Mental Health, Parenting

Time to Un-Plug: How To Get Your Kids To Enjoy The Outdoors

Remember playing outside? Remember the frustration you felt when your mom made you come home and do your homework? With our kids today, we find it more difficult to get them to go outdoors and breathe in some much needed fresh air. The average kid spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screenAs parents, we know that a lack of physical activity can take a toll on a child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. From childhood obesity to reduced cognitive development, sedentary habits have a host of negative effects on those little bodies and minds. So let’s get our kids up and moving to get their daily dose of activity. It’s up to parents to show children that regular outdoor activity can not only be healthy, but a lot of fun.

Choose the right spot

With the weather getting warmer, now is the best time to encourage your children to put down their video games and iPhones to spend a little time soaking up some vitamin D! While older kids have several options including organized sports and biking, for a young preschool kid, it might be up to you to make the outdoors ‘play’ safe. If you have a backyard, garden or even a patio, create a kid friendly zone to watch your child have a blast outdoors. Taking them out to a park or common outdoor area would also work as long as you can supervise!

Make it fun and dirty 

Make playtime interesting by handing them a spade to dig with, or a hula-hoop to shake with or a ball to toss around with friends. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to let them get a little dirty. The National Wildlife Federation found that letting children get dirty outside makes them happier and healthier. Many kids who live in an ultra-clean environment have a greater chance of suffering from allergies and asthma than kids who have been exposed to healthy bacteria and viruses that boost their immune system.

Make it a family affair

Getting the whole family to spend time outdoors is a great way to encourage kids to bond with nature. Playing a sport together, riding bicycles together on weekends, or planting and tending a garden together are some of the activities that the whole family can bond over in the great outdoors! Just a picnic lunch at the park, with some healthy food and the whole family can be a great place to start spending time outdoors with your kids.

Teach them to appreciate nature

Inculcating an interest and curiosity about wildlife is a great way to engage kids outdoors. You can get kids interested in nature (insects, birds and animals) through fun expeditions, photography, drawing and books. Cornell University environmental psychologist Nancy Wells shows that children with a greater exposure to nature have reduced stress levels and longer attention spans.

The benefits of getting your children off the couch and out the door are immense. Not only does it keep them healthy, but bonding with nature encourages children to use their imaginations and get creative in ways that cannot be easily achieved indoors.


Mental Health, Parenting

5 Ways To Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Every parent wants to see their child walk out of the door to school each morning with a confident smile on his/her face. Having healthy self-esteem helps children face the world and all its challenges with optimism. Self-esteem is the foundation of a child’s well-being and the key to success as adults. Kids who know their strengths and weaknesses seem to have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures (1). While low self-esteem is not recognized as a mental health problem, children who think poorly of themselves have a tendency to become passive, withdrawn, or depressed.

As parents, you cannot control every situation your child faces. But you can do the next best thing, which is to boost your child’s self esteem and teach them to hold their head up high everyday. Here are a few simple ideas to help you increase your child’s self esteem and self-confidence.

Listen To Your Child

When your kid comes home from school, sometimes just paying undivided attention to them can be helpful. Surprised at how easy it sounds? Simply asking, “Tell me about school today?” and really listening to the answer, instead of flicking through your stack of mail or being preoccupied with work can work wonders with their self-esteem. Listening thoughtfully and respectfully helps children learn to trust themselves and their feelings (2).

Compliment Your Child’s Efforts

Praise your child or pay them a compliment whenever they do something right. Everyone, whether adult or child, responds well to encouragement, so making an effort to acknowledge the good things your child does every day within his/her earshot can be helpful in building self-esteem (3). Just remember to be specific with your praise. Instead of just saying “good job,” say something like “I like the way you cleaned your room today. Your books are very neatly arranged on the bookshelf.”

Set Boundaries For Your Child

Parents who set firm and consistent boundaries for children’s behavior tend to create environments that are reasonable and predictable. This makes children feel safe to explore and take risks (4). Knowing that certain rules are set in stone will help your child feel more secure. We all know that everyone makes mistakes, so when rules are broken, remember to handle the situation in a way that is reasonable and does not hurt your child’s self-confidence.

Resist Making Comparisons

Imagine how you would feel if your boss always compared you to a colleague. It sounds pretty discouraging doesn’t it? Try not to make comparisons, whether positive or negative, between your child and other children. If you let your child know you appreciate him for the unique individual he/she is, rather than how he compares with others, he’ll be more likely to value himself too (5). And when your child hears such comparisons made by others, be sure to reassure them and make them feel good about themselves.

Encourage Your Child To Pursue Their Own Interests

Another surefire way to boost confidence in kids is to encourage them to take on tasks that they show an interest in, and then make sure they follow through to completion (6). Whether it is a small task of simply drawing a picture or finishing a puzzle, be sure to praise them when they complete it. Trying something new and succeeding at the task will boost your child’s self esteem, so always encourage them to make their own choices.

Improve Your Own Self-Esteem

It is important to see yourself in a positive light, both as a person and as a parent, and to encourage yourself every day. If there are problems in your past that affect your present parenting, confront them. Get psychological help if they are interfering with your ability to remain calm and parent effectively (7).

Kids with a healthy self-esteem tend comfortable in social settings and enjoy interacting with other children. Helping your child boost his/her self-esteem will not only create a positive attitude, but will also build problem solving skills. So when your child makes a mistake, be a supportive parent, and instead of trying to rescue them, teach them how to solve their own problems and remember to express confidence that they will do better next time.




Mental Health

Staying Active Can Boost Mental Health


While education is very important to your child’s future, we’ve all heard that play time is equally important for your child’s wellbeing. Getting a chance to bike down the driveway or play an organized sport can greatly improve your child’s physical health. In fact, the US Department of Health recommends that children get at least one hour of physical activity a day, in order to combat obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other medical problems (1) .

However, great physical health benefits are not the only reason why children need exercise on a regular basis. Several studies have shown that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. Children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children(2). Several countries such as Canada and Australia have Sedentary Behavior Guidelines, which suggest that children aged 12-17 years should limit recreational screen time to no more than 2 hours per day for physical and mental health benefits (3).

Children who stay active through sports and other physical activities can reap extensive benefits. These include improved self-esteem, reduced levels of anxiety/stress and also help build healthy social relations. Making sure your kid gets in some physical activity everyday can also elevate their mood and help them focus at school. German researchers found that high school students scored better on high-attention tasks after doing 10 minutes of a complicated fitness routine compared to 10 minutes of regular activity (4). Their research suggests that complicated physical activities, such as tennis or dance, enhance attention and concentration, thereby improving the capacity to learn.

There is a positive correlation between a child’s physical activity and his or her mental development and it is up to you as parents, to instill the habit of regular exercise in your kids. Regular exercise can make your kids feel healthier, happier and boost brain power, besides being a lot of fun. So sign your child up for that after-school sports, dance or martial arts class, or better yet, find an activity that the whole family can join in on. An active lifestyle can not only benefit your kids, but can also help keep your thinking, judgment and learning abilities sharp and help you sleep better at night. Just remember that regardless of age or fitness level (whether you are a kid or a busy parent), studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits.




Raising Emotionally Healthy Children

From the moment our children are born, as parents we are attuned to their every need, cry, sneeze, sniffle, and sleep disruption. We are very cautious and never fail to check-up on their physical health systematically. Yet, how often do we take the time to understand and evaluate how emotionally healthy our children are?

For every vulnerable baby born into this world, family has the greatest influence over how happy and emotionally healthy they are. It is often moms and dads and siblings who give kids a sense of belonging and help them create their own unique identity in this world. “The family is profoundly important to the developmental, emotional and cognitive growth of a child,” says Tamara Gold, a New York psychotherapist and parenting coach. “A child will learn about relationships, manners, self-esteem, worth and loyalty, all by watching and participating in family” (1).

Families help shape a child’s personal values and social behaviors and play an integral role in how a child flourishes in every aspect of his or her lives. Families are also a source of emotional support and comfort, warmth and nurturing, protection and security (2). The Good Childhood Report (2012) found that families had the biggest impact on children’s happiness and well being (3).

Children who have happy and secure home lives are more likely to be confident, sociable and positive in their outlook. In addition to ensuring your child is happy and secure, it is important to ask him or her how she is feeling and encourage them to open up about their thoughts, feelings, impressions, and fears. Even young children have insecurities and fears that as a parent you need to be attuned to.

As a parent, you know your child the best and instinctively understand their needs and desires. Just by paying more attention to how they ‘feel’, and not just what they ‘need’, we can learn ways to raise emotionally healthy children. Here are a few quick ideas to keep in mind as you learn to pay attention to your child’s emotions. Just remember that there is no ‘right’ way to parent, as every family has different strengths and challenges.

  • Understand the stages of development: As a parent, it is important to know what behaviors to expect at any given age for your child. Being familiar with developmental milestones can help you identify problems at an early stage. “The signs of emotional health vary with age, and what is appropriate at one age may be a red flag at another age,” says Geoff Nagle, PhD, MPH, director of the Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health at Tulane University in New Orleans (8).
  • Help them build self-esteem: As parents, we want to make everything perfect and wonderful for our children. But every child has to face life’s challenges and disappointments and learn from their own mistakes. It is therefore important to teach your children to love and accept themselves for who they are. This will help them develop self-esteem, and give them a strong sense of self worth as they grow up into adults.
  • Spend quality time with your child: While it is important to spend quality time with your children, try not to become a ‘helicopter’ parent. Such parents tend to be overly involved in children’s lives, and do not let them learn from their mistakes or from normal childhood experiences. As a result, kids may become anxious/depressed under the stress (3).
  • Know when to seek help: If your child shows an unusual amount of anxiety, fear, anger, stress or pain, it is important to get him the help he or she needs (7). Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Derenne suggests that, “parents should seek help if the child has prolonged periods of depressed mood, fluctuating moods or overwhelming anxiety” (3).
  • Deal with your own emotional problems: kids tend to be highly attuned to their parents’ moods and behaviors. So if you are dealing with your own issues such as depression or addiction etc., it is important to seek treatment before the problem affects your kids. While it is important to give priority and take interest in your child’s life and well-being, if you are not feeling content and fulfilled in your own life, you are very likely doing more bad than good in terms of your children’s emotional well being (7).

Every child feels the need to ‘matter’ to his/her family, and remember you do not need to be a perfect parent to make your child feel wanted. By maintaining constant awareness of your child’s psychological state and by simply being there for them, we can become more attuned to our children and learn ways to raise an emotionally healthy child.





Do Your Part: Parenting in the Digital Age

With cell phones, tablets, video games and PC’s, we are living in a world driven by changing technology and it is affecting all areas of our lives, including parenting. Parents use media and technology as a parenting tool to keep a child occupied, to calm an upset child, to reward or discipline them, and to educate them (1). According to a national survey by Northwestern University, seven in ten (71%) families now say they have a smartphone that can be used to download apps, connect to the Internet, and watch videos. Four in ten (42%) now have a tablet device such as an iPad, a Kindle Fire, or a Galaxy Tab (1).

A parent can walk into a store and be confounded with the myriad kid-friendly gadgets to choose from, all pre-loaded e-books, games, TV shows and educational apps, which can be used to engage and educate the child. As a digital age parent, you can now simply log on to the school’s website and check your child’s academic progress. No need to wait for that note in the mail! A cautious parent also has the ability to install a home surveillance system to keep an eye on what the child is doing or ensure the babysitter is doing their job. Technology is making parenting a little easy in several ways.

Be it at home or outside, thanks to technology such as cellphone GPS tracking to electronic ‘nannies’ to behavioral analytics apps like Mevoked, you can always ensure your children are safe and secure. Our goal with designing Mevoked is to help make your parenting a little easier and maybe help you sleep better!

There is much debate out there on the merit of allowing young children access to media and technology and there are two sides to the camp. As with anything, technology has its own risks, which we touched upon on previous blog posts.

Parenting blogger April Mcormick (of Huffington post) says that she is all for her five-year-old son having a mobile phone for emergencies. Would you rather worry every time your kid goes over to a friend’s house, or would you prefer that your child be able to reach you with that emergency cell phone tucked into his/her backpack (let’s not forget the benefits of GPS).  While we are quick to identify the dangers facing a child on the web, such as cyberbullying, online predators or inappropriate content, let us not ignore some of the more positive effects of being a tech-savvy parent. Just like with anything else, technology comes with its upsides and downsides, especially for moms and dads who want to ensure that their children are healthy and safe. Whether you are comfortable with digital parenting or not, lets not forget that technology is here to stay.



The State of Mental Health in the US

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act, Vice President Joe Biden said that our nation was on the cusp of what he called “remarkable changes” in the treatment of mental illness. Though we have come a long way since this Act was signed, more needs to be done around the stigma associated with mental health and its treatment.

The recent shooting by a twelve-year-old boy in Nevada on 21 October 2013 has sparked another round of discussion on gun violence, school safety, and mental wellness in the media. Shooters in previous incidents (such as the Va. Tech Shooter) had shown possible mental issues. This deadly incident has further accentuated the need for better mental health care services in the country. According to the Center of Disease Control, “About half of the adults in the US will develop a mental illness during their lifetime” and that young people are especially prone to illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health ailments.

Millions living with mental health conditions fail to receive the care they require, and in our subsequent blogs we will explore the current investment in the mental health space, tools available to patients, and gaps in coverage. In brief, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed in 2010 to provide greater access to services around mental health, and is a pivotal point for the ecosystem. This act aimed to increase health insurance coverage for some services and treatments that were traditionally denied or were not included in health insurance coverage in the past (NAMI).

Beyond Government Acts, what we really need to witness is a change in attitudes, as people slowly get over the stigma around mental health ailments and realize the importance of detecting and treating these illnesses.  But all is not in vain and despair! Many mental health care advocates are trying to do their part to influence the bleak landscape. There are a bunch of new start-ups that focus on understanding and improving mental health using technology. From mood trackers (MoodKit) to online/internet therapy (iCouch) to online empowerment programs (Empower Interactive) to behavioral analytics products (Mevoked), healthcare entrepreneurs have taken a variety of approaches to making mental health a priority.


Why your child’s mental wellness matters?




Moms and dads can tell pretty easily when their child has the flu, but it’s not always as easy to gauge their mental health. The mental wellness of a child is as important as their physical health. Focusing on their overall emotional well-being helps them live up to their full potential and have positive life experiences. An interesting statistic for parents to keep in mind is that around 75% of most mental health conditions, onset prior to the age of 25 (The National Institute Of Mental Health). Therefore, helping your child deal with mental health issues (including, stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts) early on can prevent severe clinical disorders from developing as they grow older.  Parents, as first responders, need to pay attention to their child’s mental well-being. So, if you’re a busy mom or dad, how can you tell if your kid is feeling sad, anxious or depressed? This is where Mevoked can help YOU feel empowered and equipped.