RSSHealth & Wellness
On a little track in a covered arena in Hobart, individuals with disabilities light up as they escape the restrictions and difficulties of everyday life for an hour a week on the back of a horse in a therapeutic riding program.
Exceptional Equestrians Unlimited has been in existence for 35 years, operating on private donations and staffed by volunteers. The organization services individuals with a variety of impairments that range from Down Syndrome to Autism, Spina Bifida and Cerebral Palsy to those with visual or hearing impairments or learning disabilities. It is also open to those who have suffered a stroke or who have had a limb amputated.
Rita Wineinger has been volunteering there for about eight years and is one of about 50 volunteers who help out in different capacities—from maintaining the barn to leading horses to cleaning stalls. She got involved after having a granddaughter take classes at the facility. She also serves as vice president of the board of directors.
After learning of the program through word-of-mouth, Rick Vulpitta of Hobart and his wife starting volunteering. Vulpitta is a side walker during evening lessons. Although he lives just a mile away, he said he never knew the program existed. He’s now been a volunteer for about three years.
For those clients who are normally in wheelchairs or who walk with assistance, the rides can be especially freeing. Andy Cleland said his daughter uses a walker, but the rides seem to make movement easier for her. “You’ll see a difference in her stride,” he said.
Some of the more advanced students have the opportunity to also be part of a weekend drill team.
Over the fall and winter, Wineinger said the weather took its toll on the facility, which houses indoor and outdoor arenas as well as an enclosed quarter-mile track. A wind storm had damaged part of the roof, which also led to water damage. Repairs have been made, but the opening of the season has been slightly delayed.
Several upcoming fundraisers give the public an opportunity to support this worthwhile program that benefits such a broad group of disabled individuals. A pilot program will also start on May 1 offering lessons for those with Alzheimer’s. The regular spring lessons began April 19 for 7 weeks, followed by a four-week summer session and then an 8-week fall session.
April 25 is the Hopes, Hearts and Horses Benefit Dance at St. Elijah Serbian Hall, 8700 Taft Street in Merrillville at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 per person or $65 a couple. A table for 10 can be reserved for $325. To make reservations or a donation, contact Wineinger at (219) 942-8162. Also to come are a July 26 golf outing, a September pig roast, a November walk-a-thon and the holiday event called “Deck the Stalls.”
For more information on lessons call (219) 510-2118 and to volunteer call (219) 916-1713. Visit the website for more on the program at eeunwi.org.
“Mom! Mom! Mom! I wanna snack!”
“Sure, um, let’s see …”
Children are bombarded with snack food commercials on TV, billboards, even fast-food signs can trigger a snack attack.
That’s not necessarily bad. “Younger kids need to eat three meals and at least two snacks a day. Older kids need to eat three meals and at least one snack a day,” said Debi Pillarella, M.Ed., program manager at Community Hospital’s Fitness Pointe.
“Snacking increases your energy. Kids get hungry every two to three hours,” said Leela Chigurupati, Clinical Dietitian and board certified in oncology nutrition at Methodist Hospital’s Gary and Merrillville campuses. And Meg Meznarick, registered dietitian, outpatient dietician: and certified diabetes educator at IU Health La Porte Hospital, recommends kids get at least 60 minutes of activity each day. Based on that, two to three snacks daily is about right.
So parents get a green light for snacks, but there’s a caution light when it comes to content.
“Snacks are like mini-meals,” said Chiqurupati. Snacks need to be selected as carefully as a meal. Chiqurupati advised avoiding high-calorie snacks, which are usually low in nutrients. Choose nutrient-rich foods from the basic food groups—just as you choose regular meals for the family, such as whole-grain products and not foods high in salt and sugar.
Pillarella, who is Youth Fitness Spokesperson for the American Council of Exercise, advised low- to moderate-calorie snacks, with minimal processing, no additives or colorings, and low in sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup.
If your head is spinning from all the possibilities, Meznarick offered specific suggestions:
-Mash cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.
-Buy flatbreads to make pizza—and let kids choose the toppings you offer, such as low-fat cheese and leaner ham.
-Serve carrots with a dip—kids love dips!—and whole-grain crackers with cheese. Let kids dip veggies in low-fat ranch dressing, or hummus, a lean protein snack.
-Fruit, vegetables, and whole-grain foods.
-Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, including yogurt. Avoid yogurts with added fruit or other toppings. Choose plain yogurt, then add fresh or frozen fruit, or sprinkle on whole-grain cereal. Let kids mix their own—just don’t make sugary cereals one of their choices more than once a week.
-Low- fat string cheese with whole grain crackers—good to pack so kids can carry it with them.
-Low-sodium turkey or ham wrapped around an apple wedge or low-fat cheese.
-Air-popped or lite popcorn is high in fiber. Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese or cinnamon.
-Celery with peanut butter and raisins on top.
-Whole wheat pita bread stuffed with veggies and salsa; add cheese to melt in microwave.
Setting an example
When kids want a snack before the meal you’re preparing, Chigurupati said a small snack an hour and a half to two hours before the meal is fine—and so is a before-bed snack. “Portion size is one thing parents should keep in mind. Even pre-portioned snacks can be too much for a child.”
Involve children in planning snacks and teach them as you go along, said Chigurupati. At age 2, explain why you’re now serving low-fat milk. And remember the kids are always watching: “Children follow their parents’ example; once the parent changes (food choices), the child changes.” Pillarella’s example: Low-sodium V-8 instead of sugary fruit punch.
Does a child need a multivitamin every day? All three of our experts said that’s something for a pediatrician to decide. “To make a blanket statement that ‘every child should take a daily vitamin is not recommended. according to the American Academy of Pediatrics,” said Pillarella, who is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach.
Plenty of families have a picky eater. Don’t despair: check out the cookbook "Deceptively Delicious", by Jessica Seinfeld (yes, Jerry Seinfeld’s wife). She gives tips on “hiding” nutritious foods in dishes.
Meznarick recommended “an awesome website”: choosemyplate.gov, for recipes, tips, activities, and portion sizes. Pillarella said the official site of Eat This is good resource as well: eatthis.menshealth.com
Snacking is not a bad thing, said Meznarick. “What needs to be encouraged is more activity.”
Children and pets love the outdoors, making it important to take the proper safety precautions with gardening and lawn care. With the influx of organic products on the market and a shift toward more natural solutions, gardeners are finding more "green" options for their green thumbs.
In some instances, avoiding products all together leads to a safer play environment.
Nikky Witkowski, the horticulture extension educator at Purdue University’s Crown Point extension, said she encourages homeowners to question what they need to apply to keep their lawn in shape.
“The more you can live without trying to do something by applying a product, the better off you are,” she said. Everything will not always look perfect, but finding a natural alternative, such as letting grass go dormant in the summer, reduces the need for chemicals.
Paying attention to product instructions is also important.
“You are applying a product and a child or dog should not be getting into it and eating it. Organic is on safer side but still doesn’t guarantee it’s safe. Proper application, including waiting time windows, is almost more important than what product you choose.”
Her program has a public help line April through September. Call (219) 755-3240 with lawn or garden questions.
Getting children involved in gardening is a great way to get active outdoors, said Sharisa Eatinger, a lawn and garden manager and buyer at Alsip Home & Nursery in St. John.
“In an age of technology, nothing is more exciting for me than a family coming into the store and asking for guidance on building their first garden.” She has seen tremendous growth in this category the past few years, she said, and cautions new gardeners and green thumbs alike to keep safety as a top concern.
In the past few years, many gardeners choose to go organic, which is easier thanks to more organic products on the market. Most organic gardening materials such as fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides pose little risk to children and pets because they are plant or animal based, she said, but they should still be kept in a locked area and properly marked.
"Even organic chemicals can be harmful and cause discomfort if not used properly," said Eatinger, who has been with Alsip for about 14 years and attends a yearly chemical certification course.
She recommended products like Dr. Earth Root Zone, an organic liquid starter fertilizer for root development; Wiggle Worm Soil Builder, an all natural organic fertilizer made from nontoxic organic earthworm castings; and Jonathan Green Mag-I-Cal, a pelletized all natural calcium fertilizer.
“Gardening is work. Weeds will need to be pulled, and plants will need to be watered, but the benefits are well worth it,” Eatinger said.
Chuck Roth, owner of Chesterton Feed & Garden Center, said he has noticed more requests for alternative gardening products in the past few years, mostly from those with pets and kids.
His store carries alternative insecticides, fungicides, fertilizers and soil, he said. He also recommended Dr. Earth products.
“We like that brand because of the way it’s built and made up," Roth said. "It has a lot of biotics, which are natural bacteria that are beneficial. The biotics help the plant grow better and help the organic fertilizer enter into the plant better. It also makes them hardier and more disease resistant so you don’t have to use those fungicides.”
Regular fertilizers are chemical based, he said, and can have unnatural materials in them. The level at which they would harm a person or pet varies by weight. Usually absorption just being around the products is not an issue, he said.
Roth said he and his staff emphasize following proper instructions with any product. “Overall when you’re using any product, organic or not, you need to read and follow the label.”
Always mix according to label instructions, he said, “you can’t double kill a plant” by using a more concentrated mix.
Typically after application, you should water the area and let it dry. After that point, it is safe for children and pets to go back in that area because the active ingredient has been washed into the soil below. When spraying garden plants, the same “wait until it’s dry” rule applies. Once dry, the chemicals will not rub off as much.
With more than 40 years in the gardening business, Roth said he has seen major changes.
“The chemicals here then are not here today,” he said. New products are much safer. Over the years manufacturers built safety into the chemicals themselves. For example, a systemic chemical that is sprayed absorbs into a plant and goes into the sap providing a better “total kill” and locking the product inside the plant.
When choosing plants, buyers should always ask about toxicity to children and pets, even if ingested. Roth said several times each year, he gets emergency calls from parents whose child or pet ate a plant. Dogs have even gotten into bags of fertilizer.
The website for Indiana Poison Control, indianapoison.org, said both household and outdoor plants are among the top 10 agents that cause poisonings in children younger than 6. The Midwest has hundreds of poisonous plants that can cause illness or injury, with most exposures occurring in spring and summer.
The center also receives many calls regarding pets ingesting yard and garden products. It offers the following safety tips:
Label all plants with their proper name. Write it on tape and use permanent ink. Make a sketch of your yard and garden, showing location and name of trees, bushes and plants. Post this “map” in a convenient place in your home, so you can use it to identify plants, if necessary.
Children may mistaken seeds for candy - many are coated with fungicides or insecticides.
Because of their color, shape and texture, berries attract young children.
Most reported deaths from plants result from eating wild mushrooms.
Store products in their original containers to avoid children mistakenly getting into them.
For a poison emergency, call (800) 222-1222.
Gardens not only delight with their beauty, they also can positively impact families with children in many other ways as well.
“Gardening is a great way to get the whole family involved. Children feel a sense of accomplishment and learn so much when they help plant a food or flower garden,” said Maddie Grimm, Director of Education at Taltree Arboretum & Gardens. “Our Adventure Garden lets children explore the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell – in a safe and fun environment.”
Taltree's Adventure Garden, which is designed for children, shows them where their food comes from and allows them to explore raised bed gardening and Taltree's ‘go green’ lifestyle initiatives such as green roofs, rain barrels and insect composting. The garden is home to Bantam chickens, Nigerian dwarf goats and American guinea hogs. The Adventure Garden, funded in part by ArcelorMittal USA, allows kids to explore the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell – in activity areas like the gourd arbor, the edible flower garden, prairie ABC trail and hidden music garden.
Mignon Kennedy retains vivid memories of gardening while growing up at the family home on Ridge Road.
"It's so rewarding," said Kennedy, director of Gabriel's Horn, a short term homeless shelter for women in Valparaiso. "You see the garden from the beginning, watch it grow and then canning and finally eating," she said. "We were just part of the whole process."
Kennedy also remembers the satisfying and exciting feeling when, after she and her mother had packed canning jars with produce, sealed them and immersed them in a water bath or pressure cooker, of hearing the lids pop meaning the seal had taken and the food was preserved.
"I remember asking what if they don't pop and my mother reassuring me that we'd just use them right away," she said. "It really connected my mom and I."
Now Kennedy takes her two children to the family home where her father Paul deBie still lives and still gardens to help pick. Her youngest son, 9-year-old Owen, also helped out somewhat in the kitchen when Kennedy put up pickles.
"All the family loved them," she said about their accomplishment.
For Dr. Larry Brewerton, PhD, a psychology professor at Indiana University Northwest who also has a consulting practice, he believes we have a connection with the earth and that this connectivity can have a positive impact upon children.
"When they plant seeds and see them grow into flowers and vegetables it does what we've been telling them it would and they can see that," he said. "It also teaches them when you put your mind to something, you can make it happen."
Another added plus said Brewerton is that when parents and their children work together, there's the team accomplishment that we're all working together.
"Besides that, it's often easier for kids when they're working in a garden with their parents to talk about issues that might not ordinarily bring up," he said.
James Pavelka, member of The Garden Club of Indiana and the Hobart Garden Club, said gardening offers children the opportunity for enjoyable and creative activity, encourages participation to the fullest extent possible and provides recognition of accomplishment.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, in the last two decades, childhood has moved indoors. Now, the average American boy or girl spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day while sitting more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen. This move from the outdoors to inside has a major impact on wellness. Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled the last 20 years. Beyond that, the United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world. Pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have risen dramatically too.
All in all it adds up to overweight, out-of-shape children who are stressed out and depressed. The reason could be their missing connection to the natural world, something that's essential to health and development.
What to do?
Studies show that kids' stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces and that nature makes you nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community and close relationships.
In other words, it's time to turn off the TV, iPads and whatever electronic gadget is going and go outside and get digging.
By this point in a long, dreary and very cold winter, we can either burrow even deeper, becoming the ultimate couch potatoes or get out and have some fun. But with temperatures dropping, there’s more to keeping warm than just a coat and gloves.
“Our mantra is layer, layer, layer,” said Sandy Basala, Superintendent of Visitor Services at Lake County Parks. “Often times we see people come out to cross country ski either underdressed or overdressed. Underdressed is thin anklet socks, no hat or gloves. Overdressed reminds me of the little brother in "A Christmas Story" who can’t move. All of our outdoor activities—skiing, sledding and ice skating or even hiking require people to move and be active. The basic concept is simple. Be prepared to adjust to your activity level as you exercise and changes in the weather. Don’t leave home without a warm hat, gloves and the proper winter foot ware. Please, no flip flops.”
Dr. Bernard Heilicser, an emergency room doctor at Ingalls Health System, warned it doesn’t take a long time to get frostbite and hypothermia. So for parents, it’s important not only to bundle up their kids but also to keep close watch on them during this frigid weather.
“An infant or very young child can’t say my hands hurt,” he said. “They’ll just start to shiver and start to cry.”
“Parents need to keep an eye on the little ones, because if they are like I was when I was a kid, they’ll stay outside as long as possible without warming up,” she said. “Generally, children lose body heat more quickly than adults and they are also the ones not likely to pay attention to the cold. They’d rather enjoy what they are doing instead of going inside to warm up.”
Thick wool socks, thick down coat, long underwear, insulated snow pants, fleece-lined hat and two pairs of mittens—fleece mittens inside water-resistant mittens are important clothing items for both adults and children said Maddie Grimm, Director of Education for Taltree Arboretum and Gardens in Valparaiso. Grimm recommended mittens instead gloves because they help keep energy circulating between your extremities.
“In really cold winter months when outdoors you burn energy—calories—to stay warm, layering ones clothes is very important to deter illness and frostbite,” she said. “When you are playing outside in colder weather more energy is burned because you’re trying to stay warm, so keeping water on hand as well as a good fat/protein combo snack like trail mix which helps to provide additional energy to produce heat is helpful.”
Safeguard against cold and wet.
“You want to avoid sweating—evaporation is a cooling process,” said Heilicser. “So wear active-wear clothing that will take the perspiration away from the body so it won’t be retained.”
Heilicser also recommended drinking warm fluids to keep your core body temperature warm as well as fluids.
“You still need to hydrate,” he said. “If you’re exercising and are active, you’ll need to replace fluids and electrolytes.”
According to Patricia Kemp, communications manager for the American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you or your children have symptoms of frostbite such as numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration or waxy feeling skin. Also be on guard for indications of hypothermia which include confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering.
“If you observe someone who is out in the cold and seems disoriented, they should be brought into the emergency room in order to get their body temperature up,” said Heilicser.
Keeping as little amount of skin exposed to the elements is also another necessity said Heilicser. It’s even more important with young children who can’t keep themselves covered.
“The head, face, ears, hands and feet are generally most vulnerable,” said Basala. “We tell people to make certain they take a break when skating or sledding. If they start to shiver they should get inside and warm up. Both frostbite and hypothermia can occur when the body is exposed to the cold for an extended period of time without proper clothing.”
Chasing after a toddler all day may seem like exercise enough, but a full workout is an important tool many parents need to de-stress. Thanks to local fitness centers that offer childcare and some other creative outlets, moms, dads and kids are able to enjoy the health benefits of staying fit.
Franciscan Omni Health and Fitness, with locations in Schererville and Chesterton; and Community Hospital Fitness Pointe, located in Munster, all offer childcare facilities for members.
The Omni program accepts children 6 weeks to 12 years old for up to two hours per day at no additional charge to the member. The children can do activities such as a weekly craft, work on puzzles, color or watch TV. Younger babies enjoy the activity bouncers and swings.
The center has multiple rooms, which lets the children play within their own age group.
“A lot of these parents wouldn’t have anywhere to leave their children and even if they hired help, it’s at least $10 an hour. That adds up. I think that’s a big value with what they pay monthly,” said Adalia Gonzalez, who has been a playroom attendant at Omni for 15 years.
The staff members are CPR certified and childcare centers follow all Indiana guidelines.
“I really believe that we have a great staff and most of the staff has been here a long time,” Gonzalez said. They are also friendly and flexible with parents needs and the children enjoy their time there.
“The kids really get to know us. We’re the same people every day.”
“Your child is here in a safe environment and parents can release their stress,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing we give back to the parents. They have the ability to de-stress and be a better parent.”
Childcare is offered from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Families can use the club facilities during special hours from 2 to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Fitness Pointe also offers childcare for ages 6 weeks through 12 years.
Ginny Miceli, who has been a daycare attendant at Fitness Pointe for 13 years said when parents come back from working out, they seem more refreshed and renewed and ready to tackle the responsibilities of parenthood.
“It gives them that break that they need. It helps them de-stress from parenting. They come in with a whole better positive attitude,” Miceli said.
She said the children also benefit by learning how important it is to take care of yourself.
“They’re being taught not only to work your body but to eat better as well,” she said.
Their center is a large room put together in a great way, Miceli said. It has designated areas to play house, read books, play with blocks, do puzzles and board games. They also have game systems for older children and an outdoor space that the kids can enjoy when weather allows.
Fitness Pointe childcare is offered from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
Employees of community healthcare system can use the service for free. Regular members pay an additional $3 for care up to 90 minutes and $4 for two hours.
Bellaboo’s Children’s Play and Discovery Center in Lake Station recently started a new partnership that focuses on parents’ fitness goals.
Kara Mackey, general manager of Bellaboo’s, said the partnership with FIT4MOM, owned by Annette Lister, will include new programs taking place on what’s being called Fitness Fridays.
All programs are an “and play” option, which means participants come for class and can stay and play with their kids all day.
Fit for Mom is from 9:15 to 10 a.m. Fridays. Parents and children can exercise together with adults utilizing their stroller as a fitness tool as they interact with their children. It costs $130 for the eight-week program, which runs Jan. 13 to March 8.
“It’s a good time to get a nice workout and then they can stay and play,” Mackey said.
Moms who want a more intense workout can sign up for Work it and Play, a 60-minute body back program. Bellaboo’s staff members will do activities with kids during the class so moms can focus on the exercise. The class costs $175 and is also eight weeks.
“They can have peace of mind that their kids are having a great time while they’re working out,” Mackey said. “You don’t have that mommy guilt that happens sometimes,” she said.
Mackey said she’s excited about the classes and hopes people are able to take advantage of them.
“I know it’s hard to pay anything right now around the holidays but we made a concerted effort to make them affordable. They’re here as a service. We want people to utilize these classes.
Bellaboo’s also offers less strenuous classes like Music and Play and Preschool Prep and Play classes for parents and children. For more details on any class, call (219) 963-2070.
We all know that exercise is important, but this time of year it is a lot easier to bundle up in a blanket and watch television than to venture out in the cold weather for some physical activity. However, studies show that walking or doing moderate exercise for just 30 minutes a day can help maintain a healthy body weight and improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels – and those benefits are for moms, dads and kids alike.
Take inspiration from this active family.
Cathy Dilbeck from Hammond has two children ages 6 and 4, and she makes sure they have ample opportunity to stay active all year round.
“My husband Dave and I were athletes growing up and our parents kept us involved in a lot of youth programs. We are still very active today - exercising every day and playing adult sports,” Cathy Dilbeck said.
In the winter, the Dilbeck family participates in organized activities such as swim lessons and youth basketball leagues and also makes time as a family to shoot hoops during open gym or take the kids swimming during open swim at the Hammond Family YMCA. Cathy advised other families to “take advantage of youth programs that are available at your Y and parks departments. Some programs start as young as three years old – not just to teach sport skills but to keep kids active and help them build social skills.”
Keeping kids of all ages active.
When the weather is bad, it’s time to get creative with what you have around the house. Alina Kilarski from Crown Point rigged up a swing in her house for her younger kids ages 2, 5 and 7.
“It doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside, we always find time for active play,” Kilarski said.
Other NWI moms suggested hula hooping, pulling the cars out of the garage and letting the kids use that open space for jump rope or Frisbee, or building an obstacle course in the basement or living room.
If you have older kids, consider setting a family workout goal such as exercising together twice a week. Or step up to a family challenge – perhaps a local 5K – and train for it as a family. Pick something that you can do together, and it will be easier to keep each other motivated.
Don’t be afraid to get outside!
Region residents all have their favorite sledding hills but there’s more to do in NWI in the winter. Bundle up and get ready for some fun!
- Many Northwest Indiana parks departments have seasonal ice rinks and some are even free if you have your own skates. Call your local parks department for availability. Deep River Water park is another regional option and, with refrigerated ice, one that is available even in slightly warmer temps. Ice is available Thursday-Sunday until Feb. 29.
- Park naturalists at Indiana Dunes State Park lead winter hikes on the dunes and in the park’s wooded areas. Children are welcome and some of the hikes include fun activities like putting out food for animals or bird banding. Check out their website for a monthly calendar of events – most are free to the public.
- Taltree Arboretum in Valparaiso has a variety of hiking trails and is open seven days a week all winter. If you have snowshoes or cross country skies, call and see if there is enough snow to use their trails.
Staying active in the winter months can be a challenge, but it’s one with many rewards: family bonding, improved health, higher energy levels, better moods—it’s worth the extra effort to keep your family up and moving. If you can get started now, it will already be a healthy habit that’s easy to continue once the weather turns warm.
As Cathy Dilbeck notes, “I just want to remind parents how much our kids feed off everything we do. If the parents live a healthy lifestyle all year long the kids are sure to follow in their footsteps!” Start a healthy lifestyle today and your entire family will reap the benefits tomorrow.
As a special education teacher, Lisa Joesten worked every day with students experiencing an inability to focus, anxiety and an excess of unproductive energy. As a certified yoga instructor, Joesten knew how this ancient philosophy of obtaining mindfulness—an awareness of mind and body—helps people relax and focus.
“Before this school year began, I’d worked with adults, teaching yoga and I’d been practicing yoga since my younger child, who is now 10, was first born,” said Joesten, who works at Yost Elementary School in Porter. “It’s funny sometimes how things make sense. I’m a yoga teacher and a special education teacher, and it just kind of clicked. It just felt right.”
What felt right was taking her yoga to school. After talking to her supervisor, Joesten started working with the special needs kids in her school, teaching them the basics of yoga including breathing exercises, gentle body movements and simple poses like The Tree and Down Dog which help them learn balance and to become aware of mind, body and breath. Joesten noted that kids particularly love balance poses such as The Tree. Down Dog is popular too because she encourages them to bark while doing so.
“Yoga gives them strategies to focus,” said Joesten. “Yoga in general can bring a focus and calm, so if the kids are in class and feeling anxious, say about a test, breathing and yoga postures help them get everything flowing. I have some kids who are very active and it helps calm them and refocus all that energy.”
Now, because of the positive impact of providing these strategies to students, Joesten, who said that changes in behavior has been significant, is being tapped to teach other school professionals how to implement a mindfulness/yoga program in Region schools.
“It’s a way for children to slow down,” said Anita Bedouin who has taught yoga classes for children at the Valparaiso YWCA. “It shows them how to be quiet, be still and teaches them how to breathe to calm themselves.”
Bedouin taught two age groups, kids from 3 to 6 and 6 to 10. With the younger children she worked with them on breathing and relaxation poses, pairing those with making animals sounds like barking and meowing.
“It was fun for them,” she said. “A lot of yoga is about holding a pose for a long time. With mine you flow from pose to pose, to relax. It’s really amazing how it helps the kids, I could see a big difference between when the classes first started and at the end.”
Bedouin also has worked in a hospital setting with juveniles who have gotten in trouble.
“It was mostly boys and many of them would be very hyper at the beginning and at the end you could really see how it helped,” she said.
Not only is yoga considered one of the fastest-growing sports in America, more kids are becoming practitioners. The Yoga Room and Bookshop in Crown Point offers both weekly yoga classes for kids ages 4 to 12 but also summer and winter yoga camps.
“It’s a about growing fit physically, emotionally and mentally,” said Mike Zolfo, owner and director of The Yoga Room which this year celebrated its 20th anniversary. “Kids love it.”
Zolfo said the classes, which are taught by Jennifer Connelly, a certified yoga instructor, are designed to increase concentration, attention and focus. The kids acquire the necessary tools for managing stress and help build flexibility. He said the breathing exercises also help kids who have asthma. Parents can either join in the class or kids can attend class on their own.
Yoga isn’t a religion said Joesten. Instead it’s considered a philosophy practiced for health and relaxation with roots going back some 5,000 years. In Sanskrit, the word yoga means union—an integration of mind and body.
“Yoga gives kids a sense of well being,” said Bedouin noting that as many boys as girls attend the classes. “That’s why they like it.”
With New Year, resolutions to form new, good habits are abundant. But what about habits that aren't the best for your child to pick up?
It doesn’t take long for a child to develop a bad habit. In fact, many habits begin shortly after birth. While parents should be aware of what a bad habit looks like as it’s forming, they should also know how to help their child break the pattern before it becomes a more serious problem.
The following are three of the most common habits among kids and some suggestions for breaking them.
Thumb-sucking is one of the earliest developed habits, usually starting at infancy. Tae’Ni Chang-Stroman, MD, of Kids First Pediatrics on Rt. 30 in Dyer, recommended deterring your child from thumb-sucking from the start. “Try to have them use a pacifier instead” because pacifiers can be taken away, whereas the thumb is always there, making the habit much more difficult to break.
“If they already have the habit,” said Stroman, “don’t do anything with it until they’re five or six years old.” You can try to limit the behavior by telling your child he can only suck his thumb in his room or some other space, but according to Stroman, it’s not worth trying to stop it entirely. “Psychologically they can’t break the habit until they’re five or six,” he said. That is the age that kids begin school and will learn from their peers that thumb-sucking is socially unacceptable.
Some other tactics are to show them pictures of kids whose teeth are damaged from sucking their thumbs, or to put bitter-tasting flavors on their thumb.
This habit is notoriously a tough one to break, which is evidenced by the large number of adults who bite their nails. “Kids usually get this habit from their parents,” Stroman said. Parents of girls might be able to lure their daughters away from nail biting by offering to paint her nails if she doesn’t chew on them. “With boys it’s tough,” however, said Stroman. “They’re going to do it no matter what.”
Sometimes an infection called paronychia can develop as a result of nail biting, so that knowledge, or the occurrence of the infection itself, may keep kids from biting their nails. One parent interviewed had success by putting bitter-tasting, clear, no-shine polish on her child’s nails.
Biting or Hitting Other Kids
Unlike the above habits, biting and hitting are serious behaviors and should be nipped in the bud early. The key is to do so without making a scene.
When a kid bites you or someone else, Stroman recommends putting him in his crib, closing the door and leaving him there for one minute per age (if he’s one year old, he stays in the crib for one minute, if he’s two it’s two minutes, etc.). After the time frame is up, take him out of the crib and walk away without saying anything. (At the most, you can say, “No biting.”) Do this every time he bites or hits.
“They bite for effect,” said Stroman. “They’re mad at you so they bite you, or they want you to get mad so they bite you. They want attention.” Therefore, if you respond by biting them back (as many recommend) or yelling, they’re getting the attention they crave and will continue the habit.
Breaking a child’s habit can be difficult and exhausting. Stroman said staying calm is the key to success. “Is it worth fighting about? If not, don’t even start the fight. If it’s a habit where they harm themselves or others, you do have to stop it. But be very low-key. Don’t get overly emotional about it or you’ll lose focus. Be calm and constant. They have to choose to stop on their own.”