School Age

All Articles in the Category ‘School Age’

Help Your Anxious Child: Blow Colors

This is a little trick I use to help coach anxious children whose minds just seems to “spin.” Patients have given me great feedback over the years that “blowing colors” really helps. Sometimes it’s for children and teens who can’t drift off to sleep, sometimes for those who are worriers, and sometimes for those who get anxious or overwhelmed at school. Blowing colors is a great exercise to return to regular belly breathing patterns, buy time and space for mindfulness, and improve control over feelings of overwhelm. See if it helps…

Greatest thing is–this is a good tool for a child or teen to regain control.  They can use the exercise anywhere, at any time. Lots of children and teens who get anxious feel ashamed of their anxiety and don’t want to reach out for help. Reassure them that no one will ever know they’re blowing colors or changing the hue of a room. Practice at home before bed, in school during moments of overwhelm, or even remind a child or teen they can blow colors while out with friends or at a sleepover.

Why No TV Before Bed is Better

Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 12.14.09 PMTV before bed delays children going to sleep. We’ve all heard that TV isn’t necessarily good for our children right before bed, but something about that fact tends to go against instinct. In my experience, most of us feel like television and video-streaming is relaxing to our minds. Bum news is, it’s the opposite. Viewing TV or video or screens prior to sleep tends to rev up our brains, disrupt our sleep, and may even cause nightmares (especially for preschoolers). The light from computers and screens may inhibit melatonin, the hormone that helps us drift off to sleep.  A new study published this week reminds us about TV realities at bedtime.

I’m as guilty as everyone else. I love to let my children watch a TV show after dinner in the hour before bed. We all crave that downtime with our full bellies and the work of our day behind us. We all want some quiet. Here’s the thing:

Researchers surveyed over 2000 children between 5 and 24 years of age. They inquired about the last 1 1/2 hours of their day–not surprisingly they found that TV before bed was common. Across all ages, watching TV was the most common activity for children before bed, about half of the children watched TV for at least 30 minutes. When they surveyed what time children went to sleep, they confirmed the concerns about TV and bedtime. The children with more TV viewing went to sleep later. Conversely, those with an earlier bedtime had significantly greater time in non-screen sedentary activities and self-care prior to going to sleep. Most research shows that our children’s sleep deprivation is due to late bedtimes, not early rising. Children sleep about 1 hour less now than they did 100 years ago. Consequently, we’re also more fatigued, distracted, obese, and hyperactive these days–all things associated with sleep loss. Strategies that help us go to sleep on time are essential for our very tired country…

TV Tips To Improve Our Children’s Sleep:

  • If your child is having trouble falling asleep, work hard to make sure they don’t spend any time in front of a screen 2 hours prior to bedtime. Explain to them why you’re doing this–the TV winds them up, not down.
  • Get all screens out of the room where your children sleep. No TVs, cell phones, tablets, or iPods in bedrooms or in bed with children. Make rules for a sleeping station for phones in your kitchen. Phones go to bed at say, 9pm.
  • Buy a new alarm clock if a child says that their phone must wake them up in the AM. I find alarm clocks online for less than $15.
  • If your child loves TV, shift the time of day they watch television. Consider using all screens as devices of privilege. Let children earn an hour with their TV or video game while you prepare dinner for great citizenship at home and/or school.

About Violent Video Games

“We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.” Obama said. “Congress should fund research into the effects violent video games have on young minds.”

Only a month after the Newtown, CT tragedy I was pleased to hear the President’s plan today to decrease gun violence and his steadfast effort to improve the safety of our communities by decreasing violence, death, and suffering from firearms.  Delighted to hear that the government is looking to ensure that it’s safe to talk about firearm safety in the exam room (at a federal level) and also that he’s implored Congress to study the effects of video games on young minds. That being said, we do know a bit about the effects of video games on young minds. An American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2009 Media Violence statement noted, “The strength of the correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior found on meta-analysis is greater than that of calcium intake and bone mass, lead ingestion and lower IQ, condom non-use and sexually acquired human immunodeficiency virus infection, or environmental tobacco smoke and lung cancer—associations clinicians accept and on which preventive medicine is based without question.”

To be clear, the $10 million that Obama is granting the CDC to investigate the effects of violent video games on our children is not a ton of money. And their tone, according to Stephan Dinan of The Washington Times places more responsibility in our hands — “But overall, the White House said that while limiting guns is the role of the government, controlling what Americans see in movies and games is best left to parents.”

As parents and pediatricians, community members and mentors, and American citizens, there are things we can do now to improve our children’s exposure to and absorption of violence.

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Thoughts On Children’s Massive Exposure to Violence

  • Data finds that witnessing violent acts in the media (in a game, TV, or video) can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed. Research finds, “Consistent and significant associations between media exposure and increases in aggression and violence have been found in American and cross-cultural studies; in field experiments, laboratory experiments, cross-sectional studies, and longitudinal studies and with children, teens, and young adults. Read full post »

People Are Dying From The Flu

Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 12.45.43 PMInfluenza virus causes “the flu.” It’s a crummy cold that spreads easily causing high fever, body aches, runny nose, terrible cough, and rarely it can cause vomiting and diarrhea, too. The flu isn’t the “stomach flu.” It’s deadlier than that. It’s more dangerous for babies and young children, and for the elderly. It’s also particularly dangerous for those with asthma, diabetes, and people with neurologic or immune problems. This post is a bit of a plea: people are dying from the flu and there are ways we can potentially save others’ lives. Click through to read 5 myths about the flu and watch a 3-min interview I did for HLN television yesterday.

The bad news: We’re having a bad flu season. More people have the flu this year than at any time last year. This is early—flu usually peaks in Feb or March. The most dominate strain of flu that’s moving around the US is the strain called H3N2—it’s known to cause more serious disease. As of today, we have over 80% of our states reporting widespread circulating levels of flu. Here in Washington many people have been hospitalized from complications of the flu. Further, in Washington 6 people have died, one of them a child under the age of 12. A healthy 17 year-old died in Minnesota just this week. Flu is not just your “common cold,” it can be far worse. Eighteen children have already died this season. As of November, we didn’t even have 1/2 of our population with a flu shot. The goal to protect us all is 90%.

I’ve never had a family in clinic get influenza illness and then refuse the flu shot the following year.  They come in early and often for their shots. It’s that bad of an illness.

The good news: We have a vaccine for the virus that causes the flu. The flu shot and flumist nasal spray are effective and that H3N2 strain that we’re worried about, it’s in the flu shot and the nasal flu spray this year. It’s not too late to get a flu shot. You’ll be protected against the flu somewhere from 10 day to 14 days after getting it. Go out now and protect yourself and your family. By getting a shot you protect yourself, your children, and all those more vulnerable in our community unable to get the shot (those infants under 6 mo of age, those on chemo, or those with contraindications to the shot).

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You Need A Carbon Monoxide Alarm

There’s a new law today in Washington State requiring carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in apartments, condos, and single-family residences. You should have a CO detector on every level of your home (more tips below). I know you’ve heard that CO poisoning is not only dangerous but also potentially fatal. We also often hear horrific stories of accidental deaths from carbon monoxide after natural disasters. A recent study found disaster related deaths are particularly common (your power’s wiped out so you bring in a generator or grill for heating or cooking and get exposed to CO). Using a generator indoors is the most common cause of CO poisoning, followed by use of a grill. Unfortunately, over 400 people die in the US each year from CO poisoning—all of which could be avoided with proper education and detection in the home. The odd thing is that we often get to see CO toxicity play out on our favorite television shows (think Mad Men)~ the ever-again scene where someone clogs up the exhaust pipe of a car with a banana or handkerchief and dies (or attempts to) due to the toxic fumes.

One generator running inside a home, garage, or basement creates the equivalent carbon monoxide of 6 idling cars. Precisely why a generator needs to be 20 feet from inside spaces and away from open windows/doors. Carbon monoxide is found in combustion fumes–it can be produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, gas ranges, and heating systems. You likely know all this. But…

The thing to know: carbon monoxide in and of itself is more dangerous to babies and young children. Infants in utero, newborns, and young children process carbon monoxide differently, have more severe reactions, and may see effects faster than adults. If you and your young child were in a room that was filling with carbon monoxide, it’s your baby or child that would suffer the consequences first. They may not know how to tell you about their complaints and if they were sleeping you may not even know. Hence all of us needing a CO detector.

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The Science of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning:

The red blood cells in our blood circulate oxygen to all of our muscles and organs for survival. When carbon monoxide (CO) is in the air it can function as a disguised villain. When carbon monoxide is inhaled into the lungs via contaminated air, the red blood cell picks up the CO instead of just oxygen. Each carbon monoxide molecule that attaches to a red blood cell displaces a spot for oxygen. Therefore the circulating red blood cells go around the body without oxygen causing improper circulation. Organ failure and death can result after higher and higher level of our cells are bound to CO instead of oxygen.

The graphic is from the Centers For Disease Control (CDC)’s comprehensive review on CO poisoning.

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Safe Holidays For Your Children

This is a wonderful time of year. It’s also a really stressful one for many of us. Some quick reminders about ways to stay safe while bringing holiday decor into your home, traveling, while arguing with your brother about gifts, and when potentially having more alcohol around than is typical…

  • FIRE: Be careful of lit candles and check the safety of lights you place on trees or around the outside of your home. Christmas trees are like kindling for house fires. Check out National Fire Protection Agency’s info or watch this video of a tree catching fire.
  • DECOR: Holiday decorations often bring hazards for young children. This include candle holders, Christmas tree ornaments, plants, decorative garlands, and hot liquids. I’ve cared for many children with scald burns from soups and hot liquids. With decorations, anything longer than 12 inches can pose a strangulation risk. Make sure your trees and larger decorations are mounted in a way that your child (of any age) can’t pull them down upon themselves.
  • ALCOHOL: With holiday and New Year’s parties fast approaching, it’s good to have a plan for alcohol–if you’re serving it or drinking it. Many sober alcoholics relapse this time of year and many small drinkers consume alcohol more excessively. We have to be careful with our guests and ourselves — for our children. Clean up after parties, too–don’t want toddlers finding the punch!

This kind of advice feels heavy-handed and self-evident. It’s not as if we wouldn’t have thought of most of this. Read full post »

Young Children Are More Generous When Observed

Our 5 year-old keeps forgetting to draw arms on his people at school. The lack of arms has evolved since school started in September and even came up in his parent-teacher conference recently. I found it odd– he always seems to remember that humans have arms when he draws at home. We didn’t mention it to him. And when his brother got an easel for his birthday recently, F painted this picture. Something jumped out at me. I loved it. Not just that hands are present on this figure but the perspective it imparts. Something about this little person looks so generous and so ready to give.

It’s important to help our children understand the need to give back, provide, share, and act generously. ‘Tis the season, too. When I’ve thought of it before, I’d attributed our role (as parents) as role models, that is I thought if we act generously in front of children they will learn how to give more freely.

Recently a beautiful study in PLOS ONE conducted at Yale illuminated the complexity and the maturity of our young children when it comes to giving. It made me realize we may have to be more deliberate and outspoken about how and why we give. Social conditions matter when it comes to generosity and this isn’t just true of adults. Read full post »

Buy Organic Food Or Not?

I was surprised by a recent clinical report on organic foods. I summarized the findings in the video. Sure, I thought organic foods didn’t offer any more nutrition (vitamins, minerals, fatty acids) than foods grown conventionally. I’d seen a large study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine evaluating research spanning 1966 to 2011 that didn’t cite evidence that foods were more nutritious or better for us, per se. But I did recognize that data was on the side of organics when it came to keeping our children healthy and safe–because of pesticides.

I wasn’t entirely correct.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ clinical report found that although levels of pesticides differ on fruits and produce, the effects on the health of our children remain inconclusive for recommending organics. Read full post »

5 Things From Thing 1 And Thing 2

Truly, I’m distracted this Halloween. I think more than anything else, we should take the time (and money) today to donate to the Red Cross. Then put the costumes together. The destruction and suffering from hurricane-storm Sandy are at the forefront of our thoughts as families. For some communities, Halloween is postponed or delayed. It’s just a holiday, of course, but a big one for our children. It’s one holiday where children take center stage and create lasting memories. So I don’t want to de-value this, either — celebration is a really important part of our lives.

For those of us able to celebrate Halloween today, here’s some quick reminders. Fortunately, Halloween injuries are not all that common. A 2010 report found that there were more trips to the ER from sports injuries on Halloween than holiday ones. That being said, here are some tips I’ve read that are worth repeating.

  1. Sidewalks: On Halloween I worry most about injuries for children while walking around (getting hit by a car, tripping on a costume, or falling down), not razor blades in apples. Children are injured more as pedestrians on Halloween than from anything else the holiday inspires. When you set out with (or without) your children tonight, think about maximizing their safety on the sidewalk and on the street. Remind your kids never to believe that they are the right of way on the street. Yielding has great power and protection. Stay on sidewalks whenever you can.
  2. Be Seen: This is fairly self-evident but…..bring your cell phone, a light stick and/or a flashlight when trick-or-treating. Be seen and reachable when necessary. And remind teens about getting around while they are texting. Recent data finds teens are having more and more pedestrian injuries (up 25%), partly due to texting and walking. When distracted, they’re far more likely to get struck by a car. Read full post »

Should I Feed My Children Rice? Arsenic & Rice

Recent reports have heightened concerns about arsenic levels in rice products here in the US. This has left many parents wondering if we should be serving rice to babies and children. The video summarizes my current recommendations.

Read the report from the Pediatric Health Environmental Specialty Unit mentioned in the video. References on authors and sources are at the end of the report. This report is calm, informative, and backed by experts—there appear to be no false claims.

Remember, arsenic is a naturally occurring element on earth. However, natural doesn’t necessarily mean “good for you.” There are two types of arsenic–organic and inorganic. In general, it’s the inorganic arsenic that we worry about. The big picture goal for all of us is to eat a diverse diet full of a variety of foods thus protecting us by decreasing exposures to any one thing.

Arsenic is large quantities has been found to pose health risks. So taking steps to minimize consumption of foods high in arsenic may be beneficial. Before you bail on rice althogether, know that not every group is ready to tell you to rid your pantry of rice. Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics says currently (fall 2012).

5 Tips To Reduce Arsenic Consumption For Your Family:

  1. Have your water checked for arsenic if you have well water or a private water supply. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates arsenic levels in public water. But if you have any questions or concerns about public water, call your water company and ask about report data. Read full post »