Che, Che, Che, Changes… and Children

Change- just aheadBack-to-school season is the perfect time to think about how change impacts children, how to help them through it, and the positives that come when kids learn to be flexible and resilient.

Humanity is naturally comfortable with routine. We are confident in our ability to get through the day when we have done it all before. We are secure, and safe. We don’t have to particularly think about anything. To varying degrees, we all like to know what to expect–whole books are written about it!

This need for routine and stability is far more pronounced in a child. A toddler has no real sense of time–they live in the moment, and the future is a complete unknown. Older kids may have a better sense of time, but surprises can still incite strong emotion. Teens have so many changes going on already that seemingly small transitions can make them feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Yet change is inevitable, and the pace of change increases every day.  Parents today change jobs and geography more than did any previous generation; divorce is more common; the 24 hour cycle flings news at us continuously from around the planet.

Improvements in technology and rapid changes in our cultures remake our world the minute we turn our backs. So…

How to help children cope with change:

  • Be a good example. If you take things in stride and don’t appear worried or scared, they will imitate your reaction.
  • Build strong relationships. If they know they are loved and secure, a move or loss will not be so overwhelming.
  • Stay Healthy. Eat nutritious food, exercise, and get enough sleep. Everything is easier to deal with if you feel good and are not tired.
  • Warn them that change is coming. Imagine if even something as wonderful as Christmas happened without advance warning. There’s a tree in the living room, Dad is dressed up in a crazy suit, everyone is excited, and all the normal routines are suspended. Scary stuff! Let them know what is coming, and give them time to process.
  • Explain what is happening, and why it is happening, at their developmental level. Answer their questions. Give them information about the changes that are coming, and explore the possibilities. Imagine the good things that could happen as a result of the change as well as the bad and scary stuff.
  • Keep to routines when you can. Morning regimens, family meals, and bedtime routines are the foundation of a good day. Nothing feels safer than snuggling up with someone who loves you and a bedtime story.
  • Allow them their feelings. Don’t discount them. If the thing they are angry about the most with Grandma’s death is that no one will give them Tootsie Rolls anymore, nod solemnly and say you understand.
  • Expect bad behavior. Kids will regress with transitions, and will act out if they feel insecure. Discipline them in exactly the same way you would have before the change, because if they get away with bad behavior it will heighten their anxiety. If they still get a time out for saying that bad word, then things must not be that different. Bad behavior successfully disciplined establishes new borders and validates their security.
  • Let them have an impact on the change. Let them choose some flowers for an event, or the color of their new room for a move. Humans feel better when they have done something, no matter how small. Action shrinks fear.
  • Carve out time every day for a little one-on-one. ‘Nuf said.
  • Allow time for relaxation and fun. Laugh. Listen to music. Renee Jain, MAPP has a few excellent mindfulness activities for children here. I especially like her practice of “dissolving a thought.” Kids can devolve into what is called catastrophic thinking and spiral downward into a place where nothing is right with the world, and nothing ever will be. Mindfulness practice can stop that spiral and bring them back into the moment.
  • Avoid activities that increase stress, like competitive sports or games. This is not the time to play Monopoly. Simplify your schedule, and let things go.

Change is inevitable; learning to deal with it is a necessary skill. Kids who can adapt to new situations are better at everything from learning vocabulary to making friends to succeeding in the workplace.  Being able to manage your emotional responce to change is part of being a grownup. Knowing when to accept change and when to insist that you have an impact creates a fulfilling life. Last, seeing the good that can come from a transition is how you grab an opportunity.

The ability to adapt is one of the things that made humans special since we first started using that opposable thumb. Encourage your kids to learn it.


Domesticated Momster


The Blogger's Pit Stop

Children in the Aftermath of Trauma

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.

The murders in Orlando have taken over our thoughts, our conversations at home and with friends, the internet, and the television waves. Our children are being bombarded by the nightmare in front of the TV at home, in conversations with friends, and with questions asked by their peers. 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 are not within their sight, and worry that it could happen to them sometime, at some other event. What seemed exciting to discuss with friends during the day becomes frightening after the lights go off.

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 own 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 event 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 go to public venues. 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 will suffer. They may regress developmentally: your independent youngsters may become clingy, or need help doing things they had 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, then everything must be OK. 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. It will help to know that you have the power to help and comfort.

The traumatic symptoms may last quite a while. Triggers like parents going out at night or a security guard at a local festival may bring everything back. Fear of it happening again 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 guardians it always will.

Nutrition Facts: What to Grow in a Kid’s Garden

girl with plantIn Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” Plans and projects keep children out of trouble–or at least involve them in safer, more manageable trouble.

What could be better than digging in the dirt and playing in a spray of water on a hot summer day? What more creative than an adventure in the wilds of your back yard? Add in sunshine, fresh air and exercise, and planting a garden becomes the springtime activity of choice.

One of the best ways to coax kids into eating what is good for them is to involve them in its preparation. They are far more likely to eat the lunch they prepared with their own two hands than one you slaved over. If they help you peel and cut up carrots for dinner they will try them, and brag about their contribution while chewing.

Extend this a bit and you reap the miracle of children eating their vegetables because they grew them in their very own garden. They planted the seeds, watched over them, watered them, and cared for them. They will proudly eat the fruits of their labor and proclaim their tastiness.

Children need a variety of vitamins and minerals in order to function and grow, and the best place to get those nutrients, along with carbs for energy and fiber for bowel function, is in fruits and vegetables. Some, like beans and peas, are even excellent sources of protein. Many of them can be grown in small plots or in containers on a porch.

Carrots can be grown easily from seeds bought in your local garden store, and are very high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A helps with eyesight–especially night vision–which is why your mom always told you to eat lots. Watermelon, peas, peppers, beans, and tomatoes also have bunches of Vitamin A.

Tomatoes, peppers, and beans are high in B complex vitamins. B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, thiamine and folic acid are tiny machines that allow your body to function. They help with everything from making blood cells, to generating energy from carbohydrates, to scavenging free radicles and protecting you from cancer.

Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are high in Vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen synthesis and wound healing and is an effective antioxidant. Without Vitamin C, people get scurvy.

Minerals are also easily come by on the plant side of your plate.

Calcium to build strong bones can be found in beans.

Potatoes, beans, corn, and mushrooms are high in iron, which helps carry oxygen around your body.

Potassium, necessary for muscle contraction and to maintain your heart rhythm, is present in potatoes, berries, peas, beans, and peppers.

Essential minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc are all available in fruits and vegetables.

I’ve never seen a child turn down a pea fresh from the pod, or a strawberry plucked from the plant. Find a plant catalogue, pour through it with your child, pay attention to what will grow in your area and how much room the plants need to grow, and choose. Consider what you have room for: will these be container plants on the porch, or can you spare a patch of yard? Do you have space for a tree, or are we looking at a mushroom kit in the closet?

Some of my favorite kid friendly plants are peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, and the ever popular carrot. Melons, pumpkins, and cucumbers are great if you have a little more room. Berries come in all sizes, from tiny strawberry plants fit for containers with pockets down the side, to raspberry vines best grown on trellises, to fat thorny blackberry bushes. Tires can be stacked up and filled with dirt in a tower as potato plants grow, then harvested by taking off one tire at a time.

Growing a few plants allows you to spend time with your children, get some exercise, and build some vitamin D of your own from all that sunshine. Have a conversation about science and nutrition while you are digging in the dirt. Money can be earned and financial lessons taught by naming the watering and weeding of those plants “chores.” Other lessons can be taught without any conversation: responsibility for life, the fruitfulness of hard work, and pride of accomplishment. Don’t miss this opportunity for spring plans and projects!

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

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

Reading Milestones

ROARlogo2-01This week’s blog comes curtesy of the Reach out and Read program.

Reading together is the single most important thing you can do to develop language skills and learning ability in your children, especially between the ages of six months and five years. Nothing will do more to prepare kids to excel in school: reading increases their vocabulary, their understanding of phonics, familiarity with the printed word, storytelling ability, and comprehension. Snuggling up and reading with your children will also help them feel loved and secure; do this at bedtime and it will help them sleep.

All this is before we get to the actual contents of the books!

For tricks on how to read to tiny people, check out my blog on Growing Brains.

Read, love reading, and encourage your children to love reading and their world will open up with possibilities.

The Reach out and Read people have come up with a very neat chart of reading milestones by age, from six months to five years. I thought I should share. Just click on it to make it bigger:

Reading Milestones

Domesticated Momster