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One of the three rules Dr. Kristopher Kaliebe suggests to overcome childhood obesity caught my attention.

In an article published in April in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Dr. Kaliebe presented his three “simple rules.” The first two were not much of a surprise: Rule One: Eat Food – Not Too Much and Mostly Plants – that is, natural, unprocessed fruits, vegetables and grains, and Rule Two: Get Up and Move. Certainly eating nutritious food and exercising daily are tactics just about everyone knows are essential in helping kids towards a healthy weight.

The third rule, though, surprised me.  Dr. Kaliebe’s Rule Three is Honor Silence.

What? “Honor Silence”?  What does he mean and why?

According to Dr. Kaliebe, “The pediatric obesity crisis arose from systemic changes in society and multiple dynamic interacting risk factors. It has been paralleled by increased mental health problems that seem interrelated.” Which is to say that children’s obesity is often accompanied by high levels of anxiety and stress, poor sleep, and disruptive behavior. By slowing down the pace of children’s lives and reducing the everyday sensory assault most of us are under, children’s health and their weight will normalize.

By honoring silence, we take control of the beeping, buzzing, flashing insistence of machines and replace it with quiet. What would your child’s life be like if it were quieter? For one thing, says Dr. Kaliebe, your child’s life might be lighter in weight.

We are so used to lights and noise that we scarcely notice how surrounded we are with technological interruptions. Silence seems spooky. Maybe it’s time to bring silence back.

Many people are observing “Screen Free Week” this week. I’m not asking that you or your children give up all your screens for even a day. But I am asking you do that for an hour. An hour every day. An hour every day for more than just a week.

  1. Find a time every day when all screens and noisy toys are off. This could be the last hour before children go to bed, since it’s been demonstrated that the light from screens interferes with the sleep hormone melatonin.
  2. Once you find a time, turn things off. The television, the computer, your phone, your e-reader and tablet, the radio, your music, Tickle Me Elmo and all other noisy toys. Notice how many things interfere with the peacefulness of the evening! Turn them all off.
  3. Help children find things to do. Read or look at books with the children. Work puzzles. Play board games. Take a walk. Garden. Draw. Putter around the house. Watch the stars come out. Listen to the birds as they sing themselves to sleep. Just sit and talk with each other. Kids may have trouble at first keeping occupied without the usual noisy entertainments. You may have trouble. Work at this together.
  4. Soak up the silence. Our lives are filled with busy-ness. In the quiet notice your own stress levels going down.

Overweight and obesity are symptoms of life’s problems as much as they are problems in themselves. By reducing the stress in life, we may improve children’s health and happiness and make many of the problems that beset us fade away.

Try it. Try being calmly quiet together for a little while every day.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Join Dr. Anderson in an online conference for teachers and parents. Find out more at Quality Conference for Early Childhood Leaders

Exercise is a bad word.

At least for many children, exercise sounds like hard work. It sound boring. It sounds like something a person has to do, not something she wants to do.

If you’re having trouble selling your children on being more active, it might be because you’re suggesting they go get some exercise. Try calling it something else.

Talk about doing specific things that are fun. Shooting baskets. Playing with the dog. Seeing how many pull-ups you can do. Tossing around a Frisbee. No one ever said getting exercise meant doing calisthenics. There’s a lot of other ways to be active for half an hour or more that make the time fly by.

In addition, avoid tying being active to a goal, like losing weight or even getting stronger. The way to make being active a regular part of your child’s life is to let it be valuable for its own sake. Because it’s fun. Because it feels good.

Many of us have made some resolutions for the new year, resolutions that might have included getting our kids more active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that every child should engage in active play, preferably outdoors, for an hour every day. We know this is good for our families.

In addition, during the cold, dark winter months, we feel more like hibernating than being active. Cuddling in a blanket with a good book or the television seems more attractive than walking around the neighborhood. But everyone eats better, sleeps better, and is more alert and even smarter when they’ve got the blood moving and shaken out the cobwebs.

How to do it without assigning “exercise”?

  1. Make a list. Sit down with your kids and brainstorm as many ways of being active as you can come up with. Limit yourselves to ideas that are actually possible from home – no point is listing “go skiing” if that requires hours of time, a lift ticket, and a drive to the slopes. Be inclusive. Gardening and cleaning the garage together count.
  2. Include indoor ideas as well as outdoor ones. Jogging through the house, up and down the stairs,  to loud music and marking off each circuit as you pass the kitchen can be just as much fun as a jog around the block. Try dancing. Even lifting weights can be fun if it’s done for fun, not for “exercise.”
  3. Aim for being “active” not for being tired. There’s plenty to be gained without needing to feel any pain. All activity is good and leads to more activity later. Just get your kids moving, don’t worry too much about how hard or how fast.
  4. Commit to a span of time each day. Maybe 20 minutes, maybe 30, with the option always to keep playing or keep going longer if you want. If you can, establish a dependable time every day for activity – maybe before dinner. But getting some activity in each day is more important than keeping to a schedule.
  5. Have fun. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong. Be active in a way that makes you and your kids happy.

Activity is good for everybody, and your children might find it easier to be active if you’re active along with them. Go for it. Make this a family thing.

Just don’t call it “exercise.”


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.