How to Have a Stress Free Spring Break

little cute girl near the pool with a circle for swimming

Spring Break! Time for the Family Vacation. So how do you have fun without going insane? I, of course, have my top ten!

10. Pack a simple medicine kit: don’t waste a day of vacation at the doctor’s office, refilling the prescription you forgot at home. Take:

  • any prescription meds your child sometimes needs, even if they haven’t used them in a while (asthma and allergy meds come to mind)
  • frequently used over-the-counter stuff: acetaminophen or ibuprofen, an antihistamine, insect repellant with DEET (the other stuff really doesn’t work, and insect borne encephalitis is unpleasant), sunscreen, and hand sanitizer
  • basic first aid supplies (band aids, gauze pads, tape, antibiotic ointment, cortisone cream, alcohol, tweezers, scissors, thermometer)

9.  Write out a budget before you go. I know, I am a fun sucker, but it has to be done. Know how much money you have and where you plan to spend it. Give the kids an allowance for souvenirs. They will be more careful with money they consider their own, and they will not be constantly asking for things. “Can I have that?” can be answered with “Sure, it’s your money. But are you positive that is where you want to spend it? There might be something better later…” Also, knowing how much you yourself have to spend will save you stress and regret later.

8.  Keep to healthy foods most of the time. (Here I go, sucking out the fun again!) Kids will have more energy, feel better and have a better attitude if they are nourished. And it’s cheaper. Have a basket of fruit available, some whole grain crackers, cheese, peanut butter, popcorn – food with nutrients. Don’t waste valuable vacation time sitting in the drive thru line and arguing over food.

7.  Keep to established routines when you can. Bring along a book for that bedtime story, keep bed time the same, set aside time for their bath. Kids don’t always deal well with change, and vacations are all about change. A few familiar routines will help them feel less stressed. A full night’s sleep is an absolute necessity if you don’t want an emotional wreck for a kid.

6.  Keep an eye on the little ones. You are in a different environment with new dangers. Distractions abound. Kids on vacation get lost, or get into Grandma’s meds or the local pool. Check out my summer safety tips.

5.  Find interesting things to keep their brains busy. Bored kids whine, and then they find their own version of interesting things. Have a stock of books, games and videos for the car. Bring a journal for them to write in, and art supplies. Explore the area you travel to – Google it before you go. See the sights, hit the museums, find the local artists and craftsmen. Check out ideas to abolish summer boredom.

4.  Keep your own mind open to new and different ways of doing things, so that your kids will do the same. Kids internalize their parent’s judgments, and they will close down their minds and wipe possibilities out of their lives if that is the example you set.

3.  Keep them physically active as well. A tired kid is less stressed, sleeps better, and is not sitting around thinking of ways to get into trouble.

2.  Keep stress to a minimum. Use a GPS if you’re driving: arguments with the navigator have ruined many a vacation. Keep your expectations in line with the actual possibilities, to avoid disapointment. Don’t overschedule – leave time for that relaxing hike and to have a conversation over dinner. Stay within your budget – your hindbrain will know you are overspending and your stress will mount. Stressed out people snap at each other and cannot enjoy time or family.

1.  Align your vacation with your priorities, then toss out the rest. What are the goals of this vacation? Relaxation, family time, memories, enrichment, joy? Plan the vacation and activities that will get you there, and don’t let exhaustion, stress, and fear get in your way. Don’t stop at Uncle Joe’s house if you know he will stress you out; don’t vacation with those friends who overspend or forget to pay their half of the bill. Don’t worry if the kids are getting dirty or if your Aunt Judy wouldn’t approve. Just say no, open up, and relax.

And have a fantastic vacation!

Fever is Good. Really.

sick kid-01In about 400 BC, Hippocrates said “Give me the power to create a fever, and I shall cure any disease.” Hippocrates knew that fever was a symptom of disease, not the disease itself. It is the body’s response to illness-its defense against infection.

It’s 2400 years later, and I still spend my days telling people that fever is good, we want fever, fever means that our child’s immune system is working… Fever rules!

A normal human oral temperature is between 97.6 and 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5 – 38.3 Centigrade). Rectal temps are about a degree higher, axillary and ear temps about a degree lower. Temperatures vary by about a degree through the day, increase when you exercise, and vary from person to person.

The most common cause of fever is infection, but there are other causes: illicit drug use (amphetamines and cocaine), medicine side effects, brain trauma, heat stroke, cancer, vaccine reactions, hyperthyroidism, and inflammatory diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel disease. Most of the non-infectious causes give a persistent fever, while fever from infection generally gets better after 3-5 days.

Note that teething was not on that list. Teething can increase a baby’s body temp a little, but not to the point of fever.

Pediatricians define fever as a rectal temp above 100.4 F. Random, but it works as a general rule of thumb.

We get fever when a part of the brain called the hypothalamus is triggered by “pyrogens,” which cause release of prostaglandin E2. Prostaglandin E2 resets the hypothalamus to a higher temperature, like the thermostat in a house. This causes peripheral blood vessels to constrict (thus your munchkins cold hands), generation of more heat, and shivering (small muscle constriction to generate even more heat).

Fever works to fight infection in a variety of ways. High temperatures:

  • Limit the spread of a virus (like the common cold),  by blocking that virus’s ability to explode the cells in which it has been multiplying to spread further throughout your body.
  • Hinder a bacteria (like strep throat)’s ability to divide and make more bacteria.
  • White blood cells, the cells that fight infection, move around better with a fever.
  • White blood cells also chomp on bacteria better with that high temp (phagocytosis).
  • Toxins produced by bacteria don’t work as effectively with a fever.
  • T-cells, which also fight infection, proliferate better.

Fever is good.

There are doctors who will tell people that they should never treat a fever. I, however, am in the “treat for comfort” camp. Fever generally makes kids feel tired (not always a bad thing), fussy, and can make them feel cold. It is uncomfortable and can burn off a lot of fluid at a time when we want our children to stay hydrated. A rapid change in temperature in a young child (6 months to about 5 years) can cause a febrile seizure. If your child is miserable, not drinking as much as you would like, or in pain from a sore throat or headache, acetaminophen or ibuprofen will help him or her to feel better.

Brain damage occurs with temperatures above 108 F (42 C), with things like anesthesia reactions and heat stroke. Only in Hollywood do you get brain damage from a common illness with a 104 F  temperature.

Normal childhood viral infections like colds and gastroenteritis generally trigger fevers in the 99 F to 104 F range. Fevers tend to go up a little in the morning, improve during the day, and spike higher at night. That 103 temperature that improves during the day but then spikes at 10 PM is actually pretty reassuring, because that is the classic viral fever curve. Kids generally get better on their own with rest, fluids, and time.

Bacterial infections, like strep throat, pneumonia, or sepsis, are more serious and sometimes need treatment with antibiotics. They classically give fever all day long, rather than in that morning and evening viral pattern. They are accompanied by symptoms specific to the source of the infection, like lethargy, breathing problems, sore throat, earache, or pain with urination.

So, when to worry? Your doc will want to see any baby under 3 months with a fever, because their immune systems are inexperienced at that age. We like to see kids with 104 F temperatures or fevers that persist longer than 3 nights, just to make sure there isn’t anything bad going on. Call us if your munchkin has trouble breathing, lethargy, inconsolable irritability, an earache, or pain with urination. We like to see kids with fever if they have compromised immune systems or serious medical problems. We like to see kids with fever caused by heat stroke rather than infection.

Never throw them into a cool bath or rub them down with alcohol, because fever seizures are caused by a rapid change in temperature, not by the actual height of the temperature. It is safe to give a child a tepid bath about an hour after they have a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, because the medicine will keep the temperature from bouncing back up.

Never give aspirin to kids because it has been linked to Reye’s syndrome.

And if you’re worried, call your pediatrician. It’s what we’re here for.

Domesticated Momster

8 Easy Ways to Prevent Childhood Cancer

Cute girl of school age in superhero costume

More than 9000 kids get cancer in the US every year (about 1 in 450). The most common are leukemias, lymphomas, and brain tumors, but there are many different kinds. If you would like up to date numbers, the  AAP has them here.

Cancer is a group of more than 100 diseases caused by the cells in a person’s body multiplying out of control. Cancer is separated into different types depending on what sort of cell it originated from (blood, brain, lung…) and if it invaded nearby body parts (a tumor) or spread to other organs (metastasis). That might be a smidge simplified, but you get the idea.

Your children’s genes, the DNA they inherit from you, influence their risk of cancer–not something you can change. But lifestyle and environment also influence their risk, and there you can have an impact.

That impact includes not only your kid’s exposures in childhood, but also the example they see in your behavior and the habits you establish that will carry forward into their adult lives. What you teach them in childhood can protect them throughout their lives.

What to do to lower your child’s risk of getting cancer:

  1. First, the obvious one: don’t use tobacco, and don’t allow anyone else to smoke around your kids. I know, easier said than done, but an estimated four out of five cancers are caused by tobacco. The poisons in tobacco damage DNA, increasing the incidence of 14 different cancers including lung, some leukemias, voice box, throat, liver, kidney… Secondhand smoke alone increases cancer risk by 25%. The sidestream smoke off the burning end of a cigarette has 3 times the carbon monoxide, 10 times the nitrosamines and hundreds of times the ammonia of exhaled smoke. Add to this that if you smoke, your child’s chances of becoming a daily addicted smoker increase by 25 times, boosting their risk even more. Just don’t. No excuse is good enough.
  2. Also well known: protect them from sunburns to prevent skin cancer. Use at least SPF15 and reapply through the day. Seek shade during peak hours. Stick a hat on their head that shades their face, and a pair of sunglasses on their nose.
  3. Feed them a healthy diet with lots of fiber, fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed meats and an overabundance of red meat and salt. A healthy diet helps your body remove harmful chemicals, prevent and repair damage to DNA, and block the formation of cancer causing chemicals. A less healthy diet has been linked to breast, mouth, esophagus and GI cancers.
  4. Encourage exercise. Exercise stabilizes levels of hormones like estrogen and insulin that have been linked to cancer. An active lifestyle decreases the incidence of breast, bowel, and uterine cancers.
  5. Keep them at a healthy body weight. Fatty tissue produces hormones that influence the way cells grow. Cell overgrowth is at the root of cancers. Obesity has been linked to breast cancer, esophageal and bowel cancers, and liver, kidney, pancreas and uterine cancers.
  6. Limit their exposure to chemicals. Indoor pesticides have recently been shown to  increase children’s risk of leukemia by 47%. Be aware of the chemicals you might be exposed to at your job, wear appropriate safety gear, and don’t bring poisons home on your clothes–cancer causing chemicals such as arsenic, benzene, and asbestos are still used in industry. Check the use instructions (do they need to be used in a well ventilated area?) and ingredients in the products you do use at home. You can check for harmful ingredients in household products at nih.gov. Store household chemicals such as cleaners, paints, degreasers, and strippers safely high up and locked away.
  7. In the “be a good example” category: limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases the amount of cancer causing chemicals in your body, and affects hormone levels. It also amplifies the toxic effects of tobacco. Drinking alcohol increases your risk of breast, mouth, throat and bowel cancers.
  8. Avoid certain kinds of infections. Infection can increase cancer risk by causing chronic inflammation and suppressing the immune system. Hep B increases your kid’s risk, so get them the vaccine, and teach them to avoid iv drugs and indiscriminate sex. Be careful with tattoos: Hep C also increases risk, and 41% of it comes from tattoos. Helicobactor pylori  increases cancer risk–doctors look for it with reflux disease, gastritis and ulcers.  Human Papillomavirus  works by causing cells to divide rapidly (hence the appearance of a wart). We lose 4000 women to preventable cervical cancer yearly, and the incidence of oral cancers due to HPV is increasing dramatically. The CDC recently announced that the vaccine has decreased the incidence of HPV in teens by 2/3. Get your child the HPV vaccine when he or she hits 11 or 12.

Cancer risk factors seem to hit the hardest when a baby is still in the womb, and in adolescence when their bodies are rapidly growing and changing, so these are the times when a parent can absolutely have an effect in preventing cancer.

A healthy lifestyle stacks the deck in your child’s favor, dramatically decreasing their odds of getting cancer. Protect them from cancer causing sunburns and poisons, get those vaccines, establish good habits, and be a good example. There is no down side to a healthy diet, regular exercise, and limiting their exposure to toxins, and it may increase their chances of hanging around for a while.

Domesticated Momster

Lead, and the Children of Flint

Toddler-Playing-With-A-Chair-01In April of 2014 politicians in Flint, Michigan changed the city’s water supply from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River, in order to save money. The water from the Flint River was more acidic and had more salt and chlorine in it, and it corroded the aging lead pipes through which it flowed, allowing lead into the water and poisoning the inhabitants of Flint.

The EPA allows 15 ppm (parts per million) of lead in drinking water. Water from homes in Flint tested as high as 13.2 thousand ppm. Lead levels in children’s blood doubled, then doubled again.

Nontombi Naomi Tutu said we “needed the people of Flint to remind the people of this country what happens when political expediency, when financial concerns, overshadow justice and humanity.”

Why do we worry about Lead?

Lead is a soft gray heavy metal that functions in our bodies as a neurotoxin–it poisons nerves. Acute lead poisoning causes headaches, stomach pain, clumsiness, agitation or drowsiness, convulsions and death.

Chronic lead poisoning is more insidious. Lead is most harmful to infants, children and pregnant woman, because it damages developing nerves. Kids who are poorly nourished will be more affected because deficiencies in iron, calcium and zinc increase their body’s absorption of lead. Babies are more at risk because they live closer to floors and surfaces and everything goes into their mouths. Exposed children:

  • can lose cognitive function and develop speech and reading problems.
  • can be unable to focus and organize their thoughts, and exhibit behavior problems.
  • have a higher school dropout rate, problems with aggression, and a higher rate of delinquency.
  • can have damage to their hearing.
  • will have problems growing because lead messes with their ability to use Vitamin D and iron.
  • become anemic, which leaves them less able to transport oxygen around their bodies.
  • can cause damage to their kidneys, giving them lifelong problems with hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Where is lead found?

When I was a kid we wrote with lead pencils and had lead in our gasoline!

Nowadays, lead is used in some industries, found in deteriorating lead paint in old houses, and leached out of old lead water pipes and pipes with lead solder. We also occasionally run into it in old toys, old Christmas decorations, and jewelry, and in toys, ceramics and cans imported from other countries. Cosmetics such as surma and kohl can have lead, as can some home remedies and dietary supplements. A few years ago there were crayons with lead in them. The manufacturer said, “Kids weren’t supposed to eat them!”

Ideally, we prevent lead poisoning.

  • If you work in an industry that uses lead, take off your shoes when you enter your home.
  • Don’t give your kids old toys and jewelry to chew on.
  • If you have lead pipes in your home, run the water for 30 seconds before you use any of it to drink or cook, because lead will gradually leach from the pipes it is sitting in. Never drink or cook with water run hot from the tap–hot water leaches out more lead.
  • If you live in an old house, clean up peeling paint and household dust with a wet mop.
  • Check for lead paint before any home renovations.
  • If you have well water, test it for lead. Most well filters do remove lead.
  • Give your child a nutritious diet to avoid deficiencies in iron, calcium, and zinc.

Treatment for Lead Poisoning:

Pediatricians generally check children’s lead levels at 12 months and sometimes 2 years, and any time there is concern.

Treatment of lead poisoning varies with how high the level is.

Between 5 and 45 mcg/dl, treatment involves finding and eliminating the source and optimizing the child’s nutrition. Levels as low as 5 mcg/dl have been shown to have lasting effects on children, but chelation therapy at these levels has not been proven to have any effect on kids’ cognitive ability or behavior.

Kids with levels over 45 mcg/dl need to be treated with chelating agents, which can be quite dangerous. Chelators bind the metal in the blood and improve its excretion into urine and stool. Unfortunately chelators also bind minerals that your child’s body needs for normal growth and development. Also, kids can be allergic to the chelators, and the medicine can damage their liver or kidneys.

Far better to prevent the exposure.

I do not have words for how horribly the people of Flint were betrayed by their elected officials.

Some resources if you have concerns:

  • EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline  800-426-4791
  • Poison Control 800-222-1222
  • Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit Network (PEHSU) 888-347-2632

 

Domesticated Momster

Zika Virus and the Brain of the Unborn

Aedes mosquito-01The Zika virus was first isolated from a Rhesus Macaque monkey in 1947 in the Zika Forest in Uganda (zika meaning “overgrown” in the Luganda language–gotta love useless trivia!); it was first isolated from a human in 1954 in Nigeria. It appeared sporadically along the equator in Africa and Asia for several decades until it spread to French Polynesia in 2013 and then to Latin America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and now the US.

Illness from Zika was rare until the pandemic began in 2007. The illness it caused was mild and self-limited until October 2015, when we began to see babies with microcephaly (very small brains) born to mothers who had been infected while pregnant. New evidence shows that these babies may also have eye abnormalities that will  effect their vision.

There have now been more than 1500 cases of microcephaly in Brazil; in the most severe areas the incidence has been as high as 1:100 births.  On August 15, 2016 a state of emergency was declared in Puerto Rico, where they now have 10,690 confirmed Zika cases, including 1,035 pregnant women. Currently, more than 500 pregnant women in the US have shown evidence of a possible Zika infection.

Symptoms

Zika is a flavivirus related to Dengue, Chikungunya, and West Nile encephalitis. It is transmitted by several species of Aedes mosquitos which can, after biting an infected human, infect another person. Transmission has also been reported through blood transfusions and sexual contact.

The newly infected person may not have any symptoms at all, or may develop symptoms of illness within 2 weeks: fever, a bumpy red rash, sore joints, and pink eye. Less common symptoms include aching muscles, headache, and vomiting. The illness itself is usually mild and self limited.

Treatment

There is no preventative vaccine available yet and no treatment, other than pushing fluids, resting, and treating the symptoms with acetaminophen (Tylenol). The ill person should not take aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or naproxen (Aleve) until Dengue fever is ruled out, to avoid the risk of bleeding.

Where is it?

As of now, local transmission has been reported in more than 50 countries and territories. Current recommendations are that women who are pregnant, especially in their first trimester, do not travel to any of these areas. If they have to travel, they should do what they can to protect themselves from mosquito bites: wear long pants and long sleeved shirts, preferably treated with permethrin insect repellant; sleep in air conditioned rooms, screened in areas or with permethrin treated mosquito nets; and wear insect repellant, because these mosquitos are active during the daytime.

If you do travel to these areas and develop the symptoms of Zika after returning home, pregnant or not, see your doctor. Avoid mosquitos for the first few days, so that you will not be the source of spreading infection.

Men who have had Zika should use barriers during sex for at least 6 months after the infection; women for 8 weeks. Use of a barrier is recommended for at least 8 weeks after travel to endemic areas even if you have no symptoms.

As of today, we have had 1962 confirmed cases of the infection in the US, with 413 in Florida. Twenty eight of those were caught from local mosquitos. We have the Aedes mosquito along our southern coast and in southern California.

Prevention

In all likelihood the same measures we used to contain Denque in the US will contain Zika, but its spread is still possible. Taking precautions is certainly sensible.

  • Get rid of standing, stagnant water.
  • Clean up piles of garbage, because mosquitos love to breed in trash.
  • Put up or repair your window screens.
  • Spray.

Another possibility to limit spread of the infection is releasing GMO mosquitos with a lethal gene, to decrease the population of the bugs. When this was done in the Caman Islands the mosquito population decreased by 80%.

If you are pregnant, stay out of the endemic areas when possible. Take sensible precautions: clean up standing water and trash, put up or repair window screens, and wear insect repellant.

And keep an eye out for current recommendations from public health officials, because the places and numbers change daily.

 

Domesticated Momster

What’s the Deal With GMOs?

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

“GMOs” are genetically modified organisms.

Humans have been genetically modifying organisms since we stood upright and developed our big brains. We originally did it by selective breeding. That’s why my Golden Retrievers have that long, beautiful–constantly shedding–golden fur, why broccoli exists, and why that ear of corn you munch on isn’t 2 inches long. We pick the animal or vegetable with traits we want, and we breed or plant those rather than the ones with traits we do not want.

What is different now is that we can modify at the level of the organism’s DNA. We can take the gene for the trait we want and insert it into the DNA of the animal or plant to create an entirely new organism with the preferred traits.

The first genetically modified mouse was bred in 1981; the first genetically modified plant in 1983. Since then, GMOs have taken off. Between 1996 and 2013 GMO crops increased by 100%. Recent stats estimate that 10% of the worlds croplands are planted with GMOs. 94% of the soybeans, 96% of the cotton, and 93% of the corn grown today are GMOs.

Concerns about GMOs include unease about GMO’s effect on the environment and the economy of farmers, and worries about the safety of food products.

Environmental worries arise because GMOs are created to be more herbicide and insect resistant, give a higher yield, have more nutrients, and be more drought resistant. The non-GMO varieties can’t compete economically. Farmers have to grow the improved variety in order to survive. Then, if all of the wheat in an area is one variety, and something evolves that kills that variety, we have a problem. We have placed all of our eggs in one basket.

Another worry is that the GMOs are created and owned. To get them you have to buy from the company that did the work to create them. How do you compete if you can’t afford their product? If there is drift from their fields into yours (pollen travels) have you stolen something?

Will we use more poisonous herbicides because our new plants aren’t hurt by them?

Health concerns generally arise because the science behind the creation of GMOs is pretty extreme. We imagine scientists creating zombie corn that will poison our children. Corn grown on a plant that is more resistant to drought is still corn, with no difference nutritionally. Extra nutrients developed into a GMO plant are thoroughly tested and approved before they can be sold.

The one real issue when food crops are developed with new proteins is that kids with allergies may be effected. The FDA requires proof of safety when foods that are commonly allergic (milk, eggs, wheat, fish, tree nuts, and legumes) are affected. All of our safety standards still apply.

The positives of GMOs are my happy place, as a certified geek.

  • GMOs can produce food in areas of the world that are less fertile or have problems with insects, so children who might otherwise starve will have food. Those foods can also be developed to resist spoilage.
  • Food can be grown that is more packed with nutrients. For example, a tomato might be developed that has protein to help develop strong muscles.
  • Scientists have developed bacteria that produce biofuels that are safer for the environment.
  • A breed of pig now exists that can digest phosphorus, thus decreasing water pollution and overgrowth of algae.
  • Bacteria can produce chemicals that do everything from clot milk to make cheese, to break down starch to make sugar.
  • Bacteria have been developed that produce human proteins. Previously, insulin came from pigs, and diabetics could become allergic to the medicine they needed to stay alive. We can now treat children with hemophilia with clotting factors that do not make it likely that they will, in the end, die of AIDs. We can produce human growth factor to treat some forms of dwarfism. Research is being done that may produce treatments for kids with cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease, and many forms of cancer.
  • A goat exists now that produces ATryn, an anticoagulant that decreases the chance of having a blood clot during childbirth, in its milk.
  • Scientists are developing animals that have organs that are compatible with human biology. This sounds questionable right up to the point where your child needs a lung transplant.
  • One I find particularly elegant: Scientists produced a male mosquito with a lethal gene, and released it in the Cayman Islands in 2010. The particular breed of mosquito was one that carried Dengue fever, and they decreased the population of that mosquito by 80%. Wouldn’t it be lovely if they could do that with the mosquito that carries the Zika virus–the one that is causing babies brains to not grow in utero?

In the end, GMOs are here to stay. There is no possible way to remove them from the planet even if we chose to. We enjoy the products of GMOs every day without even knowing geeks were involved, and the future possibilities are truly amazing. Gene therapy can cure diseases like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, diabetes and cancer. Transplantable organs can come from pigs rather than dead children. Biofuels to help the environment–the possibilities are endless.

Opponents are pushing for products to be labeled so that consumers can choose, but even that is next to impossible to implement. A growing number of products contain one or more ingredient from a GMO. How many products have corn oil or syrup? Where do you draw the line–if a food product was grown on a farm near a field with a GMO product, and was possibly cross pollinated, might it not be considered a GMO?

Certainly we need to monitor the science to make sure what it does is ethical and safe, but we do that every day in medicine and science, under the watchful eyes of the Department of Agriculture and the FDA.

What matters is that the food is available, safe, and nutritious. Junk food, sodas, and pesticides on your fruit are a much larger problem. A GMO apple is, nutritionally, an apple.

Domesticated Momster

How to Play with a Two Year Old

toddler with toy-01Two year old’s are different. They are too big to carry around and talk at, but too little to hit a ball with a stick. Games don’t work because they can’t understand the rules: they have more fun throwing game pieces in the air or sorting them into like colors or shapes, than they would moving them around a board.

Before you hang out with a two year old it is useful to understand their world view.

In a two year old’s mind, they are the center of the universe with the whole world revolving around them, for their amusement alone. They are just beginning to see themselves as separate people, and just starting to enjoy the company of other children. Everything that happens has to be caused by something they did, because what else is there? They are not terribly clear on what is reality and what is fantasy.

This world view is part of the reason they don’t understand when things do not go their way, or when people leave or die.

Developmentally, a two year old is beginning to think. They can form concepts in their minds. Where before they learned by touching, seeing, and manipulating objects, now they can form images in their brains and work through scenarios to solve problems. They begin to understand cause and effect.

As part of this thinking thing, they sometimes try out independence and defiance.

Separation anxiety also shows up here because they can now understand that when you walk away you are going somewhere else, away from them, with no surety that you will ever come back.

Physical skills are, of course, a big part of play. A two year old should be walking well and beginning to run. They should be able to carry a toy or pull one behind them. They can kick a ball, although not well. They like to pour things out of containers, and can build towers of about 4 blocks.

Language development is also important in play.  A two year old can usually point to things you name, repeat words after you, and speak in simple phrases. He or she can follow simple instructions (not game rules).

So, given this brain, how to play with them?

First, get down at their level and look them in the eye. Listen to them. Then prepare to be drug around by a finger and told what to do, because a two year old likes to be in charge. She will be most interested in toys that challenge her or teach her something new, as long as they are not beyond her abilities. He will want to imitate his grown-ups or his older siblings. They will want to act out action sequences: first put the baby doll in the chair, then feed it, then it’s time for a bath. They like to sort things by shape and color. And last, they want to be told how wonderful they are when they figure something out.

Every bit of play is a learning opportunity and a chance to develop their self confidence.

One warning: a two year old has a very shaky understanding of cause and effect, and does not yet learn from experience. He or she will do again that action that hurt them the first time–which explains why they keep putting things up their noses. They have yet to learn self control, and have little experience with anger. They need constant supervision because they are physically capable of doing some very scary things, and not mentally capable of understanding injury and death.

So hold out that finger, and prepare to be drug around and dictated to. Enjoy being invited into the center of their universe. You’ll miss it when they are 13 and want to pretend you do not exist.

Dometicated Momster

The Kid’s Menu: Food Marketing to Children

Kids Menu Title Text

Happy New Year! If you resolved to feed your munchkins a healthier diet (yay!), you need to know that purveyors of fast food are not on your side. Their success depends on your failure, and they have bigger wallets than you do.

Knowledge is power, so some facts about fast food advertising from the Rudd Center:

  • In 2012, 4.6 billion dollars was spent on fast food advertising. That is a hard number for me to get my brain around. 4.6 billion dollars will buy 920 million kid’s meals: 33,000 lifetimes worth of daily happy meals. Imagine the profit that must be generated to make spending that amount of money reasonable. These people are not your friends.
  • Fewer than 1% of kid’s meals (33 out of 5427)  met USDA nutrition standards.
  • Only 3% of kid’s meals met the industry’s own standards.

Fast food was traditionally advertised in print, on TV and radio, and on billboards. Add on product placement and packaging (that attractive box is not at small-hand-reaching-from-cart-distance by accident). Pile on celebrity endorsements and the use of popular characters (Spongebob Squarepants Fruit Snacks anyone?)

Newer methods embrace social media, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Americans spent an estimated 121 billion minutes–a total of 230,213 years–on social media in 2012. Where better to find a potential customer?

Social media sites entice with advergames, contests, points to redeem, and free downloads; if your child subscribes to or follows a YouTube or Twitter site he or she is volunteering to be sent endless “opportunities,” with ads on the side. They recruit their users (your children) to “share” and “invite” friends to participate on the websites–free word of mouth advertising! The star of social media is Facebook, but it comes with 6 billion fast food ads–19% of the total ads on the site.

Advertisers hire brilliant marketers to design attractive logos which grab the attention of potential customers. Food stylists make their options look better than they ever do in reality. Ads hint at advantages beyond the food: “Live every day with love” with Ne-Yo at McDonalds, or have cool friends with applewood smoked “bacon teens” at Wendy’s. They suggest health benefits and a happier, more carefree life. They bait with prices that will feed your children more cheaply than the grocery store, until you switch to higher priced items at the counter.

McDonalds alone spends almost three times the dollars on advertisements than all of the fruit, vegetable, water, and milk producers combined.

Children’s advocates fight to decrease fast food advertisements aimed at children, and increase ads for nutritious foods. We fight to have most of the kid’s options healthy, not just the current average of 2%. We work to make fast food restaurants default to a healthy option (apples and milk, rather than fries and soda), and keep those healthy options affordable. We have made inroads, but the struggle is a mountain and profit motive is a mudslide.

Fast food ads have presence in your child’s life. They are unavoidable. Your children will see them and will want what they are selling.

We have absolutely no evidence that media literacy in any way defends against the effectiveness of advertisements. None. Knowing that they are trying to sell you something that is bad for you does not keep you from wanting it. You may not remember that you can “live every day with love” with Ne-Yo, but you will get a bit of a lift when you see that bright red and gold sign. We are grown ups, and we fall for the ads. We cannot expect more of our children than we do of ourselves.

In the end, it comes down to committing to do the right thing, and then acting on that commitment:

  • Clean out your cupboards and throw out all the junk.
  • Make a meal plan for the week before you shop.
  • Shop with a list made from that meal plan.
  • Shop at farmer’s markets and around the outer rim of the grocery store. Avoid the aisles unless there is something on your list that is on that aisle.
  • Prepare meals ahead for busy nights, so that you don’t end up in that line at the fast food restaurant.
  • Keep healthy snack food available to hand: fruits and veggies, whole grain crackers, cheese, popcorn… Throw out the chips and snack cakes.
  • Eat the food you bought, at home, with your kids, at the table and with the TV off. So much better than the fast food line with your kids bickering in the back seat!

Most importantly, be consistent.

Remember that “never” is much easier for a child to understand and deal with than “sometimes.” If you never stop at the drive through and never buy junk food, after the first two weeks your kids will rarely ask, even though they saw that yummy advertisement a dozen times and really wanted to try those fruit snacks.

If you sometimes give in, they will ask until your ears bleed. Pestering is powerful when you’re tired and stressed.

You can do this. They have 4.6 billion dollars on their side, but you have love for your children and the responsibility they handed you with that warm sweet bundle. You win.

Domesticated Momster

Parenting: Top Ten Transforming New Year’s Resolutions

storkHappy New Year! Time for those resolutions. This year, instead of resolving to lose that last ten pounds or eat more veggies (although I will applaud you if you do), resolve to do the best job at parenting. The reward is so much bigger than going down a clothing size! So, my Top 10 Amazing New Year’s Parenting Resolutions:

I will henceforth…

10. Require chores. Equal participation is fundamental to receive the reward of being in a family. The pride your child feels serving the carrots he helped peel is well worth the time it takes to get him to do it. Every member of the family contributes, to the best of their ability. Family bonds and trust will form over the raking of leaves.

9.   Make rules, and enforce them consistently. Rules keep kids safe, teach them right from wrong, and civilize them. Make sure your child understands the rules, and every single adult in his life needs to enforce every rule each and every time, the first time it is broken. No “warnings,” because you made sure ahead of time that they understood the rule. Decide what the consequence will be for a broken rule long before you need to do it; make the punishment appropriate for the crime (timeout? loss of the toy? paying for the damage?).

8.   Feed my munchkin a healthy diet: whole foods that look like they either grew out of the ground or walked on it (I know, but not everyone is a vegetarian). Teach your children to eat when they’re hungry, and stop eating when they’re not hungry anymore. Aim for about half fruits and vegies and about half protein (meat, eggs, cheese, beans or nuts) and starch (potatoes, bread, pasta, corn). Everything else will be easier if they are well nourished.

7.   Keep a regular sleep schedule – both enough hours and at about the same time every day – as much as possible. Kids who are short on sleep are irritable, tired and have no attention span. Everything else will be easier if he or she has had enough sleep.

6.   Keep them safe when I can. There are lots of surprises out there to keep life interesting; there is no need to risk the preventable injuries. Use those seat belts and bike helmets, lock up the household poisons, guns and Grandma’s meds, and get those vaccines.

5.   Teach financial responsibility. Spend less than you make, stay out of debt, and save for the future. Do it where they can see you and explain what you are doing. Go through your budget with them in an age appropriate way, and feel free to say, “We can’t afford that.” Give them an allowance for those chores and require that they save some.

4.   Not wear blinders. Your primary job is to protect this child, even if it is sometimes from themselves. Children will lie, take things that are not theirs, and sneak out at night when they are 14. You need to catch them so that they learn that it doesn’t work. If they get caught stealing at 7, they have an embarrassing memory of having to go back and pay for what they took. If they get caught at 25, they land in jail and loose their job, partner, and children.

3.   Give them love without condition the child you have, not the one you dreamed they would be. Love is not a prize you can give when your child is good, and take away when they do not live up to your expectations. Without the absolute faith that no matter what happens or what horrible thing they do you will still love them, the foundation on which they build their life will by shaky and unstable. You chose to have them; unconditional love was part of the deal.

2.   Nurture my child’s unique talents and abilities; don’t try to fit the ones you want them to have on their unsuitable frame. This little person is an original – why would you want to shove him or her into a standard form? And what irreplaceable gifts would be forever lost because you did not value them? Respect the exceptional person that he or she is.

1.   Inspire them with myown life. Be what you hope for them. Find work you love, maintain a healthy relationship with your partner, eat a healthy diet, and exercise. Learn something new every day. Never lie. Give respect, and demand it for yourself. Keep an open mind, explore the world and grab opportunities when they happen by. Make your children proud.

Top Ten Holiday Poisonings

Cute kid girl in glasses thinking about gift on Christmas holiday. Vintage portrait

or, “how to avoid visiting the Doc during the Holidays”:

  1. Tiny magnets: These aren’t really poisonous but they can get stuck in noses and ears, choked on or swallowed. Keep track of the big kid’s toys so I don’t have to make the little one cry digging something out of his or her ear. Worse, magnets that are choked on or swallowed can require surgery to remove. Two magnets in the gut will stick to each other and wear through the bowel wall.
  2. Button batteries: Same problems as above, plus they can leak and cause burns, eating holes through the bowel that can be fatal.
  3. Grandma’s meds: These are on countertop at her home, and sitting in her unattended purse when she is visiting yours. This is the most common poisoning that I see. Other people’s meds also count, of course.
  4. Household poisons: Both the usual suspects (cleaning products, bug sprays) and the holiday specific (liquid fuels) are more available and less monitored in the holiday craziness. Lock ’em up.
  5. Food: Avoid potato salad that was made on the counter where they just cleaned the chicken. Return leftover food to the refrigrerator quickly. Wash those hands! Pick up and throw out unfinished drinks–kids can drop their blood sugar and fall into a coma with a relatively small amount of alcohol. Throw away cigarette butts, because kids eat them and the poisons in cigarettes can actually throw small people into a seizure. (And we inhale these things on purpose. Blech.) Add e-cigarette refills to this list for the last couple of years. 1/2 tsp can kill a child.
  6. Decorations: It’s actually pretty hard to poison anybody with holiday décor. Antique items will sometimes have lead, so don’t let the little guy eat the metalics. Don’t breath in the spray snow, because it has either acetone or methylene chloride in it. And don’t hit Uncle Joe with that branch, no matter how tempting….
  7. Plants: Poinsettias are not poisonous. Promise. Neither is Christmas cactus. Holly berries, mistletoe berries and peace lily berries are, as are bittersweet and boxwood.
  8. Smoke and carbon monoxide: Very poisonous. Live trees and decorations can be dry and fires, candles and space heaters abound. Keep your eyes open and your smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries fresh.
  9. Mind numbing toys: Boycott toys that don’t engage your children’s minds. Look for toys that they can create with, explore with, or build with. I know this is not strictly a poison, but it’s my list, so I can bend the rules. So,…
  10. Poisonous soul numbing holiday insanity: Back up and take a breath before you spend money you don’t have on stuff you don’t need. Defeat stress and exhaustion with a healthy diet, exercise and regular sleep. Celebrate your heritage, enjoy your family and friends and create joyful memories. Ditch the rest.