Doc’s 7 Tips for a Safe & Happy Holiday Season

Cute Kid Girl In Glasses Thinking About Gift On Christmas HolidaMy daughter the anthropologist tells me that celebrations solidify relationships between people within a community, give them hope for the future, and serve as rights of passage.

These are excellent goals to keep in mind as you enter into the holiday insanity. What you want this season to mean to your children throughout their lives?

Do you want them to be involved in your community with its rich heritage and history? Emphasize that. Tell stories, act out events and celebrate your history. Help out people who are less fortunate.

Do you want holidays to strengthen family bonds? Put family first. Limit the decorating and shopping and work events, and hang out at home. Make gifts for each other, bake cookies and play games.

If you want holidays to be about joy, be joyful. Foster realistic expectations, appreciation for what they have and genuine values. Develop traditions that are more about time together as a family and less about how much stuff they get. The memories they keep forever will be the little things: sharing a bowl of popcorn while watching an old movie; reading a book while Mom or Dad runs fingers through their hair. Few people remember what they received for Christmas last year. They do remember that walk on Christmas Eve admiring the sparkling lights, tasting cookies straight out of the oven, and the look on Grandpa’s face when he got that homemade penholder.

Gifts

It’s tempting to get your children all the things they want for the holiday just to see them smile, but where do you go from there? Maniacal happiness is not joy. It cannot be sustained over time. Add to that that you have created unrealistic expectations for all the other holidays in their future. And the storage needs!

Restrain yourself. If holidays are about family time, board games, and baking cookies it is possible for holidays later in life to be happy. If holidays are about how much money was spent and how many new toys they received, how can real life ever work out? Bigger and better toys every year? That was not the goal.

If you can afford it, get them one or two of the things on their lists. Make them the ones they can create with, the ones that make them use their brains and bodies and talent. Add on some little things that are fun to open. Let little ones play with the boxes and bubble wrap. Then focus the day on family.

The Insanity

Don’t let holidays overwhelm you. There are so many expectations that no one can possibly meet them all and have any joy left. There are special foods that need to be prepared, special clothes that need to be bought, decorations, gifts, traditions to be followed, parties, travel, family… eeek! Weed out the excess so there is room left for joy, relaxation and rejoicing in whatever you were celebrating.

Before you decide to spend money on gifts or travel, be realistic about what you can afford. What did you get for your last birthday? Don’t remember? No one does. What people do remember is the conversation, the hugs and the warmth. Those are free. Take dollars out of the experience as much as possible and you won’t end up with a credit card bill for a present that was discarded six months ago. Don’t try to keep up with the people who have that bill and you won’t be laying awake at night and fighting with your spouse instead of relaxing snuggled up with hot chocolate.

Tune down the stress. Not spending more than you can afford will eliminate a huge amount of stress. Next, stop worrying about what other people think; they’re too busy worrying about what you think to care anyway. Keep to routines as much as possible. Sit down for meals; take some time to focus on each other. Step back from the hysteria and think about whether your progeny will actually play with that new doll or just stuff it in a corner, and whether you really need to travel or attend all the parties. Take some quiet time and relax. The world will not collapse if you skip a party or miss the line for the “it” gift. It will collapse if your child is so exhausted and stressed that he or she has a melt down.

Health

Keep healthy. The week after a holiday is always busy at my office. I make lots of money from airplanes crowded with sick people and stores packed with germy carts. Get enough rest, and hydrate. Use hand sanitizer. Eat as healthfully as possible–avoid fast foods, throw in some fruits and vegies. Hide the caffeine and limit alcohol. Get a flu shot. Nothing can destroy a holiday quicker than a trip to the ER.

  • Avoid injuries. Most holiday injuries have nothing to do with the particular holiday, but everything to do with people being so busy that they are not as watchful as usual. Sports are more dangerous when we want to impress cousins. Teenagers tend to get more reckless during a celebration, and young children sneak away quickly. Most holiday injuries are from everyday activities and household objects made dangerous by the holiday craziness.
  • Chokings and poisonings are popular. The one I see most is an overdose on Grandma’s meds. At Grandma’s home they are left on countertops; at your home they are in her purse. A left over drink is a common way to poison children. A little alcohol can drop a child’s blood sugar and throw him or her into a coma.
  • Toddlers will put anything in their mouths. Unfortunately this means that everybody needs to pick up their stuff. Items over 1¼ inch in diameter are generally safe. Smaller items than that can go straight into their gut or lung. The most dangerous items to swallow are batteries and magnets; the most dangerous to choke on are grape sized (older children’s toys, hard candy) or stretchy (balloons, plastic bags, marshmallows). Clean up!
  • Holidays also provide a banquet of things to irritate children’s allergies. Live trees indoors, foods, cigarette smoke, wood fires and other people’s homes and pets come to mind. Avoid them if your child has allergies.
  • Fires and electrical injuries are especially common during holidays. Decorations can be flammable, old Christmas trees will be dry, and space heaters, candles and fires are commonly nearby. Frayed and loose wires easily start fires. Keep your eyes open for dangers.
  • Use your common sense during celebrations. If it doesn’t seem safe, don’t let people pressure you into it. Feel free to let watching your kids take precedence over seeing Uncle Joe’s trophy or Aunt Mary’s vacation photos. “He’ll be fine” doesn’t make him fine. Keep an eye on him, or her.
  • Feel free to be rude and head for home when the kids get tired, if a situation feels out of control, or if your child is being exposed to something you aren’t happy with. Use the munchkin’s youth or fatigue as the excuse for you to head home, relax and read a bedtime story.

Remember that the point of celebrations is to solidify relationships and give hope for the future. Get there by focusing on your history, rejoicing in your present and not sabotaging your future. Don’t go crazy with gifts: they don’t teach your children anything you want them to learn and the financial stress will eat away at that joy and hope you were dreaming of. Pick fewer things to do, and do them together. Be safe and stay healthy.

The Weird and Interesting Life of a Flu Virus

shutterstock_87645001The first description we have of the influenza virus was from Hippocrates (my hero!) 2400 years ago. He dealt with it every winter, endlessly, just as we do now. Nowadays it makes between 3 and 5 million people sick each year, and kills 250 to 500 thousand people annually. In the US we average 200 thousand hospitalizations and 36 thousand deaths yearly. Persistent, nasty little bugger.

Influenza gets its name from the Italian word for influence, because people initially thought it was caused by the influence of the stars, and later by the influence of the cold. Now we know better.

The Anatomy of a Flu Virus:

The influenza  virus is a tiny spherical particle, only 80-120 nanometers in size. It would take a million of them standing in a row to make a 1 centimeter line. Its core is made of 8 separate segments of RNA (we humans have DNA). This core is surrounded by protective proteins and an envelop with 2 types of “glycoproteins”–the famous Hs and Ns you hear about when people talk about which type of flu is causing problems each year: Hemagglutinins and Neuraminidases.

NPR has a very cool video of the flu virus invading a cell here. The “key” in the video is the hemagglutinin.

How the Virus Works:

The Hemagglutinins (Hs) bind to target cells in your body and inject the virus particle into your cells. How contagious the flu is, what symptoms it gives you, and how sick it can make you depends on the Hs. An H that can bind to cells in your eyes, nose, and mouth is more contagious than one that can only bind to your throat. An H that can bind to a cell deep in your lung is much more serious than one that can only bind to a cell in your throat.

The Neuraminidases (Ns) release the progeny of that prolific particle from that cell so that the little critters can spread further through your body.

How we Fight it:

The Hs and Ns are the molecules our immune systems build antibodies against, whether we catch the flu or just get exposed to the dead virus in the annual vaccine. The Hs and Ns are also the targets for antiviral drugs. There are 16 different Hs and 9 different Ns. Humans are usually infected with H 1, 2, or 3 and N 1 and 2.

There are three groups (genera) of flu viruses in the family Orthomyxoviridae. (I love that word: Ortho-myxo-vir-i-dae.) The three groups are simply labeled A, B, and C. We frequently call the flu by which animal is its main host. Human, bird, and swine are the most common strains we humans catch.

Flu A has the most serogroups (Hs and Ns), infects the most different animals, and is the most virulent. It also mutates 2-3 times faster than B. The critters it infects are mostly aquatic birds, but it can infect many other species.

Flu B has only one serogroup and is almost exclusive to humans. It tends to be less severe and less common. Since it only has one serogroup and mutates slowly, many people develop a degree of immunity to it.

Flu C is even less common and less severe.

What makes Flu unique among viruses:

Viruses enter cells so that they can make copies of themselves and spread. As they make those copies they sometimes make mistakes, creating mutations. They average one mistake per copy, so mutation is constant– what we call antigenic drift. That’s why we never get immune to Flu A–it changes every year.

There is one really cool thing about the flu virus that makes it different from most viruses: its RNA is split into 8 segments. (Most viruses have one long piece of RNA.)

This means that if your local pig catches 2 different strains of flu at the same time, these strains can trade segments. When that happens we get antigenic shifts– much larger changes for which people have no immunity. These larger shifts can create a pandemic, like the Spanish flu in 1918 that killed an estimated 21 million people. We average 3 pandemics each century. We worry a lot about pandemics.

So, those are the ABCs of the flu virus. If you crave something more useful, like what you can do about it, check out my post on colds and flu or info on fever.

Now wash those little hands with soap, keep them away from noses and mouths, break out the bleach, and go get those flu shots! The shots cover an H1N1 and H3N2 Flu A, and two strains of B.

Why Can’t the Doc Fix My Kids’ Cold?

Adorable Child Dressed As Doctor Playing With Toy Over White

Happy cold and flu season!

How many times have you taken your child to the doctor and been told, “It’s just a virus. Rest, push fluids, and they’ll feel better in about 10 days”?

Sadly, it’s true. There are hundreds of different viruses that cause colds, from the most common rhinovirus through the ever-unpleasant adenovirus to the rather pretty coronavirus (it has a corona, or crown).

coronavirus-01

Coronavirus

We can’t fix any of them.

All of them are contagious. All you have to do to catch one is breathe around someone who has one, or touch a surface that someone infectious has recently touched and then rub your nose or eyes. After a 2 or 3 day incubation period you will wake up to a scratchy throat and headache and you too will be infectious (mostly for the first 3 days).

Children catch an average of 8-10 colds during the first two years of their lives; they average 6-8 colds per year during their school years. Since most colds occur from October through March, this means 1-2 colds per month, lasting 10 days each. If it seems like your children are sick all the time, it’s because… they are sick all the time.

Symptoms of a cold include fever, red watery eyes, congestion, cough, tiredness and decreased appetite. Your child’s ears might feel plugged up. Watery nasal discharge can turn thick and green after a day or two (this doesn’t mean they have a sinus infection, it’s just part of what a virus does).

So how do we keep them as healthy as possible? You probably already know the basics:

  • Wash their hands frequently. Keep those hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth! No nail chewing!
  • Cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough. Elbows or facial tissues work.
  • Disinfect surfaces.
  • Look for small daycares and classes whenever possible (I know, but we can dream).
  • Do what you can to boost their young immune systems. Breastfeeding your infant will make me poor–all that wonderful grown-up immunity transferred to your little one. Never smoke in air your child will inhale. Really. Never. It will destroy their immune system. And yours, by the way. Take probiotics like Acidophilus (in yogurt) or Lactobacillis.
  • Make sure they get enough sleep. If they are sleepy during the day, move their bedtimes up. Tired people get sick.
  • Offer them healthy food, and throw out all the unhealthy food so they will have fewer options when they get hungry.
  • Have lots of fluids available, because hydration is necessary for your body’s defenses to work. And no, I don’t mean soda. Water, dilute juice or milk please.

When your children get sick, treat their symptoms so that they will feel better. We have nothing that cures colds–antibiotics do not kill viruses. Salt water (saline) nose sprays are safe. Tylenol or ibuprofen will help with fever and pain. Over the counter cold meds will suppress some of the symptoms in children over 6 years of age, although they’ve never been proven to work well for younger kids.

Call your doctor if the fever lasts more than three days, if your child is lethargic or unusually cranky, or if they have an earache or breathing problems.

Make them rest and drink fluids, and they’ll feel better in about 10 days.

How to Keep your Kid Alive and Still Have a Happy Halloween

Kids Carving Pumpkin At HalloweenTime again for the annual “How to keep your kid alive and still have a happy Halloween” article. I know you’ve read this sort of thing before, but skim through – you might see something you forgot!

First, costumes:

From tiny ones who want to be lions to preteens dripping blood, costumes are the best part of Halloween. For a few hours we suspend boring reality and play at being something else. How better to encourage creativity and imagination?

Please try for bright, easy-to-see colors. Check to make sure the fabric is flame retardant and add reflective tape. Make sure the costume fits well so your little guy won’t trip. Stick your little gal’s feet into comfortable shoes. Pin a paper with their name, address and phone number inside their pockets in case you get separated.

Paint their faces so they don’t need to wear masks that can obstruct their vision.

Be careful about those accessories! Long scythes and pitchforks can be trip hazards.

Accessories should be soft, short, obviously fake, and flexible. Guns that look real have caused problems when people were unsure they were toys. Arm them with a flashlight with fresh batteries instead.

Home décor:

I once put a big fat candle on a table decorated with straw. It took my next-door neighbor–a fireman–raising his brow sardonically for me to see that this was not a terribly bright idea. So. Be careful where you put flame. Fire inside a floor level pumpkin with costumes sweeping by–not so good. Try battery powered candles or glow sticks instead. The firemen will appreciate it.

Only the grown ups get to use sharp objects, so pumpkin carving is for big people only. Nothing ruins a holiday like a trip to the ER. Kids can design with markers or paint.

Last, inspect your yard and home for trip hazards such as bikes and hoses. Check for frayed wires, and poorly lit areas.

Trick-or-treating:

There are, I admit, children who may disagree with me about costumes being the best part of Halloween. There is that other thing they like a lot: running around neighborhoods screaming maniacally and getting free candy. I would frown upon such activity but I have fond memories of doing the same.

The number one way children are seriously hurt on Halloween is by running in front of cars in the excitement of the moment. Teach your kids basic safety, know where they are, and know who they are with.

Kids under 12 walk with a grown-up (No, that is not up for debate; blame it on me if they disagree.) Over 12, it depends on the maturity of the child and the safety of the neighborhood. If they are not with a grown-up, they need to travel in a group, on a preplanned path. If you can find a neighborhood where they close off the streets, enjoy! If not, hike through a familiar neighborhood (it can’t hurt to check the registered sex offender site and avoid those houses).

Trick-or-treaters need to stay in well-lit areas, avoiding short cuts, alleys and darkness. Use sidewalks and walk facing traffic. Be careful when crossing the street: even if the approaching car does see your child, the one behind him or her might not. Make sure they know to never approach parked cars and never enter a house. Have your big kid carry a cell phone and check in every hour. Agree on a curfew.

When they get home, go through their haul. Throw out anything that looks like it was tampered with, anything home made (if you don’t know the maker), choking hazards, and whatever else you can get away with. Freeze some for holiday cookies later.

Pets

Last, take care to keep your pets safe during the holiday. Keep chocolate and anything sweetened with xylitol away from your dog. Watch for choking hazards and yummy electric wires, and lock your four legged ones away from the front door so they won’t escape when the hoodlums knock.

Happy Haunting!

How to Educate your Kids with Games, Art, and Fun, Part 2!

Remember Education.com? They’ve given me another project – a spelling lesson disguised as a crossword puzzle!

Your child can learn about the wonders of the sea as he or she explores the ocean-themed crossword puzzle below. For more spelling resources go to Education.com.

Education.com was built with the contributions of thousands of teachers. They have FREE activities for kids from preschool to high school that help them succeed in science, math, reading, writing, and social studies.

They teach with games, songs, worksheets, interactive exercises, hands-on activities, and more.

Check out Education.com for other innovative educational opportunities for every age child.

crossword

And the answers are …

crossword-answers

How Teens Grieve, & How to Help Them

Lost and aloneOur teenagers get to deal, again, with issues we hoped they wouldn’t see until they were adults–sudden trauma, injury, and death. Teenagers are different, and parents need to know how to help them.

Most of us have heard about the 5 stages of grief that adults travel through, from denial to acceptance. The teenage brain is very different than the adult brain, and these stages don’t necessarily fit. Their journey through shock and grief is more individual and variable, with side trips and dangerous pitfalls.

Unfortunately, they sometimes travel this journey alone, as their parents are themselves derailed by shock and grief.

They travel it when their brains are in transition, when their impulse control is slim and they have trouble seeing into the future, where the consequences of their actions reside.

They choose their path at a time when they are struggling to achieve independence from their parents and control over their own lives, and they feel the need to find their own identity and act.

They will need watching.

Our children do not expect to have to deal with grief, so the first, most common reaction is shock, and then denial. But the teenaged brain is not the adult brain. They do not travel a straight path from there through anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, as an adult might.

Some of Those Side Paths:

  • They can feel excited to be in a real life drama, and enjoy being the center of attention. Then they feel guilty because they were excited and, for a moment, happy.
  • They can feel like it was their fault: they just said those horrible things the other day! The shooting happened because they wished it! They didn’t mean it! Children are not always rational.
  • They can explode or become agressive, unable to control the powerful, overwhelming emotions churning inside them. Adults know that they will feel better in time; children live in the now, with no hope of feeling better.
  • When the excitement fades, they may do things to rekindle the show. Maybe if I drink too much or swallow some pills I will be the center of attention again? Maybe my parents will notice something other than their own grief? And why be good anyway if all it gets you is pain?
  • They can sometimes become fascinated with death–in it they see the solution to all of their own problems. Could they be strong enough, or brave enough, to end their own lives? They might try some exciting, near death “games” just to see how it feels, or to test themselves. Death is contagious.
  • They frequently feel isolated and alone. Their grief cuts them off from others, making them different right at the age when they most want to fit in. They may refuse to admit they hurt at all because they don’t want to be different, or seen as weak.
  • They may feel the need to do something to help the situation. Their parents are suffering; maybe if they lock down their own grief they can fix everything, make their parents feel better?

Many of these side paths are not likely to give you the happy, healthy child you desire.

What is a parent to do?

First, pay attention. Don’t assume they are fine – poke into their business and bother them. Hang out in their space. Sooner or later they will talk. Listen. They will have crazy ideas that make no sense, and unexpected questions that you thought they already knew the answers to. Take them seriously and answer them honestly. Never lie, because they need to be able to trust you. There is no need to pretend you know all the answers, just let them know that they are not ever alone.

Whatever path through grief that they choose is normal, and different than any other path trod before, by anyone. Often teenagers will grieve in bits and pieces, and seem better in between. Unexpectedly, something will trigger a wave of grief that will overwhelm them. A wrong word, a food, a smell, some anniversary – grief will knock their knees out from under them. Normal adolescent emotional swings will be exaggerated. They will get headaches and stomach aches, they will feel exhausted, or they will act out or withdraw. Grades may plummet either as a way of acting out or because they cannot concentrate. They may not sleep, or they may sleep too much. Any of these are normal.

Try to keep to routines and a normal life as much as possible. Expect decent behavior: enforce all the usual rules because safety and security reside in what is known and routine. Allow the grief. Remember the person you grieve over in whatever way helps your child: pray, write in a journal, paint a picture… Talk about times spent with them. Share your own experiences with grief and loss. Let them help in any way they can with any arrangements that need to be made – people feel better when they are busy and have accomplished something.

Be there when they need you, give them the opportunity to grieve, and watch them for behaviors that are more destructive than helpful. Grief never ends, but it evolves into a more acceptable form, and people can learn to live their lives and think about something else.

If you or your child need help to get there, ask. There is help available at the end of a phone call if you are having trouble navigating through on your own. There are many of us whose life work is to be there to help when there is need.

 

What Chores Do I Give Which Child?

little baby gardener lost in the moment with the sun shinning in

Last week’s blog was about why children need to do chores. But how do you know what chores to give which child? The choice will depend on what needs to be done in your household and what they are physically and developmentally capable of.

Give children some chores that teach them to be responsible for themselves and some that contribute to the family as a whole.

Adjust them for their age and ability.

  • Eighteen- month-olds can pick up toys and hand them to you to throw into the toy box—and then get a hug.
  • Four-year-olds can dust, and be rewarded with applause.  Little ones will actually enjoy chores and be happy with your admiration as their reward,  although you might have to fix their work later. Mine helped me paint a wall once…
  • By eight or ten, they should be independent enough to leave them alone with a small chore. They can take out the trash, vacuum, or unload the dishwasher, which should be followed by a thank you and a hug. They will feel less inspired, so don’t forget the reward! Hugs rule.
  • Preteens live in constant fear of embarrassment, and chores need to be adjusted accordingly. They like to know, in detail, what is expected of them, when it is expected, and exactly how you want things done. They never want to do something wrong and be ridiculed. Coolness rules. I have had preteens tell me they didn’t know what “poop” was and had no idea how to stick out their tongue and say “ahh.” They fear doing it wrong. Be patient and explain things exactly. Use the preteen years to teach skills they will need later. They are able enough to learn basic cooking, laundry, and housekeeping skills, but they are still young enough that they don’t yet have the overwhelming schedules of teenagers.
  • For any age, add no more than one new chore at a time so they won’t feel overwhelmed.

Chores are an invaluable parenting tool. Without them, your children will not be whole and balanced, and they might be less appealing. Chores allow your children to participate in the family and help it function. They teach your children to be responsible for themselves and manage their time. Work teaches them appreciation for what others do for them—and for the things they have. Accomplishments nurture pride in self and in their abilities. Chores teach skills they will need throughout their lives.

Your progeny should, of course, be adequately rewarded for their work by the joy of being able to contribute to the family and by the skills they have learned. This does not seem to be the case.

Allowance helps.

Why Children Need Chores

little baby gardener lost in the moment with the sun shinning inChores are simple jobs that routinely need to be done in and around the house. They come in all sizes and shapes, and there are a wide enough variety to suit any child’s age and abilities.

Chores are a great way to teach your children many of the skills they need to know to take care of themselves as adults, while also teaching them to take responsibility for a job and feel pride in work successfully completed.

Probably the most important reason for doing chores, though, is simply that they are members of your family and they need to participate.

There are many little jobs that need to get done during the day, and it is fair for every member of the family to do their part. By doing so, they invest in the success of the family as a whole.

The investment can be as simple as helping to make dinner or putting their dirty laundry in the basket. Every little duty adds up, creating a whole in which people depend upon and trust one another. “I’ll make dinner, you fold the laundry, and Meg can walk the dog.” Families function when the members work together as a team. Later, when they need help, they will call family. When family needs help, they will come. As they work together, they strengthen bonds and create memories and emotions that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

If your children do not do their parts, a link in the chain is broken. “You give to me, but I don’t give back” does not make for a long-lasting relationship. Ask any family in which one child was favored above the others.

Work Bestows Value

Even if we aren’t planning to be a close-knit family later, it is a human truth that we need to pay for what we receive. An oddity of the human mind is that it does not appreciate what it gets for free.

Allowance that is granted as a gift can be thrown away; allowance that is worked for is treasured. We are proud of having earned it, and we are more careful of how we spend it. It has value.

Watch your children’s faces when they see the results of work that produced something that the family needed. They will make sure you know all about the work they did. They washed those carrots and picked out the best ones! You will see pride of accomplishment–value added to their own self esteem.

Your children receive things for being members of your family. You give them shelter, food, and video games. It will be easier for them to appreciate the work other people do for them if they have also done work. If they do not learn to appreciate what they are given, they will grow up to be jerks. You want people to like your children—and nobody likes jerks. Give them work.

Responsibility

Chores are also a great way to learn responsibility. The most obvious chore is cleaning up after themselves. Toddlers can pick up their toys; six-year-olds can dust and bring their dishes to the sink, and ten-year-olds can put away their laundry. Teenagers should be capable of anything, but they are limited by their busy schedules.

Let them know how much you appreciate their work. Since they saved you all that time, now you can do something fun together! They will remember the satisfying feeling and be more likely to do it again, maybe with less argument.

Skills

Chores also teach useful skills. My son was the only guy in his freshman dorm that knew how to do his own laundry. Kids who know how to cook can feed themselves. Knowing how to clean can keep them healthy. A parent’s desire to take care of their children and be reassured that they themselves are needed can sometimes interfere with their children’s need to learn. They will be happy to let you do all the work. Don’t allow them.

One of the skills they learn by doing chores is time management, so give them a time limit to get the job done. They will learn all about the evils of procrastination. “Sorry, hon, you can’t go over to John’s house because you haven’t finished your chores yet.”

Exercise

Chores also get kids off their bottoms and away from the television, which is always a good thing. Make sure some of their chores involve physical work. A three-year-old can run back and forth, bringing you items to put in the toy box. An eight-year old can help you wash the car. For a teen, yard work and mopping are good. Letting them figure out how to get it done will exercise their brains as well.

Chores Mimic Real Life

Chores give kids a chance to earn things above what you feel are their needs. If you are willing to pay for the plain bike and they want the fancy one, they can earn the difference. Name brand clothes are a want, not a need, and their savings can bridge the gap. They will appreciate the items more because of the work they invested, and they will take better care of them.

Make a chore chart and put it up somewhere visible. The basics earn them their allowance; extra chores earn points toward something they want but do not need.

Arguing for a higher dollar value per point will teach them negotiating skills.

Doing chores prepares kids for real life. Knowing how to work, how to do work well the first time, and how to not procrastinate will serve them well in the workplace. Which employee would you prefer if you were hiring: the one who whined and weaseled his way out of chores his whole life or the one who gets things done quickly with minimal supervision? Which would you fire first?

In real life, work is how you get money, and money is how you pay rent. The other option is moving back to your parents’ basement.

But what chores for which kid? Check out What Chores do I Give Which Kid?

How to Help Children in the Aftermath of Hurricane

Sad child on black background. Portrait depression girlWe try to protect our children from as much as we can, but sometimes life has other plans.

Hurricanes in Texas, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Florida have taken over our thoughts, our conversations at home and with friends, the internet, and the television waves. Our children are being bombarded by terrifying pictures on TV, anxious conversations with friends, and worried parents at home. It can be too much for a child to deal with.

Your child’s experience of an event will vary depending on their age,  personal style,  life experience, and  closeness to the disaster. A toddler will only care that his or her parents seem to be upset. Older children will hurt for the people involved, worry about friends and relatives that might be in the areas, and worry that such a thing is possible and could happen to them sometime.

Anxiety can worsen at night: what seems exciting to discuss with friends during the day becomes frightening after the lights go off.

What to Do?

Listen to them talk, and be patient when they ask you the same questions over and over. Reassure them, let them know that such things are extremely rare. Answer questions truthfully, at their developmental level. Never lie.

Monitor what your child sees and hears–adult conversation and the media can magnify fear and confusion and increase their trauma. Repetition can intensify anxiety; pictures can get locked in their heads.

After the storms pass symptoms of post-traumatic stress may appear, even in children not directly involved. They may be sad or moody, easily angered or irritable. They may be afraid to leave home and separate from family. They may have trouble sleeping or sleep too much. Appetites may suffer. Your child may be anxious when his or her people are not all nearby, and wake from nightmares.

Children frequently have concentration problems after a trauma, and their grades may suffer. They can regress developmentally: your independent youngsters may become clingy, or need help doing things they had been previously been able to do on their own. They may avoid activities they previously enjoyed, and withdraw into themselves. They may become anxious at the thought of going to school, or of being separated from mom or dad.

They can also develop physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches. They may try to exercise more control on their environment, setting up their toys in a particular way, wanting their schedule to be predictable, or demanding activities they find reassuring. Teens may act out or try alcohol or drugs in an attempt to feel better.

Helping them may be as simple as listening. Be available and receptive but don’t push. A younger child may open up and tell you his story when you break out toys or art supplies; an older one may talk if you tell her a similar story about yourself, when you were scared or worried. Schedule time for just the two of you, and wait.

Children may try to hide their symptoms: they think they should be stronger, they don’t want to be a burden, or they think they are abnormal for having the problem. They may even feel that the disaster was their fault; children are not always logical. Allowing them to bury their symptoms will only erode their spirit from the inside.

Also, be a good example. Take care of yourself, eat healthy food, sleep, and discuss events calmly. Turn off the TV and stay off the web. Exercise. Take breaks to play, read a book, and do something unrelated to it.

Keep to recognizable routines–routine is reassuring and safe. Require reasonable behavior: if they still get in trouble for using that bad word, they will feel more secure. They may test you with bad behavior just to get that reassurance. Don’t spoil them with extra treats, because it will frighten them. Things must be really bad if The Parent gives me toys or lets me eat candy.

Lend a hand to other people; even if you are not in the area you can send a donation or give blood. Let them know that you are doing it. It helps to know that you have the power to help and comfort.

The traumatic symptoms may last quite a while. Triggers like another storm season or a news report may bring everything back. Fear of loss may linger. An anniversary will renew their anxiety.

If time passes and stress is affecting their lives, think about having them see a counselor or getting them into a peer group with similar concerns. We all need a little help sometimes.

My mom also used to say, “Time heals all wounds.” And–with a little help from their parents–it always will.

What is that Rash on My Child??

little baby gardener lost in the moment with the sun shinning in

When the days warm up, pediatric offices see a lot of skin problems. Kids aren’t often ill during the summer, but they frequently get sunburns, bites, jellyfish stings, and rashes.

Sunburn

It’s hard to remember sunscreen every single time the kids are outside, so sunburns are a universal, common problem. Remember to use sunscreen, of course, and don’t forget to reapply it every hour.

If your child does burn, give ibuprofen immediately – it helps with the inflammation and can actually reduce the depth of injury. Use aloe generously: it lessens the pain, moisturizes the skin, and helps heal the damage. If the burn is bad, call your doctor. Prescription steroids and burn creams can help.

Bug Bites

Bug bites are also very popular in the summer, from mosquitos, fire ants, yellow flies, and fleas, among others. Insects inject toxins into children’s skin when they bite; how much a particular child reacts depends on how sensitive he or she is.

Cover up little arms and legs when you can, especially if you are going to be outdoors around twilight. There are excellent clothing treatments available that will keep bugs away and last through several washings, protecting your child indirectly.

If your child is older than 2 months, use insect repellant with DEET on exposed skin, even though it’s nasty. It works and it’s a whole lot better than getting insect borne encephalitis. 10% DEET lasts about 2 hours; 30% lasts about 5 hours. Don’t use anything stronger than 30% on a child. Don’t reapply in the same day, and do wash it off when you go back inside.

Creams with pramoxine or calamine will help with itchiness. Cortisone creams help itch and also swelling and redness, but can only be used a couple of times a day. If there are lots of bites, an antihistamine by mouth will also help with swelling and itch.

Never use antihistamine creams (benadryl is the most common), because children can react to the topical antihistamine and actually get worse instead of better.

Bee stings

Bee and wasp stings are treated much the same way, after making sure to remove the stinger and apply a cool compress (and yes, Grandma’s idea about the wet mud does help).

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac

If your child is a forest dweller, he or she will at some point get poison ivy, oak or sumac. These plants produce a poison called urushiol in their sap and leaves, causing redness, itch and blistering.

The severity of this reaction also varies depending on your munchkin’s sensitivity. My brother’s eyes would swell shut if someone burnt it a block away; I could pull it up and throw it away with no reaction.

Wash both the child and his or her clothes as soon as possible. No lounging on the furniture! The toxin can stay on surfaces for months. Once the toxin is either absorbed into the skin or washed off, the rash is no longer contagious. Blister fluid does not contain urushiol.

The rash will develop first where the most toxin was deposited, in streaks and patches. It can spread for a week or so to the areas where less toxin landed, then take another two weeks to clear.

If the rash is mild, you can treat it at home with cool compresses, baking soda or oatmeal baths, the same creams you used for those pesky bug bites, and that antihistamine by mouth. See? Grandma was right again.

If the rash is not mild, or your child has it on their face, around their eyes, or on their genitals (and how did that plant get there?) call your doc. We can put them on steroids, which help enormously.

Jellyfish stings

If you harbor a small mermaid or man in your home, she or he may get stung by a jellyfish. There are some extremely dangerous jellyfish, so if your child has any trouble breathing, is weak or nauseated, has pain away from the sting, or has sweating, cramping, or diarrhea, call your doctor immediately.

If it is a simple sting, first remove the barbs by scraping it with a towel or a credit card. Don’t rub. Put suntan oil or salt water and hot sand on the sting; heat will deactivate the poison.

Do NOT wash the sting with fresh water – it will make the nematocysts (poison sacks) explode and release more poison into the skin. Your child will scream and not love you anymore. Put only fluids with lots of particles in them on the sting: sting-away, vinegar or steak sauce, for example. Ibuprofen will also help the pain and inflammation.

Allergic rashes

Last, we see allergic reactions to everything from sunscreen to henna tattoos to jewelry to pool chemicals from fun in the sun. Kids with sensitive skin or eczema will rash out in the summer from the heat, humidity and sweat.

By now you can probably sense a common theme (or you could just ask Grandma): give your itchy red bumpy child a cool bath with mild soap. Moisturize and apply topical steroids or give antihistamines by mouth.

If any of this doesn’t work, call me! It gets lonely in a pediatric office during the summer when all the kids are healthy.