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Tips For Parents Over Winter Break

By Aaron Kraut

Tuesday - 12/17/2013, 9:40am  ET

Suburban Hospital Chair of Pediatrics Leila Hall, via Suburban HospitalSchool will be out for winter break starting Monday and won’t be back until Thursday, Jan. 2, meaning eight days out of the normal routine for kids everywhere.

Suburban Hospital Pediatric Director Dr. Leila Hall and the folks from Rockville-based Ashley Tutors have a few tips for keeping kids focused, healthy and happy over the long time off. We’ve selected a few:

My children spend way too much time watching television and playing video games. How do I control this time, especially when they are home during winter break? 

Dr. Hall: Children want to emulate older kids and grownups. That’s why it’s so important that parents model healthy behaviors. This includes limiting the amount of time you spend on your tablet or smartphone when you are home with your children. When it comes to screen time, a general rule is that kids should spend no more than two hours per day watching television, playing video games, surfing the Web, or accessing a smartphone. I tell my older teenage patients that they are responsible for their homework and their extra-curricular activities first and foremost. After all of their priorities have been met, they can then allocate some of their free time to playing video games, watching television, or sitting in front of a computer.

Create incentives.

Ashley Tutors: Set up an incentive program for each day of break to encourage children to accomplish tasks to help them get ahead in school. Kids respond well to specific, actionable goals like: 20 minutes of reading per day. The reward should match the effort.

What are some warning signs that my child may be having difficulty coping with the hustle and bustle of the holidays?

Dr. Hall: Kids are very sensitive to over-stimulation and sleep deprivation. The key to emotional stability for kids is keeping a consistent schedule, especially in their eating and sleeping routines. Transitions are difficult for kids and having so much unstructured time can be challenging for them. Make sure your children know about your holiday plans in advance so they can share their concerns with you. This will help make any transition easier.

It’s especially important this time of year to model healthy lifestyle behaviors for your children. There is an epidemic of obesity in this country. Remind your kids to make healthy meal choices at home and when dining out. One-half of every plate should contain fruits and vegetables, with one-quarter containing grains (preferably whole grains) and the final quarter containing protein. Children should avoid sodas and other sugary drinks, opting for water or milk instead. During the holidays, the combination of shorter days, more opportunities to overeat, and less physical activity due to a break from PE and sports can all take a toll on kids. Make time to exercise as a family, even if you just take a walk together after dinner.

Get ahead.

Ashley Tutors: Set your child up for success in school after the holiday break by getting a head start on upcoming projects. Work on post break reading assignments or projects together while you’re spending time as a family.

How do I make the holidays about more than just buying the latest toys and gadgets?

Dr. Hall: The most important gift you can give your kids is the gift of your time. Give your children a voucher that’s good for a trip to the movies with you, an outing to their favorite museum, or some one-on-one video game time. Give them tickets to a musical performance or the theater. Experiential gifts are so helpful to kids. They take up no shelf space, they don’t get lost or broken, and they create lasting memories. The biggest present you can give your children is your presence in their lives.

Photo via Suburban Hospital