Parenting

All Articles in the Category ‘Parenting’

Maybe This: “I Wish My Mommy And Daddy Knew”

I’ve watchedWish Mommy Knew the viral #Iwishmyteacherknew campaign with earnest intrigue. If you haven’t read about it or followed along this past week, know that the campaign started when Denver 3rd-grade teacher, Kyle Schwartz, honed listening and asked students directly what they wished she knew about them. They wrote out responses and she started to post them on social media with the above hashtag when she realized the goldmine she’d discovered. In my mind this has captured the nation’s attention because of the empathy we feel reading about perceived (and real) short-comings in children’s lives and because the raw power that third-grade words provide in understanding inequities for US children. As a previous inner-city middle and junior high school teacher I think this teacher’s tactic and insight-seeking is profound. Reminds me so much of Momastery’s post last year about a teacher who finished each week in the classroom asking children to write down who they’d like to sit next to in school. She asked not to stir up the seating chart, but to determine immediately which children were being left out. She honed listening to facilitate and build connection for children who may be silently struggling.

I’ve been snagged a number of times this past week thinking about the #Iwishmyteacherknew, thinking on asking my own children the same question. What do they wish I knew? Would they journal something they wouldn’t say? Would invited words, written out in silence on paper, protect our children from the inevitable judgment/worry/concern/disorganization they may feel in answering a question like this in real-time when something dear is at stake? Something as dear as the bond they feel?

I surveyed a couple of parents and friends in the last few days if I should do it and if they would ask their own children. Most parents I discussed it with had a similar feeling to my own. Immediately our faces wince. We cringe when we think of it, unsure we’re ready to face the reality of where our children may feel we’ve fallen short in listening or unsure we’re steady enough to not just tolerate what we hear but also change things in life to improve the circumstances.

Would you do it? You ready to ask your school-age children or even your teen what they wish you knew about them and allow them time and space and paper to write it down?

Mindfulness In A High Stakes Job

4-17 mexicoWe’re just back this week from a vacation with our children. The 6 days we had together, the variant pace at which we were able to live for the week, and the challenges that bubbled up offered some reminders but also some fears for me. We’re always on quicksand while raising children. Parenting demands exceptional grace but also exquisite flexibility and immediate rapid-fire insight. Our job descriptions, as parents, are ever-evolving; we’re asked to shift what we know as we step from stone to stone and into something new as quickly as our children do. The minute we feel we’ve figured something out — whammo — a new challenge arises we never even thought to consider.

The stakes are high. Of anything that unites us all as parents it’s knowing that truth. Along the way we will fail, fail, fail and have wondrous little successes too, thank goodness. Yet the tasks involved in raising a child will never look just like they did last month. I loved a This American Life (#553) segment I listened to this past week where a mom discussed some of the complexities in the requisite shifts she faced raising a principled little 7 year-old boy named Elias who is vegetarian and very emotional about animal-eaters. He finds himself living amid a family who explores an occasional pepperoni pizza and turkey sandwich. As his parents upend the way they eat at home (they end up banning all meat at home because of their son’s feelings) narrator Ira Glass states,

“If you’re hearing all this and you are feeling judgey about these parents and I know you are, because that is a national pastime — judging other people’s parenting – I just want to say I totally felt that way until I heard Elias….just like she says. Hearing Elias made me realize ‘oh, right, she actually is in a really tough situation. Where she has these two kids and those both have really strong feelings about this and she doesn’t want to crush either one of them.’”

Judging others’ parenting is often just the malaise of parental insecurity. We all have our own shakiness at times, especially as we’re asked to rise to new heights each new day. It’s of course so easy to judge, and so much harder to elevate and emulate others. In my mind, the best we can do while parenting (failing or succeeding) is tease out others’ profound moments. Learn from them but also copy and try those things out ourselves and see how we can make them work in our own lives. Read full post »

Balance And Bad Parenting, Maybe

3-27 jumpingLast night four Swansons sat in row 6 of a little commuter airplane on the way to visit family, all plugged in. Four people who love each other with four separate devices hardly communicating for the two hours or so that we sped through the air. At first glance it can look like an utter failure — you can hear the criticism ringing in your ears — this family must not be connected, or these working parents, pounding out emails and prepping presentations while their children watch videos and play apps, really must have their priorities off, right? Right.

Maybe.

On that flight I read a beautiful blog post from tenacious pediatric researcher Dr Jenny Radesky that questions the new world in which children are being reared. The one where their parents are plugged-in, distracted, perhaps less attentive and less available while raising infants and young toddlers. It’s the same world today, where preteen digital natives may be connecting more by text than by talking. She cites data that found, “if you take away preteens’ mobile devices and make them hang out with their peers in the country for one week, they get better at reading other people’s facial expressions.” Perhaps these children and teens are swapping thumb skills for interpersonal ones. Radesky is the researcher behind the observations out last year evaluating parents’ use of mobile phones at dinner that alarmingly demonstrated children’s near need to act out to get their parents’ attention.  Are our parent-child connections forever changed because of the profound brilliance that digital devices have in capturing our attention? Radesky brings up the zone of proximal development (I’d not previously heard of it) and its profound value. She says,

In order to effectively teach children how to regulate their behavior, we need to interact with them in what psychologist Lev Vygotsky termed the child’s “Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).”  This means  knowing their cognitive and emotional sweet spots: what they can do on their own, what they can’t do, and what they can do and learn with an adult’s help.  You can’t fit the puzzle pieces in yet?  Let me guide your hand a little bit until you figure it out by yourself. You can’t calm down when you’re frustrated yet. Let me help you identify what emotion you’re feeling and then show you some options for calming your body down. And I’ll slowly take my support away until you can do this skill on your own.

Oh yes, we certainly do need to be in this space and be available, eyes connected, body engaged, actively listening to the loves of our life (children). In championing this reality we can easily finger-wag that how things used to be (without smart phones and wild virtual connection to data and community) is better. Slow down, unplug, unwind, and CHECK BACK IN, right? Common Sense Media even has a new PSA campaign, that I happen to love, tagged #realtime guiding us back to life with a series of delicious, tight videos reminding us how we mess up. Read full post »

The Inconvenience Of Prepackaged Baby Food

dv2159103Feeding a toddler is hard work because of all sorts of normal shifts that happen after the first birthday. But new data out this past month (see below) reminds us how pre-packaged toddler food isn’t the best food source, despite package claims. Whole food, the food your family eats, and the fresh stuff is the way to go.

Infant hunger matches their rapid growth; we’re used to our babies ravenous and near consistent basis from day one yet as infancy progresses feedings space out and form meals. By a year of age most children go 4 hours or more between eating. Toddlerhood is a completely different story; growth slows after a year of age and toddlers start to test limits in profound ways. Food is no exception. It can be tempting to reach for whatever’s convenient that you know your kid will eat (fish crackers, anyone?) but in the long run making good nutritional choices for whole food regularly will exceed the nutritional detriments of pre-packaged “toddler” food.  In fact, a new policy statement released by the AAP this month is urging parents (and schools, daycares etc.) to take a “whole diet” approach to kids’ nutrition, namely focusing on a mix of foods from the five food groups and avoiding highly processed foods. Read more about the policy here from my friend Dr Claire McCarthy. These “fresh is best” ideas aren’t new to you I suspect but the data about food being marketed to us (and our children) is: Read full post »

Wellness Visits: A Magical Place To Communicate

As 2015 gets earnestly underway, many of us are working to keep resolutions we made to better ourselves and our family as the new year continues to unfold. In case health is a part of your resolution or focus, here are a couple very quick reminders for check-ups and interactions at the doctor’s or practitioner’s office (3 tips below). I’m going to sound very much like a pediatrician here: wellness visits and check-ups add great value to preventing things. So much better than having to do the hard work of reversing problematic changes. This isn’t just about vitamins (which children don’t really need) and shots (which children wildly benefit from). This is about communication.

Well-Child Visits And Check-ups

1-28 CDC BMI chart

Courtesy of CDC

Wellness visits often get forgotten when things are going well (hurrah!) yet they serve a grand purpose on tracking health and wellness by working to create prompts and services that prevent illness. The numbers (from vision, hearing, height, weight, body mass index, and vital signs –blood pressure, temperature, respirations and pulse) help track trends and provide alerts. They help reduce bias in our thinking as parents and pediatricians. As parents we can have a tendency to both unintentionally ignore warning signs of health risks or over-analyze perfectly normal developmental phases. Case in point: half of parents of overweight/obese children underestimate their child’s weight. On the other end of the spectrum, 1 in 7 parents believe their normal-weight child is too skinny. As a reminder, reading a growth grid has a lot less to do with numbers than it does trends. The import lies in following lines; is your child tracking, are they growing at the right rate, do they deviate or “fall-off” the curve? Here’s a quick video where I explain how to interpret the growth grid if you want to learn more.

Importantly, these visits also facilitate a place to bring up the questions that nag at you. Often those things are about habits, sleep, anxiety, body size/shape, school work or mood — or just how a child sees the world. Use the prevention visit to squelch anxiety of your own. What parent doesn’t have something pulling on their sleeve of worry while raising another human? The task of parenting is always somewhat monumental and the job description is always shifting as our children grow. The stakes are high when a child’s life is guided by another. Read full post »

“I’m A Kid Like Everyone Else”


We all hope our children will get along with each other. Most of us also just want them to get the chance to be a kid amid a world of increased access, evolving speed, and constant digital communication. Immersed in the rigors of growing up right next to someone else, siblings can forge deep connection and of course deep divides. The connection part is gold…especially when it’s analog.

To foster this connection we can read Siblings Without Rivalry but we can also absorb the examples laid out by sibling units in our focus and in our own periphery.

Thankfully every once and a while something easy and authentic pops on YouTube in that periphery. For me, this week it’s the brother and sister, Nathan and Eva Leach, viral video from 2013. When I first watched it earlier this week it had 1M views, now it’s nearing 5M. Something works here. A set of siblings partnering to throw out a duet to the world. I mean in it they just LOOK like siblings! A regular kitchen in a regular life with glances to each other like everyday, regular kin. In typical YouTube form the familiarity, authenticity, and surprisingly beautiful strike is overwhelmingly refreshing in an over-marketed world. My favorite moment comes with the surprise about 2 minutes 45 seconds in and when Eva sings the line:

Baby I need some protection. I’m a kid like everyone else.

We’re all always hoping for a little harmony between our children, The Leach children hit it out of the park here. Although I am reminded this is just a tiny sliver into their lives, I’m thankful for its lesson and its reminders today. Happy Friday.

Friends And Bacon

At dinner tonight we had breakfast for dinner (genius meal when you’re stumped by an unending need to create something “new”). At the end of the meal we were all discussing our love for bacon. Without a beat this came from the 6 year-old in our midst:

“Mama, could I live a long time and still have a piece of bacon everyday?”

I thought about it. Yes, it seems, yes. Yes, every day with bacon!

“Yes, I said, “I think you can have bacon but only if you exercise everyday and if you have really great friends. The kind of friends that make you feel alive.”

I launched into some sort of summary of the art of moderation with bacon, pouring out facts about fats, cholesterol, and diverse food choices – the essential need to balance bacon with things that grow in the ground. As I waxed on with a macronutrient-level discussion the 6 year-old in front of me just kept moving with his idea. Turned out he wanted concrete responses for his life with bacon. He pushed into the friendship part.

Screenshot 2015-01-22 20.20.23A long life with bacon goes something like this: of course you need to eat a lot of other goodnesses with your bacon. We can borrow wisdom from the Mediterranean diet and reduce the red meat we eat, put fish on the table twice a week, eat lots of seeds and nuts and ensure fruits and veggies show up on every plate we serve. Debates will wage on about the magic foods we eat, today it was the complexities to the value of an orange over OJ so we always have to put food advice in the context of life. I told my 6 year-old tonight he’d have to exercise every day and get outside, twirl around without a ceiling, take a lot of steps, and be connected with nature.

But perhaps most essential to living a long life (with bacon), I repeated, is solid choices with whom he chooses to live his precious life. If you’re going to eat bacon every day you have to make great friends and forge partnerships with those who make the world feel possible. In my mind you need soul-fetching friends — the ones who literally make you feel like you can fly. We have to spend time with those who let us unpeel ourselves without judgment and urge us to take risks, help us take our time, and lend support to shelter whatever we consider dear. Read full post »

Influenza Hitting Hard: OTC Medications For Symptoms

Image courtesy: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/#S5

Image courtesy: CDC

Influenza is hitting hard this year thanks to a drifted influenza strain (H3N2) causing a more serious illness and one that is not included in our annual vaccine. Because of the hard hit, public health officials are reminding us to get high-risk patients into see physicians early if they have symptoms of “the flu” or influenza infections. Reason being, those at high-risk for complications may benefit from a prescription anti-viral medicine that can lessen the burden of illness and decrease risk for complications. Over-the-counter medicines you buy don’t fight influenza.

What Is “The Flu” And What Is Influenza

In general, in healthcare we use the term “the flu” when discussing an infection with influenza, a virus that causes widespread body aches, high fever, cough/cold symptoms, headache or even leg aches. Some children vomit with influenza infections as well (incidentally many patients with lab-confirmed influenza that I’ve seen this winter have also been vomiting) although in general influenza infections are upper and lower respiratory infections, and not the “stomach flu.” We worry about influenza as it’s in the list of top ten causes of death in the US and because it can cause severe symptoms, even in children. Infants and young children are at particular risk for serious infections as their bodies and their immune systems haven’t fought off influenza before.

High risk patients: 

  • Children 2 years & younger (their immune system not as robust and not as much “memory” to fight off severe influenza infections).
  • Adults age 65 year & older (their immune system is aging and not as robust fighting off severe influenza infections).
  • People with underlying health problems (including asthma) or other lung problems, other chronic health conditions (like diabetes, heart disease).
  • Pregnant moms or newly postpartum moms.
  • Those people immunosuppressed.

The Numbers So Far

According to the CDC, widespread influenza activity is being reported in 46 states. The most common strain is that drifted virus H3N2, accounting for over 90% of the more than 5,000 reported influenza-positive tests recorded last week (ending January 10). It’s still too soon to tell whether we’ve reached the peak of flu season, however there are early signs that the virus is lessening in parts of the country. So far, this year the influenza vaccine is estimated to be about 23% effective, clearly not as effective as usual but still providing some protection.

What Over-The-Counter Medicines Can Help With Influenza?

It’s important to remember that over-the-counter (OTC) medications cannot cure “the flu” nor shorten your suffering with symptoms. They’re designed simply to help you get through the illness and should be taken within the proper guidelines. In general children under 4 should not be given OTC cough and cold medicines. 

That being said, there are four types of medications that can make getting through the flu a little more bearable. Read full post »

Forgive Yourself In Advance

Our children will never be the sole judge of our job as parents of course. We are likely our own closest and most fastidious critic. And really it’s just us (and our partners) that can truthfully reflect and evaluate how it goes as we raise our children — what our hopes were when we started on the journey of raising another and where we find ourselves. And so, however radiant the peaks and successes seem, the anxiety of our choices in this high-stakes job will likely dominate. The angst with how this all goes as our children mature ties our feet together at times, and can feel a little like stuffing big rocks into our pocket as we jump off the dock into the lakes of our lives. We’re hard on ourselves. Sometimes this is good and motivating, centering or stabilizing, and at times it can even be useful when sorting priorities. But sometimes, it’s simply unkind. Some of the best advice I was given after my boys were born was this: Read full post »

Whoops: Over-The-Counter Dosing Errors Common

OTC revised infoIt’s that time of year again. The season of snot and mucus and colds….if you’re a parent you may even call this “sick season.” Typical cold viruses are getting readily exchanged as recirculated air in crowded malls, classrooms and daycares facilitate exchange of the germs. It’s more than inevitable that one of your kids will come down with something. Those 6-10 colds that children get on average, every year, have arrived which means there’s a good chance you’ll be up late one night with a feverish or coughing child reaching for an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine . Data proves we’re all at risk for making a dosing error. Remarkable how easy it is to do. As a pediatrician I always have to check (and double check) the label when I’m home dosing my kids. The bottles and doses are all so different.

A new study in Pediatrics found that every eight minutes a child under the age of 6 experiences a medication error (outside the doctor’s office or hospital). Over the course of ten years (2002-2012) 696,937 children experienced medication errors. Young children (under age 1) had the highest rate of errors making up more than 25% of the total number. For parents these may be easy mistakes to make as containers and dosing devices aren’t always clear (nor are they consistent) even after FDA rule changes were made a few years back.

It’s important to note that the study referencing dosing errors (above) found dosing errors from cough & cold medicine are thankfully going down while dosing errors around other meds are actually rising. It’s also of import to say that most pediatricians don’t recommend OTC cough and cold meds for children under age 6 anyway as they provide little benefit and put children at risk for side effects and dosing errors. Read full post »