Tag Archives: healthy living

10 Steps for Benching Bullying

Tom Dahlborg
Tom Dahlborg

In the January 2013 NICHQ Leadership message Beyond Bullying, I shared that 42 percent of children in a Yale Rudd Center study reported being bullied by physical education teachers and sports coaches. Yes, 42 percent! Quite frankly I was shocked at this statistic.

That said, another study found that 45 percent of children “said their coaches called them names, insulted them or verbally abused them” and another study, this one from the United Kingdom, found that 25 percent of 6,000 young adults reported that they suffered emotional harm at the hands of their coaches.

Just think about that for a moment. Depending on the study, between 25 to 45 percent of our children who play sports are falling victim to a coach who is habitually cruel and abusing them. Let that really sink in. Up to almost half our children who play sports are being abused by coaches.

As Nancy Swigonski, MD, MPH, associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Medicine, has noted in her piece in the journal of Pediatrics, the damage these coaches are doing to our children is devastating and can be everlasting. “It can impair social and emotional development and cause substantial harm to mental health.”

As noted in Charlie Homer’s recent blog about NICHQ’s name change, there are many broader influences that affect children’s health outside of the clinical setting. This certainly includes the bullying that happens on our ball fields that can lead to physical injury, social problems, emotional problems, mental health problems (e.g., depression, anxiety), and even death. Not to mention bullying can turn children off from physical activities and this can potentially lead to obesity. As an organization that aims for all children to achieve their optimal health, there is much work to be done…together.

So what can parents do?

  1. Interview the coach and his/her staff. Ask about philosophy, priorities, playing time, values and also ask how he/she measures the outcomes of each.
  2. If your child is already on the team and you have concerns, ask your child about his/her experiences, the messages that are being sent, and follow each path your child raises a concern about.
  3. Inquire of other parents who currently or perhaps who previously had children on the team.
  4. Look for red flags: According to Kody Moffatt, MD, a pediatrician in Omaha and executive committee member of the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness for the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number one red flag is a coach who wants “closed practices” where parents and other adults are barred from the practice. “That may be innocent, but as a pediatrician, a parent and a coach, I don’t think any coach should tell an adolescent not to tell another adult something.”
  5. Be sure to attend (or perhaps rotate with other trusted adults) your child’s practices.
  6. If you notice bullying behavior, document it and include specifics.
  7. Identify and map behaviors to team, school and/or league codes of conduct. Use this as a tool to share very specific examples of your concerns.
  8. Address your concerns directly with the coach. Focus on the impact on the children and be specific.
  9. If discussion with the coach is unsuccessful, reach out to the athletic director, school officials (if school based program), and/or league officials, and share your findings. NOTE: It is absolutely crucial to make note of how the coach is treating your child AND it is also critical to keep an eye out for how the other children are being treated as well. These are our communities and regardless of whom the child is these behaviors are unacceptable and it is incumbent upon us all to speak up for those who cannot do so for themselves and make a difference.
  10. Ensure that you also focus on developing warm family relationships and positive home environments so that if your child is bullied the negative outcomes from the bullying will be minimized. According to the study “Families promote emotional and behavioural resilience to bullying: evidence of an environmental effort” published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, “Warm family relationships and positive home environments help to buffer children from the negative outcomes associated with bullying victimization.”

Bullying is harmful and can lead to tragic ends. Together with these 10 steps we can identify it, stop it, mitigate its impacts, and help our children achieve their optimal health—mental and physical.

Breaking the Food Reward Chain

Cindy Hutter
Cindy Hutter

As I’m about to introduce my young daughter to solid foods, I find myself thinking more and more about how I want to avoid using food as a reward—a practice that seems so ingrained in our culture.

There will be no rewards of sweets when my daughter finishes her vegetables or puts her toys away. There will be no lollipops for behaving well during a haircut or any other activity. Yes, I know. More seasoned parents everywhere are reading this and rolling their eyes thinking, “Just you wait.” But is it so crazy to think this isn’t possible? Why can’t rewards be extra outdoor play time or reading another book at bedtime or letting a child pick the family activity for the day, or even an old fashioned gold star sticker?

These same issues seem to follow us into adulthood. In almost every office I’ve worked, treats always seem to magically appear on Fridays as a defacto reward for making it through another week. Or, how about the promises to buy a friend a drink if they help you out with a favor. Instead of rewarding behaviors with food, what about a manicure or downloading of a new phone app. Surely food (or drink) isn’t the only motivator for people.

As NICHQ CEO Charlie Homer points out in his recent blog post about viewing health as a system, if we really want to improve children’s health, we need to focus not just on improving the quality of care children receive when they go to the doctor’s office; we need to change all influences that affect a child’s health. This includes modeling and practicing healthy behaviors at home, in school and in the community.

Are you willing to break the food reward chain with me? Start small. Pick one time this week when you would have traditionally used food as a reward and pick a non-food reward. See how your reward-receivers (your child, your spouse your coworkers) react and share your experience in a comment on this post. I’ll bet nearly 100 percent of people crave the satisfaction of being rewarded in any form, not necessarily by the food that serves as the reward. Once it works, pick another time and another time to swap in non-food rewards.

If enough of us practice this new behavior, as adults with other adults or as adults with children, it won’t seem so odd after a while and we can start to break the chain.

Taking a Bite Out of Mixed Food Messaging

Cindy Hutter
Cindy Hutter

When I first saw McDonald’s Olympic themed advertising that shows Olympians biting their metals contrasted with good looking, fit, young adults biting into chicken nuggets with the tagline, “The greatest victories are celebrated with a bite,” the marketing professional in me thought that was very clever. The parent and healthcare professional in me were horrified.

There are millions of kids watching the Olympics and dreaming of being the next Ted Ligety or Meryl Davis. They are fantasizing about walking into the Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony in a (probably ridiculous looking) red, white and blue outfit. They are picturing themselves standing on the winner’s podium with a shiny metal around their neck and the US national anthem playing in the background. (Even way past my youth in Olympic years, I’m mesmerized by the Olympic spirit and still hold onto the dream of one day being an Olympian regardless of how unrealistic it is.)

But in between watching Gracie Gold on the ice or Bode Miller on the slopes, nearly every commercial break has that McDonald’s bite commercial. How many kids are seeing this commercial and equating McDonald’s chicken nuggets with being an Olympian? McDonalds is an official sponsor after all and there are easily two dozen Olympians featured in the short ad.

Chobani yogurt is also an Olympic sponsor. They’ve been running ads with the tagline, “It’s one thing to sponsor US Olympians. It’s another to be in their fridge.” I wonder how many kids are watching this commercial and see eating Chobani yogurt as a way to be just like hockey player Zach Parise or snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, both featured in the commercials.

It’s impossible to control the spin that is put on food advertising. However, as adults who make food purchasing decisions for the children in our lives, we have near complete control in deciding what our children eat and establishing and modeling healthy eating behaviors. It’s not like children can get in the car and drive to McDonalds or the grocery store to get yogurt themselves—even though some days that would be nice.

So, I have a challenge for you. Take 5 to 10 minutes this week, and ask the kids in your life (your own, nieces, nephews, neighbors) about what they think US Olympians eat. Ask them about the McDonald and Chobani ads. Do they think eating these foods will help them become an Olympian? Make note of how you respond and post your findings in the comments below. Let’s get a conversation going about how to talk to children about healthy eating behaviors.