What’s the Deal With GMOs?

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

“GMOs” are genetically modified organisms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domesticated Momster

How to Inspire a Teenager

Young Teenage Girl Standing And Looking On Empty Picture Frame

Last week’s blog was “How to Play with a Two Year Old.”  Apparently, this was not an issue for many parents; the problem was more, “How do I get my teen off the couch?”

Who knew?

Since we would prefer that they roll themselves off the couch (they get a bit heavy) we need them to want to get up on their large stinky feet to do something interesting.

Inspiration seems to be the key.

So how do we arrange for our children to become inspired? Industry prospers when industrious people are inspired, so the how to’s of inspiration have been studied extensively in that field. I plundered their studies shamelessly to suit my needs and come up with ten things that will encourage your teen toward couchless, inspired labor. To create an environment that encourages inspiration:

  1. First, kids need to know that they are loved and accepted exactly as they are. This absolute security will give them the self confidence they need to take a chance–live their own lives, follow their own interests and talents–and not be self defeating.
  2. Our kids need health to reach their potential. This means giving them a diet of healthy whole foods, daily exercise, and enough sleep. (You knew I’d sneak that one in somewhere, didn’t you?)
  3. They need to by focused on the positive. The most effective way to do this is by remembering  their strengths. If they feel defeated, remind them of past successes. The flip side of this is learning to accept change and loss as a part of life, not the unending measure of their failures.
  4. They need to believe in the possibility of success; optimism is key to inspiration. Teach them to see the best in people rather than looking for the worst. Show them the seemingly impossible things other people have accomplished. Talk about the people they admire. Success can happen.
  5. They need practice finding solutions, so work through problems with them rather than simply telling them what to do. Give them experience working toward a goal while you are still around to steer them a bit.
  6. Help them learn the value of courage so that they will push through fear to try new things, to do something different, to explore, and to think in a way only their own unique brain can think.
  7. Allow time for relaxation; take moments to breathe; allow laziness. Brains are most creative when they are relaxed. Slower brainwaves lead to new connections; plasticity leads to creativity.
  8. Nudge appreciation of other people, opportunities, life, and beauty. Teach them to be observant. They might write in a journal, draw, make music, dance, hike outdoors, read, meditate–anything that exercises their mind.
  9. Stir them to interact with and help others. Teach something. It is hard to come up with new ideas in a vacuum. Allow feedback and interaction, listen to other people’s ideas. Write things down.
  10. Encourage work. An inspired person is immersed in what he or she is doing, like a dog with a bone. Time passes unnoticed as they persist past an idea into exhaustion, and satisfaction.

Francis of Assisi said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible… suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Inspiration creates love, joy, and purpose–which creates inspiration–which creates love, joy, and purpose… Inspiration is a moment of understanding the magic in our world. Inspired people thrive, have balance, and invite humor and joy into their lives. What more could we want for our children?

 

Domestic Momster

The Kid’s Menu: Food Marketing to Children

Kids Menu Title Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most importantly, be consistent.

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

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

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

Domesticated Momster

Top Ten Holiday Poisonings

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

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

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

Just a Cold? Or is it the Flu?

sick kid-01Any given year, between 5% and 20% of the US population will catch the flu.

Influenza, or the flu, is a virus spread in tiny drops of fluid that an infected person has sneezed or coughed out. Your children can inhale these, or rub droplets contacted from surfaces–or other people–onto their eyes, nose, or mouth. After a 1-4 day incubation period, your child becomes sick.

The initial symptoms of flu include a sudden, high spiking fever, chills, headache, tiredness, and body aches. From there it progresses through sore throat and congestion. Symptoms generally last about ten days, with the worst occurring during the first three days.

Children can be sick for longer than adults, and have more complications.

Complications of the flu commonly include things like pneumonia, ear infections, and sinusitis. Less common complications include fever seizures, encephalopathy, inflammation of the heart, and death.

Serious complications are more common in children with underlying health conditions, but even healthy children can become severely ill. During the 2014-2015 season, more than 145 children died, and more than 200,000 kids were hospitalized with flu complications. Generally about 43% of hospitalized kids have no predisposing health problems.

Children at the highest risk are those with underlying conditions like asthma, a compromised immune system (cancer, HIV/AIDS…), or with chronic diseases (diabetes, seizures…) Also at risk are babies under six months of age, who are not yet old enough to get the vaccine and whose immune systems are not yet adult sized.

We try to make sure high risk kids get their vaccines if they can, but we rely on other people to also get their vaccines to “cocoon” these kids so that they are not exposed. If parents, chid care providers, and the other kids in daycare get their flu shots, then chances are that the cute little baby with heart disease will not catch the flu.

Vaccines rule. Preventing disease is always better and safer than trying to treat it once a child is sick.

Flu vaccines come in two types–shot and inhaled mist. The shot is a dead virus, the inhaled mist is a live attenuated (very weak) virus. Neither can give you the flu or make your child autistic. Since we give the vaccine in the midst of cold and flu season, some people are bound to become ill in the weeks after they get it. It is easy to blame the vaccine. The shot can make your arm red and sore; the mist, since it is live, can give you a mild stuffy nose and a low grade fever. So much better than what the actual flu can do!

Last, what should you do if your child does catch the flu? If he or she has any underlying health conditions or is under two years old, call your doc. We have antiviral meds that, while they taste horrible and are not completely effective, do help.

Then, just like when they have a cold, make them rest, push any sort of fluid they will drink, and treat the symptoms. Ibuprofen will generally work better for the body aches and headaches than acetaminophen. Salt water drops or sprays work for stuffy noses, and for kids over four, cold and cough medicines will help them feel better.

Keep them home, because they are contagious. Adults are contagious for about 5-7 days; kids can be contagious for more than 10 days. Both can be contagious about a day before they have any signs of illness.

Call your doc if your child has any breathing problems, lethargy, fever that persists for more than three days, or isn’t starting to get better after the first few days. Or just if you want to. That’s what we’re here for.

 

 

 

How to Survive and Have a Joyous Holiday

Cute Kid Girl In Glasses Thinking About Gift On Christmas Holida

My daughter the anthropologist tells me that celebrations solidify relationships between people within a community, give them hope for the future, and serve as rights of passage.

With the holidays approaching, give thought to what you want this special season to mean to your children throughout their lives.

Keep that firmly in mind when you enter into the fray.

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

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

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

Gifts

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

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

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

The Insanity

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

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

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

                                                                       Health

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

Avoid injuries. Most holiday injuries have nothing to do with the particular holiday, but everything to do with people being so busy that they are not as watchful as usual. Sports are more dangerous when we want to impress cousins. Teenagers tend to get more reckless during a celebration, and young children sneak away quickly. Most holiday injuries are from everyday activities and household objects made dangerous by the holiday craziness.

Chokings and poisonings are popular. The one I see most is an overdose on Grandma’s meds. At Grandma’s home they are left on countertops; at your home they are in her purse. A left over drink is a common way to poison children. A little alcohol can drop a child’s blood sugar and throw him or her into a coma.

Toddlers will put anything in their mouths. Unfortunately this means that everybody needs to pick up their stuff. Items over 1¼ inch in diameter are generally safe. Smaller items than that can go straight into their gut or lung. The most dangerous items to swallow are batteries and magnets; the most dangerous to choke on are grape sized (older children’s toys, hard candy) or stretchy (balloons, plastic bags, marshmallows). Clean up!

Holidays also provide a banquet of things to irritate children’s allergies. Live trees indoors, foods, cigarette smoke, wood fires and other people’s homes and pets come to mind. Avoid them if your child has allergies.

Fires and electrical injuries are especially common during holidays. Decorations can be flammable, old Christmas trees will be dry, and space heaters, candles and fires are commonly nearby. Frayed and loose wires easily start fires. Keep your eyes open for dangers.

Use your common sense during celebrations. If it doesn’t seem safe, don’t let people pressure you into it. Feel free to let watching your kids take precedence over seeing Uncle Joe’s trophy or Aunt Mary’s vacation photos. “He’ll be fine” doesn’t make him fine. Keep an eye on him, or her.

Feel free to be rude and head for home when the kids get tired, if a situation feels out of control, or if your child is being exposed to something you aren’t happy with. Use the munchkin’s youth or fatigue as the excuse for you to head home, relax and read a bedtime story.

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

All the Right Foods

Little chief-cook tasting the carrot isolated on white

One of my favorite teachers once said “Never fight a battle with a child that you cannot win.” Excellent, timeless advice.

Luckily, children are young and inexperienced. We adults are old and treacherous–we can outsmart them.

This is particularly good advice when it comes to nourishing a child. The grown ups need to win food battles, because the losing side is populated with joint pain, back pain, heart disease, stroke and death. We have to set up this battle so that we cannot lose, because otherwise our child will suffer.

There are two keys to making this work.

The first is that children do not cry for what they don’t know exists. A three year old who doesn’t know about chicken nuggets and French fries does not beg for them. If it’s not too late, start on day one and keep only healthy food in the house, in the proportions you want them to consume. Eat at home. Then let them have it. Everything in the house is good for them, so you never have any arguments over what your urchins can or cannot eat. If they munch on healthy snacks throughout the day, like whole grain crackers with cheese or pieces of fruit or veggies, it really doesn’t matter if they eat formal meals.  There is no need to argue over what they need to eat before they leave the table.

If it is too late and they already have some bad habits, explain to them that you’re turning over a new leaf, eating healthier, and throwing out all the junk. Then do it, and put in earplugs. It gets better in about two weeks if you are consistent and don’t give in.

The second key is that “never” is a lot easier for a child to deal with than “sometimes.” “Never” is a shake of the head, a smile, and a change of subject. “Sometimes” is endless daily arguments over what they want today because sometimes they get it, sometimes you buy it, sometimes it’s O.K. It’s easier for the child as well: children are less stressed and develop healthier habits when they can eat when they’re hungry, eat whatever is available, and stop eating when they’re not hungry.

So what edibles do you bring into the house? Start with whole foods: things that look like they grew out of the ground or lived on it. Shop mostly around the outside of the grocery store where they keep the produce, meats, and dairy. Avoid the aisles unless there is something specific on them that you need. Don’t buy anything with ingredients that you can’t pronounce without a chemistry degree, and don’t buy sodas.

Make a meal plan for the week, taking into account what is in season, what you like to eat, and what your week is going to be like. Make meals ahead that you can reheat or reinvent later in the week when you have a crazy busy night. Throw together an extra pan of lasagna, bake a larger chicken than you need so you can make quick quesadillas, or save some leftovers for a shepherd’s pie. Plan ahead so you won’t be tempted by the drive through.

About 2/3 of everything children eat should be fruits, veggies and whole or enriched grains. This leaves only about 1/3 for proteins (meat, eggs, cheese, beans, and nuts) and starches (potatoes, bread, corn). That translates to a maximum of about 6 ounces per day of protein containing foods for a medium sized child, and 6 ounces of starch. Visually this is a portion about the size of a deck of cards, much less than the average child eats. This leaves lots of room in their stomachs for fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Children don’t overeat on a diet that is mostly fruits and veggies, which means you don’t have to chase them around trying to limit how much they eat so that they won’t get chubby. Feel free to let them have seconds, thirds and fourths on the broccoli and carrots, but sorry kid, that’s all the meat and potatoes we made.

Arrange the battlefield ahead of time in such a way that you have no chance of losing–you don’t even actually need to fight–so that your child will grow up healthy, nourished and strong, with good lifelong habits. Do this consistently and everyone’s lives will be less stressful. Your children will know that food is nourishment of the body, not an emotional crutch for the soul.

Below is a chart that should give you an idea of what the goals are for your child’s diet, based on their sex, age, and activity level:

diet table2

Your Kid’s Brain on No Sleep

Tired Teenager With TabletEvery animal sleeps. Birds sleep attached to their branches, bats sleep upside down, whales sleep half their brains at a time–all of us need to catch some Z’s. Science doesn’t have a complete understanding of why we sleep, but we do have some ideas and we know people run into problems if they do not get enough.

Humans sleep in cycles from light sleep into heavy and then into dreams. Adults cycle about four times per night; infants cycle about every hour (that’s why they can wake up every hour). Each stage has a function: if you don’t get enough time in each stage you will not feel rested, even if you spent enough hours horizontal.

During the first stage, or “N1”, you are in drowsy sleep. You are not completely out, but neither are you completely aware of your environment. If someone sat beside you to read a book you would not notice; if that person said your name you would.

During N2 you loose all conscious awareness; N3 brings you into deep sleep.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the fourth stage. During REM sleep you dream, and your voluntary muscles become atonic, or mostly paralyzed, so you don’t whack yourself in the head.

Then you cycle through the phases again. Most deep sleep is early in the night; most REM sleep is later toward morning. (That’s why kids mostly wet the bed early in the night.)

If you get enough sleep you feel energetic during the day, your brain works and your emotions are under control.

The opposite happens if you, or your children, are sleep deprived. If your children do not get enough sleep they are tired, they cannot concentrate and they can be irritable.

Lack of sleep affects their working memory: the memory they employ constantly to reason and function. Without an effective working memory they will find it harder to make decisions. It will be difficult to focus and learn.

Sleep is necessary to organize, consolidate and solidify what your children have learned during the day, so it can be there the next day when they need it. There is even some evidence that REM sleep is necessary for your child’s brain to develop properly in the first place.

Many of these symptoms duplicate those of ADD, depression, and Oppositional Disorder. Sleep deprivation also affects the function of your immune system, your ability to heal, your growth hormone levels and your ability to lose weight–important stuff.

So how do you know if your children are getting enough sleep? Look at them during the day. If they are sleeping adequately they will wake up easily, perhaps without an alarm. They will be awake during the day, not sleepy, not dosing off when they are still. They will be less irritable. They will be able to concentrate, focus and learn.

If they are not getting enough sleep, getting more is a priority. Make sure there is enough time allotted in their busy schedules, and try to make bedtime the time of day that they are actually sleepy. Every person has a circadian rhythm that includes a time in the evening when they get drowsy. That time should be bedtime. It should be approximately the same every day, to avoid permanent jet lag.

During the day make sure they eat healthy whole foods. No caffeine please, no tobacco exposure (yes I mean you!) and watch that sugar intake. Also, they need at least twenty minutes of aerobic exercise every day to wash those stress chemicals out of their bodies.

Quiet things down about two hours before bedtime: no TV, no vigorous exercise. Turn on some quiet music, play a board game, or read a book. Lower the light level. Give your youngster a warm bath and read a bedtime story. Don’t even think of having a TV in the bedroom! Make their bedroom comfortable, quiet and a little cool.

Enough sleep is essential if you want a child who is not moody and has a functioning brain and energized body. If you are thinking your munchkin has a behavioral problem like ADD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder or depression, consider first whether he or she is getting enough sleep. If not, change what you need to to ensure that they do. Get that TV out of the bedroom, give them a healthy diet and enough exercise, and don’t expose him to cigarettes. Quiet things down two hours before bed. And get some sleep.

Domesticated Momster

“It’s Just a Cold…”

Adorable child dressed as doctor playing with toy over white

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

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

We can’t fix any of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domesticated Momster

The Rashes of Summer

skateboarder-01When the days warm up, pediatric offices see a lot of summer skin problems. Kids aren’t often ill during the summer, but they do get sunburns, bites, jellyfish stings, and rashes.

Sunburn

No one thinks about sunscreen on that first glorious sunshiny day, so sunburns are usually our first evidence that summer is here. 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 will help.

Bug Bites

Bug bites are also very popular in the summer, from mosquitos, fire ants, yellow flies, and fleas. 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.