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.

8 Tips to Prevent Dog Bites

Happy little girl with her mastiff dog on a meadow in summer dayThe first blog in this series was 6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet. Then came the various Ways Pets Can Make Your Kids Sick, and what to do about them. Last week was How to Raise a Puppy You Will Like as a Dog.

Today’s blog is the last of the series: How to Prevent Bites. Whether or not you have a dog, it is a good idea to teach your kids how to behave around them in order to prevent bites.

Stats:

There are about 800,000 dog bites requiring medical attention annually in the United States; about ten per year are fatal. Of the fatal attacks, 92 percent are by male dogs, 94 percent of which are not neutered. One in four is chained up. The particular breeds that bite vary with where you live and what breeds are popular at the time. In many areas, bites from pit bulls predominate. In Denver, where pit bulls are banned, the majority of bites are from German shepherds. In Canada, bites are more likely to be from sled dogs and Huskies.

Restricting specific breeds doesn’t work because the people are the problem, not the dogs. Unfortunately, there will always be people who want aggressive, vicious dogs. Many states have laws that hold the dog owner responsible for the dog’s actions. These are more effective, but they are not on the books everywhere and are difficult to enforce.

The typical dog bite victim is a boy, aged five to nine. Dog bites are 370 times more likely when there is no adult supervision; 88 percent of dog bite deaths of children less than two years of age are children who were not supervised. Half of these are attacks by the family dog.

Never leave a baby or a young child alone with a dog.

Kids don’t naturally speak dog; we need to teach them!

  • Rule number one is that they never approach a strange dog, particularly one that is chained up. Chaining dogs stresses them and makes them feel vulnerable. When your child approaches them, they are invading the dog’s territory, which they feel they are unable to adequately protect while they are chained.
  • The same problem occurs when small hands are stuck through fences – another don’t.
  • Teach your kids to stay away from dogs that are eating, protecting toys, or nursing puppies – dogs are protective of what is theirs. Even the sweetest bitch will snap at a strange human who approaches her puppies.
  • Never disturb a strange dog while it is sleeping.
  • If a dog is safely restrained and with its human, kids should ask permission before they pet it. They should approach calmly and hold out their hand in a closed fist. If the dog sniffs it and wags its tail, they can scratch it under the chin—not on top of its head. They should not curl their body over the dog; if they stay in front of the dog where it can see all of them it will feel less threatened.
  • If they squat down in front of a dog they are saying, “Come play with me.”
  • If they run from the dog, they are saying, “Chase me!”
  • Teach your kids to stand tall with their shoulders down and chins up. They should speak calmly and quietly, and move slowly. Dogs have been around humans for a very long time and are very good at reading us, and to them this stance means “alpha.” If someone else is alpha then the dog can relax.

As always, dogs are great for teaching life lessons. Kids who stand tall, respect other living creatures, and know how to be calm and take charge do well in real life.

 

How to Raise a Puppy You Will Like as a Dog

Cute girl and her dog friend

The first blog in this series was 6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family. Last week’s was about the various ways pets can make your kids sick, and what to do about them. Since the most common pet by far is the dog, this week’s blog is all about how to raise a dog that will be a joy to have as a member of the family.

Your Own Dog

It is more than possible to raise a dog of your own that doesn’t have bad habits or bite. First, consider your choice carefully. There are sites on the Internet that will allow you to select characteristics like size, energy level, or amount of grooming needed for different breeds. The AKC has one such search engine; Animal Planet has another. If your children are young and crazy, you might do better with a mellow dog rather than one with a lot of energy. The same is true if the dog won’t get much exercise.

If you would consider a rescue, there are thousands of animals in rescue that need families. If you have a specific breed in mind, there are rescue agencies that specialize in most breeds. Many wonderful animals of all ages and types lose their families through no fault of their own, especially during an economic downturn or after a natural disaster.

If you decide you want to buy from a breeder, be careful to avoid puppy mills. Never buy from a pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who breeds only healthy dogs with good temperaments and who will socialize the puppy while it is in their care. Check with the national club for the breed you want; they will have a list of trustworthy breeders. Ask for references.

A careful breeder will screen the sire and dam for hip dysplasia, elbow abnormalities, heart defects, and eye problems. Some breeds have additional screenings as well. These tests are expensive, and if the dog fails, the breeder loses any potential litters. Puppy mills generally do not do those screenings. A good breeder will have copies of those clearances available; also, they can be verified at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (www.offa.org). Pedigrees can be verified at AKC.org and K9data.com. A reputable breeder will also carefully screen you because he or she will not want the puppy to go to an inadequate home.

Once you have an energetic, slobbering puppy, it is vital that you train it so you will not have an energetic, slobbering adult dog.

  • Socialize it. Let it meet people of all sizes and behaviors, and lots of different animals. Give it lots of love and exercise. Never kick or hit it.
  • When you are with your dog, be calm and carry yourself with good posture. Move slowly. Canines have been with us for millennia; they can read our posture sometimes better than other humans can. Speak in a relaxed fashion. Dogs consider children to be puppies and will tolerate a lot of hyperness in two-legged puppies as long as their adult human is steady.
  • Neuter/spay your dog. Unneutered males are more aggressive; unsprayed females will bite when in heat or when protecting their puppies.
  • Keep it on a leash when you are outside your yard, and within a home, crate, or fenced area otherwise. If there are things you do not want your adult dog to do, like begging at the table or jumping on you, don’t allow your puppy to do them. If there are things you do want it to do, like coming when called, sitting, or walking on a leash, be consistent with your expectations and reward good behavior. Is this all starting to sound a bit like parenting your child?
  • Never chain your dog, and limit the time it spends in a crate. Too much time in a crate makes a dog crazy.

So, with all these problems, why do we keep pets? The unconditional love and companionship are priceless, but there are other benefits as well.

Pets teach children about loss and death. They learn that all living things die, that it is all right to be sad, and that it won’t hurt so much in time. Later, when a bigger loss comes into their lives, they will not be completely blindsided.

Kids with dogs get more exercise and are less likely to be overweight, and caring for an animal teaches responsibility. Pets will also teach social skills; the way children interact with a pet translates into behavior with friends and family. They learn to be calm and quiet and treat the pet gently, or it will shy away. They learn that if they are caring, attentive, and invest their time, they will be paid back with love and trust–exactly the traits that will gain your children friends and long-term happiness.

Come back next week for info on how to train your children to behave around dogs (even if they don’t have one) so that they can avoid being bitten.

10 Ways Pets Can Make Your Kids Sick

Cute girl and her dog friendLast week’s blog was 6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family. Got one in mind yet? Read below first, about the various ways pets can make your kids sick, and what to do about them.

Allergies

If there is a family history of allergies, asthma or eczema, find out if your children are allergic to the particular pet before you commit. Allergy testing for cats and dogs is readily available, just ask your pediatrician.

Arrange a play date with the same type of animal and look for sneezing, red eyes, and itchiness afterward.  If you are considering a particular dog, visit with that dog because allergens vary greatly from dog to dog. Even less allergy-inducing breeds like Poodles or Portuguese Water Dogs named Bo can actually trigger allergy symptoms in some children. Kids can be allergic to the saliva and skin flakes as well as the fur.

If you already have a pet that your children are allergic to, keep that pet out of their bedrooms, damp dust and vacuum frequently, and wash the pet weekly. Additionally, air filters will capture a significant portion of allergens.

Illness

Most germs prefer to attack the host they have evolved to infect. It is most common for the germs to stay with their preferred host, so you are much more likely to get sick going to the store or daycare where other humans hang out than you are petting your dog. Taking that as given, there are some illnesses that pets can give to humans.

  • Even fish, isolated as they are, can cause problems. They can raise the humidity in your house and make life happier for molds and dust mites.
  • Turtles can carry salmonella, which will cause diarrhea. Kids need to be good at washing their hands if they have a turtle, and the turtle needs to be kept far from the kitchen. No bathing that turtle in the kitchen sink!
  • Birds can carry salmonella. Interestingly, salmonella is becoming a much more common problem now that people are keeping back yard chickens. Wash those hands after handling the birds or changing their food and water! Birds can also carry Chlamydophila psittaci, which causes psittacosis, a rare kind of pneumonia. I’ve been looking for a case for decades without success.
  • Cats and dogs can both bring in fleas and ticks, and can harbor ringworm (a fungus) on the skin. Both can be prevented with basic pet care.
  • Cats can carry toxoplasma, which can cause birth defects in human infants if Mom catches it while she is pregnant. Obstetricians always warn pregnant women not to clean out kitty litter boxes. I personally had no problem letting my husband clean the litter box.
  • Kittens can carry Bartonellosis in their claws, which can cause the fairly rare “cat scratch fever,” or infected lymph nodes. That one I have seen a few times. Grown-up cats don’t carry it, thankfully.
  • Cats also carry Pasturella in their mouths, and cat bites can occasionally become infected.
  • Most of the bacteria, worms, and parasites that dogs can become infected with are self-limiting in humans. Our immune systems throw them out without diffculty. People who have poor immune systems (small children, the elderly, kids on chemotherapy, or those whose immune systems don’t work well) can be less tolerant, and we do occasionally see problems in otherwise healthy children.
  • There are a few uncommon infections from dogs and cats that they can share. Toxocara cani (or cati, in cats) is a roundworm that rarely infects humans, but it is ugly when it does, causing problems with eyes, hearts, and livers, including blindness and death. It can also be caught from dirt as a soil contaminant. Puppies can carry cryptosporidium, a protozoan that can cause diarrhea. Leptospira (a spirochete bacteria) can cause damage to the liver, spleen, and kidneys when water is contaminated.

The solution to avoiding most of these diseases is to keep your pet healthy, use flea and tick preventative, and give monthly heartworm pills.

Also, don’t let them drink contaminated water.

Since dogs are the most popular pets, and cats sort of train themselves, next week’s blog is all about how to raise a dog that will be joy to have in the family, rather than a shoe-chewing brat.

 

 

 

6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family

boy with baloon2-01In the United States, 70 percent of households have pets – more households have pets than have children. In our culture pets seem to speak more to a need than a want, and all the debate over whether or not they are a good idea doesn’t really seem to matter when we come home to that wagging tail and happy bark. Or meow. Or squeak.

The most common pet, currently in 39 percent of US households is—surprise!—the dog. There are almost 80 million pet dogs in the United States.

Dogs have been part of our lives since we depended on them to help us survive as early hunter-gatherers. One of the things that made us such a unique species, along with our big brains and opposable thumbs, was our ability to domesticate other species.  (I personally have an addiction to golden retrievers. I currently have five. Yes, they shed a lot.)

Following closely behind canines at 33 percent of US households and 86 million total are cats. Fewer households have one, but those that do tend to have more than one. After cats come rodents (hamsters and guinea pigs), lagomorphs (rabbits), birds (canaries, parakeets), reptiles (snakes and lizards), fish, and frogs.

How do you choose what type of pet to get?

Your children will be happy to choose for you. They probably already have one in mind.

Some general issues when choosing a pet:

  • Consider the age and maturity of your children. In general, a two- or three-year-old will be too aggressive for a pet. They tend to grab and hit rather than snuggle. We
    in pediatrics generally say that the best age for children to get a sibling is at about four. The same probably applies to a pet. It is possible to teach four-year-olds to be gentle, and they are able to help with feeding and grooming (of the pet, not the sibling).
  • If young children desperately want a personal pet consider a pocket pet, such as a hamster or a frog. Small, short-lived pets have less of a personal connection and are a better idea if your children are less responsible than you would like. A dead frog is very sad, but not as heartbreaking as a dead dog.
  • Consider your living environment. A small condo is not a great place for an energetic border collie, but a hamster is (mostly) self-contained.
  • If a family member is allergic, a cat is not a good idea. Fish might be good.
  • If you move frequently or travel often, it will impact on your decision.
  • Cost is a huge issue. The average lifetime cost of having a dog is between seven and thirteen thousand dollars; cats cost between eight and eleven thousand dollars over their lifetimes.

Still thinking about getting a pet after that appalling total lifetime cost? Money magazine wrote that the lifetime cost of a human child is around $241 thousand. See? A dog is a bargain!

Hmm.

Come back next week for info on allergies and the illnesses that pets can carry!

Oh My Heartsie Girl