Research Parents Should Know About!

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

Growing up Italian, I quickly learned that family dinners were very important-it didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing. If I called home to hint at eating at a friend’s house on a Sunday, it’d be met with ”That’s nice, but rush on home now for some macaroni with gravy. Everyone’s here. C’mon.” And God forbid I visit my grandmother and not eat something! “What’sa matter? You sick or something? Here, just eat a little something” as half a loaf of Italian bread would be shoved in front of me.

I was taught from a very early age that food is love, but I know now that linking food with love, or any emotion (guilt, happiness, sadness, or anger), for that matter, is the root of emotional eating. And I want to make sure that I don’t pass this type of thinking onto my own girls.

The truth is, it’s really easy to create negative eating behaviors in children. Even something that on the surface might seem to benefit your child—trying to get him to finish his veggies, for instance—can backfire. In a study of families of 142 kindergarteners, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, discovered that “regardless of socio-economic status, marital status, or sex of the child, the overriding mealtime goal of the majority of parents of young children is to get children to eat more during meals.” In fact, 85 percent of parents tried to get their children to eat more, often using strategies such as pressure (“When I say eat, you eat!”) and reasoning (“Want to try the beans? I made them the way you like them.”).  Very rarely were children restricted in their mealtime intake.

The result of such tactics: Kids often overeat. With my own kids, sometimes I find that even though they say they are hungry at dinner they want a snack five minutes later.  What we have tried to do is to combat that by not having the snack as an option.  We will go out of our way to make sure we offer something for dinner that my girls like, offer something sweet for dessert and then that’s it.  What we have found is that, like any “habit”, they stopped asked for a snack right after dinner after about a week.

Children have an innate capacity to regulate their energy intake. They know how to listen to their bellies and they know when they’re full.  So, when we as parents pressure our kids to eat more or to eat to show their respect or love for us, we’re teaching them to override these signals. Instead of pleading, pushing or prodding our children to eat more, we need to teach them to listen to their own bodies—that means eating only when they are hungry and stopping when they are full. If our kids learn this and we help reinforce this important lesson, they’ll have avoided a major obstacle to healthy eating.  So next time you’re tempted to plead, “just three more bites,” stop. Instead, respect your child’s ability to gauge his own hunger and fullness signals. In fact, many adults could learn a thing or two about healthy eating from our kids.

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

Many people think that watching television is a bad habit—just think of some of the names people have given the TV over the years: idiot box, boob tube, etc. However, as a creator of educational television shows for kids, I know that television is a powerful teaching tool. And it’s especially powerful—and has proven successful in longitudinal studies—when written with the intent to teach. My shows are all based on a school curriculum and have a foundation in research on child development. Given that, Super Why has helped kids learn to read, according to one study from the University of Pennsylvania) and Blue’s Clues has helped kids score better on standardized tests, research from the University of Alabama indicates.

But the truth is ALL television is educational—kids learn from everything that they watch on TV. The question to us parents is what exactly are they learning? If our kids are bombarded with commercials that have been written with the intent to sell “less than nutritious foods” to our children, is it harmful? The answer is yes. But believe it or not, the commercial content isn’t your only concern, according to recent research—the mere act of watching television during meals has proven to be problematic.

Tube-watching eaters consumed fewer fruits and vegetables, and more pizza, snack foods, and sodas than children who came from families where TV watching and snacking were kept separate, according to a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics. So it’s not just the advertising that sets kids up for bad eating habits, but the act of watching television while eating, which can lead to mindless eating and negative food choices.

With my research background, I’m totally on board with this. I know that TV watching and eating can be a dangerous combo. Except, as a mom, I have a problem: My girls want a snack every time they watch TV! It has become an association for my girls: TV=Snack. So, with this study as my armor, my husband and I have started a new regime to combat the snacking/tv obsession!


These are the tricks that we employ at home; maybe you’ll find one or more useful, too.

• Choose TV programs the way you would choose the food you eat

That means opting for better quality shows that are age-appropriate for your child.

• Have a “television-watching” allotment

Remember, everything in moderation and what works for us might not for you. Our girls, 8 &10 yrs old, watch one hour of TV on Saturday and Sunday.  No TV during the week.

• Skip commercials

If possible, use a DVR and/or ON DEMAND viewing to avoid those tempting ads.  Kids can quickly learn how to fast forward commercials.

• Make some simple NO-TV rules

We have two: No TV in eating areas & no TV during meals. With regard to snacking, we are “working towards” a no-snack rule in our house.

Right now, we are allowing one approved snack while watching (granola with milk has been their choice as of late). However, due to this research, we are slowly moving towards no snacks at all during television so there is no “habit” that forms (TV = food) .

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!, Super Why!

Parenting Challenge #1: I don’t care if Hannah Montana hates brussels sprouts, but what does make my child like or dislike a food? Sure, taste is a big factor, but there are so many other things at work. Our own tastes as parents, our childrens’ personal preferences as well as what their friends like, and, of course, what they see on television all affect the food decisions our children make. That’s why it incenses me when popular TV characters—role models for our children—shed a negative light on healthy foods. For instance, Hannah Montana says she hates Brussels sprouts in one of the shows’ episodes. Why is that funny?

WGBH, creators of Curious George on PBS Kids, receives many letters from parents saying that their kids love George and they eat so many bananas now because George does! But can George also eat broccoli?

They have a good point—those of us in the media have a responsibility to make sure that we model good choices. Messages like, “Try a new food, it might taste good!” are so important; they help get our little ones on the road to good, healthy habits!

When creating my television shows, my colleagues and I go to schools to talk to kids, teachers and parents to find out what concerns them, what interests them, and what they want in their programming. During these talks, parents often get around to talking about kids and their eating habits. A common complaint I hear: Many of their kids like to eat just one or two foods. Just like my daughter!  She’s in her pasta phase.  “Pasta pasta pasta pasta!”

In fact, my daughter inspired a whole new episode of Super Why, which will air this fall.

The story is about King Eddie who only wants to eat spaghetti. “Spaghetti, spaghetti, spaghetti!” In a light and humorous way, Super Why and the Super Readers introduce King Eddie to new foods. He tries them…and likes them! Now King Eddie is eating a well balanced diet with fruits, veggies, whole grains and protein. (Keep your eyes open; the show will air this fall!) Our only hope is that kids all over will be like King Eddie and try new foods!

In my own home, we’ve tried a few tricks to turn my daughters into the new King Eddie!

1 – Keep offering new foods. If he doesn’t like a food, don’t give up. Try again. It can take a long time to influence a palate. In fact, it might take as many as five tries before a child will accept a new food.

2 – Try all foods, especially veggies, in many different ways. A child may not like boiled vegetables (and really, who does?), but they may like roasted, baked, grilled or sautéed versions instead.

3 – Top new foods with a sprinkle. Sprinkling some sesame seeds, grated cheese, cinnamon or garlic salt on top of a new healthy food might make it more interesting and tasty for your child.

4 – Dip! Dipping makes everything more fun. Dip veggies in honey mustard or ranch dressing. Dip fruit in yogurt or applesauce. Dip turkey in a sweet and sour sauce. Be creative!

5 – Try sweet veggies. Sweet potatoes are a healthy, sweet option for kids. Cutting them up and roasting them to make “fries” is a great option or try mashing them; it makes a flavorful and nutritious mash.

6 – Everyone try something new! When parents make a big deal about trying something new, kids will be curious and more inclined to try! Test it out at your next meal.



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Regardless of any SpongeBob controversy, I’ve always believed that TV is an uber powerful medium.  If created with intent to teach, we can use it to further develop reading skills, thinking skills, & positive socio emotional behavior.  But creating with intent to teach is not an easy thing to do.  My shows have a foundation in child development, an understanding of how kids think, of how kids learn & how they watch TV.  My colleagues and I know that when you model something on television, chances are that kids who watch will model it, too.  That’s why, in the midst of all the negative research onTV, I’ve always wanted to turn it around to the positive!

Yes, kids model what they see.  Kids want to be part of the action.  Kids want to help.  So, what if instead of slapstick comedy where characters fall down and hurt each other, we showed characters thinking, solving problems with REAL strategies, and asking kids at home to help?  Could that be interesting and actually fun for kids?  YES!

Blue’s Clues, Super Why and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood came from years of work perfecting the way we present stories and curriculum on television for kids so they laugh, learn, and grow.  We don’t just throw something up on the screen because it’s funny.  We don’t promise to teach something we don’t deliver on.  We don’t believe in over stimulating kids, or having them nervously scream at the television – just because we’re afraid they will turn our show off.

We believe in good storytelling.  We believe in great characters.  And we believe in kids.  If we give kids the important formal features of adequate pacing and a strong curriculum so they can think and learn, we know that we will be impacting millions of kids in a positive way.

They will learn to read

They will score better on kindergarten readiness skills.

They will know & practice important life skills.

Sometimes I feel that our shows are the newly ripened avocados of the children’s television world.  We sit there, like an avocado, full of vitamins and minerals.  We taste awesome, but we don’t have all this fancy packaging that screams out HEY!  We Are So Very COOL!.

No, we avocados just sit there and patiently wait while, one by one, they figure it out.  And soon enough, someone picks us up and says, “Wow, this avocado tastes great. And look, our brains are growing and we’re healthier too!”

And see, when you choose “avocado” everyone wins.  😉

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In 2006 the National Academies issued an alarming report on the United States’ decline in the fields of math and science. The numbers weren’t simply decreasing, but rather dropping at such a rapid descent that our competitiveness as a nation was at serious risk.

Unfortunately little has changed and while we’re still at the top of our game in the pop culture and reality tv genre, we are in serious need of a priority shift.

The tag team leading the charge to make science “cool” is (The Black Eyed Peas front man) and inventor/ FIRST® founder Dean Kamen. They have merged forces and created “ FIRST — Science is Rock and Roll,” a program designed to alter the way in which we view our scientists…giving them the respect only acquired by uber Rock n’ Roll gods (which have all rallied behind this project). The 1st program was a huge success last night, 8/14/11, and the initiative will continue to positively push math & science into the mainstream where it undoubtedly belongs.

Check it out & spread the word!


“You have teenagers thinking they’re going to make millions as NBA stars when that’s not realistic for even 1 percent of them. Becoming a scientist or engineer is.”

-Dean Kamen



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by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Kids, Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

What do we do when our kids nag us to buy things that we know they don’t need? Set up an allowance. It is a great opportunity to give your kids the experience of managing their own money. It’s based on the same philosophy I use with my shows. I want kids to be interactive—to point and yell and participate because I believe that they learn better that way. Similarly, giving kids money in the form of allowance, enables them to learn about money—mistakes and all—by using small amounts of it..

[see Angela’s entire Greenwich Magazine Article]

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by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

Having an interactive component to media increases learning!

We used this hypothesis when creating Blue’s Clues and Super Why. We know that kids can practice skills and retain information better by doing. Therefore, if we were to replicate the “interactive” experience on television, would kids learn more? In fact, they do. Dr. Jennings Bryant proved that kids who watched Blue’s Clues scored better on standardized tests than kids who don’t watch Blue’s Clues. In addition, Dr. Deb Linebarger also found that kids who watch Super Why score better on standardized reading tests than kids who don’t watch Super Why. I will post these studies in another post.

The new research out from Georgetown University’s amazing Dr. Sandra Calvert, looked at young preschoolers and computer games to see if an interactive component improves kids learning. And it does.

So, when you hear your kids screaming from the next room (SUPER STORY ANSWER IS…FRIEND!) or when they are playing an interactive learning app, they are learning. What they are learning? Well, that all depends on the content.


Eighty-eight percent of 24- 36-month-olds are exposed to screen media, spending an average of 2 hours on a typical day with television programs, DVDs, computer games, and video games. Not all screen media are alike, however. A video presentation cannot respond contingently to a child’s actions like an adult or a computer game can. We asked whether playing an interactive computer game improves children’s success at transferring information from the screen to a real-life situation.

30- and 36-month-olds either watched a video of characters popping out of their hiding place, played an interactive computer game where the characters popped out of their hiding place after the children pressed a computer key, or watched an adult find the hidden character through a one-way window. Children who watched the adult find the characters or played the interactive computer game found the characters in the real-life room better than the children who watched the video. These findings suggest that children’s learning from a screen can be improved by adding an interactive component to the experience.

To read the full report from Georgetown University’s amazing, Dr. Sandra Calvert, click here: Curious Buddies Research


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by: Angela Santomero | Filed under PRESS, Research Parents Should Know About!

From the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media comes the Fred Rogers Oral History Project.  Within it are 3 of Sara Lindey’s Ph.D. interviews with Angela discussing Imagination & Attention, The Development of Blue’s Clues and Repetition as the Key to Mastery & Learning.

[See clips]

[To support the Fred Rogers Center]

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