‘preschoolers’

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Preschoolers Can Learn Good Things From TV

tv watching when 4Television programming for children is abundant. Screens are a luxurious fixture in most of our lives and I’m not here to tell you to turn them off. Well, at least not today. In fact, that tactic, the one where we pediatricians urge families to turn off the TV, really isn’t working. Children tend to increase their TV viewing time as they age and preschool-aged children in the United States spend over 4 hours per day watching television at home and in day care. My good friend, Dr Claire McCarthy, offers up her opinion in this week’s Pediatrics.

Television viewing is only on an upswing over the past 5 years as more and more devices interdigitate into our children’s lives. I’m a perfect example. When my first son was born 6 years ago we had one television in our home and one computer. Today, we have a smartphone, an iPad, a computer, and a television. The screen choices continue to grow, the television shows continue to become more alluring, and the opportunities for viewing with new convenience is abundant. It’s true: some of the stuff out there designed to delight our children is awesome.

But not all of it.

So as our children continue to tug on our sleeves and hang on our pant legs asking for the iPhone just after they beg for TV time before dinner, we need to think clearly about an action plan. We need to make a thoughtful “media diet.” We need to think ahead of time what time we’ll offer up the devices and what content we want them to see. We should care–it really changes how they think and what they do. When we use a media diet, I suggest we’ll improve both our own satisfaction as parents and our children’s lives. Dr Dimitri Christakis, a pediatric researcher here at Seattle Children’s suggests:

We often focus on how much kids watch and don’t focus enough on what they watch

New research out today by Dr Christakis finds that our time and energy working to improve what our children watch, not just how much they watch, can have a positive impact on their behavior. Even for children as young as 3 years of age. Read full post »

Never Say Never: On Trying New Foods

We went out for sushi on Friday at one of those mall-type restaurants that has little pieces of sushi spinning around the perimeter of the kitchen on a conveyer belt. The gimmick is genius for families with young children. The boys were starving and urged that the sushi spot was their choice for our night out. The conveyer belt provides instantaneous food and also fulfills the need for entertainment. As any normal parent knows, that’s a recipe for perfection. More than half of the people in the restaurant (at 5pm) had kids our boys’ age. It was a typical meal until the most wonderful thing happened: my son proved the husband wrong.

Boys 1, Husband 0.

As the food spun around, the boys eyed their favorites: avocado rolls, noodles, and nori. O asked about the orange “bubbles” he kept seeing. F announced that they were fish eggs. O instantly wanted to try them… The husband: Read full post »

Concerns About Autism: Reasons To See The Pediatrician

When it comes to autism, we’ve all been rocked by the recent CDC data that found ongoing increases in the number of children diagnosed with autism annually; it’s estimated that 1 in 88 children has autism in the US. The rates are unfortunately higher for boys. The number is unsettling to say the least, particularly as the cause of autism is multifactorial and not entirely understood. Although we know genetics and family history plays a role, we don’t know what causes the majority of autism.

Read more about the science of autism from Autism Science Foundation.

We do know one thing: research proves the earlier you intervene to get a child additional services, the better their behavior, the better their outcome, and the better their chances for improved communication. You don’t need a diagnosis to access services for your child.

When you worry and can’t find resources online that reassure you, it’s time to check with your child’s clinician. That’s the point of a real partnership and a true pediatric home. Fight to find one if you don’t already have one. Fight to improve yours if it’s imperfect. The feedback I receive from families in my clinic allows me more leverage to make change. We’re all responsible for improved health communication…

Signs of Autism In Infants & Toddlers:

There is not one specific behavior, test, or milestone that diagnoses autism. More than any one behavior,

  • You should observe your infant demonstrating curiosity.
  • You should observe your baby expressing joy nearly every day after 4 months of age. Your child should smile when they are 2 months old, 4 months old, 6 months old and thereafter.
  • Your child should show you they know their name by 1 year of age.
  • You should see that your child tries to communicate thoughts more effectively with each month that unfolds during infancy and toddlerhood.

Here’s a list of specific Autism Warning SignsRead full post »

How Do Doctors Screen For Autism?

Pediatricians, nurse practioners, and family doctors start screening your baby or toddler for signs of developmental or communication challenges like autism from the very first visit. As a pediatrician, how your baby responds to you (and to me) during the various visits during infancy and toddlerhood guide me in their screening. In the office I get to observe how a baby giggles, how they look to their parents for reassurance, how they try to regain their mom’s attention during our conversation, how they point or wave, how they respond to their name, and even how and why they cry when I’m around. Those observations in combination with family history, health exams, and parental perspectives remain extremely valuable for me in helping identify children at risk for autism.

However, more formalized screening is recommended at both the 18 month and 24 month well child check. In most offices, clinicians use the M-CHAT, a 23-point questionare parents fill out. Often, I have to help parents answer one question in particular, (“Does your child make unusual finger movements by their face”) but other than that, most families find it easy to fill out. Using this standardized screening, pediatricians can pick up children at risk for autism and will be prompted to start conversations about language delay, concerns about behavior, or possible next steps for a toddler at risk with additional genetic, neurologic, or developmental testing.

It’s important to note that screening isn’t diagnosing. If your child has a positive screen for autism, it doesn’t mean they will be diagnosed on the spectrum. And further, if your child screens normally but you continue to worry about autism, don’t be shy. Read full post »

Toddler Sleep: Early Morning Awakenings

Every week in clinic families ask me about strategies to help with children who awake before the sun is up. We all thrive with improved, uninterupted, prolonged periods of sleep at night. Particularly on those Saturdays where an extra hour or two of sleep can be life-sustaining for exhausted parents to toddlers and preschoolers. Because of our boys’ early schedules, late last year Santa conveniently dropped off an incredible tool: a toddler teaching clock. The clock has helped our 3 year old know when 7 o’clock rolls around. And we’ve made a deal with boys for 2012: no leaving their bedroom until 7 appears on the screen. And so far, it’s working–we’re batting about .900. Learning to play quietly on their own in the early morning has been a great benefit, too.

Toddlers and preschoolers between 1 and 3 years of age need about 11 to 13 hours of total sleep within 24 hours (night time and nap combined). Sometimes no matter what time bedtime starts, early morning awakenings continue to happen. As many parents learn, moving bedtime later doesn’t always shift the time a child awakens in the morning. But with time, shifts in schedules sometimes improve that Saturday morning sleep…

Dr Craig Canapari, a pediatric pulmonologist and sleep expert in Boston helps explain some reasons for these uber-early wake-ups and what we can do about it:

Why does my toddler get up so early in the morning?

Read full post »

Toddler Sleep: 4 Reasons Toddlers Wake Up At Night

There is a lot of writing online about how to get your baby to sleep through the night during infancy but not as much expertise to help those of us with toddlers and preschoolers who wake a number of times. Between age 2 and 3 when O was released from crib jail and moved to a big bed, he’d come to find me a couple of times a night. I’d often awake (and startle) to find him standing next to my bed! I tried many things to improve his opportunity for a full night’s sleep yet for those kids who never quite figure out that sleeping through the night starts around 7 or 8pm and ends with the sun coming up around 7am, we want to help. Recent data shows that 1 in 5 infants who have trouble sleeping may continue to have challenges during the toddler years. Clearly challenges with sleep that span multiple years affect many of us.

I turned to a pediatric sleep expert for help. Dr Craig Canapari is a doctor I met on Twitter (of all places) who answered questions surrounding sleep challenges for toddlers. Dr Canapari is a father to 2, a pediatric pulmonologist & sleep expert, and is thinking of starting a blog! He told me that when he was a kid he, “definitely did have problems falling asleep sometimes,” so not only is he an expert, he’s experienced! Check out his responses here and leave comments and questions — I’ll get him back on the blog to respond as needed.

Why does my toddler wake up at night?

Every parents has experienced the dreaded 2 AM call. You hear your little one stirring on the monitor. Either you wait, fingers crossed, to see if they go back to sleep and they don’t, or you run in there as fast as you can to stuff the pacifier in their mouth before they really wake up. Most babies are capable of sustained sleep (6-8 hours in a row) at night by age six months. If you are nursing your child, it may take them a bit longer to achieve this. I think that it is reasonable that every child should sleep through the night most nights by 9-12 months of age. Now, every child wakes up sometimes at night. I view the awakenings as a problem if they are more than a few minutes in duration, occurring multiple times at night, or resulting in significant daytime irritability for either the child or the parents.

If your child is having problematic nocturnal awakenings, there are a few possible causes: Read full post »

Reading A Growth Chart: Mama Doc 101

Parents, pediatricians, and nurses have been using growth charts since the late 1970′s to track growth in their infants and children. The charts were revised back in the year 2000 as the data for the first charts (from a small study in Ohio) that didn’t accurately reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of our communities.

The hallmark of a well child check is the review of a child’s growth. Growth can be a reflection of a child’s overall health, nutrition, and/or tolerance of possible underlying medical conditions. So understanding what your doctor or nurse practitioner says about your child’s growth should be a priority.

Watch the video to learn more about interpreting growth charts.

If your doc doesn’t have a computer in the room, ask to see the chart (on paper) or on a computer in their office. It will not only inform you, I suspect it will delight you to see what your child has done since the last time they have been seen.

The human body really is a fine-tuned machine and growth is simply astounding if you really stop to think of it.

If you have a challenge understanding how your child is growing or how the growth chart is presented, demand clarification. It’s okay if you don’t understand the presentation of facts on these grids; have confidence to speak up and ask for the doctor or nurse practitioner to explain it.

Revisions to the growth charts in 2000

Understanding growth charts

Half & Half

I had a great trip to the grocery store today with the boys. Life has been so hectic these past few weeks, we haven’t had weekend time for a leisurely trip to the aisles of fruit and fondue. Today, we had the luxury of time, a list, and a proper plan. They weren’t hungry (and neither was I) so our stomachs didn’t drive the cart and the boys were uniquely engaged. We perused the produce area. We made peanut butter in the machine that crushes raw peanuts. We talked about some of the beginnings of the food we bought (the avocado came from Mexico, the mini-oranges from California). But I thought most about how pleased I am when I end up at checkout with more fresh food in the cart than food stuffed into packages. Today I think I came close.

And that’s the lesson. One thing I say over and over again in clinic is, “If at all possible, for every single meal you offer your child at home, make sure 1/2 the plate is covered in fresh fruit and veggies.”

So if that’s the goal, the cart should always look the very same way.

What Does TV Do To My Kid’s Brain?

If you want to understand more about the effects of television on the brain, you need to watch this TEDx talk by Dr Dimitri Christakis…the science around television and its effect on children and concentration astound me. Not because any of it is counter-intuitive, but because television is as powerful as it is. Television is a [large] part of most children’s lives here in the US and this presentation of fact and observations may change what you do at home. Although it seems like there is no controversy here, last week I stumbled upon one mom proclaiming the benefits for TV at bedtime from infancy up.

We gotta get the word out.

A few take-aways on media and early learning:

  • Early experiences condition the mind. Connections between brain cells change based on experiences our children have while their brain triples in size between birth and age 3.
  • Initiation of television viewing is now (on average) 4 months of age.
  • Prolonged exposure to rapid image changes (like on a TV show designed for an infant) during critical periods of brain development may precondition the mind to expect high levels of stimulation. This may then make the pace of real life less able to sustain our children’s attention. The more hours a child views rapid-fire television, the more likely they will have attention challenges later in life.
  • Cognitive stimulation (reading books or going to a museum) reduces the likelihood for attention challenges later in life.
  • What content your child watches on TV matters: the more frenetic or violent the TV show, the more likely your child will have attention challenges later in life. Television shows that move at a typical pace may be far better for our children.
  • New studies (using mice) may demonstrate that learning suffers with excess TV viewing.
  • We need more real time play for children. (Get out the blocks or get outside!)

I’d suggest the 15 minutes or so it takes to view this video might profoundly change your thinking about TV. Direct from the mouth of a father, pediatrician, and researcher, Dr. Dimitri Christakis explains how the brain develops, what television may do, and theorizes why ample time in front of the TV as an infant and/or toddler may reorganize how a children thinks and solves problems. More than anything, watching this made me want to reverse time and go back to do even more for my little boys and their developing brains. If only the daily museum trip was plausible…

Enjoy, leave any comments or questions, and I’ll wrangle up Dr. Christakis for specific answers, as needed.

Preschoolers: Movers And Shakers

The most amazing thing about vacation is how much time you get to spend outside and how much time you get to move. We’ve just returned from a week away where the boys spent the far majority of their days without a ceiling. Delicious.

Sure, it’s easy to live outside when you’re on vacation. The challenge is in our “normal” lives–the ones where we go to work, school, and complete activities. It turns out our parental efforts for safety and our need to cultivate “learners” may be getting the way of our children’s health. Sometimes we may be over-thinking things.

We’ve been touring preschoolers and kindergartens these past few weeks. I’ve been thinking a lot about the 3 dimensions in which our boys spend their days. So a qualitative study on preschool centers and physical activity published by the Academy of Pediatrics last week caught my eye.

Three-quarters of all preschoolers between the age of 3 and 5 years are in child care and more than half of them are in either preschooler, day care, or nursery school center. Most children spend the majority of their waking hours, after age 3, outside of their home. Many children spend very long days at school, leaving around 6pm to head home. After 6pm, there is little time for outdoor play. Read full post »