committee on Communications, & the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics119(1), 182-191.

Milteer, R. M., Ginsburg, K. R., Council on Communications and Media Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Mulligan, D. A., Ameenuddin, N., Brown, A., Christakis, D. A., Cross, C., Falik, H. L., Hill, D. L., Hogan, M. J., Levine, A. E., O’Keeffe, G. S., & Swanson, W. S. (2012). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bond: Focus on children in poverty. Pediatrics129(1), e204-e213.

Screen Time and Autism

Screen time – understanding the positives and negatives and regulating your family’s usage of it can be overwhelming. You may feel as though your daily life, and your children’s daily lives, revolve around screens and digital media. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has created screen time recommendations for parents and caregivers of children. The type of screen time that the AAP recommends families limit is considered recreational. Recreational screen time includes digital media like television shows, video games, and various forms of social media.

The AAP (2016) suggests families follow the digital-media guidelines listed below for children:

  • Birth to 18 months. Avoid digital-media use.
  • 18 to 24 months. Use only high-quality programming, and view the programming with your child. Try to avoid letting your child use digital media on their own.
  • 2 to 5 years. Limit screen time to 1 hour per day. Continue using only high-quality programming. Use media as an opportunity to discuss with your child what they are seeing and doing on screen; make connections, if possible, to the real world; and remind them the screen world is not reality.
  • 5 to 18 years. During these years, you should pay close attention to not just how much screen time your child gets but to when they are using screens. Ensure your child is getting a full night’s sleep (i.e., 9 – 12 hours a night for ages 6 – 12 and 8 – 10 hours a night for ages 13-18), and they are engaging in at least 1 hour of physical activity a day. In addition, you may wish to instill a “no screen time” directive during family mealtimes or other family times, like game night. Finally, help your child develop a period of “downtime” that does not involve screens, like taking a walk in the park, reading a book, or writing thoughts in a journal.

The AAP (2016) also suggests that families avoid fast-paced programs, programming that has violent subject matter, and applications that contain a lot of distracting content like flashing advertisements and excessive noise. Families should turn off devices if they are not in use and avoid using media as a way to calm their child. Furthermore, screens should not be in children’s bedrooms, and screen time before bedtime should be monitored and limited. Using screens immediately before bedtime can lead to sleep issues.

To help regulate screen time usage, families can create and download a Family Media Plan here.

Types of Screen Time

Not all screen time is bad. There are digital activities your child may engage in that are necessary and appropriate uses of technology. For example, with the increased use of digital devices within the classroom, your child may need to use a computer during school hours or use a tablet to complete their homework or read their assigned classwork materials. Additionally, an activity, like video chatting with an absent parent, a distant relative, or friends who have moved away, is a positive way to use technology. This type of use allows for social interaction even when there is a physical distance between a loved one and your child.

Using digital media can have additional positive uses. For example, for children who struggle when interacting in social settings and communicating with others, like children with Autism, using digital media can help them manage their interactions and have downtime to handle daily, new, or even challenging situations.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can have “significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges” (Indiana Resource Center for Autism, 2022). As a result, part of a child’s evidence-based communication and social intervention practices may include the following screen-related options (Lofland, 2014):

  • Video Modeling – records and displays a visual model of a targeted behavior or skill.
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) – teaches a child to communicate by exchanging a picture for the object they need or desire.
  • Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCA) – a portable electronic device that can generate a digital speech output.

Reminder: These types of screen time would not be included in the recommendations for limiting recreational screen time as they are used for daily functioning and communication.

Using Media Constructively

Children with ASD are at a higher risk for using technology in a way to “sensory-seek,” which means they use technology to view highly arousing or violent content in order to get enough sensory stimulation(Lane & Radesky, 2019). However, with the correct monitoring and use, parents can use recreational media in a constructive way for children affected by Autism. Please see below.

Television Shows can be used by parents to help model positive behaviors and social interaction for their children (Connick, 2021). Children with ASD can have issues with communication, social interaction, and behavior. By watching shows with your child and discussing what the characters are doing, like sharing or playing with other children, you can help to open discussions with your child (even if it is you doing the majority of the talking) about how interactions work in a way that is interesting and less stressful for your child.

A few television shows that may be beneficial for your child can be found here.

Video Games (that are age appropriate) can be used to connect children to others because the individuals engaged in the game share common interests, and they can interact with each other or others in a comfortable setting around a common activity. By removing any face-to-face interaction, which can often be intimidating for children with ASD, less stress is placed on the child as moves can be redone or repeated, and mistakes can be corrected more easily (Smith, 2016).

Games that may interest your child will depend on their interests and ability to learn how to play the game(s) in question. Popular games such as Minecraft, Pokémon, Legend of Zelda, and Mario Bros. offer opportunities to engage and learn in a fun environment that can be shared and discussed with other peers (Kulman, 2020).

Even if you can’t or do not have an interest in playing the game with your child, you can, and should, involve yourself in their interest by watching them play and asking questions. This can help to foster a connection with you child and positively contribute to the social aspect of the game because your child learns how to answer your questions and practices interacting with you.

Social Media, when monitored and discussed, can also help to broaden social interactions and relationships between your child and your child’s peers. A study conducted by researchers at the Yale Department of Psychiatry and Yale Child Study Center has shown that children with ASD are able to create friendships with high quality by using social media (Van Schalkwyk et al., 2017). Although more research needs to be completed, it is believed that “social media may be a way for adolescents with ASD without significant anxiety to improve the quality of their friendships” (Van Schalkwyk et al., 2017).

Ultimately, screen time for your child is going to depend on what works best for you, your family, and your child. However, there are useful tools for children who struggle with a disability, like ASD that limits their ability to interact in social situations. Using digital resources that are available to your child can be beneficial. Remember, monitor your child’s screen time usage, role model appropriate screen time behaviors, and use safe digital media practices. You can learn more about general internet safety here.

Additional Resources

AAP Recommendations

Keeping Technology in Check: Mindful Technology Use DOs for Parents

Screen Time Can Benefit Kids With Autism, Parents And Researchers Say

Evidence-Based Practices for Effective Communication and Social Intervention

Autism Parenting Magazine


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016, November 1). Where we stand: Screen time.

Connick, R. (2021, April 28). Three great shows for children with Autism and their parents. Autism Parenting Magazine.

Council on Communications and Media, Hill, D., Ameenuddin, N., Chassiakos, Y. R., Cross, C., Hutchinson, J., Levine, A., Boyd, R., Mendelson, R., Moreno, M., & Swanson, W. S. (2016). Media and young minds. Pediatrics, 138(5), e20162591.

Council on Communications and Media, Hill, D., Ameenuddin, N., Chassiakos, Y. R., Cross, C., Hutchinson, J., Levine, A., Boyd, R., Mendelson, R., Moreno, M., & Swanson, W. S. (2016). Media use in school-aged children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(5), e20162592.

Indiana Resource Center for Autism. (2022). Learn about autism.

Kulman, R. (2022, August 12). Making popular video games good for kids affected by autism. Autism Parenting Magazine.

Lane, R., & Radesky, J. (2019). Digital media and autism spectrum disorders: Review of evidence, theoretical concerns, and opportunities for intervention. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics40(5), 364–368.

Lofland, K. (2014). Evidence-based practices for effective communication and social intervention. Indiana Resource Center for Autism.

Smith, H. (2016, October 14). How video games benefit students with special needs. Asperger / Autism Network.

Van Schalkwyk, G. I., Marin, C. E., Ortiz, M., Rolison, M., Qayyum, Z., McPartland, J. C., Lebowitz, E. R., Volkmar, F. R., & Silverman, W. K. (2017). Social media use, friendship quality, and the moderating role of anxiety in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders47(9), 2805–2813.

Your Child’s Extracurricular Activities: Too Much or Just Right

Piano lessons. Soccer practice. Swimming lessons. Tutoring sessions. After spending a full day in a child care facility or at school, many children also participate in extracurricular activities in the evenings or during the weekends. As a parent, you want to introduce your child to new experiences and opportunities and foster their interests. Extracurricular activities can be positive and fulfilling for your child. However, your child also needs to be able to enjoy downtime; quality time with family; and time to complete school responsibilities, such as homework or reading. Before you enroll your child in the next activity, you may want to consider if your child’s extracurricular activity schedule is too much or just right?

The Pros

For many children, participating in extracurricular activities can positively impact their social skills, academic abilities, and physical development. In addition, extracurricular activities can provide safety and supervision for a period of time when children may otherwise be unsupervised. Further, extracurricular activities can offer opportunities for your child to be physically active as opposed to being sedentary and engaging in behaviors such as watching TV, scrolling on social media, or playing video games.

The Cons

Engaging in too many extracurricular activities or participating in activities that do not interest your child can have a negative impact on your child. In deciding whether your child should continue, cut back, or stop participating in an extracurricular activity, look for signs that your child may feel overscheduled. Signs of overscheduling may include the following symptoms in your child:

  • Being tired, anxious, or depressed
  • Experienced headaches or stomachaches due to stress, poor eating habits, or lack of sleep
  • Falling behind on schoolwork or experiencing a drop in grades
  • Showing a loss of interest in activity

Additional Considerations

Your child may not show signs of overscheduling, or the symptoms may be mild, or they may come and go. The following questions can help you further understand if your child’s extracurricular activities are helping or hindering their growth and development.

Time – How much time do you spend with your child? Does your child spend time with friends or other family members? Do you and your child long to spend more time together or with other family members?

School – Is the time spent on extracurricular activities getting in the way of academics (e.g., falling behind on homework or assignments, declining grades)? Does participation in activities encourage your child to do well in school (e.g., maintaining a minimum grade point average in order to participate)?

Rest – Is your child getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age? Does your child have unstructured time to play, think, or create?

Interests – Does your child seem to enjoy the activity? Do you have to convince or bribe them to go to practices or participate while they are there?

Costs – Do the costs associated with your child’s activities fit comfortably into your family’s budget (e.g., fees, uniforms, equipment, travel)? Are you sacrificing necessities so that your child can participate?

Talk it Through with Your Child

Extracurricular activities can serve as an enriching experience for your child and family. However, unstructured downtime is also important. If you notice your child is exhibiting signs of being overscheduled, have a conversation with them. Talking with them about their participation in extracurricular activities can help you learn which activities they enjoy the most and which ones they may not enjoy or enjoy less than they used to. Your child may also express a desire to spend more free time with friends and family or simply have evenings when they can be at home and relax. This information can help you determine how to adjust your child’s extracurricular activities to align with their interests and needs. Together, you can create a schedule that works best for your child and your family.


American College of Pediatricians. (2016, March 16). Overscheduled!

Cleveland Clinic. (16 July, 2018). Is your child overscheduled? Kids need ‘down time.’ Healthessentials.

Mahoney, J. L., Harris, A. L., & Eccles, J. S. (2006). Organized activity participation, positive youth development, and the over-scheduling hypothesis. Social Policy Report. Society for Research in Child Development, 20(4), 1-32.

Schiffrin, H. H., Godfrey, H., Liss, M., & Erchull, M. J. (2015). Intensive parenting: Does it have the desired impact on child outcomes? Journal of Child and Family Studies24(8), 2322-2331.

Wedge, M. (2014, August 16). Overscheduled Kids: How much of a good thing is too much? Psychology Today.

Summertime Family Physical Activity

For many families, summertime is period when children are at home more, and parents may be looking for additional ways to keep their children active. There are many activities you can do to get moving as a family, such as outdoor play and experiences, or find ways to be active safely inside.

Family Fun

Outdoor activities like going for a walk, playing at the park, swimming, and participating in sports are ways you be active with your children. The chart below contains a few activities that you can do outside as a family. These activities target aerobic exercise and muscle- and bone-strengthening exercises (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018). As you participate in any outdoor activity, you should monitor the level of impact and adjust the intensity of the activity to match your child’s developmental age and ability.

Outdoor Family Activities
Aerobic – moving large muscle groups that increase a person’s heart rate
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Bike riding


  • Tug of war
  • Climbing on playground equipment
  • Rope or Tree climbing


  • Running
  • Jumping rope
  • Hopscotch


Beat the Heat

While the options for outdoor experiences above are great suggestions, what if you live in an area where the weather is particularly hot, and exercising outside could be difficult or even hazardous? Be inside! There are many ways to exercise and be active with your family inside too. Try some of the activities listed in the chart below to help your family get moving

Indoor Family Activities

Aerobic – moving large muscle groups that increase a person’s heart rate

  • Skipping
  • Dancing
  • Aerobic/dancing videos
  • Indoor obstacle course


  • Sit-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Tug of war
  • Yoga


  • Gymnastics-type activities (e.g., if the space allows, try somersaults, cartwheels, or making a masking tape balance beam)
  • Jumping rope
  • Running in place
  • Climbing stairs


Benefits of Being Active

Being active is beneficial for everyone regardless of their age. Some of the many benefits of participating in physical activity for children and adults are listed below (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021, 2022)

Benefits of Being Physically Active
  • Reduced risks of depression
  • Strengthens bones
  • Improves attention and memory
  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes
  • Improved blood pressure and fitness
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Less anxiety
  • Reduced risk of depression
  • Reduced risk of developing dementia
  • Reduced risk of weight gain
  • Improved bone health


Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd ed., and these recommendations cover different types of activities for individuals who do not have disabilities and for those who do have physical challenges. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018, p. 53). Click on the link below in the Additional Resources block to navigate to this resource, discover additional ways to be active, and learn about the benefits of physical activity.

Engaging in appropriate amounts of daily physical activity can be achievable for the entire family. Whether you’re active outside or inside, there are many ways for everyone to be involved and reap the benefits of being active together. Click on the link for Thrive’s parent resource Moving to THRIVE in the Additional Resources block below to find a list of activities that can be done indoors or outdoors, with multiple age groups, and in large or small spaces (e.g., apartments).



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (November, 2021). Health benefits of physical activity for adults

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (January, 2022). Health benefits of physical activity for children

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (June, 2022). Aerobic, muscle- and bone-strengthening: What counts for school-aged children and adolescents?

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding

What is the Division of Responsibility?

The Division of Responsibility is a feeding method that is used to encourage children to trust and use their natural hunger cues and instincts when eating. This approach gives responsibilities to the parent and the child: parents decide what food is served, when it’s served, and where their child will eat the food; children decide how much they want to eat and whether they will eat the food.

What are the benefits of using this method?

Mealtimes can be different for every family, but this approach can be incorporated into any family mealtime – breakfast, snack, dinner. When using this method, parents allow their child to make decisions, which can be a positive experience regardless of the child’s age. In addition, family meals can influence a child’s food-related behaviors. For example, when families share a higher frequency of family meals, research indicates that family members’ fruit and vegetable consumption increases and fried foods and soft drinks consumption decreases (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2003). When parents provide healthy food options for their families, children begin to learn life-long, healthy eating behaviors.

Family meals also provide a time for bonding that allows children to connect with individual family members and for the family to connect. Regularly scheduled meals can manage children’s expectations around food and can help children feel safe, loved, and secure.

How can I start to implement this method?

Children are still exploring their senses, including their sense of taste, and feeding times provide an opportunity to instill healthy feeding habits that could last a lifetime. When beginning to implement this method, offer new foods along with foods that you know your child will like and eat. In other words, the child is given choices but within limits.

As a parent, you should offer a variety of healthy foods at regularly scheduled times and at a table (or location) where there are no distractions, like televisions or screens. Let children decide which of the offered foods they would like to eat. Start with small portions, and permit children to eat more if they say they’re still hungry or to stop eating if they say they are full. This removes the pressure you may feel to control your child’s eating, and it benefits children because they learn to pay attention to their internal signals of hunger and fullness.

As your child gets older, they may become more vocal about what they want to eat during meals and snacks. Try to provide opportunities for them to help make decisions regarding what your family is eating or what they may have as a snack. For example, allow your child to help you plan a weekly menu, or, depending on their age, have them be the chef for the night. Remember, it is important for your child to start making decisions, but it is equally important for you to trust your child to make decisions for themselves and for you to be okay with the decisions they make.

Tips for eating and mealtime:

  • Talk to your child when they say they are full. Allow them to recognize when they are no longer hungry to help them learn to listen to internal cues of fullness.
  • Serve as a role model and set good examples for healthy eating behaviors by offering and eating a variety of healthy foods.
  • Eat meals regularly with your child.
  • Offer your child healthy choices, for example, “Do you want a banana or yogurt?,” to give your child the opportunity to decide between two healthy options.
  • Remember, it can take up to 10 or more times for a child to be introduced to a food before they will try it.

Keep in mind, you and your child have responsibilities when it comes to feeding and eating. This can help the entire family create a positive relationship with food. As your child grows and learns how to trust their own body cues, they will be able to understand what they need and make healthy choices on their own.

Additional Resources

Grow Parenting Program: The Division of Responsibility in Feeding

Sprout Parenting Program: The Division of Responsibility in Feeding


Ellyn Satter Institute. (2015). Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding.

Neumark-Sztainer, D., Hannan, P. J., Story, M., Croll, J., & Perry, C. (2003). Family meal patterns: Associations with sociodemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 103(317).

Thrive. (2017). Grow parenting program.

Thrive. (2018). Sprout parenting program.     programs/sprout/

Dietary Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers

Did you know the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) update the dietary guidelines for Americans every 5 years? These updates are based on new research conducted by an independent committee that strives to provide transparency and include public input when possible. The committee doesn’t just look at trends related to current information on nutritional science; it also determines where future research efforts should be focused. This continued research is important as knowledge is gained regarding how and why people have different nutritional needs at different points in their lives.

The latest update to the guidelines provides insight into nutrition recommendations for different life stages and offers the following general guidelines (USDA and USDHHS, 2020, p.17):

  • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.
  • Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.
  • Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages and stay within calorie limits.
  • Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages.

It is vital to our health to maintain positive eating habits throughout our lives. Not only do good nutrition habits fuel our development, but healthy eating can also help to prevent chronic diseases. Therefore, it is important for parents to understand how to get infants started on a healthy nutrition path.

The 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the first edition, since 1985, to update nutrition guidelines that are specific to infants and toddlers. Those updates are outlined below.

Infants birth to 6-months old:

Feeding infants an exclusive diet of human milk is the healthiest option for the first 6 months of life. Families may also consider donor milk. If donor milk is the decided option, ensure you “obtain pasteurized donor human milk from a source, such as an accredited human milk bank, that has screened its donors and taken appropriate safety precautions” (USDA, USDHHS, 2020, p. 54). Sometimes, human milk may not be available to your family. In these situations, you should feed infants iron-fortified formula for the first year.

Infants 6-months to 1-year old:

After 6 months, introduce appropriate nutrient-dense foods to your baby, and continue to provide human milk or formula. Offering your infant food at this stage provides them with the nutrition they need and allows the infant to begin to experience different tastes and textures. Do not give up if your infant does not accept these foods! Remember, these foods offer your baby new tastes and textures, and it may take 8-10 offerings for infants to accept a new food experience. Following these guidelines has been shown to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, food allergies, and asthma.

How do you know when an infant is ready to be introduced to complementary foods? Some signs to watch for include the following:
  • Your child can independently control their head and neck.
  • Your child sits upright alone or with the support of a highchair.
  • Your child brings objects to their mouth with their hands.
  • Your child tries to grasp small objects, such as toys or food.
  • Your child swallows food rather than pushing it back out onto their chin.
Nutrient-rich foods that are good to introduce to infants include the following:
  • Iron-rich pureed foods, such as meats and spinach, or soft food in small pieces, like scrambled eggs;
  • Zinc-rich foods such as pureed beans, squash, cheese, and yogurt (no cow’s milk);
  • Soft or pureed vegetables, such as peas, broccoli, carrots, and lentils;
  • Grains, such as infant cereals fortified with minerals and vitamins.
When beginning to introduce your infant to solid foods, note there are some types of foods to avoid. These foods include the following:
  • Added sugars. Besides the normal health problems that can occur from ingesting excess sugar, infants are forming taste buds and may develop a preference for foods with high sugar content.
  • High sodium foods. As stated above, since food preferences are being formed, infants may develop a lifelong preference to high-salt foods if they are fed excess sodium.
  • Honey or unpasteurized products. Unpasteurized products and honey may contain organisms and bacteria that can cause serious illness or death in infants.
Toddlers 13- to 23-months old

At this stage of development, children should be relying on milk as a nutrition source less than they did previously. For the average toddler, professionals recommend that children consume 700-1,000 calories a day. Keep in mind that toddlers should not consume saturated fats. Toddlers should be eating a diet of “nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods (including lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, nuts, and seeds), dairy (including milk, yogurt, and cheese), and oils” (USDA, USDHHS, 2020, p. 63).

Healthy Diet Shifts for Toddlers
If you normally provide… Try making this diet shift…
cereal with added sugars cereal with lower amounts of sugar
canned fruit in syrups fruit canned in 100% fruit juice or fresh fruit
deep fried vegetables roasted vegetables
high-sodium meats ground lean meat
beverages with added sugars,
such as some juices
milk or water

You can learn more about healthy nutrition guidance for infants and toddlers, or the other life stages, at the Dietary Guidelines for Americans webpage Here you can view the full report and find additional resources that can help guide you and your family in making healthy nutrition choices.



U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2020). Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 (9th ed.).

Communication: The link to healthy choices for teens

As a child ages and enters their teen years, parents may find it more difficult to talk to them about making healthy choices. This may be because children, at this age, are beginning to make their own decisions about what matters most to them, including choices that affect their health and well-being.

So, as a parent, how can you develop a pattern of communication to help your teenager realize that making healthy and safe decisions about their well-being, including recognizing and avoiding risky behaviors, eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep, is important?

Intentionally create an environment that promotes trust and communication.

Plan to have regular check-ins with your child to discuss daily needs and how those needs can be met. Check-ins can address simple needs like who is picking your child up from school that day or taking them to practice. Those interactions can help create an environment in which your child feels comfortable approaching you, and your child’s feeling of safety may, then, lead to discussions around difficult topics and situations.

Spend quality family time together. Plan time for your family to have fun and enjoy each other – go for a hike, play board games, or plan a vacation together.

Create routines and rituals that emphasize your love, respect, acceptance, and support of one another. Participating in routines, rituals, and shared activities can generate conversations and offer you opportunities to use positive communication skills to encourage your child, promote family togetherness, and create memories.

Establish boundaries and guidelines that will help cultivate open discussions. Boundaries can help you and your child understand and learn positive communication skills. For example, you and your child can negotiate rules and expectations. However, let your child know that safety issues, like not being allowed to go for a run outside after dark, are not negotiable.

Use positive language to avoid being argumentative.

Use I-statements. I-statements help your child understand what you are feeling without making them feel judged. For example, “I am concerned about your health because you don’t eat anything until dinnertime.”

Be mindful of your non-verbal language.

Body language. Make sure your gestures, facial expressions, posture, and eye contact match what you are saying.

Paraverbal language. Consider the tone of your voice, the rate of the gestures, the words you say, and the amount of eye contact you use to help your child understand the true intention of what you are saying.

Actively listen to your child.

Be present and limit distractions. Put down your phone, turn off the television, or stop doing the laundry, and give your child your undivided attention. Showing your teen that you care about them and what they say is important is a great way to promote the trust that is needed to create and maintain a positive parent-child relationship.

Listen with intention. Focus on the moment – don’t think about your response or other issues that may be occurring that day – and don’t assume you know what your child is going to say. Just listen.

Withhold judgment. When listening to your adolescent, do not make immediate judgments on their words or actions – listen to the whole story. Your child should feel that their thoughts and feelings are valid and deserve consideration.

Clarify what your child is saying by paraphrasing their words. When you’re communicating with your adolescent, sometimes what you mean and what your child hears are two different things. Or vice versa, sometimes what your child means and what you hear are two different things. Practice this skill with your child by clarifying what was said through repetition. For example, “What I hear you saying is you can’t get to bed on time because you have too much homework to do.”

Integrating these strategies and skills into your interactions with your child can help you build a respectful pattern of communication in your parent-child relationship. By doing this, you may find it easier to talk with your child about topics like making healthy and safe decisions. Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. Continue to work on your communication strategies with your teen and practice them daily to help create and maintain open and positive communication in your parent-child relationship.

Incorporating Quality Carbohydrates

Encouraging healthier eating for you and your family includes eating a healthy and well-balanced diet that incorporates foods high in carbohydrates. When consumed, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar), which provides the body with energy to support physical functioning. Therefore, it is important to eat carbohydrates in a healthful diet, but some types of foods rich in carbohydrates are better for our bodies than others.

The healthiest sources of carbohydrates come from unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. These types of carbohydrates support optimal health by supplying the body with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and important phytonutrients, like antioxidants and beta-carotene. Furthermore, the proposed benefits of phytonutrients, such as increasing immune system performance, enhancing vision, decreasing cancer risk, improving heart health, and lowering cholesterol, suggest these natural chemicals play a significant role in overall human health.

Adding quality carbohydrates to your family’s diet can be easy! Try some of the following:

Choose vegetables and fresh fruit.

When eating meals or snacks, concentrate on filling at least half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases (e.g., arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes).

Incorporate whole grains into the first meal of the day.

Purchase whole grains like old-fashioned oats or cereals that list a whole grain as the first ingredient. Oats and oatmeal have been shown to promote weight loss, lower blood sugar, and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Use whole-grain bread.

There are many types of bread to choose from and picking the right one can be challenging. Look for a bread that is made entirely from whole grains or one that lists the first ingredient as whole grain.

Include whole grains, like quinoa.

Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and is an edible seed that contains many key nutrients, like fiber, protein, and B vitamins, and important minerals, like iron. Replacing gluten-free ingredients with quinoa can help increase your nutrient value and antioxidant intake.

Substitute beans for potatoes.

Potatoes have been associated with weight gain, so substituting potatoes with beans and other legumes, like chickpeas, can provide your body with carbohydrates that also offer protein.

Additional Resources:

U.S. Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). My Plate.


Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Carbohydrates.,sugars%2C%20fibers%2C%20and%20starches

U.S. Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Phytonutrients.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). 2020-2025 Dietary guidelines for Americans.