Parenting

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5 Things That Confirm You’re A Master Parent

After I published my book Mama Doc Medicine, I toyed around with the idea of writing tiny little books inspired by a favorite short story publication, One Story. Literally I was thinking that the way to consume ideas about parenthood was not in book form but in pamphlet-sized publications on parenthood, vaccines, & general tips for feeling awesome while raising children. I haven’t entirely tanked the idea (please weigh in if you think you’d read them!) but it’s not at the top of my to-do list. That being said, I realized after publishing years of blogs and a whole book of stories about my boys and science and parenting and the general overwhelm we all feel, that I could have perhaps just published 5 tips in 5 pamphlets! Sure would have saved time…

Thing is, in my opinion, if you do these 5 things, you’re wildly decreasing the likelihood of death for your child and pretty much preforming at the top 99%, parenthood-wise. All the rest is gravy. As a mom and pediatrician, I think if you do these things well you should feel like a ROCK STAR. The rest of what we all read about is a smattering of parenting “style” advice. There will continue to be books on grit and food selection and poop and sleep forever. And reading up on new ideas and new data can be great ways to bolster our confidence. But really, I’m saying, do these 5 things out of love and with ongoing daily respect for who your child is as an individual, and I think you’ll be a master.

This is the cousin to my recent “5 Things To Stop Worrying About” blog. In my mind, there are 5 non-negotiable pediatric parenting must-dos. If you can make these things a top priority, you’re pretty much nailing it. Congrats. Check this off on your life list as an awesome new start to spring. Listen to the podcast, please but little notes about it are below, too. Love up your children and love up yourself for doing all of this so well!

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International Women’s Day: Boys, Listen Up

Happy International Women’s Day!

I’m squarely in mid-life, 42 years old, a mom to two, no longer a “young” doctor or young entrepreneur or young voice. Perhaps because of that, I’m starting to see things differently when it comes to raising boys and girls to support equality.

I’m a feminist. I think that means I don’t want gender/sex to get in the way of any individual. I was raised with a mom and dad who didn’t present a world of possibilities different for me than the one they presented for my brother. At least not that I could see. I’ve been mentored, supported, encouraged, and nurtured as a woman in the workplace, and a mother in my community, by female mentors like my mom and my advisor in college (a professor of psychology who studies gender), current and past colleagues, advisors, employers and co-workers, and dear friends. But more than ever before I’m feeling the profound support I’ve had from men in my life to be an active, striving-for-equal opportunity physician and advocate. In some ways it’s easier for me because I have the fortune to work as a physician in pediatrics, a field of physicians with a majority of women. In fact, 3/4 of the pediatric resident physicians in the US are women. It’s complicated though, so if interest consider reading, “The Good and Bad Statistics On Women In Medicine.”

However, now more than ever,

I’m starting to feel it isn’t my voice that will make things better for equal rights at large as time unfolds, it’s the voice of my boys.

Obviously this isn’t only about women supporting women. My strongest and perhaps most loyal advisors during my medical school education and during my residency training were both men who have helped me see and also helped me strategically carve out ways to get work done while also having children. I’d describe my residency mentor as one of the biggest feminists I’ve ever known. His feminism and support for me persist in my work and life. Exhibit A: I posted a photo in my pink hat on the day of the Women’s March in January and he was the first to comment saying, “I’m with you, Wendy.” He’s 40 years my senior and carries with him an elegant view of different ways to contribute to pediatric health care and also enjoy raising children of my own. Circa 2005, I vividly remember him drawing out, on a napkin, the different kind of career trajectories one could have in pediatrics and public health, describing them in terms of typical gender norms and roles and stating that I could do this — this career and life — any way that fit with my ethos, energy, passion, and tempo. I could adapt a “male” trajectory or a historically “female” one but that all models could work for all people.

Boys and men in my life do show me also how much they include me. Of course, I’ve felt discrimination, too. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the BIG opportunity of NOW. Read full post »

Perhaps The Most Marvelous Time To Be A Parent

This week I awoke to realize this may be a marvelous time to be a parent. I mean this time, the one where political divisions run rampant, where protests and rallies have become the norm, where known science is questioned, and where we seem to be facing threats to our inequalities and our justice head on.

My boys have their eyes wide open.

Early Thursday morning I flew home from a speaking event in Oregon. I was a little bit exhausted and only had about 15 minutes to swing through my house prior to heading to the hospital for some meetings and an afternoon of podcasting. When I walked into the kitchen I found a little tube waiting for me on the kitchen counter. Our poster had arrived! Thrill coursed through me as I uncurled it and ran to the front yard.

It’s the sign you see here now gracing our front yard. It’s the sign I picked out with my boys a couple weeks ago online after a friend shared the one she’d put up. It’s the one the boys and I selected because of the poetry we felt it held, but also the power that lifted from it. In this house we have no interest in hiding how we feel. The boys have watched the pink hats get knit, the signs being painted, and the work to continue to protect our neighbors, friends, immigrants, and family of the United States that we hold so dear.

And so it was not just the platter of ideas that embody respect, liberty, and truths on this little sign that I got excited about it. It’s my boys own insight that unfolded Thursday — without me — that has me sharing here. Their pledge to the world, too.

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5 Things To Stop Worrying About

It’s a hard time to be a human in the United States. We’re all so worried right now as the universe seems to spin every day and the divisions among us seem to project on every wall. Yesterday I escaped the city, the news cycle, and dread by sledding with my boys in the mountains. Those outdoor be-without-a-ceiling interludes help, but the reality is Sunday morning just arrived and the newspaper is sitting on the front porch. To open it?

The hesitancy to even open the newspaper brings me to an essential truth: most of us are doing a wonderful job raising our children and what is in front of us is precious and safe. Most of us have inner critics that knock us down every day and criticize how we’re doing. But most of us can stop worrying about things so much at home. We really can and should chill out and enjoy this.

Looking to shorten your to-do list, maybe sleep better and reduce anxiety? I’ve shared 5 things I think we as parents can STOP worrying about in the latest podcast. It’s just me talking in this one (no experts join) and even so, I like this podcast. In a world where were are inundated with competition, guilt, data, and comparisons, take these ideas and feel better about the (likely) most wonderful job you’re doing raising your children.

Also, you should know I’m recording, “5 Things To Perfect As A Parent” this week as I feel we all need reminders of how much we have already mastered. We have to frame-shift and realize how great things really are while raising children amid these spins and unease. Read full post »

If You Worry Your Child Is Depressed

Depression is far more common in teens than in young children, but I often hear families wondering how to know if they should worry about their child’s mood. As many as 1 in 5 teens can have a depressed episode so concerns about depression are a common challenge. Many of us wonder if young kids get depressed (yes, but not too often), what are the signs (detailed below), and what to do about it (6 tips below). It’s scary for every parent who thinks a child is depressed. It can be terrifying to worry about a teen. There is a certain innocence we reserve for childhood and no question for some, depression can seem antithetic to that. Depression can be very real, influenced by life events, inherited, and wildly disruptive. But there is great research to help guide what we do to support children, teens, and our families if depression becomes a challenge.

I talked with clinical psychologist and depression expert at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Dr. Gretchen Gudmundsen on this 20-minute podcast. I learned a lot as we covered the definitions of depression, which children are at risk for depression, classic depression symptoms, and when parents should seek help for their depressed child.

You can listen to the podcast right here on the blog, or you can listen while you’re commuting on your phone by going to iTunes (search “Seattle Mama Doc”) or Google Play or on Soundcloud. A quick summary of high-level points below:

What Is Depression In Children and Teens:

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That Could Have Been Me: When An 8 Year-Old Knows She Belongs

harry-potterDuring carpool recently I witnessed an 8-year-old realize her relevance and her sense of belonging even more than before. What a total profundity. It happened by accident and this involves J.K. Rowling…

It’s my belief that getting a child to understand their import is a hope housed in almost every parent, teacher, auntie, or grandfather. When those of us, even peripherally involved in a child’s life, witness a child discovering their capacity, import, potential, and connectedness the moment can be immense. I don’t think I’m overstating this.

Everyone wants to feel they are capable. Everyone wants to feel they belong. We learn and see and feel our connection in infinite ways.

You’ve probably read a lot about parenting your children more with a focus on “grit” than with a focus on accomplishment. I think most of us can all agree that perseverance and a steadiness in keeping a “can-do” attitude is far more important for survival and for joy in life than any accomplishment we’ll ever have. In fact it’s in our failure that we perhaps find ourselves feeling more connected and less alone.

The best moments we have with our children are therefore neither about grit nor honing success — they are typically about presence. Being aware of the sincere vitality in being alive together and a part of when our children grow, delight, see, or be seen is a thunderous thing. The moments when it happens are hard to contain in our heart, no matter how big it is.

Working to cultivate grit is certainly a meme in the perfect-parenthood swirl of advice this decade. Working to extend yourself so you fail is something all of us want to do when we think about tapping into our true potential as workers, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and community members. But it’s hard to push to fail and sometimes, as odd as it sounds, it’s hard to fail well.

Sometimes failure happens because we’ve stretched ourselves too far. Sometimes, of course, it is the external factors that bring failure. Most of the time it’s a combination of the two. Sometimes we learn about failure through our own experiences as we stumble and then heal our own scars.

Connectedness, togetherness, and the capacity to contribute to things greater than ourselves will always be foundational for humans. Every day should be about building more and more of this entanglement with each other, with those that we love, as best we can.

So back to that day carpooling. On the way to school, my car full of delightful school children, we got talking about about the Harry Potter series and specifically J.K. Rowling. I mentioned that I remembered hearing she’d submitted her book, “about 7 times before a publisher had accepted it” and now she’s the author that has sold books faster than any other human on earth. When I realized I wasn’t certain about my facts, I did something I DON’T typically do. I asked my 10 year-old to grab my cellphone (!!) and look up the real story of J.K. Rowling and her attempts to publish her first Harry Potter book.

He used wiki, then he used a search engine and landed on a version of the story. At this point we’d parked at school and so an 8 year-old now was leaning over his shoulder helping interpret what he was reading online. Curiosity was abloom.  The children found this explanation: Read full post »

Get Rid Of Constipation In Children

Children's legs hanging down from a chamber-potConstipation is really, very truly, no fun for anyone. No fun for baby or child, no fun for the parent who worries and watches and cleans the clogged toilet, and clearly nothing wonderful for the sister or brother who waits while a family supports a child in the room next door. In general, constipation is a frustrating, sometimes hugely embarrassing, and often a chronic problem for young children. In my experience, parents worry a lot about hard infant or toddler poop in the diaper (goal is always peanut butter consistency or softer) but it’s when constipation sneaks up on many families in school-aged children that BIG suffering ensues.

I can’t say this loud enough: if you’re worried about constipation in your child do consider seeing your pediatrician, nurse, family doc or physician assistant to make a long-term plan. Constipation DOES get better but do know it’s over weeks to months. When your child’s intestinal tubing is stretched out for weeks it takes weeks to re-configure sometimes — quick fixes won’t be long term solutions. More below on which remedies to use and how.

Constipation sneaks up because after children are toilet trained and wiping themselves (around age 4 or 5) many parents no longer gaze in the toilet bowl so gone are the days of tracking daily poops. Before you reach for OTC medications, consider what is normal and what is not normal when it comes to poop (below). I usually break this down for children (and parents) in visual terms. I talk about things you find outside:

In general, poop in the toilet can look like a pond, a snakea log, or a pebble. When it comes to poop, we’re always looking for snakes. It seems to me that framed this way, school age children can do a better job knowing if they’re constipated or not. We’re looking for  Snakes in the Lake, people! Frame it this way with your child and perhaps they will be more likely to get a glimpse of what they produce in the toilet? Or at least a report?

Lots of foods, hydration and OTC medicines can quickly change the game with constipation. Before I detail more specifics on constipation and highlight some remedies, I do want to call attention to some potential concerns of polyethylene glycol (PEG 3350). The medicine PEG 3350 is an odorless, tasteless laxative that can be easily diluted in juice or water. It’s a big polymer and can’t be absorbed by the intestine so it works by binding to water so that water ingested can’t leave the intestines, colon, and rectum. The great news is it doesn’t cause cramping or more pain and isn’t addictive. Used daily (often for days or weeks) the powder binds to water and disallows the colon to dehydrate the poop so it just doesn’t get hard. Therefore the poop that comes out is soft and often helps produce less painful pooping — and often it comes out more often! It’s commonly sold under both brand (Miralax) and various generic names. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved its use in adults, not children. Currently, PEG 3350 is being studied as well as the bi-products of PEG 3350, specifically ethylene glycol (EG) and diethylene glycol (DEG), to determine whether it might be absorbed by children and whether use of the laxatives is linked to development of psychiatric or neurodevelopmental problems. The New York Times has done 2 stories on this topic: one in 2012 and one more recently in 2015, both worth a read if you are debating giving your child PEG3350. For children and families with severe constipation often the benefits of using it far outweigh the concerns.

What Is Constipation And Why?

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Teens Use Cough Medication To Get High

sma-cough-syrup-medicine-bottle-with-icon

We’re thankfully in the middle of a national conversation about ways to protect the public from drugs of abuse. The opioid epidemic has brought the issue of medicines and risk to the forefront and has awakened a new understanding about the lethality of drugs of abuse and addiction. There are other medicines, even over-the-counter medicines, that are used recreationally and can be risky, too. This can be especially true with children and teens. Enter cough medicines…

Data shows approximately 1 in 30 teens, or approximately one child in every high school class math class, has abused over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine to get high. Typically teens use DXM — dextromethorphan when looking to get high. I’m partnering with the Stop Medicine Abuse campaign to spread the word among parents. Have you seen this “PARENTS” icon on cough and cold medicine packaging lately? It’s there to raise awareness of medicines that contain dextromethorphan (DXM). Look for the icon when making purchases and think through some safe storage tactics if you purchase medicines with the label or already have products within your home.

  1. Monitor Your Medicine Cabinet: Take steps to protect your teens by safeguarding all the medicines you have in your home that could be abused. Know what you have and how much, so you will know if anything goes missing.
  2. Monitor Your Teen: Be aware of what your teen does online, the websites they visit and the amount of time they are logged on. Ask them. There are many websites and online communities promoting DXM abuse with instructions on how to achieve certain levels of highs. If you see the sites in your browser’s cache it’s worth your while to check in. Teens are less likely to use alcohol or even drugs of abuse if they know risks and that their parents disapprove. Let it be known what you know!

Facts On DXM Abuse In Teens:

  • DXM is an active ingredient found in over 100 cough and cold medicines. Used appropriately, it is a safe medicine that alleviates coughs in children older than 4 years of age.
  • Abuse: Approximately 1 in 30 teens have abused cough medicine to get high, and 1 in 3 teens in grades 9-12 knows someone who has abused cough medicine to get high. Ask your teen what they know. Without judgment provide information about risks of using cough medicine to get high. Judgment can be stifling; information and guidance is love.
  • Available: Teens may feel it is harder to get their hands on it as teen perception of access has gone down 24 percent. In 2010, 65% of teens agreed that DXM was “very/fairly easy to get.” That number has since gone down to 41% in the last few years.
  • What Does It Do? Taken in excessive doses, DXM has intoxicating, disassociative, and psychoactive properties. This means cough medicines taken in excess can potentially really change the way a teen thinks. The most common side effects include: vomiting, rapid heartbeat, and loss of motor control.
  • How Much? Teens report taking up to 25 times or more of the recommended dose of cough medicine to get high. Side effects from abuse include nausea and vomiting, distortions of color and sound, hallucinations, and loss of motor control.
  • Dangerous when combined: DXM is more dangerous when combined with other substances (other drugs and alcohol). Risks elevate with multiple substances and side effects can even be lethal. Tell teens this so they know the serious risks when mixing medicines/drugs. Make sure every teen knows they can always call Poison Control and get help immediately if they need it — safe and won’t get them into trouble. Ever. Just a team of people who want to help if they are ever worried about an ingestion or an ingestion in someone they know. Put it in your teen’s phone today: 1-800-222-1222.
  • No question that what parents say matters. Teens who learn a lot about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs. True.

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Empathy And Compassion For Transgender and Gender Non-conforming Children and Teens

gender-bathroomI saw this bathroom sign in my sons’ school a week ago. Talk about inclusion. I’m not only pleased that my boys are being exposed to open inclusion, I’m delighted they are getting the message that they can be whoever they are at home and at school. NO question in my mind the data proves if a child, teen or adult has questions about their gender their life is at risk for being harder. This is manifest in the high rates of anxiety and depression, bullying and ridicule, and feelings of isolation in those who are gender non-conforming and transgender. This is only estimated to be about 1% of the population (numbers are imprecise as many people hide this challenge) but how we all support those who question their gender matters for us all, the 99% of us who don’t have this challenge.

We must have compassion and empathy for children and teens who are transgender and gender non-conforming. We must accept children and teens and their families, and we can connect children and families who struggle with resources (below).

Children Are Born With Gender, Parenting Has Little To Do With It

  • Research shows that gender is established at birth. That means children are often born knowing if they are a boy or a girl irregardless of their sex (the chromosomes/genes that determine their body’s appearance and sexual characteristics). Sometimes children know this early, sometimes later in life.
  • Research shows that there is no evidence that parenting is responsible for a child having a different gender than their sex. Meaning — parents don’t have control, with their actions, over their child’s gender. They can’t change a child’s gender.
  • Research shows that children are less likely to end their life when they have challenges with their gender identity if they are accepted by their families. This means children who grow up in homes who accept them are less likely to suffer. Maybe a no-duh, but it’s something all parents should know.

This is complicated stuff, of course, and isn’t the same for all children and teens. Some children question their gender early in life (as early as preschool years) and will traverse childhood knowing they are transgender while other teens may find out at the onset of puberty that something isn’t quite right. Some children or teens just don’t identify with one gender or another (gender non-conforming). When they question this, we want to make sure they get what they need.

The most important message is that we must be open to what children express, connect children, teens and families with resources they need, and be aware of the risks for suffering in children who question their gender. Thankfully, there are lots of people to help and resources. Seattle Children’s Hospital now offers a specific clinic to support transgender and gender non-conforming children and teens (age 8-21 years). Experts and staff provide support for puberty blocking (stopping onset of pubertal development) or hormone therapy (hormones to have body characteristics match gender). They can also support conversations and planning for those who want to transition.

Statistics & Risks For Transgender Children And Teens

  • Transgender population is hard to define, probably less than 1% of adolescents
  • All gender non-conforming are at increased risk for bullying, anxiety, depression & suicide
  • 71% of transgender people said they hid their gender or gender transition to try to avoid discrimination

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When Is It ADHD In A Child?

I talked with Erin Schoenfelder, PhD,a specialist in ADHD and Director of Behavioral Treatment at the PEARL Clinic (Program to Enhance Attention, Regulation & Learning) here at Seattle Children’s Hospital, about ways to recognize ADHD in children and teens. The previous post we shared included the acknowledgment that it may be harder to parent a child with ADHD and provided reasons for it along with 5 tips to help parents and families. In the podcast above, Dr. Schoenfelder helps parents, teachers, and pediatricians understand what ADHD is and identifies ways to support, diagnose, and evaluate children with whom parents and teacher hold concern. First and foremost make sure you understand how a child sleeps before doing any further work-ups! Sleep challenges can be a big mimicker of ADHD as deprivation causes inattention and distractibility.

What is ADHD?

  • Developmentally atypical symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity.
  • Developmental disorder that persists over time and years and is consistent across settings (i.e. children have challenges at school, at home, during sports activities, at a synagogue or church).

Signs, Symptoms, Red Flags

  • Problems in multiple settings completing work, getting along with others, following directions, and succeeding
  • Teacher noticing the child is standing out from others
  • Child an outlier in a group – soccer practice, birthday parties, home
  • Risky behavior, getting injured due to impulsivity
  • Falling behind in learning due to off-task behavior

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