Health Hacks for Kids, Teens

As the basis for her “health hack” tips for kids and teens, Steamboat Springs naturopath Dr. Grace Charles starts with the basics of lifestyle changes, starting with good sleep and nutrition.

During a Dec. 8 presentation at the annual Parent Connection Summit hosted by the Routt County Youth Services Coalition, Charles advised parents to address children’s best interests to guide them toward key health priorities such as sleep, nutrition , movement and stress relief. If making improvements feels overwhelming, Charles recommends starting with one improvement in one of these four health categories that will benefit the other three areas as well.

For getting enough sleep, if going to bed regularly is difficult, parents can explain the benefits of getting enough sleep — including more energy and better attention, judgment, and adaptability. If children value playing sports, then parents can explain how sleep can help them play better. If kids value academics, explain how sleep can benefit learning, said Charles, who works at Emerald Integrative Health in Steamboat.

Charles points out that preschoolers ages 3-5 need 10-13 hours of sleep a night, kids ages 6-12 need 9-12 hours, and teens ages 13-17 need 8- 10 hours.

One of the best ways to promote healthy sleep is a “no electronics in the bedroom” rule, Charles said. For older children, some parents impose electronics curfews or turn off home Wi-Fi at a specific time. If children need white noise or soothing music to sleep, a wireless speaker can be placed in the child’s bedroom with the cell phone outside the bedroom.

“Electronics are too tempting,” Charles said. “We all wind up a little later at night than we like, and our kids’ brains have no self-control. Children who get enough sleep make less risky choices than children who don’t.”

If children are having trouble sleeping, she recommends following good sleep hygiene rules for bedrooms that are cool, dark and quiet, and considering temporary use of gummies with melatonin or L-theanine, an amino acid found in some mushrooms and teas. Not drinking caffeine and moving enough to tire the body are also key.

Grace Charles, holding her younger son Jack, 1, has worked as a naturopath in Steamboat Springs for 10 years.
Grace Charles/Courtesy photo

The practitioner noted that sleep experts now say that people can catch up on recently lost sleep by going to bed a little earlier, sleeping in a little later on the weekends, or taking an afternoon nap.

To encourage movement, Charles’s advice is to match sedentary video game time with exercise minutes. This exercise does not mean riding an e-bike to school, but instead means active sports practice or a game of tag.

One of the strongest motivators for kids to move is that their parents set a good example of regular exercise, Charles said. If kids need extra motivation, parents can, for example, let kids skip boring, stationary chores if kids take the dog for a walk or shovel snow instead.

“Unstable blood sugar changes our mood and energy. High blood sugar makes children angry or sad. Low blood sugar makes children feel nervous or anxious. Being caught in this swing is very uncomfortable for children.

Dr. Grace Charles, Emerald Integrative Health

Good nutrition for children means stable blood sugar levels and avoiding sugary foods, especially sodas and energy or coffee drinks. Adding protein to breakfast is key, as is adding chopped vegetables to meals. Charles advises leaving a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter, cutting up fruit before breakfast, setting out a plate of chopped vegetables while dinner is cooking, serving vegetables with a healthy dip or hummus, and playing on family favorites by putting out well-liked healthy meals on a regular basis.

When healthy eating falls behind, Charles recommends considering multivitamin or B-complex vitamin supplements, fish oil, and vitamin D. As a naturopathic physician for 10 years in Steamboat, Charles recommends adaptogenic herbs to help the body cope with too a lot of stress, such as Ashwagandha, lemon balm or Tulsi, otherwise known as holy basil.

Ashley Seeley, a personal trainer at Trapper Fitness Center in Craig, is a patient who said Charles’ advice has helped her family with many suggestions, including natural supplements and blood sugar regulation.

“It’s been a lifestyle for our family that has benefited every aspect of my children’s sleep, health and well-being,” Seeley said. “Applying these concepts, even though we’re not perfect every day, has helped me understand child behavior and my children’s well-being in a way I may never have considered before.”

Charles said her goal for patients is to treat as low on the therapeutic scale as is effective, with measures such as prescription drugs or surgery later. This is why measures such as good sleep, nutrition, movement and regulation of the nervous system are so important. To that end, she advises families not to overschedule.

“Make sure the schedules aren’t crazy,” Charles said. “Decide what your family values ​​are and prioritize and make decisions as a family and set the kids up for success.”

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