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

Misadventures in Pottying

Baby in diaper-01The last two week’s blogs have been all about potty training: how to know when your child is ready, and how to go about training them. This week is about when things do not go well–bedwetting, accidents, refusal, and relapses. So what do we do when our efforts are less than successful? When all our hopes and dreams go splat in the night? Read on!

Bedwetting

Nighttime dryness tends to be in the DNA and is related to how deeply your children sleep rather than their actual intent. One in five children still wet the bed at age five, and anything that 20 percent of children do has to be defined as normal. Most kids are dry by age seven. Until then, consider pull-ups at night, or a mattress cover. Limit drinks an hour or so before bedtime because what comes in must go out. Hit the bathroom before you tuck them in.

Bedwetting is not bad behavior or a failure in parenting, and treating it as such can damage your children’s self-esteem. They cannot make themselves sleep less deeply. They can, of course, take responsibility and help with cleaning up and laundry.

If it persists at age seven, discuss it with your pediatrician. Once your child is old enough, bedwetting alarms can teach them to wake when they start to urinate, and have no side effects. The alarms that vibrate work better than the sound ones, because the whole issue is that they are very deep sleepers. Alarms are ridiculously expensive.

Accidents

Never punish accidents; it always backfires. Never punish disinterest. If you want to be potty training for the next five years, punishment is the way to get there. Responsibility is fine: they can throw away the old diapers and get out new clothes, or help to clean themselves up as much as they are able. Don’t even think of punishing a failure. They will do better next time.

Refusal

Toddlers will occasionally flat out refuse to use the potty. Sometimes this is an independence issue: not just “I can do it myself” but “I can do it myself anywhere I choose to.” This is more common when people try to potty train when their lives are in turmoil. Children want to control the one thing they can control.

Sometimes the only thing you can do when this happens is wait until later and try again after things settle down.

If the refusal is not too bad, sometimes you can overcome it:

  • Treat using the potty as a routine task that must be done, like brushing your teeth.
  • Rewards are given after the task is completed, not before.
  • Ramp up the fun factor: toilet paper squares decorated with targets is available. Aiming for fruit loops is a traditional winner. I know I said food rewards are a bad idea, but I can testify that one M&M for every potty use results in very frequent visits to the potty. I am a hypocrite. Sad.

Sometimes kids are downright terrified of the potty. Again you may just have to wait it out and try again later. They seem to feel that they are loosing a part of themselves to the yawning, abysmal plumbing. Reassure them and be patient. Throwing the contents of diapers into the potty can help: show them that this is where the poop goes. Tell them all about the poo-poo party that awaits it at the end of the journey. It would be very sad if their poo had to miss the poo-poo party. Poor, sad poo-poo. (I know, but sometimes it works.)

Relapses

They will also occasionally regress when they are stressed. A completely potty-trained munchkin will start having accidents when they are ill, when there is a new baby, or when there is a family crisis.

Even more frustrating is when they relapse because they have figured out the whole potty thing and are now bored with it. Amp up the fun and the rewards, and let them take responsibility for their action—or lack of action. They can help clean themselves up, put the poop in the toilet, and get themselves new clothes. Be sure to mention the reward they could have had, but have now missed. No punishment please!

Kids may also miss when they are uncomfortable in a strange new place, until they understand what they should do. Tell them there is a bathroom in the store where you are shopping; mention that if they have to potty at a friend’s house, just tell the mom or dad, and they will show him and her where the potty is.

Even when children have achieved the necessary milestones and you have used these techniques, the bottom line is that children will train when they are ready and not before. They need to understand what’s happening in their bodies and be able to let you know about it. They have to dislike having a wet diaper on and want the independence of doing it themselves. If it’s not fun and rewarding for them, they will quit—and you can’t win that battle.

Talk to other parents because potty training can drive you crazy, and craziness is better when shared, and because there are an abundance of ideas out there for how to inspire your toddler to hit that target. And don’t forget to have a potty party when they succeed.

Potty Training: How to Set Kids Up for Success

Baby in diaper-01Last week’s blog was the first installment on the Perils of Potty Training: how to know when your munchkin is ready. This week gives you some tried and tested How To’s, when everything goes as planned.

The first thing you need to do when your children are ready is to decide what words you will use. Remember that whatever words you choose will be shouted loudly at very inconvenient times in public places. Please be anatomically correct and as polite as possible.

Just one aside: potty training increases your children’s vocabulary in interesting ways. If you don’t want to be called a “poo-poo head” for the next year, don’t laugh when they say it the first time. Don’t look shocked, either—they love that.

Second thing to do: buy the potty. They come as either self-contained units or as attachments to the grown-up potty. Choose which style you want, and make sure it is sturdy and their feet have somewhere secure to set down. Then let the child choose the specific model.  We’re looking for pride of ownership here. This is his or her pottyThey can even decorate it.

Schedule some time for them to sit on it just for fun, as often as every quarter hour. Let them sit on it when you model how you use your potty, if you chose the self-contained style. Sitting on it should be fun for them; have special potty toys and books in the vicinity.

When you want them to use it for its designed purpose, put them on it at least every two hours. More often is fine, but don’t stress them out. Remember that the goal is fun, not anxiety. Put them on the potty after meals (we all poop after we eat), when they first wake, before naps, and at bedtime. Put them on the potty quickly when they show signs of needing to go. You know the signs: the pee-pee dance, hands on the groin, grimacing, sometimes a red face. Go sit them on the potty and read that special potty-only book. If you can go too, it will help. Lead by example, as always.

If it works, celebrate! Jump up and down; tell them they’re wonderful. Note that they must feel better now that they’ve urinated or pooped, and isn’t it great that they’re not wet? Aren’t they so much more comfortable? Let them call relatives and friends to tell them the news. Make sure they know that they should be very proud of themselves.

When they consistently use the potty, you can trade in the diapers for training pants. Big kid underwear! Another celebration! I knew one little girl whom I swore only trained because she didn’t want to pee on the mermaid on her undies.

Ahh ahh ahh, ahh ahh ahh… ohhh nooo. Poor Ariel.

What to do if things don’t go as planned and problems occur? Come back next week, of course!

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Enter to Win a $50 Amazon Gift Card and Help the UHC Children’s Foundation

Rachel2

Rachel, above,  is a beautiful, energetic, freckled little 9 year old girl.
She was born with deformed vertebrae down her spine and ribs fused together around her chest – deformities which crushed her lungs and restricted her breathing. She had her first surgery as a toddler and followed that with 15 more.  ribs-01

Now here is the miracle: brilliant people designed expandable metal rods which were placed vertically along her chest wall.  Every 6 months she goes in and has another surgery to gradually expand them so that her chest can grow normally and her lungs and heart can work properly.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation stepped up to help. Medical care is expensive and not everything is covered by insurance, so they help cover some of those expenses. Rachel’s parents were one of many recipients of a grant from this foundation.

So far, UHC Children’s Foundation has given out 13,000 grants, paying for medical expenses that children’s insurance did not cover. They want to give out 20,000 grants by the year 2020, and need us to get the word out.

I see children every week whose parents are financially crippled by copayments and deductibles,  who can’t afford the upgraded wheelchair their child needs or the physical or speech therapy sessions that are over their insurance limit. Let’s help the Children’s Foundation give them a hand.

Kids who receive grants must be 16 years of age or less, covered by commercial insurance, and live in the US; they take into consideration the severity of the illness and the parent’s financial need. Grants are up to $5000 and cover expenses from 6 months prior to the application for a period of a year.

88.9% of completed, qualifying applications are granted.

In order to get this information out, they are giving away a $50.00 Amazon gift card to one of the people who shares this blog and refers a friend. The winner will be chosen on June 30.

Enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I am being compensated to write this post, and since UHCCF is funded by donations, that check is going directly into their fund.  If you would like to contribute they would absolutely welcome your donation as well, here.

Let’s do this.

 
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Nutrition Facts: What to Grow in Your 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!

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Friday Features Linky Party

What’s the Deal with Gender?

Last week’s blog, The X’s and Y’s of Sex, was about chromosomes and the physical aspects of sexual identity. This week is all about gender identity.

girl-playing-doc-01Gender

Webster’s Dictionary defines gender as “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.”

Note the total lack of chromosome analysis or exacting descriptions of genitalia? That is because gender identity is not the same as sex; it is a collection of traits typically associated with one sex or another in whatever culture you belong. Pleated skirts? Scottish men in the 1600s. High heels? Frenchmen in the time of Louis XIV. Guyliner? Egyptian men did it first. Women in pants? Heavens, no … not before Katherine Hepburn.

Gender identity is not wired to your reproductive system and it has nothing to do with your sexual orientation; it is in your mind and soul. We don’t understand the biology of gender identification any more than the Romans understood chromosomes. That does not make it less real.

Children start identifying with their own gender by one year of age; by two years, they recognize physical differences. By three, your pediatrician will get a decisive answer to “Are you a boy or a girl?” The label is firmly attached.

After three, children gravitate toward whatever activities their society attaches to their gender. If they were a male born in the time of Louis XIV, this would mean wearing a wig and high heels; now it means appreciating cars and playing sports. It is not any specifc activity; it is what society dictates.

Children in their middle years will gravitate toward their own sex. They play the games the other boys or girls play, develop the physical mannerisms typical of their sex, and role-play behavior specific to their sex. They conform. When they conform, they feel comfortable, safe, and self-confident.

Gender Identity

For some kids, conforming isn’t easy. They know early on that they belong in the opposite sex. They choose the opposite sex as their peer group and role-play the opposite roles. They cannot accept their biological sex.

Counseling can help these kids deal, but in no way does it change their gender identity.

This is not the girl who is a “tomboy” or the boy who has some feminine traits. This is the person who in his mind is a boy stuck in the body of a girl, or the opposite. People with gender “confusion” can be miserable every day of their lives. Their whole lives are lies, down to their most basic identity.

Lately we have chosen to make this worse by making it a political and religious issue, I assume so we who are not transexual can feel superior and have the fun of judging and condemning other people. (No, there is not one mention of it in the Bible, so don’t go there.)

Why don’t we practice a little empathy instead? We are each of us not perfect, and we all want the same things in life: air to breathe, shelter, love…

If we have a need to hate and condemn, the problem is in our own minds, not in a stranger’s behavior.

So we’ve talked about the X’s and Y’s and gender; next week is all about sexual orientation.

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The X’s and Y’s of Sex: What Makes a Boy or a Girl

Infant feet-01Remember high school biology? You were taught that humans had forty-six chromosomes. There were two each of twenty-two pairs, and then there were your sex chromosomes, the Xs and Ys. If you had two X chromosomes (XX), you were a girl. An X and a Y (XY) made you a boy.

It’s not actually that simple. That is the most common arrangement, but there are many variations. When you have a variation on any other chromosome, it causes physical issues that are unfortunate and sometimes deadly. If you have three number twenty-one chromosomes you have Down’s syndrome, and your life will be different.

We don’t ever blame the child, right? Nobody asked them if they wanted the usual forty-six chromosomes or if they would mind having an extra. It’s not their fault.

When the extra or missing chromosomes are the Xs or Ys, suddenly we involve social judgment and religion. Why? I can only assume that we are all so uncomfortable with sexuality that we would rather judge than understand.

You’re reading the wrong blog if you wanted to get away with that.

Variations

One in 840 male births are an XYY. We used to think that this made the men more violent because the tests were all done on men in prisons. Once we started testing men who were not in prison, it turned out that there weren’t actually many differences. Most are completely normal. There is a mild tendency toward tallness, poor fine motor control, weakness, and some speech and language issues. Most of these guys never know they aren’t the typical XY.

One in 500 males have XXY, or Klinefelter’s disease. These kids do have some physical issues, such as a tendency toward long limbs, smaller genitals, and slightly less intelligence than they would have had without that extra chromosome.

When you get into larger numbers of chromosomes, you see more problems. XXYY and XXXY kids tend to need testosterone replacement. XXXY and XXXXY kids tend to be short with small genitals, mental defciency, and elbow issues.

Without any Y chromosome, we get girl babies. XXX girls are usually tall and sometimes uncoordinated. Rather like the XYY males, most won’t ever know they have it. Girls with as many as five X chromosomes have been found. The more X chromosomes they have, the more problems: they tend to become shorter, with mental defciency and behavior issues.

About one in 2,000 live births are XO girls who are missing one X or Y chromosome. They have Turner’s syndrome. They have lymphedema (fluid swelling under the skin) before they are born and frequently have extra skin at the neck. They tend to be short, with wide chests and gonadal dysgenesis (sex organs that do not develop normally).

To add to all these variants, we have mosaics: two fertilized eggs fuse so that the resultant person has half a body with the typical XX or XY and half a body with a variation.

Variations with the Usual Chromosome Count

There are also variations that occur with the typical complement of chromosomes.

Girls with testicular feminization have 46XY. Their chromosomes say “boy,” but their bodies are insensitive to testosterone. They grow up as girls and don’t realize there is a problem until adolescence, when fertility issues arise.

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) will give you a baby that has been virilized. On a girl, the clitoris will be enlarged, and the labia can become fused. It is difficult to tell when the baby is born if it is a boy or a girl until the chromosomes come back. Since the first question everyone asks is “Is it a boy or a girl?” this can be very traumatic to the families involved.

Adrenocortical tumors can also be virilizing, giving the child more masculine traits than they otherwise would have had.

Enough? There are many more. Biology is not as simple as they taught you in grade school, and throwing judgment and religion at it does not change it or help in any way. Ignorance is ugly.

The gender issues and sexual orientation parts of this blog got really long, so…

Come back next week please!

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How to Help Teenagers with Grief

CinemaUsher-01Our teenagers get to deal, today, with issues we hoped they wouldn’t see until they were adults–sudden trauma, injury, and grief. Teenagers are different, and you need to know how to help them. When you have a moment, here are some tips:

We have all 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 very far 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.

They can go down a side path into the excitement of being in a real life drama, and enjoyment of 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 about this kid the other day! The accident happened because they wished it on him or her! 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. Trauma 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.

So 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. 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.

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5 Sleep Problems in Children, and How to Fix Them

Tired Teenager With Tablet“The city that never sleeps” should not be your home. But everyone did warn you. Last week’s blog–Why Does My Baby Not Sleep Longerwas about normal sleep; this week’s is about some of the problems that you may encounter trying to achieve that.

Not Getting Enough  Sleep?

If children are not getting enough sleep, they will not wake up by themselves in the morning, they will be sleepy during the day, and they may be moody and irritable. Kids who do not get enough sleep are not as able to control their emotions.

Chronically sleep deprived kids may have behavior problems that mimic attention problems. They can be emotionally labile. They injure themselves more often because they can be clumsy. Their grades fall because they are sleepy in class. They gain weight because their metabolism is confused.

If your child is showing symptoms of inadequate sleep, move their bedtime back until the symptoms go away. You cannot make them fall asleep, of course, but you can insist that they rest quietly in a darkened, cool room. No TV! Boredom will put them out in the end, and their systems will adjust to the new routine after a couple of weeks.

Infants

Trouble getting an infant to sleep? The bedtime routines described in last weeks blog will help, but also:

If a baby is waking up frequently at night, sometimes they sleep better if you can squeeze in one more feeding per day. Usually you can convince them to eat more often in the morning. Starting them on solid food early doesn’t help, no matter what Grandma said.

They will also sleep better if they are more awake during the day: play with them, keep them moving, and keep the light level up.

Media

Media does have an affect on sleep. Violent shows and games do keep kids up at night, and anything on a screen will affect their sleep within an hour or two of bedtime. If you like your rest, don’t let your kids engage with violent media or watch shows that scare them. Turn the screens off an hour or so before bed. Never put a TV in their bedroom. If you already have one in there, take it out. You need to be able to monitor what they watch anyway.

Get Physical

Diet matters, yet again. If you want your kids to sleep, don’t give them caffeine. It keeps people awake (you knew that, didn’t you?). Caffeine is in most sodas and tea, coffee, energy drinks, and chocolate.

Also avoid heavy, high fat or high sugar foods near bedtime.

Make sure your child gets at least twenty minutes of high heart rate and heavy breathing exercise every day. Run, play ball, jump rope – whatever they like. Keep it going for twenty minutes after they start breathing heavily. It will clean out the stress chemicals in their blood stream. Don’t get the exercise right before bed, however. It will wake them up (I know, you knew that too). If you want to exercise near bedtime make it yoga, or slow relaxing stretches.

Don’t expose your child to cigarette smoke if you want him to sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant. Keep the cigarettes out of the house and car even when he isn’t there. The poisons hang out in fabrics, on the walls and in the air.

There are some medical issues that can interfere with a child’s breathing during sleep, when their airway relaxes. Large adenoids, large tonsils and morbid obesity will block the flow of air into their lungs and they will wake up just enough to breathe over and over again through the night. They might snore, they will usually be tired during the day, or they might have behavioral issues. If your child shows signs of obstructed breathing, bring it up with your doctor.

Separation and Change

Separation anxiety can also keep a child awake. If your little guys suffer from this, leave the door cracked so they can hear you. Check on them every ten minutes or so until they fall asleep. Give them their comfort objects. It will pass.

Children will also have poor sleep when there are changes in their lives. If they have been ill and the routine changed while they were sick, it will take some effort to get it back. After a move, death, or divorce an established routine will save you. Stick to it and your child will feel more secure and safe, and may actually get some sleep.

Inheritable Stuff

Night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep talking and bedwetting are all genetic and inheritable. Most are more common in boys than girls. They generally occur when the child is sleeping deeply, more commonly early in the night. They grow out of these problems in the end, and nothing but time will cure them.

Night terrors are different than nightmares. When a child wakes from a nightmare he generally has been in a lighter sleep, usually later toward the morning. He wakes up and can remember the nightmare. He can be comforted.

A child in a night terror is still very deeply asleep. Their eyes may be open but they are not awake and they are not seeing what is actually there. Where you are standing they could be seeing the monster in their dream. Night terrors can last from ten to thirty minutes, and can occur for up to twelve years. They tend to occur when the child is overtired and sleeps very deeply. Contrary to popular belief, stress does not cause night terrors – unless it causes the child to be overtired.

You cannot comfort a child during a night terror because they are asleep. Speaking calmly seems to help, but don’t be surprised if they don’t want to be held. Watch them, keep them safe and wait it out. They will not remember it at all. There is no quick fix and there are no medicines that help, only the passage of time.

In The End

Children need to get enough sleep or they can have physical, behavioral or emotional problems. Avoid things – like high sugar foods, caffeine and violent television – that make sleep less likely, especially right before bed. Encourage exercise. Establish a relaxing routine that you can stick to every night, with quiet low light activity and comfort; keep a regular bedtime and enforce it. Having a bedtime routine will save you many arguments and will help your child feel more secure in times of upheaval. Sadly, you cannot make a child sleep, but you can insist that he or she rest in a darkened, boring, TV-less room. They will, in the end, get the sleep they need.

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Why Does My Baby Not Sleep Longer? (And 8 Things to do About It)

Adorable Sleeping BabyThe one warning all new parents receive is, “Enjoy your sleep now, you won’t get any after the baby arrives!” Babies sleep all the time – just never when we want them to.

The Science of Sleep

There are many geeky scientists who study sleep, and they have made some helpful and interesting discoveries. The most relevant of these for new parents is that people sleep in cycles, from light sleep to heavy and back again.

Infants cycle from light back to light sleep every hour. This cycle means that about once an hour they are sleeping lightly and may wake up. After about six months of age they can learn to put themselves back to sleep. They are not hungry and do not need to be fed, after that initial newborn period. They are not lonely and do not need to play. They need to learn to go back to sleep. When you check on them be boring, leave the room dark, pat them on the bottom and leave. Do not pick them up, do not play with them, and do not feed them if you ever want a full night’s sleep again.

Remember the part about how children will do what they are rewarded for doing? Picking them up, feeding them and playing with them is rewarding them for waking up.

Babies should come with warning labels.

So what’s normal?

Newborns sleep about sixteen hours a day, but only two to three hours at a time. Fortunately, they’re so cute that you don’t mind too much when they wake you up.

By about four months they will have one longer period of sleep (about four or five hours) per day. Heaven! Make sure it happens at night. You can’t keep babies from falling asleep, but you can certainly wake them up early if they try for that five-hour nap midday.

A six month old might sleep for ten or eleven hours straight to total, with naps, around fourteen hours.

The average toddler will sleep twelve or thirteen hours total. Most will take two naps until between eighteen and twenty-four months, then one nap until they are three to five years old. There is, of course, individual variation.

School aged children sleep between nine and twelve hours per night, taking about thirty minutes to fall asleep. No napping or they won’t sleep at night!

Bedtime Routine

A bedtime routine is the single most important tool you have in your arsenal to get your kids to sleep, and can be very reassuring when other things in their lives change. The details vary from family to family, but there are common elements that work:

  • Give them a light snack an hour or two before bedtime. Aim for low fat and low sugar. Fruit or a complex carbohydrate will work, like whole grain crackers or pop corn.
  • Notice if there is a time in the evening when your child slows down and gets sleepy: this is their natural bedtime. They will fall asleep more easily at this time. If they stay awake past it they will either get grouchy and irritable or, worse, find their second wind.
  • Slow things down an hour or so before bed. Turn the television and electronic games off. Lower the light level. Turn on some quiet music.Give them a nice warm bath (just like Grandma always said). Read a storybook.
  • Tell them how wonderful they are: going to sleep is easier when you’re happy.
  • Tuck them in with their comfort object, their night-light and their bottle of water (if they want them).
  • Make sure they are comfy – keeping it a little cool will help.
  • Leave while they are still awake, because you want them to be able to fall asleep without requiring your presence.
  • Once they are in bed, they need to stay there. If they get up, put them back. If you need to check on them, be boring. “You’re fine, it’s bedtime, go to sleep.” Don’t get angry, or you’ll upset them and they’ll stay up longer. Leave the lights off.

The routine should never vary much. Bedtime should be the same every day, unless dealing with a jet-lagged kid is your idea of fun. If you do the same things in the same order at the same time every night they will be so used to it that you will rarely, if ever, get an argument. The routine itself will trigger sleepiness.

If you get flexible, vary the routine a lot, or let them stay up late now and then you might have difficulty the next time they need to go to bed.

The absolute worst thing to do is to give in to whining. Planning ahead with “We’re staying up late tonight because it’s a holiday” will not set a precedent. Giving in to whining with “Fine, I’m tired of listening to you,” will. You will have taught them that if they whine enough they will get what they want. Then, since you have rewarded whining, you will see more of it.

If you are in a strange place or your family life is in upheaval, keeping the bedroom routine the same will not only help them fall asleep more easily but will also make them feel more safe and secure. Don’t forget to pack that Teddy bear and their favorite storybooks if you travel or when there is a family change or trauma!

Want answers on specific sleep problems like night terrors or airway obstruction? Come back next week, of course!

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