Family Files Facts for All Ages Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Extracurricluar Activities: How much is too much? Fri, 06 Apr 2018 13:00:00 +0000 The first question my son asks me each day when I pick him up from school is: "what do we got tonight?" I can see the wheels in his brain turning as I respond- X amount of time for practice/scouts/4H, X amount of time for homework, X amount of time for play time and on as he's planning how his evening will go. Most days, he is excited to attend whatever practice or event we have going on, but there is the occasional day when he is less than excited. His lack of enthusiasm can turn into grumpiness, complaints, and a general lack of energy. He will sigh heavy and trudge on, but sometimes I wonder how much is too much? I begin to wonder (and worry) if he is stressed out by too many activities.

Research has often touted the importance of afterschool activities for children. Studies have cited multiple benefits that result from participation in extracurricular activities including improved behavior/reduced behavior problems, higher self-esteem, higher grades and more positive attitude toward school, improved social skills, and development of skills that help children become productive adults. Balancing school work and activities can also allow children an opportunity to learn and practice time management.

More recently, however, attention has been paid to the overscheduling of extracurricular activities. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver, found that children who spent more time in less structured activities had a more highly-developed, self-directed executive function area in the brain. This area of the brain controls planning, decision making, manipulating information, and switching between tasks – skills that are early indicators of school readiness and academic performance. The researchers surmised that when children are in control of how they spend their time, they are able to get more practice setting goals and figuring out what to do next. Another study found that exposing children to extracurricular activities too early can develop stress disorders in some children.

Often, the problem isn't the activities, it's too many activities. Packing evenings with activities may lead to fewer and fewer family dinners and the loss of important time and space to connect as a family. Parents may experience fatigue and burnout due to the weekly grind of driving from activity to activity. Overscheduled children will eventually begin to show signs of being too busy. They may feel tired, anxious, or even depressed. Schoolwork may suffer and the child's grades may drop. The child may even complain of headaches or stomachaches which could be due to stress, missed meals, or a lack of sleep.

One word may help families avoid this harried pace of life: balance. Consider taking an "everything in moderation" approach to activities. While extracurricular activities have many positive benefits for children, overscheduling can put children at risk.

Here are 10 ways to bringing balance into extracurricular activities:

  1. Consider activities in moderation and in relation to your child's abilities, interests, and age. If your child is no longer interested in soccer, what's the point in running ragged to keep him involved? Give your child a voice in the activities he participates in. Allowing him to direct his activities will give you both a sense of meaning and enjoyment.
  2. Be aware of when too much is too much and step back. Carefully observe your child for signs of overscheduling. If activities begin to interfere with your child's life, chances are they are doing too much. Decide as a family which activities can be cut back.
  3. Keep a family calendar. With family members involved in multiple activities, it is essential to know who is where and when. Create a calendar for each family member as well as a general family calendar.
  4. Create and honor family time. Eating on the run may be necessary from time to time, but it is also important to plan family dinners when you can – even if it means eating a little later than normal. Be sure to plan family fun time as well. Connecting as a family is important – even in the hectic pace of life.
  5. Stick to your priorities. School and schoolwork should be the top priority. If school work begins to suffer as a result of activities, an activity (or two) may need to be dropped.
  6. Just say no. If your child is really excited about adding another activity to her already overloaded schedule, discuss with her what activity needs to be dropped to make room for the new activity. Consider carefully what adding another activity to the schedule would mean for the child and the family and say "no" if needed.
  7. Provide adequate downtime. Give your child (and you!) ample opportunities for relaxation and even a chance to blow off steam. Unstructured time is good for developing independence, imagination, and even just plain old playing. Remembering the importance of down time can provide everyone with rest and restoration – preparing all to take on the busy schedule!
  8. Implement stress-reducing activities in the home. Try yoga or meditation. There are many excellent print, game, and web based resources for both.
  9. Teach children to identify their own signs of stress. Encourage your child to verbalize when they are feeling stressed or overscheduled. Actively listen and problem-solve with your child to help them cope.
  10. Assist your child in identifying coping strategies. If it just isn't possible to pare down activities or on particularly busy days, using coping techniques can help in dealing with stress. Ask your child what they do to feel good and then implement those techniques during stressful or busy days.

Implementing these 10 strategies can help deal with the additional and burdens that may result from too many activities.

Note: Portions of this blog were originally posted on Family Files Blog, September 2015.

Staying Active with the Whole Family Mon, 02 Apr 2018 10:32:00 +0000 Forest, Hiking, Walk, Landscape, Path, Trees, Nature

As New Year's Resolutions start to fade, we hear more and more excuses for why we are not able to complete our goals. "There's not enough time in the day!" "It's too cold outside!" "It's not fun!" "I'm too old!" These are some of the common reasons that people give for not staying physically active. However, regular physical activity has been reported as the single best thing you can do for your health! It is incredibly important for multiple reasons to stay active and maintain balance during all times of the year. In this article, we will discuss some tips on how to utilize positive peer pressure to stay active with the whole family.

"There's not enough time in the day!"

Studies show that it only takes thirty minutes of physical activity a day to see positive effects. This means that we do have enough time in the day – we only need to schedule a half hour to get moving! Physical activity has incredible benefits, such as reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. In addition, regular physical activity can help you control your weight and strengthen your bones and muscles. For older adults, physical activity could be helpful in preventing falls and improving your ability to do everyday activities.

"It's too cold outside!"

Too cold outside? Commercial-cize! Many families watch television at night. During commercial breaks, try engaging in exercises like push-ups, crunches, jumping jacks or high-knees. This is a fantastic way to get everyone moving together during a normally sedentary activity. Families could also utilize technology and try out electronic fitness programs. These electronic games offer options like dancing, boxing, and bowling that can help you stay active inside during the cold months. Even something as mundane as an in-home maintenance project could be a great way to get everyone active.

"It's not fun!"

Physical activity CAN be fun! It can be a great way to spend time as a family. Utilize this time together to bond and instill values of health consciousness. There are several ways that you can get the whole family involved. Make it a habit, such as scheduling family play-time after dinner or on the weekends. Get outside and try hiking, frisbee, flag football or playing tag together! Even just walking with the dog around the neighborhood can be beneficial. You can use this time to talk about highlights of the day and stay updated on each other's lives.

"I'm too old!"

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says,"The health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks of getting hurt." No one is too old to exercise.However, please be sure to consult with a health professional if you are unsure about what type or amount of physical activity is appropriate for you. Physical activity can be a great bonding activity across generations. Get grandma and grandpa involved, too! Strengthening activities such as lifting weights or yoga can be extremely advantageous for preventing bone loss and muscle tone.

Overall, there are countless benefits associated with regular exercise and great arguments against the common excuses for inactivity. Get creative and find fun ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily schedule. Think outside of the box when it comes to engaging family members and utilizing indoor space during the cold months. When weather permits, start a new ritual and head outdoors for family play-time. The positive impacts of regular physical activity on your health and family dynamics will be apparent and lasting!

*Authored by Brittany Albrecht,  Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Major, Family Life Intern

Generations Can Learn From Each Other Mon, 26 Mar 2018 10:50:00 +0000

When children, teens and younger adults spend time with older adults, there are many benefits to everyone involved. Older adults can be great role models for children, while also passing on family stories, historical information and teaching the rituals and traditions of earlier times. Children can also improve their practical living skills and ability to problem-solve when applying the wisdom and life experiences gained from those that have lived for many years.

Older adults can also benefit from their interactions with youth. They too can learn new skills, like technology, and often feel rejuvenated and energized after spending time with young ones. The more time spent with each other can also bring greater understanding and appreciation of each generation – their beliefs, values, and behaviors.

There are many activities that are ideal for various generations to do together. Some of these activities include: genealogy, storytelling, scrapbooking, art, gardening, music, community service projects, technology, cooking, crafts, games, traveling, fishing, nature walks, movies and sports. Many of these provide opportunities for lessons learned and taught for everyone involved.

There is a wonderful 4-H project called "Walk in My Shoes" that teaches aging awareness to youth. Check out the website and see some of the activities that youth can participate in to learn more about getting older.

Also check out Penn State Extension's Intergenerational Activities Sourcebook which has lots of activity ideas.

Parenting Newlyweds - Tips for the Transition Fri, 16 Mar 2018 09:58:00 +0000 The day you plan, dream and somewhat dread has arrived…..your child is getting married! It happened to me just last week-end. Every detail in place, my husband walked our daughter down the aisle to begin her new life as a Mrs. First of all, how in the world did I get this old? I mean, just yesterday I was changing her diaper and looking for her retainer in the trash can.

The day was beautiful and so was she. It was perfect and a fabulous time was had by all. I found myself just standing back taking it all in and at times felt like I was in a movie…watching it all happen. Surely this is not real….but as she danced with her father the tears rolled down my face and it became clear.

Now a new chapter of parenting begins. This shift in our relationship that has been developing since she left for college. I feel we have navigated this transition well and it must be due to the fact that she is an independent, capable, and strong-willed young woman. Over the years, we have had the opportunity to develop a great relationship with the independent, capable, and strong-willed young man she married. Do you see a pattern here? Together, these two make a pretty formidable team and I believe they will accomplish anything they set out to do.

I believe what has worked for our relationship has been a willingness to step back, guide and provide a soft place to land when needed. I like to think we are close and communicate well with one another. I truly think that this approach will continue to serve us well and maintain the strong bond we have with both my daughter and her husband.

That being said….I still went to Google and typed "relationships with your married children" to see what the experts say…because that is what you do, right?

Here are just a few of those helpful tips:

  • Only give advice if they ask for it and remember it is just a suggestion…they can accept it or reject it. Don't take it personally.
  • Help out financially when asked directly. When tough times come they may or may not ask you for help. Decide ahead of time with your spouse/partner how you will deal with it if it arises.
  • Avoid putting your values and standards upon them….let them establish their own traditions.
  • Give them privacy and try not to ask too many probing questions. Please, please, please… do not ask them "When are you having kids?"
  • Respect and do not belittle their decisions. If they make mistakes ditch the "I-told-you-so" attitude. Sometimes the best lessons come from working through the mess.

Remember to continually cultivate and nurture the relationship with your married child and their spouse….but most importantly….love them through it all.



It is Brain Health Awareness Week - March 12-18 Sun, 11 Mar 2018 06:00:00 +0000

The DANA Alliance for Brain Initiatives celebrates Brain Health Awareness Week every March to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.  To learn more about the Dana Foundation click here.

Here are lifestyle contributors to having a healthier brain. These are things you can work on throughout life.  It is never too early or late to start.

Maintaining a healthy brain is important for long-term brain health. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits not only contributes to your physical well-being, but also is also good for your brain! Health brains benefit from:

Quality Sleep

The importance of enough and good sleep for a healthy brain cannot be understated! Sleep affects both mental and physical health, helps you focus better, and even solidifies memories. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Consider the following to help you sleep better:

  • Keeping a sleep schedule, going to bed and waking at the same times daily
  • Sleeping a dark, quiet, comfortable environment
  • Exercising daily, but avoiding doing so within 3 hours of bedtime
  • Limiting the use of electronics before bed
  • Relaxing before bedtime with a warm bath or a good book

Heart Healthy Diet

Adopting a heart healthy diet not only benefits your heart, but also your brain. Food influences energy levels, mood, memory, and more and more studies are demonstrating the importance of certain nutrients for brain health. A diet including lean meat, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and limited sodium and sugar are beneficial. Staying hydrated is also important, so ensure that you are drinking enough water on a daily basis.

Regular Exercise

Researchers are consistently reporting that what is good for our bodies is also good for our brains. As we age, our brains, much like our bodies, tend to slow down – including slower reaction times, increased difficulty learning new information, as well as problems with multi-tasking. Regular aerobic activity can improve your reaction time, provide better concentration, and increase your ability to focus on tasks. Aim to be aerobically active 30 minutes or more three times a week and have fun with it! Gardening, biking, swimming, or simply walking are excellent activities to get you moving!

Stress Management

While we cannot escape the stressors that come with life, stress is bad for your body AND your mind! When you are under stress, your brain releases the hormone cortisol. Small doses of cortisol are not harmful and are actually beneficial, but too much cortisol can have a negative impact on your brain. While it may not be possible to eliminate stress from your life, it is possible to reduce the harmful effects of too much cortisol and train your brain to handle stress more effectively. Regularly engaging in activities that you find relaxing is key. Practicing mindfulness techniques, listening to music, laughing regularly – including adopting healthy lifestyle habits can help you reduce the impact of stress on your brain!

Social and Emotional Support

Connecting with others and having emotional support enhances the function of your brain. Research has shown that both formal and informal interactions with others can stimulate and exercise the brain as much as doing puzzles. Socializing, having conversations, laughing and sharing is mentally beneficial. Maintaining social ties through participation in social activities like card playing, traveling, volunteering, or taking a class are ways to stay socially connected. Even activities like going to the movies with friends, attending church or social/civic clubs, or even going out to dinner can help you stay engaged with others and are good examples of brain exercise.

Challenging Activities

Challenging your brain with newness, novelty, and increasing difficulty is one of several things you can do to contribute to your own brain health. Brain exercise is more than just paper/pencil activities like crosswords, Sudoku, or find-a-word puzzles. Anytime you are learning something new like a new language, a dance move, or playing an instrument your brain gets a workout! Pick intellectually challenging activities that are of interest to you to increase the likelihood that you will stay with it. Once you have become very good at a chosen activity, take it up a notch to make it more challenging. As an example, if you are an excellent knitter and can make a blanket in no time at all, try learning a new stitch or pattern or making something more difficult like a sweater.

For a print out of this information click here.

Brain Foods - A heart healthy diet = a brain healthy diet Thu, 08 Mar 2018 09:59:00 +0000

Many of the risk factors for age-related memory impairment are the same risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. A brain healthy or heart healthy diet will help promote blood flow to the brain.

According to

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Drink skim or 1% milk
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains
  • Vary your protein choices by including beans and fish/seafood twice a week
  • Drink 6-8 cups fluid each day
  • Include foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids

Antioxidants — Protect cells from free radical damage, helping protect against Alzheimer's, stroke, cancer and much more.

  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Grapes
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Dried beans
  • Nuts
  • Tea
  • Red wine
  • Whole grains
  • Lean meat

Omega-3 Fatty Acids — Help transport nutrients in and out of brain cells.

  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Albacore tuna
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Shrimp
  • Flax
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Canola oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Olive oil
  • Walnuts
  • Edamame
  • Specialty eggs

Limit or avoid fried, greasy foods, sugary drinks and snacks, and salty processed foods.

A special thanks to our Nutrition and Wellness Educator Jenna Smith for this information

Click here for Brain Healthy Recipes!

Talking with Your Teen about School Violence Thu, 01 Mar 2018 11:30:00 +0000

The primary topic in the media currently, is the mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. This has certainly brought about dialogue about gun control, mental health, and student safety in schools. Despite what has happened recently, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that school-related violence is actually lower than in previous years and statistically, school is the safest place for children to be. But it can be hard to believe statistics when you have an incident like the one in Florida – and at Sandy Hook and at Columbine. Our children need to talk about these incidences and other school violence – so what is the best way to talk with them about it? University of Minnesota Extension has a great fact sheet that is part of the "Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teenagers" series, that gives these great tips:

  • It is okay to express fear at what has happened and compassion for the students and families who have survived these horrors.
  • Explain that there is a difference between being different from other students and having severe problems that lead to extreme violence.
  • Express to your teen how important it is to let you or another adult know if s/he hears another child threatening violence towards himself or others.
  • Talk about what it might feel like to be an outcast at school and find out if your teen is having trouble fitting in.
  • Teens are aware of social issues so talk with them about bigger issues, like gun control and what they can do to help keep their school safe.
  • Talk with your kids about solving problems constructively. Help them to find appropriate solutions to problems without using violence.

The fact sheet also covers how schools can help kids stay safe and what is known about the teens that commit these types of crimes. Students who are potentially violent tend to exhibit more than one of the following:

  • Inability to recognize their own anger and redirect it so it does not lead to violent behavior.
  • Difficulty recognizing others' feelings.
  • Feeling no remorse.
  • Believing that the only solution is to take matters into their own hands.
  • No positive role models.
  • Feeling unloved at home and unaccepted at school.
  • Experienced either physical or psychological abuse, or neglect.
  • Inability to see their future.

Additional warning signs in teens include:

  • Name calling, abusive language, and threats of violence.
  • Preoccupation with weapons or violence.
  • Cruelty to animals.
  • Problems with drugs or alcohol.
  • Discipline problems at school such as truancy or expulsion.
  • Few or no close friends, feeling like an outcast at school.
  • Bullied or bullies others.
  • Preference for movies, TV, music, video games, reading, or clothes with violent themes.
  • Expressions of anger, frustration, or violence in writing or drawings.
  • Suicide threats or attempts.
  • Depression or mood swings.

To view the entire fact sheet and to find other resources regarding the prevention of school violence, check out this link