Fredericksburg Families

Amy Umble writes about family issues and kid-friendly events.

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New Years resolutions for families

In the hustle and bustle of every year, it’s easy to put off the major adjustments we want to make in the way our families live.

The relative quiet of the holidays can bring a time of reflection, and even though it may feel a little cliche, the fresh start of a new year often provides the motivation we need to take charge of what’s gotten away from us.

Here are four resolutions that local parents said they’re working on this year.

Improving what’s on the family table

Stafford resident Nicole Hodges, mother of two girls ages 1 and 3, hopes to help her daughters establish healthy habits from the start, so they don’t have to make resolutions to get back on track later in life.

She plans to get the family up to eating the government-recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

“We are probably only at two to three servings going into the new year, and I am aiming for five because it is measurable and more specific than just, ‘eating healthier,’” she said.

Anyone who has fed a toddler knows that keeping up with what they will and won’t eat can sometimes feel like working the mind-reading booth at the carnival. So Hodges is prepared to employ some creative strategies, like working vegetable purees into familiar dishes, to try to boost vegetable consumption.

For kids of any age, a key to helping them build healthy habits is making sure parents are setting a good example.

“Kids emulate their parents and caregivers, so it is natural that they will adopt the eating patterns, for better or worse, of those who play an important role in their lives,” said local dietitian Nancy Farrell. “Oftentimes in my counseling sessions we work together to improve the nutrition practices of the entire family.”

A few tips she often shares:

- Make the child an integral part of deciding what is served at home. Let them come along to the market to pick out ingredients for the dishes they select.

- Allow children to assist in the kitchen, according to their age and skill level. “This may mean washing the food item, peeling mashing, slicing, etc.,” Farrell said. “I find that so many kids today do not know how to prepare and cook foods, let alone meals. Cooking is a lifelong lesson that encourages togetherness and bonding. It is a gift from parent to child.”

- Be willing to give foods that aren’t your favorites a try. If your child picks out a fruit or vegetable that isn’t your favorite, Farrell says, “Let your child take the lead in expanding your palate; sample with a smile no matter what.”

- Talk to your children about nutrition and the health benefits of eating well.

Taming technology and getting active

A companion to Hodge’s resolution to serve her children more fruits and vegetables is a pledge to spend more active time outside.

Specifically, she aims to get her children outside for at least 15 minutes a day, five days a week or more.

“Originally, I wanted to go outside every day, but I thought a minimum of five days out of seven was doable, whereas expecting to play outside every day might be setting us up for failure,” she said.

Hodges said she wants her children to develop healthy, active habits from a young age, so they won’t have to make a U-turn later in life.

Getting children involved in more active play is a major topic of discussion these days. First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign recommends that children ages 6 to 17 get 60 minutes of play with moderate to vigorous activity every day to grow up to a healthy weight.

There are lots of different impediments to that goal, like lack of access to parks and playgrounds and cuts to physical education programs in schools. But a major obstacle is the increasing influence of personal technology.

According to the “Let’s Move” campaign literature, 8- to 18-year-old adolescents in America  spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media including TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies.

But it’s not just kids who are using technology, and sometimes parents need to examine their own habits if they want to change behaviors.

Locust Grove resident Sharon Corner, mother of four children ages 10 to 26, has found one small way to cut down on the influence of the ever-present cell phone.

“I had a huge awakening when I was at a friend’s house,” she said.  “We were having a lovely conversation, eating, laughing, and she answered her phone.  I could clearly hear the person ask what she was doing, and she answered ‘Nothing really.”’ Wow, what a blow that was to me.”

So now, Corner has a special ringtone for her children who have phones, so that she can recognize them.

“Unless they call, we do not answer the phone during dinner, we do not answer the phone if we are out with someone,” she said.

And she’s passed along some related advice to her 15-year-old son for when he starts dating.

“I have told him, don’t you ever answer that phone. If it is me, I will call twice, that means it is an emergency.  Don’t text, don’t call,” she said. “That girl in front of you is the most important girl in the world, don’t let her think any differently.”

Give and receive more hugs

While Corner is intent on making sure her kids show respect to others with their technology habits, she also wants to make sure her family makes affection toward each other a higher priority.

Very simply, her New Year’s resolution is to hug and kiss more.

“I used to tell my children I was ‘going to simply die if I didn’t get a hug right then and there’,” she said. “They would come running with a hug. “

Her two girls are now out of the house, her oldest son isn’t prone to hug because of his autism, and “somewhere along the way, my youngest got lost in the shuffle,” she said. So she’s renewing her focus on making sure she gives him plenty of hugs, and demands plenty in return.

That goes for her husband, too. With the down economy putting many stresses on their relationship, Corner said she hopes the simple act of being more affectionate before one spouse or the other walks out the door will help strengthen their ties.

Making “family time” routine

Some days it seems like there are so many boxes to check before bedtime that we barely have time to say hello to each other.

Katrina Herring, a parent of two children, ages 3 and 6, is resolving to develop more structure in her family’s days, while also blocking off time specifically for family bonding.

For her 6-year-old son, who was recently diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder, she hopes this will be of particular help. She’s created a “Daily Duties” chart to help keep him on-task. The chart includes school homework, taking out the trash, picking up dirty laundry and cleaning his room.

For the family as a whole, she is hoping dedicated family time, filled with group activities like board games, Bible study and arts and crafts, will help make sure they all have time to connect on a regular basis.

Already, she said, “The kids are loving the fact that we are spending more time together.”