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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.

Encourage Healthy Habits With a Snack Drawer

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Every day after school, it’s the same scene in my house: My son asks for a snack, I offer up an idea (usually starting with what he chose yesterday or the day before), which he promptly turns down. He might come back to it a few minutes later, after I’ve exhausted all other possibilities, but he never says yes to the first suggestion. He holds out until he know what all his options are.

I always have healthy options on hand—grapes and yogurt and pretzels—but I’m also guilty of buying Party Mix, which is decidedly not healthy (and is, therefore, usually my son’s top choice).

Nutrition writer Casey Seidenberg offers up this suggestion in the Washington Post: Create “snack drawers.”

Create a refrigerator snack drawer full of foods such as hard-boiled eggs, blueberries, carrots and yogurt, and always have a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter. Also, create a snack drawer outside the refrigerator. Fill it with mostly healthy snacks such as applesauce, raisins and nutritious bars, but add a few less healthy items, such as leftover Halloween candy. Explain that at snack time, they may eat from either of these locations.

My kid eats enough candy already (I pack him a piece in his lunch for dessert and he gets a small dessert after dinner most nights), so I would adjust that part. Instead, I could pack up small portions of so-good-but-not-good-for-you Party Mix next to larger portions of pretzels or granola and let him choose for himself. If he wants to indulge, he can but with a smaller portion. If he’s hungrier, he’ll have to opt for the bigger, healthier choice.

Either way, it’s his decision and I can stop reciting his options day after day after day.

Seidenberg offers up a few more tips for teaching healthy snacking habits to kids, including teaching them about hunger cues, setting specific snack times and deciding on a family rule for sugary foods. I’m admittedly not that regimented when it comes to snacking, but the drawer seems like a quick and easy way to cut down on some of the snack time debate.

As with all things parenting, you can go as quick-and-dirty or as elaborate as you’d like. I searched “snack drawer ideas” on Pinterest and found everything from drawers stuffed with Mott’s, fruit snacks and Cheez-It bags to beautifully organized drawers with tiny containers, perfect portions and helpful labels. I’m more likely to fall in the former, rather than latter, category, but either way it’s worth a shot.

 

This article was written by shared by Meghan Moravcik Walbert to Lifehacker and Meghan Moravcik Walbert on Offspring from Lifehacker and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

7 Ways to Stay Healthy When Your Kid Is Sick

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Every parent expects her child to get sick sometimes. After all, you’d get sick too if you spent the bulk of your days crawling on dirty playground equipment, drinking out of your friends’ cups of juice, and touching (or mouthing!) every little thing that grabs your attention. And while little kids typically aren’t big fans of sharing, when it comes to spreading bacteria and viruses, they’re extremely generous: According to a recent study from the University of Arizona, a woman’s chances of getting sick double when she becomes a mother. So how can you stay healthy this season when you’re constantly playing nurse to your sniffling, sneezing kid? All you have to do is put our brilliant germ-fighting game plan to work.

1. Spend More Time at the Sink

We know you’ve heard the “wash your hands” tip a million times before, but that’s because it works. If you do it frequently, you can reduce the odds you’ll catch your child’s cold by 30 to 50 percent. A quick rinse doesn’t count; follow the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to scrub your hands for 20 seconds. For added insurance, rub a moisturizing, alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your hands post-wash when your child has come down with something. (Soap helps rinse away many types of bacteria and viruses, but hand sanitizer will kill any germs that soap left behind.) Stock up on mini bottles of sanitizer to keep in your bag too—kids have a knack for sneezing on you the minute you’re nowhere near a sink. Doing all this may sound obsessive, but considering that most infections are spread through hand-to-hand contact, the extra effort is worth it.

2. Make the Kitchen Off-Limits

Your child may like coloring at the kitchen table or banging on pots and pans, but you should encourage him to hang out somewhere else when he’s sniffling. “The kitchen is one of the germiest rooms in the house,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a microbiologist who studies soil, water, and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Bacteria can survive on countertops and tables, so your child’s germs could easily be transferred to your food and make everyone sick.” At the very least, don’t let him help himself to food in the refrigerator. People open the fridge door more often than any other one in the house, making the handle the perfect germ-swapping spot. Plus, bacteria breed there easily, since many people hang damp, food-spattered dish towels over the handle.

3. Switch to Hot Water on Laundry Day

Using your washer’s cold-water cycle is an earth-friendly move, but when your kid is sick you have Mother Nature’s okay to use hot H2O. Why? Hot water kills more germs than cold, says Dr. Gerba. Switching makes a difference: “Studies show that people who wash clothes in hot water miss fewer days of work and their children have fewer sick days from school,” says Harley A. Rotbart, M.D., author of Germ Proof Your Kids. When your child is ill, do as much of her laundry as possible in hot water and chlorine bleach to kill germs. (When washing darks in hot water, add a non-chlorine, colorfast bleach; this kind of bleach isn’t a germ-killer, but it protects against fading and running.) Avoid touching your nose and mouth while you do the laundry. Remember, you’re handling germy stuff like the shirt your child used as a tissue. Scrub your hands when you’re done, and sanitize the washing machine between loads by running an empty hot cycle with bleach.

4. Cut Down on Cuddles

We know it sounds totally unrealistic, but try to put some distance between you and your kid when you can. Fortunately, you don’t have to quarantine yourself, since viruses can’t travel beyond three feet, according to research from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Try using hands-off ways to soothe your child—create a hand signal that means “hug,” blow kisses, or simply say “I love you” more often. If you can’t resist giving him a kiss, aim for his forehead or the top of his head instead of his mouth, says Philip M. Tierno Jr., PhD, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at NYU Langone Medical Center. Also okay: letting him curl up in your bed. “No one’s sure why, but there’s only a one-in-a-thousand chance of contracting germs from a blanket,” says Dr. Gerba. Just don’t snuggle up with him—you don’t want to be in the path of your kid’s coughs and sneezes.

5. Declare a No-Sharing Rule

You try to teach your kid to be generous, but when she gets sick with a cold or the flu, selfishness is a plus. “Viruses and bacteria can survive anywhere from one hour to a few days on a moist surface, so don’t your let children share toys, towels, or even a tube of toothpaste if one of them gets sick,” says Dr. Rotbart.

6. Break Out the Disinfectant

Your cabinets are probably stocked with every type of cleaning product, but some are better than others when it comes to killing your sick kid’s germs. Here’s the dirt on getting clean: According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), you should use a cleanser with an EPA registration number and the word disinfectant on the label. That means the product contains the big guns of germ fighting, like ammonia or bleach, and has met the government’s standards for effectiveness. Use it to scrub spots that everyone in the family touches—the phone, toilet handle, remote control, and doorknobs—a few times a day when your child is sick to keep his germs contained.

7. Put Off Washing Your Kid’s Toys

Even if they’re scattered all over your house, let them be. You’ll slash your risk of getting sick if you wait to tackle your child’s germy toys when he’s well. (He’ll re-infect them every time he plays with them, so why keep touching his germs when it’s not necessary?) Once your kid is feeling better, attack his stuff using Dr. Tierno’s bug-fighting routine: Clean them with peroxide or white vinegar, wash them with soap and hot water, then rinse in peroxide or vinegar. “It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s the best way to prevent germs from spreading,” he says.

3 Top Germ Hot Spots

Bacteria and viruses can lurk just about anywhere, but they really love to hang out on some of the stuff parents have to touch constantly.

  • Grocery-cart handles A University of Arizona study found that 55 percent of them were contaminated with fecal matter. “Carry hand sanitizer in your purse and use it when you’ve finished doing your shopping,” says Dr. Charles Gerba.
  • Playground equipment When researchers from the University of Arizona College of Public Health examined various playgrounds, they found feces, urine, and even blood on the equipment. Always wash up when playtime’s over.
  • Your kitchen sink It’s covered in germs—500,000 of them per square inch. Why? When you rinse some foods, particularly raw fruits and veggies, bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella wash down the drain and accumulate there. Scrub the sink with bleach and water at least twice a week.

 

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

How to know your kids are contagious (and when to keep them at home)

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No one likes to be sick. As a parent, when you feel terrible, you just wish that the world would stop and you could just curl up on your bed and sleep. Unfortunately, this is not how the world works. Even when you are sick there are things that have to be done.

However, when your kids are sick, you’ll need to decide whether they are contagious or not before sending them off on their way. You don’t want to spread whatever your child has to the entire school.

So how do you know when your child is contagious?

1. Fever

Fever is a sign that your body is still fighting the virus or bacteria. A fever is always a sign of sickness, so if you notice that your child’s temperature is running high, it’s a sign they should stay home today.

2. Runny nose

If their sinuses are draining, they are sick — despite the color of the drainage. “All colds are contagious regardless of mucus color.” says Sara DuMond, MD.

3. Feeling sick

We live in a culture where even if you are feeling sick, you just keep going. When our kids say they feel sick, it can be easy to ignore it and send them on their way.

However, that might not be the best approach. DuMond said, “When your child is feeling his worst (days three through five), he’s most contagious. But symptoms can last for up to two weeks, and he’s contagious as long as he’s sick. Of course, you can’t quarantine him for days. So wash your hands frequently after touching him, and keep him away from other kids during the … peak.”

“In most of us, flu is contagious for about a week. By the time you’re feeling better, you have probably stopped spewing virus particles everywhere,” Dr. Salber says. Therefore, if you are feeling really sick you are probably still contagious.

When should you keep the kids home?

If you suspect your child is contagious you should keep your kids home — it might be inconveinent, it might be unexpected, but it’s the right thing to do.

What to do?

If your child is sick there are a lot of options. You can see if you can work from home, take a sick day yourself or call the grandparents or a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on your child. Be sure to call the school and excuse your child’s absence and work on getting their day’s work so they don’t fall behind.

 

This article was written by Christa Cutler from Family Share and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Kids Are Eating More Fast Food Than Ever Before — Here’s Why

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Fast food has changed quite a bit in recent years. In addition to the usual burgers and fries on the menu, most restaurants now also offer healthier options like wraps, salads, fruit and yogurt. But that doesn’t mean everyone is eating well or as well they should. In fact, a new study out of the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that American children are eating more fast food now than ever before.

The study polled roughly 800 parents — in 2010, 2013 and 2016 — regarding their children’s eating habits, particularly those at the nation’s four largest fast-food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Subway. According to the results, 91 percent of those surveyed bought at least one meal for their child from a fast-food eatery each week, which is up from 79 percent in 2010. 

What’s more, 74 percent of the kids ordered an unhealthy drink and/or side items with their meal.

Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center and the lead author of the report said in a statement, “We know that fast food offers parents a convenient, affordable option for feeding their families. But restaurants have a responsibility to make these affordable, convenient foods healthier. Most fast-food meals — even kids’ meals — have more fat, sugar and sodium than children need, and eating this kind of unhealthy food can have negative health consequences over time, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health issues.”

That said, Harris acknowledged that fast-food restaurants have made great strides in recent years. However, they need to do more to educate parents about the options they have.

“While most fast-food restaurants do have healthier kids’ meal drinks and sides available, many do little to make parents aware of the healthier options or to encourage parents to choose the healthier options instead of unhealthy ones,” Harris said. “If restaurants are serious about children’s health, they will make the healthiest choice the easiest choice for parents and the most appealing choice for children.”

As such, the best thing parents can do is to research each chain’s menu and keep an eye out for healthy items and encourage kids to opt for those over the deep-fried offerings.

 

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

9 First-Aid Items Every Parent Should Have in the House

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No matter how closely parents watch their children, accidents and unexpected medical curveballs are unavoidable. From scratches to splinters to allergic reactions, we want to be prepared for any situation — and that’s why it’s so important to have first-aid items in the house. 

Putting together the most thorough first-aid kit can be a daunting task, but don’t despair if you’re not sure where to start — we’ve got you covered. 

1. Triple-antibiotic ointment

Cuts and scrapes are a normal part of childhood, so it’s always handy to have some triple-antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin) around.

“Kids will always find a way to injure their skin, which happens to be the body’s largest organ and our first line of defense against infection,” Dr. Ashanti Woods, attending pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center, tells SheKnows. Although the majority of these cuts heal without complications, there’s always the possibility of infection — and some children are at greater risk for bacterial infections. 

“To prevent these infections, Neosporin or any triple-antibiotic ointment should be applied to the skin following a moderate to severe skin injury,” Woods advises. 

 

2. Antihistamine

Allergic reactions in children can potentially be life-threatening, so Woods says that an antihistamine that’s safe for children (like Benadryl and it’s generic versions) is definitely an essential item to have on hand at all times. 

“In the event a parent suspects their child (or a visiting child) is having an allergic reaction to something, the first step should be to give a healthy dose of Benadryl,” he advises. If an allergic reaction is severe, parents should call 911 and an epinephrine injection should be administered. 

3. Adhesive bandages

If you think of items essential for any first-aid kit, adhesive bandages are probably first on the list. Dr. Rachel Dawkins, a board certified pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, tells SheKnows that it’s important to stick with the basics. “Band-Aids are great for minor cuts and scrapes,” Dawkins says. “Also, kids love putting Band-Aids on — even when their injury is small or nonexistent.” 

Because children go through adhesive bandages quickly, Dawkins recommends buying in bulk or getting the novelty ones at a dollar store. “You could also consider putting gauze, nonstick bandages and an elastic [ACE] bandage in your kit,” she adds. 

4. Thermometer

As a pediatrician, Dawkins says she thinks having a working thermometer is the most important tool to have in your first-aid kit, noting that it’s common for children to feel like they have a fever when they don’t.

“The most accurate temperature is a rectal temperature and is the preferred way to take an infant’s temperature,” Dawkins explains. “Temporal artery or ear thermometers are fine options for older babies and children.” 

5. Tweezers

If you’re lucky enough to be sprouting chin hair, you probably already have a pair of tweezers sitting around, but it’s probably a good idea to get a pair specifically for your first-aid kit.

Tweezers are an essential tool for removing splinters and stingers,” Woods says. Once the splinter or stinger is removed from a child’s skin, the symptoms almost always resolve quickly, and typically no medicines are necessary, she adds. 

6. A small flashlight

Dawkins recommends keeping a small flashlight on hand for those times when you need to remove something small from your child’s skin and need better lighting. She also notes that you could use the flashlight on your phone. 

7. ACE Wrap

Because children are so active, it is not uncommon for them to get a bump, bruise, sprain or strain in their daily activities, Woods says. “These injuries involve an overstretching of muscles and ligaments near the big joints, [which] cause quite a bit of pain,” she explains. 

The most common way to treat a sprain or a strain is RICE: rest, ice, compression (that’s where the ACE wrap comes in) and elevation, she adds. With this type of treatment, Woods says you can typically count on your child being back to running around after three to seven days. 

8. Ice packs

Dawkins recommends keeping some form of ice pack in the freezer just in case. If you don’t have one, she suggests using a bag of frozen vegetables or a wet sponge that has been frozen in a freezer bag. “Alternatively, wrap ice in a paper towel or put it in a freezer bag,” she says. 

“The usual rule of thumb when using ice on an injury is 20 minutes on then 20 minutes off,” Dawkins continues. “I also recommend putting something between the ice pack and your child’s skin to prevent injury to the skin from the cold.”  

9. Medications & creams

Your home first-aid kit should contain a couple of medications and creams, Dawkins explains, and suggests the following (in addition to the ones mentioned above):

In addition to these first-aid items, Dawkins suggests that parents keep emergency numbers handy and in an easily accessible location. These numbers include their pediatrician’s office, poison control (1-800-222-1222) and a couple of emergency contacts. 

Chances are you probably have a lot of these items already in your house — you might as well take the next step and assemble them in an easy-to-reach kit to make treating your kids’ minor injuries and pain easier the next time they occur.

 

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

8 Ways to Boost Your Immune System When the Kids Go Back to School

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It’s back-to-school time. While this means getting back to learning and reconnecting with friends, parents everywhere know that kids are basically walking garbage cans, and schools are where they gather close together and spend hours of time sharing their space — and their germs.

Of course, they then come home and happily share their germs with the rest of the family, including their parents. So, how can parents boost their immune systems and prevent themselves from getting sick when the kids go back to school? Here are some top tips for boosting your immunity.

Wash your hands

When it doubt, wash your hands.

“Wash your hands as often as possible for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap,” Dr. Kristine Arthur, an internist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows. 

While washing hands is mostly about keeping germs out of your body, it’s still a super-important habit to get into as fall and winter roll around, and if you can keep those germs away, you’ll be way better off when your kids start bringing viruses home, she says. 

Change your work habits

Moving around more while you work (especially if your job is sedentary) can help your overall general health and can keep your immune system in tip-top shape, Arthur says. She suggests squeezing in a walk as often as you can, parking farther away from your building and taking the stairs. 

“If you are able to stand up while typing, try to do it as much as possible, as studies show that prolonged sitting every day can be as bad for you as smoking,” she explains. 

Eat more zinc-containing foods

Dr. Christopher Hollingsworth, a surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates, suggests adding a few vital nutrients to get your immune system at its best. 

“Oysters are very high in zinc, which is utilized extensively by your body to produce all the biochemicals needed to fight infection,” he tells SheKnows. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent snack food that is high in zinc and in antioxidants — and taste great toasted and salted, he adds.

Exercise — but not too much

Physical activity can help boost your immune system, but excessive or repeated strenuous exercise can dampen your immune system, as shown in a study published in the European Journal of Sport Science in 2018.  

Garlic up your dinner

If you love garlic, your immune system is in luck. “Garlic influences your immune system to fight infection aggressively as well as reduce inflammation,” Hollingsworth explains. 

Add more citrus to your shopping cart

Ah yes, that good old vitamin C. Turns out it’s not only in some of your favorite foods, but it’s excellent for your immune system.

“Vitamin C has long been associated with improved resistance to infection,” says Hollingsworth. “The cells that gobble up bacteria in your body need vitamin C to function properly.”

Keep your hands away from your face

Even just reading this will probably make you want to touch your face. But don’t.

Emergency physician Dr. Chirag Shah tells SheKnows that we shouldn’t touch our eyes or face throughout the day or at least wait until we have freshly washed hands and should teach our kids to do the same. 

“One good way to increase the risk of getting sick is touching something dripping with infectious droplets and then sticking the droplets right into your eyes or nose,” he explains. Ick!

Decontaminate your kids

You don’t really have to subject your kids to a decon shower, but Arthur suggests having your kids wash their hands immediately after coming home from school, and you might even consider having them change into clean clothes once they walk through the door. 

It seems inevitable that once your little germ magnets go back to school, they’ll eventually bring home some germs to share with you and the rest of your family. While it’s a good idea to keep the above tips in mind, frequent handwashing is so vital — especially before you sit down and eat food. 

So wash up, parents! And keep your kids on a steady diet of handwashing too. Hopefully, you’ll keep those back-to-school germs far away. 

 

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

How to Keep Your Kids From Getting Sick Once School Starts

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If you’re a parent (or even if you’re not), ideally, you’ve had a break from colds, flu and stomach viruses this summer. But as back-to-school time approaches, parents may start to get concerned about what that means for their kids and their health. 

We wish we had a secret formula to shield our kids from all the germs and to keep them healthy, but when a bunch of children are together for hours a day, sicknesses spread like wildfire. What we do have, though, is access to health experts who told us all about ways you can help keep your kids from getting sick this school year.

Allergies

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reminds us that children in pre-K through fourth grade need their parents to advocate for them and talk to the teacher each year about allergies. Let them know what kind(s) of allergies they have and make sure a health plan is in place. As they get older, they become better at speaking for themselves, but it is always important to remind them and encourage them to do so as well as make sure they know how to use medications in an emergency.

Sleep

Sleep is a big way to keep your child’s immunity strong — teens should get about nine hours of sleep each night, and younger kids need about 10 hours per night, Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows. To get your kids settled and ready for bed on time, Posner suggests having them “avoid screen time about an hour before bedtime,” as it helps them fall asleep faster.

Diet

Kids should have a well-balanced diet that includes lots of veggies, some fruits, proteins and a lot of water, Posner says, adding that they should avoid junk food — including sodas, juices, fast foods and candy.

Kids should also be eating yogurt, as it contains probiotics, which are “healthy bacteria your body needs to keep your immune system strong,” Sara Siskind, a certified nutritional health counselor, tells SheKnows.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in shellfish, salmon, mackerel and herring can “help white blood cells produce a protein which helps clear flu viruses out of the body,” she explains.

Stress

For our older kids and teens, Dr. Shayla Sullivant, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, stresses how important it is that we check in with our kids on their mental health. One way to do this is by asking them how they are doing and letting them know you are worried about them if you see drastic changes in behavior, she explains.

Similarly, Dr. Mildred F. Carson, a board-certified pediatrician with over 15 years of experience, tells SheKnows that the right amount of sleep and a proper diet will also help your child cope with the stress a new school year can bring.

Regular exercise

Regular exercise is important “to keep your immune system strong so that the body is more able to fight off infections,” Carson says, adding that even 15 minutes a day can be beneficial. 

Other helpful reminders

Even though it sounds basic, Posner says washing hands is the biggest deterrent when it comes to getting sick. Kids should wash their hands before they eat, after they play on the playground, and after they use the restroom, she says. It’s important to make sure they are using warm water and soap and washing for at least 20 seconds in order for the handwashing to be effective.

Sneezing into their elbow (per instructions from President Barack Obama) will help contain germs, and not sharing drinks or food are all things our kids need to be reminded of constantly. 

There’s no doubt that kids are natural germ-spreaders. It takes a bit of extra work to follow the guidelines to protect you and your family, but it’s worth it to make it through the school year with fewer sick days.

 

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

How Hot Is Too Hot for Your Kids to Play Outside?

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Summer is here, and many of us want to be outside and enjoy the beautiful weather while it lasts — especially if we live in a cooler climate. However, it important to remember our children can get very hot in a short amount of time, especially when they run around and play. But how hot is too hot?

To find out, we spoke with some doctors about when it’s too hot for our kids to be outside in the summer months, what we can do to protect them before going out in the warm weather and signs to look for if we think kids might be getting overheated.

It varies depending on your child’s activity level

Activity level plays a huge factor, Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows. If it’s 100 degrees and your kids are swimming, playing with water toys and in the shade, going outside is perfectly fine if you are keeping a close eye on them. However, If they are running around in direct sunlight, a lot of kids will overheat — even if the temperature is just in the 80s, says Posner.

A good rule of thumb is, “If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your kids,” Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SheKnows. 

Pay attention to the heat index

Caitlin Hoff, a health and safety investigator for ConsumerSafety.org, says you shouldn’t just pay attention to the temperature on the thermometer. Make sure to keep an eye on the humidity by looking at the heat index factor too. 

“When the heat index is 100 degrees or more (over 90 degrees with 60 percent humidity), heat exhaustion is much more probable without safety measures taken,” Hoff tells SheKnows.

Age does matter

Younger children are more susceptible to heat exhaustion because “they produce less sweat” and “are less likely to feel and understand the dangers of extreme heat,” Hoff says.

Never skimp on water, shade or sunscreen

One of the most important things to remember is to keep your kids out of direct sunlight for long periods of time in the summer. They need shade, plenty of water and sunscreen whenever they are outside, Ganjian says. He also recommends dressing your children in light, long-sleeve clothing and always applying a safe sunscreen on children over 6-moths old (and then reapplying it every two hours and after water play). For babies under 6 months, Ganjian says they should avoid sun exposure all together. 

Warning signs to look for

Posner and Ganjian both say to pay attention to the warning signs of overheating, which include fever, decreased number of wet diapers, cranky behavior or being overly tired. If you notice these symptoms, they suggest a lukewarm bath, plenty of fluids and a call to your pediatrician.

There is a lot to enjoy outdoors during the summer months, but it’s best to take the necessary precautions to make sure you and your family stay safe.

 

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