Unplug and Unwind: Strategies for Sleep Success

In today’s techy world, one can easily become absorbed with using screens. While technology offers numerous benefits to users, like readily available educational resources, communication tools, and entertainment options, it also has shortcomings, such as disrupting sleep behaviors for children and adults. Using screens constantly, especially before bedtime, can impact children’s and adults’ sleep patterns and quality, and some families may find it challenging to get the rest they need. Let’s discuss how screen time can impact our sleep patterns and discover alternative strategies that promote relaxation and prepare our bodies for rest.

The Impact of Screens on Sleep


Blue light from smartphones, tablets, and computers can disrupt the body’s sleep-wake cycle by reducing melatonin production, which is a hormone that is vital for regulating sleep (AlShareef, 2022). Children’s brains are still developing, so they are particularly sensitive to environmental stimuli and the blue light emanating from screens. Furthermore, content on digital devices is intentionally designed to keep individuals engaged, and this may keep children alert for longer periods of time and make it difficult for them to relax and drift off to sleep. Research indicates that screens in the bedroom, whether actively used or not, are linked to insufficient sleep, poor sleep quality, and daytime sleepiness (Carter et al., 2016).

Teens and Adults

In addition to disrupting circadian rhythms, using electronic devices before bedtime may cause increased tiredness, stress, and symptoms of depression in adults (Lastella et al., 2020). Adults and teens may feel compelled to stay connected and responsive late into the night for various reasons including work or school responsibilities and other societal pressures. In fact, this situation could blur personal boundaries and heighten fears of social exclusion (Saling et al., 2016). Viewing mentally stimulating or emotionally taxing activities before sleep, such as scrolling through social media, responding to emails, or binge-watching shows, can further hinder relaxation, especially if the content is negative or distressing.

Tips for Families

To help counteract the negative effects of screen time on sleep patterns, consider implementing the following strategies:

  • Set electronic curfews: Pick specific times when screens must be turned off.
  • Create screen-free zones: Designate bedrooms as no-screen zones so, when individuals are in them, they are free from digital distractions.
  • Explore the Thrive Professional Resource guide for more tips on managing screen time and sleep guidelines.
    • Sleep guidelines – page 9
    • Family Media Action Plan – page 17

Transitioning away from screens might be initially challenging for members of your family, but doing this can help promote better sleep and strengthen your family connections (Mindell et al., 2018). Here are some soothing alternatives for your family’s nighttime routine:

Remember, finding a balance between using screens and relaxing can help your family be happy, healthy, and rested! So, consider prioritizing activities that help you and your family unwind as bedtime approaches and connect offline!


AlShareef, S. M. (2022). The impact of bedtime technology use on sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness in adults. Sleep Science, 15, 318–327. https://doi.org/10.5935/1984-0063.20200128

Carter, B., Rees, P., Hale, L., Bhattacharjee, D., & Paradkar, M. S. (2016). Association between portable screen-based media device access or use and sleep outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics,170(12),1202–1208. http://doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.2341

Heo, J., Kim, K., Fava, M., Mischoulon, D., Papakostas, G. I., Kim, M., Kim, D. J., Chang, K. J., Oh, Y., Yu, B., & Jeon, H. J. (2017). Effects of smartphone use with and without blue light at night in healthy adults: A randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled comparison. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 87, 61-70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.12.010

Lastella, M., Rigney, G., Browne, M. & Sargent, C. (2020). Electronic device use in bed reduces sleep duration and quality in adults. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 18, 121–129. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41105-019-00251-y

Mindell, J. A., & Williamson, A. A. (2018). Benefits of a bedtime routine in young children: Sleep, development, and beyond. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 40, 93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2017.10.007

Saling, L., & Haire, M. (2016). Are you awake? Mobile phone use after lights out. Computers in Human Behavior, 64, 932–937. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.08.006

Holidays with a Blended Family: 10 Tips for Parents and Stepparents

The holiday season has arrived! For blended families, this can be a time of additional stress as parents and stepparents attempt to maintain special traditions and create memories with their new or still-adjusting family members. Below are some tips that can help you create a positive holiday experience for everyone in your blended family.

Plan Together—Co-parents, Partners, and Children.

Collaborate with your co-parent to create a schedule that accommodates both sets of parents and offers opportunities for children to spend quality time with everyone. You could share the holiday if your families (i.e., both sets of parents) live in the same area. Co-parents who live in different cities or states may want to establish a time when children can call and talk to the other parent. Discussing specific details at least a week before the drop off or pick up occurs can help ensure all members of all families know what to expect for the holiday. Details could include what time and where the children will be picked up or dropped off and the items they will need to pack or bring along. You may want to involve your children in the decision-making process if appropriate. For example, ask children to suggest activities they would like to participate in with the family or meals they would like to have.

Be Flexible with Scheduling.

Be flexible with schedules. Members of a blended family may have multiple celebrations to attend. Understand that compromises may be necessary. Flexibility often involves finding a middle ground that accommodates the needs and wishes of different family members. In addition, recognize that plans may need to change due to unforeseen circumstances. Having a backup plan or being open to spontaneous adjustments can reduce stress and tension.

Another option may be to consider celebrating holidays on different days or at different times. This can provide added flexibility to accommodate various family commitments. For example, instead of hosting an extended family dinner, you may choose to host a brunch event, so your stepchildren can be in attendance. The memories created are often more significant than the specific date or time of the celebration.

Respect and Embrace Traditions.

Discuss traditions openly with all members of your blended family. Sharing the importance of traditions and understanding each family member’s perspective can create opportunities for compromise during the holidays and can help family members embrace and celebrate the diversity of their blended family. If your blended family comes from different cultural or religious backgrounds, consider celebrating multiple holidays. Using this option creates respect for everyone’s traditions and provides an opportunity for learning and understanding.

Create New Traditions.

Ask everyone to offer their opinion regarding how they would like to celebrate. Gaining insight into what the others in your blended family desire from the holiday season might help you plan, together and individually, for this season and seasons to come. Traditions can be very simple, such as serving special foods, gathering for a movie night, or taking a walk together. New traditions may also emerge organically over time, and they may help create a sense of unity and connection within the new family structure.

Manage Expectations.

Blended families may face challenges during the holidays, and it is important to manage expectations and be adaptable to changes. For example, memories of past holidays may surface, comparisons may be made between then and now, people who are not present may be missed, and resentment toward the new individuals who are now part of the family holiday scene could emerge. Be prepared for the possibility that painful emotions may surface. Notice, name, and validate feelings to help the emotions flow, and offer support and discussion to prevent situations from escalating.

Focus on the Positive.

Focus on the positive aspects of the holiday season as a blended family to help create a joyful and harmonious atmosphere. Encourage a spirit of gratitude and appreciation, and help children (and coparents and partners!) see the holidays as a time for togetherness and creating happy memories.

When plans do not go as intended—you burn the main course and must grab take-out, or you forget to purchase movie tickets before they sell out—acknowledge the disappointment, and move on. Mistakes can make for laughable memories, and, sometimes, the alternative plan may be even more enjoyable than the original one!

Respect Boundaries.

Some individuals may need space or have specific preferences for how they celebrate. Discuss and honor these boundaries. And set your own boundaries if needed. For example, if your stepchildren will not be warmly received at your Aunt Edi’s annual cookie exchange, you may decide to decline that invitation. Boundaries may also include protecting time for your own self-care, such as maintaining a morning run before your cup of coffee. As you nurture yourself, you are also providing a healthy model for your children and stepchildren.

Include Everyone in the Holiday Festivities.

Ensure that everyone feels included and valued. Stepparents can play a crucial role in fostering a sense of belonging for stepchildren during the holiday season. This can be as simple as making time for children to call Mom on Christmas Eve or attend a special holiday event with Dad. If visiting others, such as extended family, for holiday events ensure that all children are included in activities, like gift exchanges. This will require advance planning to let friends and relatives know to expect additional children at their event, and you may be responsible for providing the extra gifts. No one in your family should be left out.

Be Patient and Understanding.

Recognize that blending families takes time and effort. Offer patience and understanding, especially during the holiday season, as emotions can run high. Manage your own expectations, and realize that you can only control your own behaviors and feelings. Even if others may not be happy to be in your home for the holidays or to be participating in a certain activity, you can still manage your emotions and reactions and be a positive role model. Acknowledge that children may be grieving or they may have a significant mental load as they work through feelings of guilt or anger. Children in your blended family may exhibit irritability or anxiety if they are overstimulated because they have attended or will attend multiple holiday celebrations. Your patience and support can provide a sense of comfort for children with a busy holiday schedule.

Prioritize Quality Time.

Create meaningful experiences and connections during the holidays that can benefit your family for years to come. Consider activities that involve all family members, such as group games, shared meals, and seasonal outings like ice skating or sledding to help your blended family create unique memories and establish new holiday traditions. In the years ahead, children may not remember the gifts they received, but they may remember the time Mom sang holiday karaoke. If gift giving is part of your holiday celebration, go over the children’s wish lists with your co-parent to decide who is going to buy what and set a spending limit.

BONUS TIP: After the holidays have passed, gather feedback so you can consider making adjustments to next year’s celebration. Ask each member of the family to tell you what they enjoyed, what they thought worked well, and what was challenging. Ask them to offer their input about future celebrations. Some family members may want to provide fresh feedback immediately after the holidays, so their thoughts and feelings are validated. Others may wish to wait until closer to the next holiday season to discuss their ideas, so they have time for thought and reflection.

Additional Resources

Coparenting Supplemental Parent-Education Module: https://thrive.psu.edu/modules/supplemental/

Breathe to Thrive: Mindfulness Strategies for You and Your Child: https://thrive.psu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Breathe-to-THRIVE.pdf

Moving to Thrive: Physical Activity and Playtime Guide: https://thrive.psu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Moving-to-THRIVE.pdf


Calleja, D. (2023, September 21). 5 tips for celebrating the holidays with a blended family. Today’s Parent. https://www.todaysparent.com/family/blended-families-celebrating-the-holidays/

Conway, P. (2021, December 18). 8 ways to better navigate the holidays as a blended family. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90704686/8-ways-to-better-navigate-the-holidays-as-a-blended-family

Bed-sharing Among Toddlers and Preschoolers

Bed-sharing is the habit or custom of parents and infants sharing the same bed. It is practiced in many different cultures to build family closeness, and, sometimes, bed-sharing is practiced out of economic necessity. However, in the United States bed-sharing is not recommended by pediatricians and other healthcare professionals. While the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that parents avoid bed-sharing for a baby’s first year of life to reduce risk of sudden infant death syndrome (Ben-Joseph, 2022), they offer no official sleep guidelines for children of toddler and preschool age (e.g., 1 to 6 years old). Research, to date, is also ambiguous on the physical and psychological effects of bed-sharing with toddler and preschool-aged children (Covington et al., 2019). As a parent, if you make the decision to begin by having your child sleep in their own bed or you decide to transition your child to their own bed after they have shared your bed, you may find it useful to understand your child’s motivations for climbing into your bed and identify tools to help your child confidently sleep on their own.

The differences among co-sleeping, bed-sharing, and room-sharing

Co-sleeping is a term that refers to parents and children sleeping in close proximity to one another (Ben-Joseph, 2022). You can co-sleep with your child when you share a physical space with your child during sleep time (e.g., bed, couch, chair) or when they sleep nearby in your general area (e.g., the crib is in your room).

Bed-sharing and room-sharing are two forms of co-sleeping that are described in the following ways:

  • Bed-sharing is a form of co-sleeping that occurs when your child shares the same bed with you and/or another parent/caregiver (Ben-Joseph, 2022).
  • Room-sharing is a form of co-sleeping that occurs when your child sleeps near your bed, usually in a crib, play yard, bassinet, or bedside sleeper (Ben-Joseph, 2022).

Reasons you and your family may consider bed-sharing

As a parent, your family may consider bed-sharing for one of the following social-emotional, safety, cultural, or financial reasons.

  • It alleviates the child’s separation anxiety.
  • It helps the child cope with nightmares.
  • It fulfills emotional needs for parent and/or child.
  • It helps the parent monitor the child’s safety throughout the night.
  • It calms the child’s fear of a dark room.
  • It supports the child if there is too much light in their room.
  • It respects and honors the family’s cultural norms.
  • It serves families who have few available beds.
  • It helps keep the child warm if the home has poor heating quality.
  • It centralizes the cool areas of the home if the home as poor cooling quality.

The effects of bed-sharing on families

As noted above, there are many reasons that you and your family may consider bed-sharing. However, as a parent, you should be aware of the potential effects—negative and positive—that bed-sharing can have on you, your child, and your family.

Pros Cons
  • Promotes parent-child closeness and bonding.
  • Helps the child fall asleep more easily.
  • Reduces the number of nighttime awakenings for the child.
  • Reduces the number of issues the child may have when they wake in the morning.
  • Lowers the number of future sleep problems for the child.
  • Leads to possible interruptions in the parent’s or child’s sleep.
  • Contributes to poor sleep quality for the parent.
  • Contributes to fewer than the recommended hours of sleep for parent and/or child.
  • Delays child’s ability to self-soothe and fall asleep independently.

Tips to Get Your Child to Sleep Alone

Children are natural explorers, and they often test limits. Therefore, you will probably want to set guidelines and expectations for your child at an early age. This includes establishing a bedtime routine. Consider the following tips to help your child develop healthy sleep habits and proper sleep hygiene.

  • Establish a bedtime routine. Ensure your child can form positive associations with sleep by establishing a predictable bedtime routine. You may begin with a warm bath and follow up with brushing and flossing your child’s teeth. You may relax with a bedtime story or a quiet song before putting the child into their own bed. Remember, avoid electronics and screen time for at least 1 hour before bedtime. Blue-light exposure from these devices can keep the child awake as it can trick the child’s brain into thinking it is daytime, and the child’s brain stops releasing melatonin, which is a sleep hormone (McCarthy, 2022).
  • Coordinate a plan and stay consistent. You can help your child feel in control of their actions when you talk through the bedtime plan with them early in, or throughout, the day. Together, you and your child can determine what to expect, mentally prepare to implement the plan, and get excited about your child showing you how they can sleep in their own bed. When it’s time for bed, revisit the plan with your child, and follow through with the established steps. After you implement the plan, be mindful not to use sleeping in your bed as a reward or a comfort mechanism. For instance, if your child successfully sleeps in their bed throughout the night for 5 nights in a row, you should not relax your expectations on the 6th night. This may confuse your child, and they may believe that sleeping in your bed is still an option.

If your family has decided it is time for your child to begin sleeping alone in their own room, remember it may take some time to reach success. For safety reasons, do not lock your child in their room or lock them out of your room (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, n.d.). However, you may consider one of the following methods to smooth the transition.

  • Make a gradual transition. Your child may learn to fall asleep without you if you increase the time that you are outside of their room. Consider putting your child to sleep in their bed when they become drowsy and, then, leave the room. Remain outside the room for 3 minutes before returning to check on the child. Over the next few days, increase your time outside of the room to 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and continue until your child learns to fall asleep without you.
  • Use the chair method. Sometimes, it helps the child to know that you are nearby even if you are not always present. To support your child’s needs, consider gradually decreasing your proximity to the child while you are in their room. For the first night, you may lie on the floor next to your child until they fall asleep. A few days later, you may move from the floor to sitting in a chair next to the bed until your child falls asleep. Continue to increase the distance between the chair and your child, while they fall asleep, until you are sitting by the door and, then, outside the closed door.
  • Take 100 walks. Some children may begin the night in their own bed but wake up frequently and get in your bed. Other children may follow you out the door immediately after you tuck them in bed. Consider keeping a neutral reaction and walking your little drifter back to their bed every time they escape. Although it may be exhausting, continue to walk your child to their bed, tuck them back in, and leave the room each time this happens until they are confident with staying in their room all night. 
  • Develop a reward system. Many children like to see a concrete tool to help support their learning and progress. Consider posting a sticker chart on the child’s wall. With each day that your child remains in their bed, your child can get a sticker (or whatever your family decides to use to positively reinforce your child’s behavior). At the end of the week, if your child has completed their goal, then, they can receive a small prize. The prize can be a new toy, their favorite activity, a trip to the zoo, or a special treat, like praise, attention, and hugs (note, healthcare professionals recommend that food should not be used as a reward). A similar option could be using a piggy bank. Put a set amount of money in the child’s piggy bank when your child sleeps in their bed. At the end of the week, they can use the accumulated money to select a gift of their choice.
  • Offer your child a bedtime pass. Your child may be full of the “I wants” at bedtime. They may wake consistently and ask for more water, one more snack, one more story, or one more hug. With a bedtime pass, your child is given one pass to leave their room. The bedtime pass is a visible tool that your child can hold and use to help them learn and understand rules and limits. It also gives your child a sense of control as they learn to respect boundaries.
  • Surround the child with some of their favorite toys or items. Work with your child to create a space that is appealing to them. Invite them to help you decorate their room in ways that are exciting and familiar to them. You may bring in your child’s favorite toys and comfort items of their choosing. In addition, you can place photos, books, blankets, and other familiar objects in your child’s room.
  • Use a safety gate. Ask your child to stay in bed and to not leave their room. Let them know if they leave the room, you will have to install the safety gate. Follow through with setting up the safety gate if your child exits their room. However, ensure that you keep your bedroom door open so your child knows that you are not far away. This may not be the best option if your child has shown an ability to climb over a safety gate or open it on their own.
  • Incorporate a wake clock. As your child develops their understanding of numbers and time, they may appreciate an “okay to wake clock.” Show your child the visual cues they can look for on the clock (e.g., a set time, a color pattern). If they wake before the appropriate visual cue, you can tell your child that they can return to sleep, or they can play quietly in their room until it is time to “wake up.”

Additional Resources

  • The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan
  • I Sleep in a Big Bed by Maria van Lieshout
  • I Sleep in my Big Bed by Jim Harbison and Little Grasshopper Books
  • Sleep in Your Big Kid Bed by Amanda Hembrow
  • A Bed of Your Own by Mij Kelly and Mary McQuillan
  • It’s Time to Sleep in Your Own Bed by Lawrence Shapiro
  • Benny Goes to Bed by Himself by Dr. Jonathan Kushnir and Ram Kushnir
  • The Girl Who Got Out of Bed by Betsy Childs


Ben-Joseph, E. P. (2022, June). Bed-sharing. Nemours KidsHealth. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/cosleeping.html

BetterHealth. (n.d.). Solutions to sleep concerns (12) – Toddlers 1 to 3 years. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/solutions-sleep-concerns-toddlers-1-3-years#rpl-skip-link

Boweman, M., (2017). Reclaim your bedroom: How to get your kids to sleep in their bed. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/03/07/reclaim-your-bedroom-how-get-your-kids-sleep-their-bed/98798814/

Children’sHealth. (n.d.). Should I be co-sleeping with my child? https://www.childrens.com/health-wellness/should-i-be-co-sleeping-with-my-child

Children’s Hospital Colorado. (n.d.). How to get kids to fall (and stay) asleep. https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/parenting/parenting-articles/get-kids-fall-asleep/

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (n.d.). Healthy sleep habits. https://www.chop.edu/primary-care/healthy-sleep-habits

Covington, L. B., Armstrong, B., & Black, M. M. (2019, July 24). Bed sharing in toddlerhood: Choice versus necessity and provider guidelines. Global Pediatric Health. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2333794X19843929

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2023, January 14). Child sleep: Put preschool bedtime problems to rest. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/child-sleep/art-20044338

McCarthy, C. (2022, November 21). How to help your preschooler sleep alone. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-to-help-your-preschooler-sleep-alone-202211212853

Planning and Preparing Meals with Your Preschooler

Cooking with your preschooler can be a healthy, educational, and fun activity. Involving your child in cooking and other aspects of meal preparation helps them learn about food and nutrition and many life skills, like basic math skills and decision-making. You may be hesitant to bring your child into the kitchen due to some potential hazards; however, as a parent, you can determine what aspects of meal preparation your child is ready to manage under your supervision. When deciding what meal preparation tasks your child can safely complete, consider their developmental level, general abilities, and attention span. By providing age-appropriate tasks, using safe kitchen equipment, and throwing in a pinch of patience, you and your child can transform mealtimes into a joyful and memorable experience.

The benefits of preparing meals with your child:

  • Engages the senses. Cooking can be a sensical experience beyond tasting the completed dish. Your child can feel the variety of textures among the vegetables and herbs used in the meal. They can smell the food aroma spread throughout the house. They can hear the food sizzling in the skillet and see the food transform from separate raw ingredients into a delectable meal.
  • Builds early math skills. While helping you cook, your child can count the number of items needed for a recipe, identify the steps to complete the process, and get early exposure to measurements and fractions.
  • Exposes your child to family culture and traditions. Food is traditionally ingrained in a community’s culture and heritage. Many families tend to pass recipes down through generations to celebrate their heritage and continue traditions. Inviting your child into the kitchen gives them an opportunity to spend time bonding with their parents and other family members while learning about and maintaining family traditions.
  • Empowers your child’s voice and choice. Young children are eager to feel in control. When you encourage them to select ingredients or recipes for mealtimes, you can help them build their self-esteem, increase their sense of responsibility, and develop their confidence.
  • Encourages your child to explore a variety of foods, flavors, and textures. Meal preparation ensures that your kid has time to explore the foods and ingredients in their own way. You can discuss the differences among the ingredients and even sample a few items to help your child develop a positive perception of the food.
  • Increases your child’s likelihood of trying new foods. Cooking with parents can make food fun for children. Your child may be more willing to try foods from different food groups when they have helped prepare them.
  • Engages your child’s creativity. Having your child help in the kitchen may give them an opportunity to tap into their artistic side. They may make funny shapes and characters with the ingredients or “paint” oil on the dinner rolls. Additionally, cooking may encourage your child to suggest a new and delicious mix of flavors.
  • Teaches them food safety, cooking tricks, and hand hygiene. When your child cooks with you, they can learn important strategies about keeping raw foods separate from cooked foods, cleaning produce before cooking them, and continuing to wash their hands throughout the process to ensure food is safely prepared and served.
  • Offers a sense of accomplishment and can boost your child’s confidence. When your child sees the completed dish in front of them, they can gain a sense of pride that they contributed to the meal in some way. Cooking allows them the opportunity to smile and say, “I did that!” and share that excitement with the rest of the family.

Safe ways your preschooler can assist with meal preparation:

  • Select a new fruit or vegetable from the market to try at mealtime.
  • Pick fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden or market.
  • Help you grow your own produce in an outside or inside garden.
  • Help you “read” a cookbook by turning the page.
  • Wash and dry produce.
  • Rinse canned beans.
  • Pour ingredients into a measuring cup or spoon at your direction.
  • Mix wet ingredients, dry ingredients, or batters.
  • Sift dry ingredients.
  • Add ingredients to recipes.
  • Stuff ingredients into dough, bread bowls, or cored vegetables.
  • Squeeze fruits (e.g., lemons, limes, oranges).
  • Crumble and sprinkle cheese on top of baked dishes and salads.
  • Brush butter or oil onto veggies or bread.
  • Tear lettuce and toss salads.
  • Add toppings to pizzas.
  • Dip foods and set them on a platter.
  • Mash potatoes with a potato masher.
  • Beat egg yolks for scrambled eggs.
  • Roll, knead, and shape dough.
  • Cut dough with a cookie cutter.
  • Place cookies on a cookie sheet.
  • Spread icing over baked goods.
  • Set the timer.
  • Add dirty pans and unbreakable dishes to the sink or dishwasher.
  • Wipe the countertop clean.
  • Fill cups with ice and/or a beverage.
  • Help set the dishes and utensils on the table.
  • Remove unbreakable dishes and utensils from the dinner table.
  • Help clean the unbreakable dishes and silverware by rinsing them.

Additional Resources

For ideas on how to make cooking with your child engaging and fun, including child-friendly recipes, try the following resources:

Download the Cooking to Thrive resource at https://thrive.psu.edu/resources/cooking-to-thrive/ to learn about healthy eating habits and recipes you can try with your family.

Find tips and resources to help your child develop healthy eating habits with MyPlate at https://www.myplate.gov/life-stages/preschoolers.

The USDA Kids in the Kitchen website at https://www.nutrition.gov/topics/nutrition-life-stage/children/kids-kitchen hosts a directory for recipes and resources on food safety and resources for families like yours.


Fernando, N. (2020, November 17). 5 great reasons to cook with your kids. Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Cooking-With-Your-Children.aspx#:~:text=Teach%20kids%20the%20importance%20of,safe%20and%20age%2Dappropriate%20tasks.

Garden-Robinson, J., & Smith, T. (2021, August). Now you’re cookin’: Meals with help from kids! North Dakota State University Extension. https://www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/extension/publications/now-youre-cookin-meals-help-kids

Gavin, M. L. (2021, November). Cooking with preschoolers. Nemours KidsHealth. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/cooking-preschool.html

Healthychildren.org. (2018, April 26). 10 tips for parents of picky eaters.https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/nutrition/Pages/Picky-Eaters.aspx

Malan, C., Bevan, S., & Savoie-Roskos, M. R. (2022, September). The benefits of including kids in the kitchen. Utah State University Extension. https://extension.usu.edu/healthwellness/research/benefits-of-including-kids-in-the-kitchen

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). Chefs in training: Getting children involved in the kitchen.https://healthyeating.nhlbi.nih.gov/chefTraining.aspx?linkId=3

University of Illinois Extension. (n.d.). Cooking with children.https://extension.illinois.edu/sites/default/files/cooking_with_children.pdf

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. https://www.airnow.gov/air-quality-and-health/older-adults

AirNow. (n.d.). What you can do. https://www.airnow.gov/education/what-you-can-do/

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021, May 13). AAP highlights impact of air pollution on children’s health. Healthchildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Air-Pollution-Childrens-Health.aspx

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.https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2021-051484

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 16). Community respirators and masks. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/publicppe/community-ppe.html#anchor_514697

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, June 12). Wildfire smoke and children. Air Quality. https://www.cdc.gov/air/wildfire-smoke/children.htm

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. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.285.7.897

Mahnke, S., Rai, P., & Friedman, E. (2023, July 6). How climate change, heat, & air pollution affect kid’s health.Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/Pages/how-climate-change-heat-and-air-pollution-affect-kids-health.aspx

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. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00322

Penn Medicine. (2021, February 12). What is carbon monoxide poisoning? https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/carbon-monoxide-poisoning

Pennsylvania State University. (2023, July 17). Wildfire smoke: Campus communities should monitor conditions, follow guidelines. https://www.psu.edu/news/campus-life/story/wildfire-smoke-campus-communities-should-monitor-conditions-follow-guidelines/

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, June 26). What is particle pollution? https://www.epa.gov/pmcourse/what-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 https://sor.epa.gov/sor_internet/registry/termreg/searchandretrieve/glossariesandkeywordlists/search.do?details=&glossaryName=Air%20Permitting%20Terms

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 https://sor.epa.gov/sor_internet/registry/termreg/searchandretrieve/glossariesandkeywordlists/search.do?details=&glossaryName=Acid%20Rain%20Glossary#formTop

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. https://panthers.app.cloud.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/school-outdoor%20activity%20guidance.pdf

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. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-9-5237-2009

Wisconsin Department of Health Services. (2023, March 29). Carbon Dioxide – Learn what you need to know about carbon dioxide. https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/chemical/carbondioxide.htm

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.https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/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. https://childmind.org/article/how-to-help-children-calm-down/

Save the Children. (2023). Relaxation activities to do at home with kids. https://www.savethechildren.org/us/charity-stories/easy-at-home-relaxation-activities-to-help-calm-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. healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/fitness/Pages/Making-Fitness-a-Way-of-Life

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. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/119/1/182/70699/The-Importance-of-Play-in-Promoting-Healthy-Child

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. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-2953

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. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Where-We-Stand-TV-Viewing-Time.aspx

Connick, R. (2021, April 28). Three great shows for children with Autism and their parents. Autism Parenting Magazine. https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/autism-three-great-shows/

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. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2591

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. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2592

Indiana Resource Center for Autism. (2022). Learn about autism. https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/learn-about-autism/index.html

Kulman, R. (2022, August 12). Making popular video games good for kids affected by autism. Autism Parenting Magazine. https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/video-games-for-autism-kids/

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. https://doi.org/10.1097/DBP.0000000000000664

Lofland, K. (2014). Evidence-based practices for effective communication and social intervention. Indiana Resource Center for Autism. https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/evidence-based-practices-for-effective-communication-and-social-intervention.html

Smith, H. (2016, October 14). How video games benefit students with special needs. Asperger / Autism Network. https://www.aane.org/video-games-benefit-students-special-needs/

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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3201-6

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! https://archive.acpeds.org/overscheduled

Cleveland Clinic. (16 July, 2018). Is your child overscheduled? Kids need ‘down time.’ Healthessentials. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-your-child-overscheduled-kids-need-down-time/

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. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2379-3988.2006.tb00049.x

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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-014-0035-0

Wedge, M. (2014, August 16). Overscheduled Kids: How much of a good thing is too much? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/suffer-the-children/201408/overscheduled-kids

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 adultshttps://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/health-benefits-of-physical-activity-for-adults.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (January, 2022). Health benefits of physical activity for childrenhttps://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/health-benefits-of-physical-activity-for-children.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (June, 2022). Aerobic, muscle- and bone-strengthening: What counts for school-aged children and adolescents? https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/what_counts.htm

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd editionhttps://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf