Dr. Melissa Tester earned her doctorate from the University of Houston’s counseling psychology program and opened Austin Center for Child Psychology four years ago. She offers individual and family therapy, guidance, screening and evaluation.
Natinksy: Parents want tools on how to manage the day-to-day family flow. That can be around sleeping, eating, peer relationships, technology, managing school work and expectations.
At what age should children begin using electronic devices?
Natinksy: In general, I think children—really before the age of 2—there really is no need for screens in their lives. Yes, there are some neat, fun apps that can be entertaining, but from [ages] 0-2, children’s developmental tasks are to master their environment—see, taste, feel and experience what’s around them. That means screens for me are not necessarily at the top of my list for very young children.
Why should parents manage their children’s electronic or social media use?
Tester: I think that a lot of times kids will have [social media accounts] pretty early, but if they do have them they should be pretty monitored by parents. At that age kids don’t really have the capacity to make good decisions about how long or what they should be looking at. ... Preliminary research around it shows that the ability to sustain attention is reduced when you have more screen time, so that’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limited access [of] two hours per day. ... With a touch of a button you can get anywhere and get any information and can get into not just information but get into real harm with real people, and I think it is our responsibility to help support kids in that capacity.
What are some good methods to use for parents who want to set boundaries for their children’s social media and/or electronic use?
Natinksy: I think it is wise for a parent to communicate that technology is a privilege and not a right. … Jannelle Burly Hofmann, she wrote a book called “iRules,” and she has five children and it gives lots of tips about how they have come to manage tech in their family.
What is the best way for parents to approach a healthy eating lifestyle with their kids?
Tester: It’s really important as much as possible not to put a good and bad label on [food]. What ends up happening with things that are seen as off-limits is that when we put a lot of restriction around a certain food group, there becomes this kind of cycle that it’s the thing you want the most because it’s off-limits and it’s restricted, which can lead to overdoing it. … I follow the Satter developmental approach to feeding. Basically, you decide what food you’re going to prepare, when they are going to eat it, where they are going to eat it … and they decide what they eat from the plate and how much they eat.
How do parents keep from turning mealtime into wartime?
Tester: Something else that parents don’t know a lot is that kids eat differently than adults. Most meals we’ll have some sort of a balance. Kids don’t need everything at one time. Sometimes you’ll see kids the whole week eating a bunch of carbs and starch and the next week a bunch of protein. … They know what their body needs, and as long as we’re providing [basic food groups], they will get the nutrition content they need.”
What are the best ways to keep a child engaged in learning throughout the summertime?
Natinksy: Really all kids should be reading over the summer, 20-30 minutes a day minimum. But summer, there’s a little leeway. Maybe it’s taking them to the library or bookstore and letting them choose some books or topics that are of interest to them. … There’s also lots of fun science things you can do, too—collecting bugs in the backyard and then trying to figure out what kind of bug it is. … Asking your kids what they’re interested in is a great first point. ... Start with what they’re interested in.
What are some ways for parents to get their children excited about school?
Tester: I encourage parents to do any sort of thing at the schools that they can, like the back-to-school nights and meet the teacher and to make sure if you can’t take them because of work schedules to make sure they get there somehow. … [It] kind of get their little systems ready to be back there. … [You’re] trying to ramp up that experience of enthusiasm without being too cheerleader-y, and you avoid that by following their lead, knowing what they like and asking about it with enthusiasm in your voice.