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Archive for the ‘Health & Safety’ Category

The Only Sunscreen Tip You Need This Summer

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By Laura Mellor-Bachman M.Ed., manager, program development

Applying sunscreen during the summer months can be a messy and emotional business, especially if you have a toddler. However, I stumbled across a simple way to make applying sunscreen to my two-year-old daughter, Juliana, a pleasant experience for all.

When Juliana gets a diaper rash, we put “cream on her hiney,” which she used to love saying out loud with me as I applied the cream to her hiney. When winter came, her hands were getting chapped from the continuous hand-washing at school and at home. So we started putting cream on her hands. As you can imagine, Juliana picked up on how this was similar to her putting cream on her hiney, and each night before bed, she loved rubbing the lotion on her hands and on my hands, too, for that matter.

Then something clicked: I realized how this fun routine would make applying sunscreen easier during summer. Each night after a bath, whether Juliana had chapped hands or not, we did cream on your hands. Then we expanded it to cream on your ears, neck, arms and belly. It worked! Juliana helps me put lotion on her body, and we have some giggles, too.

She now practices several skills: she knows her body parts, she coordinates movement over her mid-line when rubbing in the lotion (great for brain development), she bonds with me and, most importantly, she has fun applying sunscreen! When it is time to go outside now, we do what we’ve been practicing over the past couple of months: cream on your legs, cream on your elbows and cream on your nose. I love her independent spirit, and she is so empowered to help keep herself safe during the most sunshiny days.

Tips For Having a Safe, Happy and Healthy Halloween

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By Jack Maypole, MD
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Soon those goblins, NFL stars, witches and princesses will be trotting up the front walks of the neighborhood to ring doorbells for the goodies within on Halloween. While I suspect that it is far more likely children will get the treat than try a trick, there are some things you can do this year (and every year) to make the holiday a safe and enjoyable one.

For most children, costumes are a chance for joyful creativity and play. Have fun with your expressions but keep some key ideas in mind as you craft your own or grab something at the pop-up store. Check labels, looking for nontoxic makeup (keep it out of those eyes – it stings!) and materials that are clearly noted to be nonflammable.

Materials for those getups should allow the child to see clearly when crossing streets or navigating dark stairs – and to be seen. Finding a way to add reflective material to a treat bag, flashlight or another aspect of the costume is just a good idea. To help them make their way through the gloom of a nearly moonless night (a teensy waxing crescent moon this year), add a glow stick or a flashlight with fresh batteries. Thus equipped, children are ready to go haunting.

For younger children, going out in the late afternoon may be the right move. It prevents the disruption (and derangement) of a missed bedtime. Alternatively, check your local calendar, as many communities are moving toward having child-friendly trick-or-treats in some streets or business districts. For children of preschool or young elementary school age, chaperoning is a must. Depending on your children’s ages and stages, it isn’t a bad idea to quiz them on your phone number (if they know it) or to give them an easy-to-find slip of paper with your phone number on it in case they get lost in the crowds after dark. Hey, it gets crazy out there.

When the bags are full or when the little ones’ feet get tired, it is time to go home and count their booty. I recommend having an adult help the children sort their loot while making a game of it. Count items and put different candies in different piles while a grownup looks for items that might be spoiled, have damaged packaging or potentially be a concern for a child with food allergies. After that, it is a matter of style as to what parents do next. I am agnostic on this part. My dental colleagues mostly object on all counts, and I respect them for that.

Some families subscribe to the “binge now and be done” philosophy, where children live large for the evening, eat their fill and are mostly done with the bounty. Other families might allow a limited indulgence, letting children eat a few choice items and then storing the goods somewhere safe (meaning secret) for their later enjoyment. Whatever your approach, most often children haul in more than they can ever reasonably eat. I recommend setting aside a ration for the child and donating the rest to a worthwhile cause like Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages to our troops.

Keep an eye on the children who eat with gusto, as no one needs a bellyache from overdoing it on All Hallows’ Eve. Happy haunting!

 

How to Get Your Picky Eaters to Enjoy Healthy Foods

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By Jack Maypole, MD
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

During my travels as a parent, it seemed that during my children’s early childhood and school-age years that snack time was all the time: It was in the car. It was in the stroller. Once, one of my daughters asked for a snack during dinner. Maybe that is the problem with our modern concept of snacking, which often results in non-nutritious grazing, most especially (in my brood) involving a hankering for items of the high-sodium, cheddar-y orange food group (the noble Cheez-It, say, or mac ‘n’ cheese). It need not be so, however. We can do better and not succumb to the temptations of highly processed foods. For busy families, it is possible to get out of a rut and into a groove, finding a balance of healthier menu items that can satisfy everyone and perhaps transform snack time. For those who can swing it, there are a variety of soft foods in foil packs, often with marketing touting their organic and healthful qualities, but these foods are pricey.

In my practice, I counsel families to make a list of their child’s favorite foods and then draw from that list the items that are age appropriate, tasty and easy to prepare and that will survive in a bag till midday. For the toddler set, finger foods rule. Serve soft items that disintegrate or are swallowed easily, such as cheese, cut fruit or finely chopped meat, in Tupperware, and you are good to go. For older children who can handle more substantial foods, it can be fun to offer teeny versions of bigger dishes, such as a small grilled cheese or some slices of fruit. Be thoughtful about items that might spoil in the heat of a summer’s day, and don’t hesitate to ask friends what works for them. That is where the best ideas come from, I find. Portion sizes need not be big (a salad plate’s worth is plenty), and I recommend that you keep it simple, not fussy. It turns out children eat every day, so keep it sustainable. Lastly, avoid sugary beverages. Given a choice, I’d offer children water over juice.

Whatever you choose, I have found that the picky eaters out there (read that as “most children”) do best if you provide them with a familiar item or two, and then periodically offer up new foods that they can try to expand their palates and repertoires. You can assess how you’re doing by seeing what comes back home at the end of the day and modify your approach accordingly. As ever, respect the food-allergy restrictions most schools have, communicate any your child may have and touch base with teachers and your child’s doctor if you are concerned your child may have an allergy.

Most of all, enjoy. Snack time is a fun time. Bon appétit!

Three Simple Ways to Manage Sweets at Home

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What do birthday parties, Halloween and school functions have in common? The answer is food, particularly sweet treats. These events often come with a side of cake, cookies, candy and soda, which are all sugar-rich foods that many families try hard to limit at home.

Try as you might, children eventually find a way to consume them; we’re all born predisposed to desire sweets (De Cosmi, Scaglioni & Agnostoni, 2017).

Restricting foods and labeling them as good or bad can be problematic, but how can you ensure that your children are eating nutritious meals and not gorging themselves on sweets?

1. Change the labels.

There is no such thing as good food or bad food. Repeat this mantra.

Study after study has found that when foods are labeled this way, we respond with detrimental behaviors. Stigmatizing food can lead to eating disorders, shame, secret eating, depression and more (Rollin, 2015).

Jill Castle, a pediatric nutritionist, recommends using the terms “nourishing” and “fun” instead of good and bad or healthy and unhealthy.

Examples of nourishing foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and dairy products. Examples of fun foods include fried foods, chips, soda, cake and sugary beverages.

2. Implement the 90-10 rule.

Castle also recommends following the 90-10 rule, meaning 90% of your children’s meals will be nourishing foods and 10% will be fun foods (Castle, 2018). Let your children be part of this process. Explain what fun foods are, then help them identify some.

Only give your children two servings of fun foods a day.

3. Let your children choose.

Allow your children to choose the fun foods they’d like to eat whenever possible. This freedom is hugely important as children seek to exert their independence. Additionally, Castle says that this choice will help teach children how to self-regulate and use their decision-making skills.

Castle says, “The goal is to help your child pause and think through what she will eat during the day, and give her an opportunity to think ahead and practice decision-making skills with eating” (Castle, 2018).

What methods do you use to manage fun foods at home?

References

Castle, J. (2018). The 90-10 rule for managing treats. Retrieved from https://jillcastle.com/childhood-nutrition/fun-food-90-10-rule/

De Cosmi, V., Scaglioni, S. & Agnostoni, C. (2017). Early taste experiences and later food choices. Nutrients, 9(2):107.

Rollin, J. (2015). How the idea of “healthy eating” can be harmful. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-musings/201512/how-the-idea-healthy-eating-can-be-harmful?destination=node/1082948

Four Ways to Raise a Body Confident Child

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How Negative Self-Talk Affects Children

Recently, I was in a fitting room at a local clothing store when I overheard an all-too-common sigh of disgust. The woman who sighed said that she couldn’t believe how much weight she’d gained, that she was going to start a new diet immediately and that she was so gross. The laundry list of insults continued.

Normally, I could ignore something like this, but the barrage against her body didn’t stop. Then, I heard her teenage daughter chime in about running and dieting.

My stomach dropped. She was eviscerating her body in front of her daughter.

Unfortunately, this is commonplace. We’re taught through social media, movies, TV shows and advertising that being fat is bad.

Even children as young as three begin to perceive thin as good and fat as bad (Cramer & Steinwert, 1998).

While we can’t control everything our children see and hear, we can control the messages they consume at home.

Here are some ideas for being more mindful about how bodies are discussed in your family.

1. Pay attention to your words.

We’ve all been frustrated when clothes are too snug, but our bodies won’t always stay the same size. Our weights will fluctuate over time, which is normal. Before you decide to say negative things about your body, check in with yourself. What will it accomplish? Who will hear you say it?

What we say about ourselves around our children, even if we don’t think they’re listening, stays with them. A recent study found that when young girls overheard family members’ self-deprecating body talk, their risk of disordered eating and their likelihood of having a poor body image significantly increased (Webb, Rogers, Etzel & Padro, 2018).

I’ve made a conscious effort to stop speaking negatively about my body in front of my son. I made a pact with myself while I was pregnant that he would never hear me say anything bad about my appearance because negative body talk affects all children.

2. Don’t comment on your child’s weight.

I remember my aunt grabbing my thigh and asking whether I should really have another helping of food. She thought it was hysterical, and I was ashamed. I was in my early teens and already struggled with body image issues. Looking back, I was healthy and fit, but I didn’t see myself that way.

At their mildest, comments such as the one my aunt made may lead to weight and body dissatisfaction into adulthood (Wansink, Latimer & Pope, 2016). One study found that being labeled “too fat” at age 10 was a significant predictor of obesity at age 19. The likelihood was strongest when the comments came from family members.

Even if you think you’re delivering your message gently, talking about someone else’s weight is unkind. If you’re concerned about your child being overweight, experts recommend having

the family make lifestyle changes together. Get outside and play more, serve nutritionally balanced meals and always focus on health rather than weight (Wolfram, 2019). You can also always talk to your child’s pediatrician.

3. Talk to your children.

It’s so simple, but talking to your children can help put issues into perspective. If you’re watching a movie and the characters are making jokes about a person’s weight, remind your children that this is bullying. Explain to your children that it’s not nice to make fun of anyone for how they look.

Be mindful of how you speak about other people’s bodies.

Here are a few unhelpful phrases:

  • He’s gained weight. He looks better;
  • He’s gained weight. He looks worse;
  • She should always wear makeup;
  • She looks better without makeup;
  • She should dress for her size;
  • She should cover up her body;
  • I would never wear that if I looked like him.

4. Show them a diverse range of body types.

Choose books and movies with a diverse cast of characters. Show them that larger bodies exist and that those bodies matter just as much as smaller bodies. Look for shows that also feature people with disabilities and people who are gender-nonconforming.

What do you do to help your children feel comfortable in their bodies?

 

References

Cramer, P. & Steinwert, T. (1998). Thin is good, fat is bad: How early does it begin? Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 19(3), 429-451.

Wansink, B., Latimer, L.A. & Pope, L. (2016). “Don’t eat so much”: How parent comments relate to female weight satisfaction. Eating and Weight Disorders, 22(3), 475-481.

Webb, J., Rogers, C., Etzel, L. & Padro, M. (2018). “Mom, quit fat talking—I’m trying to eat (mindfully) here!”: Evaluating a sociocultural model of family fat talk, positive body image and mindful eating in college women. Appetite, 126, 169-175.

Wolfram, T. (2019). How to talk to kids about weight and obesity. Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/overweight-and-obesity/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-weight-and-obesity.

Here’s What You Should Know Before Signing Your Child Up for Swim Lessons

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We want our little ones to be safe in everything they do, which includes swimming.

Swimming is a great activity for children and adults. And, thanks to indoor pools, swimming doesn’t have to be a summer-only activity. But no matter where we decide to swim, adults and children need to understand how to be safe in and around any body of water.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, swimming lessons are beneficial for children as young as one year old. Enrolling them a program that teaches both swimming techniques and water survival skills may reduce the risk of drowning in children between the ages of one and four (“Swim Lessons”).

Don’t settle for any program. Do some research before signing your children up for a swim class. Ensure that the instructors are qualified, experienced and, preferably, certified through swim instructor certification training. Learn what the classes will teach, and see whether you can watch a lesson or two before enrolling.

Other must-haves include multiple sessions per class, an age-appropriate atmosphere (such as touch supervision for toddlers) and lessons about safety habits in and around the water. Look for classes that also teach water survival skills, such as treading water (“Drowning Prevention”).

Swimming is a lot of fun. Make it even better by helping your entire family stay safe in, on and near the water.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019). Drowning prevention for curious toddlers: What parents need to know. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Water-Safety-And-Young-Children.aspx

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019). Swim lessons: When to start and what parents need to know. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/swim-lessons.aspx

A Short List of Summertime Safety Essentials

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Have you found a summer camp program for your child yet? A high-quality summer camp often means spending a lot of time outside soaking up the sun and exploring the world. While outdoor play is a great way to keep children active and happy (and learning!), there are some summertime essentials every parent needs to protect their children from the potential hazards of summertime.

  • Sunscreen is necessary to protect your child’s skin from harmful sun damage;
  • Children should wear sunglasses to shield their eyes from the UVA and UVB rays;
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children wear a wide-brimmed hat that can shade the cheeks, chin, ears and back of the neck;
  • The AAP also recommends that children wear clothes made of tightly woven fabrics, such as cotton, which is protective and cool;
  • Insect repellent is another important tool in a summer safety arsenal. Current AAP and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines recommend using insect repellent that contains 10% to 30% DEET in children older than two months;
  • Have plenty of water on hand – even if an activity isn’t overly physical, children (and adults!) need to remain hydrated in hot weather.

 

Five Benefits of Teaching Children to Cook

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Cooking is as important a life skill as swimming or riding a bike; however, like those other skills, cooking is not generally taught in school. Parents are usually responsible for teaching their children to cook. Here are five benefits of teaching children this valuable skill.

  1. It’s a great bonding experience. If you teach your child how to make a favorite family recipe, she will have a memory that can last a lifetime.
  2. It leads to healthy eating habits. By purchasing fresh, healthy ingredients and using them to prepare a meal at home with your child, you will give him a better understanding of what healthy eating looks and tastes like.
  3. It helps build math skills. Cooking involves math, such as measuring out a cup of milk, counting eggs or doubling a recipe. Using math practically in the kitchen helps bolster those skills.
  4. It helps boost confidence. If you serve spaghetti and meatballs and announce to the rest of your family that your child helped prepare the meal, it may give him a sense of accomplishment, which will increase his self-esteem.
  5. It encourages the development of communication and collaboration skills. If you and your child are baking a cake, you have to talk about what you are doing, such as measuring flour or stirring batter. You must also work together to assemble the cake.

The Benefits of Your Family Getting More Sleep

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Before you can consistently be in the moment with your kids, before you can appreciate the precious details and small treasures of their lives and your lives together—before, that is, you can achieve a level of day-to-day mindfulness—there’s something you and those around you need: sleep. Sleeping is one of the easiest (and most effective) things we can do for our health and general well-being, and yet so many of us act like sleep is a luxury we often can’t afford. Parents especially seem to pay the steepest price, due to the unpredictable sleep patterns of children. But what exactly is the cost of sleep loss to a family? And what are the benefits of good rest?

The National Sleep Foundation’s most recent Sleep in America poll found that only 10 percent of American adults prioritize sleep over other aspects of their daily life—including fitness, nutrition, work, hobbies, and social life. A prevalent attitude among people seems to be that we can catch up on sleep another time, take a nap the next day, or bank hours of sleep over the weekend. But sleep is not an investment that builds over time; rather, the deposits and withdrawals are made daily, and the truth is that if you don’t snooze, you will lose.

And that loss can be significant: “When people get less than six hours a night as their norm, it’s associated with lower immunity response, higher cardiovascular incidents, higher rates of metabolic syndrome; it impacts our hormones, and leads to cognitive dysfunction,” says Michelle Drerup, Psy.D., director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. She reveals that the latest research shows a potential link between lack of zzz’s and dementia, because sleep can remove beta-amyloid—a toxic protein linked to Alzheimer’s—from the brain. That protein has been found to be higher in those who get less sleep. Most studies tend to look at sleep deprivation as opposed to sleep loss (as in staying awake for 31 hours straight). “Although these findings do not provide that sleep deprivation causes Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Drerup. “They highlight the importance of sleep to optimize brain health.”

Sleep deprivation certainly takes a toll on children, as any parent who has experienced the mood swings and the, uh, determined behavior of an underslept child can attest. “We typically pay attention to a child’s daytime functions but often overlook what is happening in the child’s body during sleep at night, yet what really happens in sleep is what dictates daytime behavior and function,” says Suresh Kotagal, M.D., a child neurologist and a pediatric sleep specialist at the Mayo Clinic. In school-age children especially, Dr. Kotagal says, insufficient or disruptive sleep will cause their frontal lobes to not work as well. Frontal-lobe function impacts not only mood but also attention and concentration. He sees many children in their sleep clinics with a diagnosis of possible attention deficit disorder, but what the child ultimately needs is to get “good quality sleep.” Even among children who are accurately diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Dr. Kotagal often finds an additional sleep disorder; if the disorder is successfully treated, the child may experience incremental improvement in daytime alertness and concentration.

Babies and toddlers have their own nuances around sleep patterns. Sally L. Davidson Ward, M.D., division head for pediatric pulmonology and sleep medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, says infants tend to become sleep-deprived due to illness. That makes for a generally cranky infant. Toddlers, Dr. Davidson Ward adds, might manifest their sleep deprivation by being more prone to oppositional behavior. In other words, without proper sleep patterns, the “terrible twos” could be even more terrible.

Sleep loss and parenthood seem to go hand in hand. How often have you heard new parents say they had no understanding of the true definition of tired until being faced with nighttime feedings and not being able to get their infants to drift off? While some of the war stories relayed by exhausted new parents are amusing—say, a mother on maternity leave who gets fully dressed to go to work and even goes out to her car before remembering she is still on leave—the reality of the effects of lack of sleep for new parents is less funny. Dr. Drerup points out that not only can sleep deprivation cause new parents to be more forgetful about things like when they last changed the baby’s diaper, it may also increase the risk of depression for postpartum mothers.

The practical applications of not getting enough sleep can have consequences. The National Sleep Foundation reports that severe sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol. People who are awake for 18 hours straight drive like they have a blood-alcohol content level of .05. (The legal level of intoxication for drivers in the U.S. is .08.)

Across the board, not getting enough sleep can be a detriment to your family’s health, safety, and relationships. At the very least, if you’re foggy because you didn’t sleep well, chances are you’re not going to be present for the everyday. Any parent who for whatever reason missed a first smile, word, step, or other milestone can tell you how important mindfulness and being in the moment is in parenting. And any parent who’s ever lost her temper because she’s cranky from lack of sleep knows that gut-punch feeling of guilt after snapping at her children.

Making sure that your (and your family’s) sleep habits don’t detract from your health and wellness is not as easy as just hitting the hay more. Following the popular advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is rarely that simple, especially with a newborn. We all know the drill: You nurse the baby to sleep, but when you go to put her back in her bassinet or crib, she wakes up and can’t fall asleep again until you nurse her or rock her, creating a vicious cycle that results in exhaustion for you and for your infant.

“Imagine if you fell asleep in your bed but you woke up in the car in your garage—what would happen? You would be very distraught, scared, and worried,” explains Dr. Davidson Ward. “That’s what’s happening to your baby every time they wake up in the crib. They don’t know where they are, because that’s not where they fell asleep.”She goes on to explain that you want your baby to fall asleep in the “desired sleep environment”—say, her crib or bassinet—and that you want to put them down when they’re drowsy but not yet asleep.

With toddlers and school-age children, the biggest issue is often getting them to go to sleep. How many times has your child begged you for another story or suddenly had the thirst of a water-deprived camel right before it’s time for bed? Dr. Davidson Ward describes it as the “curtain call,” and says that a predictable routine, verging on boring, done at the same time every night, could help your child avoid behavioral insomnia. “The routines around bedtime have to be for a finite period of time, 20 to 30 minutes maximum. If we keep talking to the child over and over again, what happens is sometimes children actually get excited and activated. Then they cannot sleep at all,” Dr. Kotagal says.In other words, right before bed is not the time for a pajama dance party or a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders. It’s easy to fall into the “wear them out and they’ll sleep better” trap—after all, it sounds logical. But too much physical activity, just like too much mental stimulation, can have the
opposite effect and invigorate the child.

A good, common routine might simply involve a bedtime story (singular) and a lullaby, but this can also be a time to teach a child about meditation and conscious breathing. That may help them fall asleep while also having the potential added benefit of relieving stress or anxiety. Of course, it’s not easy to get little ones to sit still, let alone to focus on something as mundane as breathing. Still, give this simple exercise a try: Start by asking your child to lie down, close her eyes, and breathe normally. Ask her to pay attention to all the parts of her body that move as she breathes. Then ask her to place one hand on her chest and the other on her stomach. Explain that when she inhales through her nose, the hand on her stomach will move upward while the hand on her chest will remain still. Tell her to inhale for four seconds and then hold that breath for four seconds. Then instruct your child to exhale, feeling the hand on her stomach move downward. Once she gets the hang of it, lie next to her and do the breathing exercises together for five minutes. Just make sure you leave your child’s bedroom before they (and/or you) fall asleep.

For both parents and children, one of the key components to ensuring proper sleep is diet. Since carbohydrates burn quickly, eating a heavily carb-based dinner or giving your child carb-based snacks before bedtime will almost guarantee that they become hungry again within a couple of hours—possibly after they’ve fallen asleep. Instead, advises Georgia Ede, M.D., a nutrition consultant and a psychiatrist, a whole-foods diet with adequate protein and fat will go a long way toward facilitating better sleep for the entire family.“Foods that are easiest for most people to digest are meat, seafood, poultry, fruit, and most seeded vegetables,” Dr. Ede says. “Foods that are easy to digest are unlikely to cause heartburn or indigestion symptoms that can interfere with sleep quality.”For snack-loving children, Dr. Ede suggests that a piece of fruit, carrot sticks with almond butter, and cucumber slices with guacamole will do your child and his sleep a much better service than processed snacks with refined carbohydrates.

What we eat, though, is not the only connection to better sleep. How we eat can also have a great impact. Small steps toward mindful eating, such as having dinner together at a table and not in front of a television, can help avoid distraction and, consequently, overeating. Paying attention to how our food tastes and smells while taking time with a meal or a snack can also help our bodies register when they’re full. Mindfulness during mealtimes can go a long way in getting the most mileage from our fuel, giving us the quickest detour to a better night’s sleep.

A staple of parents’ diets usually involves some method of caffeine ingestion, but Dr. Drerup says that while one or two cups of coffee is usually fine for most people, because the “half-life of caffeine is about five to seven hours,” noon or early afternoon is usually a good cutoff. If you still experience the mid- to late- afternoon slump, she recommends taking a walk outside instead of going to Starbucks for a venti never-gonna-sleepuccino. Exposure to natural light can help alertness, and a quick walk will give you a much needed boost of energy afterward. The National Sleep Foundation says that as little as ten minutes of aerobic exercise can also
“dramatically improve the quality of your night-time sleep.”

Another key component to getting a high-quality night’s sleep for the entire family is minimizing screen time, especially before bed. Experts agree that cutting off screen time at least an hour before bedtime is ideal. Dr. Kotagal explains that screen light suppresses the natural sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, not to mention that whatever is being watched might also be mentally activating for both children and adults.

Temperature can also be a factor in getting a good night’s sleep. While babies and children tend to sleep better in the low 70s, the ideal temperature for adult bedrooms veers cooler, hovering in the low 60s, according to Dr. Drerup. Per Dr. Kotagal, there is some research that suggests that because of the body’s natural gradient temperature, the temperature at an infant’s feet should be lower than the temperature around her abdomen, which is naturally higher. Parents might think it’s best to bundle infants in both socks and a heavier sleep sack, but that could make it harder for babies to fall asleep by artificially preventing heat loss from the infant’s body.

No matter what steps you take to help you and your family invest in better sleep, remember that sleep health is a significant part of a much larger overall picture, which is why Dr. Davidson Ward likes to ask her patients what they do for fun: “I think the pillars of good health are healthy nutrition, healthy exercise, a good night’s sleep, and doing something that you are passionate about or love every day. All these things are achievable for most families.” You just need to put your minds to it. *

This article originally appeared in Parents: The Mindful Life available at retailers and on Amazon.

 

This article was written by Lacey Vorrasi-Banis from Parents and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

5 Ways to Soothe Your Kids’ Seasonal Allergies—For Good

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After a long winter of sweaters, snow boots, and Fortnite, the first signs of spring should bring elation for kids and parents everywhere. But for Geri Amera, a mom in Elmhurst, New York, it’s crunch time. “You know that pretty moment when the trees release their flowers and it looks like it’s snowing?” says Amera. “That’s the worst day of the year for us.” Her 11-year-old daughter, Sophie, has had severe seasonal allergies since she was 3, meaning her body treats seemingly harmless spores of pollen like dangerous invaders. When they get into her mouth and nose, they cause her immune system to release histamines, which pump up mucus production. This leads to lots of sneezing, sniffling, coughing, and itching.

Over the past few years, Amera has carefully crafted a regimen involving antihistamines, housecleaning, vaporizers, and lots of Boogie Wipes to ensure that Sophie can play outside without feeling miserable. Staying vigilant is key. Research suggests that with each passing year, pollen is becoming increasingly allergenic, and allergy season is lasting longer, says Jeffrey Demain, M.D., director of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska, in Anchorage. (The likely culprit behind this trend: rising global temperatures.) Plus, untreated allergies can lead to irritability and interfere with sleep—which is no good for anyone in your house, says Edith Schussler, M.D., a pediatric allergist at Weill Cornell Medicine, in New York City.

How can you help ease your child’s symptoms? A science-backed plan is coming your way.

1. Get the right diagnosis.

In young kids, allergy symptoms can easily be mistaken for a cold or another virus. The biggest sign that your kid actually has a pollen problem? His symptoms stick around. “A cold usually lasts a week and then goes away,” Dr. Demain says. “An allergy flare, however, could last weeks or months.” And since most people in America with allergies are sensitive to more than one thing—dogs and ragweed, grass and dust mites, for example—sniffles often persist for longer than one season. Other signs of seasonal allergies: a clear drip coming out of the nose (rather than a yellowish or greenish one), itchy eyes, symptoms that worsen outdoors, and what doctors call “allergic shiners,” or dark circles under the eyes caused by nasal and sinus congestion.

Remember, too, that seasonal allergies run in families. If a parent has allergies, her child has about a 50 percent chance of developing them; if both parents are sneezing from spring through fall, the odds are even higher.

The best way to get your child diagnosed correctly is to see a pediatric allergist. After taking a detailed history, she’ll run skin and blood tests to pinpoint your kid’s specific allergies and effective treatments. Once you have a diagnosis and plan, your regular pediatrician can handle follow-ups, Dr. Demain says.

2. Minimize pollen’s presence in your child’s life.

First, consider the fabrics on your floors and windows, especially in your kid’s bedroom and playroom. “Heavy carpets and rugs hold on to allergens,” Dr. Schussler says, noting that you can easily mop hardwood and tile floors and wipe blinds and shutters clean.

“I have all our mattresses and pillows covered in allergen and dust protectors,” says Heather Nelson, of Greenwich, Connecticut, whose 7-year-old twins both have allergies. Washing sheets regularly in hot water can also remove lingering dust and allergens. Other smart ideas: Keep the windows closed during pollen season, run an air conditioner with a HEPA filter, and ask people to take off their shoes when they enter the house so they don’t track in pollen. 

Amera puts her daughter’s hair in tight braids to keep pollen from infiltrating her long locks (a baseball cap does the trick for shorter hair). Immediately showering and changing into “indoor clothes” when everyone gets home helps too. If you have a dog who spends time outdoors, bathe him as often as he’ll let you and keep him off your child’s bed. Some parents also like to keep a bottle of saline nasal spray handy to literally wash the pollen out of their child’s nose throughout the day and before bed.

And don’t forget one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal: your phone. Download Pollen.com’s free app, which delivers the forecast for specific pollen counts in your area. When possible, schedule outdoor activities on low-pollen days. “The day after a rainy day is the best time to be outside,” says New York City pediatrician Alison Mitzner, M.D., whose 7-year-old has allergies.

3. Make medications work for your kid.

Most allergists recommend starting with the simplest over-the-counter treatment and adding more meds as needed. “We want to keep children on the lowest amount of medication possible to control symptoms so they have the least possible side effects,” Dr. Schussler says.

Consider starting with a daily dose of an over-the-counter, second-generation antihistamine such as Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), or Claritin (loratadine) in a children’s formulation. Unlike first-generation antihistamines such as Benadryl, these drugs were designed not to cross the blood-brain barrier, which means they are less likely to cause drowsiness or hyperactivity. If your child begins taking medication even before his symptoms kick in, he may not produce histamines at all. “I recommend that patients start taking an antihistamine on March 1 for a spring-pollen allergy,” Dr. Schussler says. Take it at night, since some newer medications can still cause drowsiness.

In many cases, an antihistamine should provide enough relief for your child to get through the day. If he needs something more, consider reaching for a steroid nasal spray such as Nasonex (mometasone), Flonase (fluticasone), or Nasacort (triamcinolone acetonide). These daily-use sprays, which reduce swelling in the nasal passages and eyes, take a few days to kick in, and your child may not love the feeling of a spritz up his nose at first. But stick with it. A nasal spray can relieve the same symptoms that antihistamines do and also clear airways. For children with severe allergies that don’t respond to over-the-counter meds, ask about prescription-strength antihistamines and sprays.

4. Protect her eyes.

Itchy, red, teary eyes are one of the most aggravating symptoms of allergies. (The itch stems from inflammation of the mucus membrane covering the whites of the eyes and inner eyelids.) The fix: Keep pollen away from your child’s face. Dr. Schussler advises wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim. Kids touch their face all the time, but with these accessories on, your child will be less likely to rub her eyes.

You can also use saline eyedrops to wash away pollen. Or ask your child’s doctor about antihistamine eyedrops such as prescription Pataday or OTC Zaditor. “The drops can sting a little, but if you refrigerate them, it takes a bit of that away,” Dr. Demain says. Antihistamine nasal sprays often help with eye symptoms as well.

5. Go for long-term relief.

If you’ve tried pills, sprays, and rinses, ripped the carpet out of your home, and blinged out your kid with rock-star sunglasses, but he continues to suffer, talk to his allergist about allergy shots. “They are still the cornerstone of long-term treatment,” says Dr. Demain. “We have shots for almost every common allergen, and they also reduce the risk for developing new allergies and asthma.” The only real drawback? Getting your kid on board with a plan involving needles. The treatment starts out with two shots a week for up to two to three months, then tapers down to once a week, then every other week, and finally monthly.

After about three years, the allergy may be gone for good. Dr. Schussler suggests allergy shots after a patient has tried everything else and is at least 7 or 8 years old. “Some kids will be completely cured, and some still need to take an antihistamine when pollen counts are very high, but pretty much all children feel much better,” she says.

Is your child mainly allergic to grass? Good news: There’s a new option called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) that works the same way shots do but without the ouch of needles. Instead, patients take one tablet daily that dissolves under the tongue. SLIT tablets for dust mites and ragweed have been FDA-approved for adults, but grass is the only allergen approved for kids as young as 5. Still, it’s worth checking in with your allergist; the other allergens are under FDA evaluation and may be approved for children soon.

 

This article was written by Marisa Cohen from Parents and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.