Home alone? Is your child ready?

Parents often wonder when it’s okay to let their kids stay home alone. There is no easy answer to this question. Many states, including Kansas, do not have a specific age allowable by law. The Department for Children and Families suggests that children under 6 years never be left alone, children 6-9 years should only be alone for short periods if they are mature enough, and children over 10 years may be left alone if they are mature enough. (For state specific rules, check your state’s Child Protection Services agency.)

Growing up

Is your child ready to stay home alone?
Is your child ready to stay home alone?

Staying home alone is an important part of growing up. If a child is supervised at all times throughout childhood and the teen years, he won’t be able to move out on his own.

This might be the case if there is a developmental delay or behavioral problems that make it not safe for that person to be alone.

The age at which kids are able to be alone varies on the child and the situation. Parents must take many things into account when considering leaving a child alone.

Maturity of the child.

Age does not define when kids are ready to stay home alone. You must consider how responsible and independent they are.

Does your child know what to do if someone knocks at the door? Can they prepare a simple meal? Do they follow general safety rules, such as not wrestling with a sibling or jumping on the trampoline unsupervised? Will your child be scared alone? Do they know how to call you (or 911) in case of problems or a true emergency? Are they capable of understanding activities that are dangerous and need to be avoided when unsupervised?

Readiness.

Is your child asking for the privilege of being left alone or are they afraid to be alone?

Forcing a child who is afraid to stay alone can be very damaging. Only allow kids to stay alone if they want to and are capable of the responsibility.

Behavior.

Some kids are typically rule followers. Others are not. If your child has problems following rules while supervised, he is not ready to be left alone.

Dangers are more likely to come if kids are risk takers and cannot control their behaviors. House fires, hurt pets, physical fights among siblings, kids wandering the neighborhood, and online behaviors that put kids at risk are but a few ways kids who don’t follow rules can get hurt.

Even if kids used to be able to be unsupervised, things change. If you think a child or teen is depressed, using drugs or there are other concerns, it might not be safe any longer to leave them unsupervised.

Number of children and their ages.

Kids can supervise younger siblings as long as they are mature enough and the dynamics between the two allow for it.

Two kids of similar ages can keep each other company if they are able to be responsible alone and not fight.

Some children can stay alone, but are not yet ready to take care of younger siblings. If they can do it when parents are home, they might be ready for unsupervised babysitting.

In Kansas kids must be 11 years of age to watch non-siblings, but there is no law for siblings. Leaving an 11 year old alone with a baby is much different than leaving the 11 year old in charge of a school aged child!

You must know your kids and their limitations.

Left alone or coming home to an empty house?

When you leave kids home, you can first be sure doors are locked and kids are prepared.

If they will be coming home to an empty house (such as after school), there are a few more things to consider. Will they be responsible to keep a house key? Is there an alternate way in (such as a garage code)? Do they know how to turn off the house alarm if needed? How will you know they made it home safely?

Pets.

If there are pets in the home, is your child responsible to help care for them? Can they let the dog out? Will they be allowed to take the dog for a walk? Do they have to remember to feed the pets?

It’s not just your child’s abilities when there are pets involved. Your pet’s temperament makes a difference. Does your pet have a good nature around the kids?

Neighborhood.

Where you live makes a difference. Do you live on a quiet cul-de-sac or a busy street? In a single family home or an apartment building? Do you have a trusted neighbor that your child can call in case of emergency? Is there a neighbor that your child seems to be afraid of? Are there troublemaker kids down the street?

If you don’t know neighbors what can your child do if there is a problem?

Will they go outside?

You’ll have to set ground rules about leaving the house, which will vary depending on the situation.

Is your child allowed to go outside when you’re not home and under what conditions ~ with a group of kids, with your big dog, on foot only or on a bike, daylight/dark, etc?

If they can go outside who do they tell where they are going and when they will return? Are there area limitations of where they can go? Run through scenarios of what to do if someone they don’t know (or feel comfortable with) tries to talk to them.

Do all the kids play outside after school with a stay at home mom supervising? If you will allow your child to go out expecting that the other parent will be there, be sure to talk with that other parent first to be sure it is okay — the parent might not want that responsibility.

Baby Steps.

Gradual increases in time alone are helpful.

Start by doing things in the home where you tell kids you don’t want to be disturbed for 30 minutes unless there’s an emergency. Let them know it is practice for staying home alone to show responsibility. When they do well with that, try going to a neighbor’s house briefly. If they do fine with that short time alone with you in close proximity, take a quick run to the store. Gradually make the time away a bit longer.

Time of day.

Start with trips during daylight hours when they don’t need to make any meals.

Only leave kids alone when dark outside if they are not scared and they know what to do if the power goes out, such as use flashlights, not candles.

Overnight stays alone are generally not recommended except for the very mature older teen. And then you must think about parties or dates visiting…

List of important things.

Make sure kids have a list of important phone numbers. They should have an idea of where you are and when you’ll be back. What should they do if they have a problem? List expectations of what should be done before you get back home.

Are there any no’s?

While it is impossible to list every thing your child should not do when you’re not home, make sure they know ones that are important to you. Having general house rules that are followed are helpful to avoid the “I didn’t know I couldn’t…” Think about how much screen time they can have, internet use, going outside, cooking, etc. Are they allowed to have friends over? Can they go to a friend’s house if their parents are home? What if those parents aren’t home? Some kids might be ready for unsupervised time at these activities, others not.

Emergencies.

Go over specifics of what to do if …

  • fire
  • electricity goes out
  • someone calls the house
  • a friend wants to come over
  • they are hungry
  • there’s a storm outside
  • they spill food or drink

Quiz them on these type of topics.

Do they know what the tornado alarm sounds like and what to do if it goes off? And do they know the testing times so they aren’t afraid unnecessarily?

Can they do simple first aid in case of injuries? Discuss the types of things they can call you about– if they call several times during a short stay alone, they aren’t ready!

Supervise from afar.

When kids are first home alone, you can call to check in on them frequently. Tell a trusted neighbor that you will be starting to leave your child home alone and ask if it is okay for kids to call them if needed.

Ask how things went while you were gone. Did any problems arise? What can be done to prevent those next time?

Internet.

Internet safety deserves several posts on its own since there are so many risks inherit to kids online.

Be sure you know how to set parental controls if your kids have internet access. Review all devices (computers, smart phones, tablets, etc) for sites visited on a regular basis.

Talk to your kids about what to do if they land on a site that scares them or if someone they don’t know tries to chat or play with them online. Be sure they know to never give personal information (including school name, team name, game location and time, etc) to anyone on line.

If they play games online, remind them to only play with people they know in real life. Do your kids know how to change settings so that the location of photos cannot be tracked through GPS?

home alone.

At some point kids will need to be independent, so work on helping them master skills that they need for life. This includes learning to stay home alone.

 

Body Safety and Sexual Consent – Start Younger than You’d Think!

We hear about child molestation and rape far too often these days. While we can’t anticipate all the situations our kids will be exposed to throughout their lives, we can teach them how to protect themselves in all situations and if there’s trouble to speak up. Teach them to respect themselves, to respect others, and to never keep secrets. Talk about consent often, starting in the toddler and preschool years!

Start in the toddler years?

What about their innocence?

It’s never too soon to talk about body safety. You don’t need to cover all the specifics at young ages, but there are many age appropriate things to talk about at each stage.

The message and words change over the years as your child grows, but start young!

Teach proper body part names.

We call eyes “eyes.”

An elbow is an elbow.

Why should we call a vagina a “hoo hoo” or a penis a “wee wee”?

If kids ever need to talk about those body parts and the other person doesn’t know the slang, it’s more difficult to get the point across.

Wouldn’t you feel awful if your preschooler tried to tell a teacher that another adult touched her inappropriately, but the teacher thought “hoo hoo” was just a fun term, so didn’t act on the issue?

Teaching kids about private body parts is important.  Let them know that their swim suit area is private. No one should be able to look or touch there without permission from Mom or Dad and from the child himself.

Teach respect of personal space.

Many kids love to hug and kiss everyone they see.

Other kids hate to be hugged or kissed.

Sometimes they just don’t feel like it, but other times they’re okay with a big bear hug.

All of these feelings are okay, but we must be mindful of how these interactions are approached and consented.

Ask permission.

Teach your kids to always ask permission before entering someone’s personal space.

They can say something as simple as, “Can I give you a hug and kiss goodbye or should we high-five or blow kisses?”

Encourage kids to demand permission before being touched. You can model this kind of expectation by asking before touching.

~ Can I be a tickle monster and get you?

~ It’s time to wash your back. Should I do it or do you want to do it yourself? Now it’s time to wash your penis, do you want help?

~ Do you want me to rub your back to help you fall to sleep?

Be sure others ask similar questions of your child.

Talk to family members about this when the child isn’t present. You don’t want it to be an ordeal in front of everyone, so a little discussion ahead of time can help the adult understand and follow your expectations.

If adults continue to enforce a hug or kiss, it’s a red flag that they don’t appreciate boundaries. I would not recommend allowing your kids to be alone with them. They might simply be innocently wanting a hug from a cute kid, but they also might be testing to see how the child reacts in preparation for more intimate touches.

Don’t force your kids to be kissed or hugged by anyone, even family members. If they don’t want Grandma or Uncle Buddy to get too close, they shouldn’t be forced to give a hug or kiss.

Think about the message that sends.

They should not have to submit to being touched. Ever.

Teach proper hygiene.

Once kids are potty trained, they can start learning to wash their own genitals. It will take practice before they can do an adequate job, but if you don’t start teaching them, how will they ever know what to do?

If they still need help toileting or bathing, be sure they know that only adults who have permission are allowed to help. This means you must tell them that it’s okay for any specific person to help.

Wipe properly.

Many girls wipe inadequately after urinating. Some rub too hard, which irritates the genitals. They often miss some of the urine and the inner labia stays moist, which leads to redness and pain.

Teach them to wiggle the toilet paper between the skin folds.

Many kids will need help wiping after a bowel movement for many years, but you can show them how to wipe until the toilet paper no longer has streaks on it. Using a flushable wet wipe is often helpful.

At bath time teach them to wash their genitals.

For girls this means using a mild soap and rinsing between all the skin folds with water well. Soap residue can really irritate the sensitive labial skin.

For boys, washing the genitals and between the buttocks is important too. If he is uncircumcised, teach him to gently pull back on the foreskin to rinse the head of the penis. If it does not yet retract, do not force it.

Encourage questions.

As kids get older, they have lots of questions about their body. You want them to ask you or another trusted adult for answers, rather than going to the internet to find answers.

Answer questions as truthfully as you can. Don’t feel like you have to answer more than what’s asked.

Where do babies come from?

Of course when they ask how babies are made, you need to answer it to a level they can understand.

Young kids don’t need to know that a penis goes into the vagina to release sperm and fertilize an egg. They can’t comprehend that.

Think about what they’re asking and answer that question truthfully without going into details they won’t yet understand.

If you’re not ready to answer the question when it’s asked, buy yourself time. Tell them that it’s a great question and you want to think about it. Be sure to give a specific time that you’ll be able to answer the question. Think about it, prepare what you’ll say, and discuss it at the chosen time.

Model healthy relationships.

When kids see healthy relationships, they learn that that is what is appropriate and acceptable in a relationship. Show respect in what you do and say to all people around you. Demand respect in how others treat you.

If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, work with a counselor so you both can learn to work together to improve the relationship. If that’s not possible, especially if the relationship isn’t safe, think about how to safely separate. It isn’t easy, but if your kids grow up watching an abusive relationship, they are more likely to end up in the same situation.

Teach kids to ask for help.

It can be really hard for kids to learn when it’s best to work out problems and when to ask for help. No one likes a tattle tale, but there are times kids need help from adults.

When safety’s an issue, an adult should be part of the solution. If a friend is doing something dangerous, such as running into the street, it’s best to tell an adult.

If kids are simply frustrated that another child won’t share a toy or play the game your child wants to play, that is something that kids can at least start working out on their own.

Praise kids when they make smart choices about asking for help when needed and when they solve their own conflicts appropriately.

No means no. Stop means stop.

Teach kids that we always need to respect others when they say no or stop.

For example, if Sissy says to stop tickling her, stop.

When friends or adults don’t listen if they’re told no or stop, kids need to think about if they feel safe and if they still want to be around their friend. If they don’t feel safe, they need to talk to you or another trusted adult.

Books can help talk about these difficult topics. Some suggestions for saying “no” appropriately and “stop” when needed:


For teens, I love this Cup of Tea video. It explains so well that no means no!

No secrets!

Remind kids that they’ll never be in trouble for telling you things. There are never secrets in families. We might keep surprises, but never secrets.

You might need to change your wording at times… If you’re buying or making a gift for someone, it’s a surprise, not a secret. Surprises are fun. We can build up suspense for the fun by not telling. But secrets make us feel bad because we can’t share them.

Remind your kids that if anyone asks them to keep a secret, it’s best to tell their parent.

A great book on this subject is Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept!

Believe kids.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe what our kids tell us. But if we don’t believe them or we discount their stories, they will stop telling us things.

I know that I’ve been challenged to believe many things my kids tell me, but instead of downplaying the story or telling them to stop lying, I try to ask more questions.

Once my daughter told me about an accident the bus had while she was on a field trip. I didn’t believe her (surely the school would have alerted parents) and asked more about what she was saying without outright saying she was lying or telling stories. I asked for more clarification, thinking she’d contradict what she had said, but she kept to the same story. It wasn’t too much later that the school sent out a message that the bus had been in an accident and there were no injuries. I told her that I got the message and she just beamed. She knew I didn’t believe her! But it was an opportunity to let her know that sometimes I might not believe stories initially, but I was proud that she told me and continued to try to show me the truth.

If your kids ever tell you they don’t want to visit or stay with a certain person, find out why. If they say they’re scared, don’t discount it. Even if you trust the person, believe your child. Molesters are adept at grooming families to gain trust. Kids generally don’t make abuse up.

Men and women are different.

When kids are young, teach in general terms about males and females.

You can talk to young kids about why men and women look different than kids. Many will question why men have facial hair, women have breasts, or how a baby will get out of mom’s tummy. They might want to know why you have feminine hygiene products in the bathroom or what they’re for. Answer the questions to their level of understanding.

Talk about puberty before changes happen. Younger kids are more open to learning new things. Once changes start, kids are confused and more self conscious. Puberty starts in girls around 8-12 years of age and in boys about 2 years later. When you notice changes, reassure your kids that it’s normal and they’re just growing up!

For more on menstruation specifically, check out my Q&A about periods.

Some of my favorite books on puberty:

 

Online activities.

The internet has opened the doors to a lot of knowledge and sharing of information. It can be used to better ourselves, but it can also leave kids open and vulnerable. It can lead to bullying. Sometimes it encourages feelings of inadequacy. Online predators can take advantage of our kids.

This is a huge topic and cannot be covered here, but in short: teach kids to never share anything online that they wouldn’t want the public to see. It is okay for parents to monitor online activities, it’s not threatening their privacy. It’s helping them stay safe.

Think of supervising online activities like supervising learning to drive.

You would never just give the car keys to your teen and expect them to safely drive. You first have them learn the rules of the road and pass a written test to get a learner’s permit. The learner’s permit allows them to drive while being supervised. After many hours of supervised driving, they may get a license that allows them to drive alone, but you probably wouldn’t let them take a long road trip alone yet. They start out with quick trips around town, then onto highways, and finally longer trips. The specific timeline of that depends on the teen. Some need longer times at each stage, others show maturity and responsibility more quickly.

Common Sense Media has a number of helpful articles about online safety.

Our actions impact others.

Kids can learn how their actions affect others and that they can’t alter anyone else’s behavior without first changing their behavior.

While this doesn’t seem initially to impact sexual consent, it does. What happens if we all do what we want when we want, without caring what others think or feel? We take advantage of others and hurt people. We don’t want our kids to grow up without empathy or social conscience. It also helps kids to identify their own feelings in response to other people’s actions, which might help them avoid people who make poor choices.

Talk to kids when you see opportunities to talk about the impact of behaviors. Find examples they can identify with.

For example, if a child was being noisy at the library, what kind of impression did they make? How did the noise affect everyone else’s experience at the library? What situations can they think of that they were noisy when they should have been more quiet? How can we be more mindful of our own noise level?

What can kids do if they see a bully? Is it hard to recognize the significance of bullying when everyone’s laughing at another child? Should they join in the laughter when someone’s being teased? Can they stand up for the person being bullied? When should they talk to an adult?

rewind

A fun game to play that can help kids learn how to change their behavior to get a better outcome I call Rewind. You roll play and rewind a situation and play it out differently. When kids complain about the outcome of an event, have them role play it to try to get to a better ending. The trick is they have to be the first to change what they say or do. In the real world we can’t just expect someone else to change a behavior.

For example, if your son is upset that no one would play hop scotch at recess, he can’t simply expect that someone will join him the next day. Other kids might not realize that he wants to play. Maybe he can ask kids to play with him. Roll play what to say if he’s turned down. Think about why other kids don’t want to play hop scotch. Are they all busy playing basketball? Talk about being open to taking turns: maybe another child will play hop scotch with him if he plays basketball with the other child first. The trick is that he just can’t expect others to change their behaviors unless he changes his first.

Respect

One word that summarizes most of the above is respect.

Respect Yourself

Respect yourself enough to eat right, sleep adequately, and exercise. Take care of your body and mind. Be the best you can be. Don’t do things that you know could harm your body or cause you to get into trouble.

Respect Others

Respect others and their wishes. If you’re kind and respectful towards others, they will appreciate it.

This does not mean that kids have to do everything other people ask them to do. They should never do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or that they know is wrong. See the last respect point…

Demand that others respect you

Just like you should respect others, they should respect you. If everyone respects other’s thoughts and feelings, we would have no abuse or bullying in our lives.

We can’t change other people’s actions all the time, but we can leave situations where people are not kind and respectful. Kids need to know that they should talk to an adult if someone is not being respectful to them.

We hear about child molestation and rape far too often. Teach kids to respect themselves, respect others, and to never keep secrets. 
We hear about child molestation and rape far too often. Teach kids to respect themselves, respect others, and to never keep secrets.

Kids to Parks Day

Each year Kids to Parks Day is celebrated on the 3rd Saturday of May. It’s a day we can help kids and families connect with their local, state, and national parks and have fun! This year it’s Saturday, May 19th.

Why should we have a national day to celebrate taking kids to a park?

Because anything that encourages families and friends to explore the outdoors together is a great thing!

Where should you go?

If you’re wondering where to go, check out this great page from the National Park Trust called Explore Parks Near You. You can click on the state you want to explore to find parks.

Of course if there’s no national park near you, you can visit any nearby park or trail. The point is to get outside and enjoy nature.

What can you do?

Parks may offer a number of activities. You can investigate if they have hiking or biking trails, water activities such as swimming or fishing, camping, or more.

Check out these Boredom Busters and the ideas in this Park Adventure Booklet for your next park trip. You can also try to do all thirty of these 30 Things. If your kids are into creative games, you can have them go on a scavenger hunt.

What should you bring?

Always make sure you’re prepared when you’re going into nature.

Sunscreen and sun protection from hats and clothing is a must when outdoors. Use at least an SPF of 25 and reapply sunscreen every 2 hours until evening hours.

Sunglasses might also be appreciated and help protect the eyes from damaging rays. Be sure your sunglasses provide 100% UV protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Don’t forget the kids! We get 75-80% of our UV exposure before we turn 18.

Use bug sprays and sunscreens appropriately. Don't buy a combination product. Use the sunscreen first, and then spray bug spray over it if needed.
Use bug sprays and sunscreens appropriately. Don’t buy a combination product. Use the sunscreen first, and then spray bug spray over it if needed.

Bug sprays can help prevent bug bites. If you’re in an area with ticks, still do daily tick checks even if you use insect repellant. You can use this handy online tool to find the best bug spray for your needs.

Be sure to bring water bottles for everyone. Dehydration is a risk when you’re active, especially if it’s warm outside. Caffeinated (and for adults, alcoholic) beverages don’t rehydrate as well as water.

Wear appropriate shoes. Many kids want to wear their favorite sandals, but if you’ll be outdoors walking, they will need a more sturdy shoe. If you’ll be around water you might even pack a second pair in case they get wet. Walking in wet shoes is begging for blisters.

Bring a camera to take memories, but don’t spend the day trying to get the perfect picture. Snap a few pictures, but make the day about enjoying the outdoors, not about taking pictures.

If you’ll be hiking, bird watching, or looking for wildlife, it might be helpful to have binoculars.

Bring healthy snacks or pack a lunch if you’ll be out during typical snack or meal times. When kids are hungry, they get angry. You don’t want hanger to ruin a fun day!

If there are areas appropriate for sporty activities, bring some balls or frisbees.

What should you not bring?

Leave the electronics at home. This is a great day to unplug!

If you have allergies in the family…

If someone (or many) in your family suffer from allergies, be prepared! I have many tips in a previous blog that covers allergies.

#KidstoParks

Get your kids outdoors on Kids to Park Day!
Get out and into nature!

Food Strike! What can I do when my child won’t eat anything anymore?

“What can I do to help little Sally eat? She used to eat everything, but now she hardly eats anything at all.” I call this a food strike, and it’s very common. But kids are smart, they won’t let themselves starve. The way you handle it as a parent can either encourage unhealthy eating or healthy eating.

Eat it or wear it.

This question always reminds me of the Judy Blume book, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, one of my favorite books growing up.

The younger brother in the book, Fudge, refuses to eat. After many failed trials of bribing and forcing food, his father finally loses patience and says “eat it or wear it.”

Needless to say, Fudge ends up with the bowl of cereal on his head and goes around for days saying “eat it or wear it!”

I would not advise this approach.

When is a food strike a real concern?

Most of the time picky eating is a normal phase. Sometimes it’s simply that toddlers and young children don’t need as many calories because they’re not growing as fast as during infancy. Or it could be that they’re filling up with empty calories due to inappropriate snacking.

Of course there are some instances that are cause for concern.

Red Flags include:
  • Recurrent or persistent illness
  • Frequent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Food allergies
  • Very limited food types over an extended period of time
  • Problems swallowing or choking
  • Falling off growth curve
  • Sensory issues (trouble with textures, tastes, smells, and more)
  • Anxiety about eating or around foods
  • Body image problems

There is a great series of posts covering picky eating on a dietitian’s blog. Some articles are authored by a nutrition therapist. I will include some of my favorites below, but you can find them all on the site.

If you notice one or more of the red flags above, be sure to talk with your child’s pediatrician.

Encouraging healthy eating

If hungry, kids will eat. Don’t let them fill up on things that aren’t giving a nutritious balance. Even just milk all day can be harmful because it lacks many vitamins and minerals. A little milk with other foods is better!

Healthy food choices

Offer veggies, fruits, cheese, nuts, etc at scheduled snack times. Think of snacks as mini-meals. If kids are offered healthy foods at meals and snacks, they will eat them when they’re hungry.

Limit pre-packaged foods

Many prepackaged foods are preferred over fruits, vegetables, dairy products, nuts, and other healthier options.

If kids have a choice between cucumbers and hummus or a bag of chips, what do you think they’ll pick?

Healthy drinks

Limit drinks other than water and milk.

Drinks fill kids up and don’t offer balanced nutrition.

Limit milk to no more than 24 ounces per 24 hours.

Too much is overwhelming

Put only a small amount of each food on the plate. It might be overwhelming to have a full plate.

Different personality types can even respond differently to different plate sizes. See Children’s Personalities & Bowl Bias: Extravert and Introvert Children Are Not Equally Influenced by Plate Size!

Turn off the tv and put down the screens

Have a dinner conversation with the family. This not only sets up healthy eating habits, but also healthy family dynamics. Teens who eat with their families are less likely to have risky behaviors!

Set a good example!

Talk about how much you are enjoying the healthy foods at the table. (Not how healthy they are, but rather how good they taste.)

Keep foods separate on the plate

Kids might eat a food if it’s not touching another but refuse it if it’s contaminated.

Scheduled eating

Set a time for meals and stick to it. If your child doesn’t eat, clear the table.

When they complain of being hungry, don’t be condescending. Simply say, “I know how you feel. I’m hungry too when I don’t eat. Dinner is coming up soon. I’m sure you’ll be ready!” Don’t offer filler foods. Keep the discussion calm and without blame or judgement.

Kids are smart, they’ll pick up on the fact that they need to eat at meal time or be hungry.  They won’t starve to death!

Hide healthy foods

Puree a can of beets into spaghetti sauce. It makes a cool color without changing the flavor much at all.

Blend carrots, spinach, kale, or cauliflower into smoothies. I’ve even used frozen peas when there was nothing else. Strawberries, bananas, kiwi, and other fruits are much more flavorful than many veggies and kids tend to like their tastes. If your kids balk at the color, try to match the fruit and vegetable colors to hide the vegetable.

Puree onions, carrots, zucchini, spinach, and other vegetables in recipes rather than chopping them… kids won’t pick them out!

With all of these hidden foods, chances are they won’t even know they’re there.

Try foods in different forms

Frozen peas are crunchy– maybe they don’t like the squishy texture of cooked peas.

Raw broccoli is much different in taste and texture than cooked broccoli.

Many kids love cheese over vegetables or foods dunked in ketchup or yogurt.

It’s fun to eat with fingers for a change. Let them get messy!

Try cutting things into pieces and serve with toothpicks. Everything’s more fun on a stick!

Cut sandwiches with a large cookie cutter for fun shapes.

Use small cookie cutters for bite sized sandwiches or fruit pieces.

Take a look at Pinterest to find ideas on how to make foods fun if you really have a lot of time on your hands.

Rewards?

Try not to use food as a reward. This can set up unhealthy eating habits.

Don’t reward for eating. Most kids will get the intrinsic reward of satiety. They don’t need stickers or dessert for eating a meal.

Praise small steps

If kids try a new food (whether they like it or not) praise the fact that they tried!

Set realistic expectations 

Don’t expect kids to eat as much as infants/toddlers or teens/adults. Calorie needs go down when not in growth spurts. Just make the nutrition needs balance.

Don’t worry as much about volume as variety of healthy foods! Parents can decide what kids eat, but kids should decide how much to eat.

Most kids don’t need supplemental meals in a can (Pediasure and other brands) ~ they are getting the nutrition and calories they need, there is just an imbalance of perception of what they need.

I always prefer a healthy, active, thin child over a child who is overweight and not active (and often undernourished due to poor quality foods).

Will they get enough vitamins?

Vitamin supplement use and need is debated. It’s very difficult to study vitamin supplements. Baseline diet variations could make a big difference as to whether or not the supplement is needed. The time that needs to be studied is very long, because many health issues develop over many years. This means we need to wait a long time to see results and there’s a bigger potential that study participants are lost to follow up.

Vitamin D is one vitamin that I believe should be supplemented by all. Very few foods have vitamin D. Milk and a few other foods have been supplemented, but that alone will not give sufficient levels. Sunlight is a great way to raise vitamin D levels. But sunlight availability is unreliable and amounts needed vary based on skin type and quality of the light. Not to mention that sunlight can damage our skin.

In general I think it’s a good idea to give a multivitamin with iron if kids aren’t eating well. I prefer for them to get nutrients from foods, but if they refuse, then there’s no need for them to become deficient in nutrients. Iron deficiency actually causes anorexia, which increases the problem by not eating well!

If your family uses vitamins, be sure to lock them up as if they’re medications so kids don’t accidentally ingest too much.

Last thoughts

Most kids grow well during their picky eating and food strike phases. Just be patient and aware of any red flags that need to be evaluated.

If you are concerned, schedule an appointment to discuss foods, growth, nutrition, and concerns. Bring a typical food log of foods and drinks (with approximate volumes) for at least one week. Your physician can either identify a concern and develop a plan of action or reassure you that your child is normal!

Food strike! What do you do when your child stops eating?Resources:

How much food should I eat? (KidsHealth.org)

Choose My Plate 

How to Handle Picky Eaters (Zero to Three)

Distracted Eating

We all do it sometimes. We grab a snack and plop down on the couch to watch a movie. Before we know it the whole thing is gone. We only meant to eat some of it, but downed it in one sitting. That is distracted eating at it’s finest. It exemplifies the problem of eating without intention. Not eating because of hunger. Not even eating healthy foods usually. Just eating because it’s there.

What happened to sitting around the table and eating as a family without the tv or cell phones?

What is distracted eating?

I see many kids who always have distracted eating. Parents often worry that they’re not eating enough, but they’re typically getting too many unhealthy foods.

Distracted eating is eating when your mind is elsewhere. It’s the opposite of intentional eating, where we enjoy our meal and make smart choices about what and how much we eat.

It occurs when kids are distracted by a television or video game while eating. When any of us eat in front of the screen, we don’t focus on what goes into our mouth.

Or when parents allow kids to carry food around the house all day and take a bite here and there.

It can happen when any of us eat because it’s there and we aren’t listening to our body’s hunger cues.

Dream feeding

The youngest distracted eaters might fit into another category all together, but they certainly aren’t intentionally eating. These are the babies who parents “dream feed” – basically feed them while they’re sleeping.

This can be because parents think they don’t eat as much as they should when they’re awake. Or maybe parents want to get one more feed in before they go to bed so baby will let them sleep.

I know many parents rely on it, but I will never recommend it for many reasons.

  • It can disrupt their normal sleep cycles if you feed during periods of deep sleep.
  • Dream feeds also feed a baby who might not be hungry or need to eat. It’s hard to know when to stop.
  • After the first 4-6 months most babies don’t need to eat at night, but they are trained to eat at that time.
  • Once they get teeth it can increase the risk of cavities if they eat without brushing teeth before returning to sleep.
  • There are also risks of choking, though if they’re being held, it won’t go unrecognized. A parent can use CPR techniques to help them.

Constant snacking

As kids move into the toddler years, they often become picky with foods and eat small volumes. This is normal.

Parents need to offer healthy foods and feed small frequent meals. Think of snacks as mini meals so you will offer healthy foods – and no, goldfish crackers are not healthy foods. Young children tend to eat about six small meals a day. Each meal offer either a fruit or a vegetable and a protein to help ensure your child gets enough of these food groups daily.

Unfortunately, some parents solve the “problem” of kids not eating a lot at meal times by allowing them to carry around food all hours of the day. This might be cereal, crackers, milk, or whatever the favorite food of the week is.

This allows the child to snack all day, which means they’re never hungry, so they don’t eat at meal times. Parents will think it’s better than eating nothing, and even think that since it’s cereal or milk it’s healthy.

But it’s not.

Risks of constant snacking

  • Snack foods are usually highly processed and have little nutrition.
  • Constantly nibbling doesn’t allow the body to learn hunger cues.
  • Nibbling throughout the day doesn’t allow saliva to clean teeth between feedings, which increases the risk of cavities.
  • If kids drink excessive milk they are at risk of severe malnutrition. Parents argue that milk is healthy, but they are thinking of mother’s milk or formula for infants. Cow’s milk has protein, calcium, and other nutrients, but it is not a complete meal substitute. I have seen children need blood transfusions due to severe iron deficiency anemia from excessive milk intake. Blood transfusions. It can be that bad. Yes, your child might like milk. And he might refuse to eat at meal time. But if you keep giving milk he will never get hungry enough to eat the food offered.

Feed while watching tv

Other parents realize that kids will eat more if they feed the child, especially if the child is watching tv. This is wrong on many levels.

  • Once kids are able to feed themselves, it is a great skill to use. They work on fine motor skills when self feeding.
  • When offered healthy options, kids will eat when hungry and stop when full. When parents do the feeding, they keep pushing foods until the plate is empty. Many parents have an unrealistic expectation of how much food a child should eat and overfeed the child.
  • If a child is watching tv while eating, the focus is on the screen, not the food. Again, the child then doesn’t listen to hunger and satiety cues.

Self feeding is an important skill.

I see several kids each year who will be going to full day school for the first time and parents worry that they won’t be able to eat lunch because they never self feed. Many of these kids are overweight because they’ve been overfed for years yet the parents often think the child doesn’t eat enough.

Beyond the first birthday, most toddlers should be able to self feed. Many infants can do so even earlier. They don’t need a lot of teeth to eat small pieces of foods. Of course hard, round, chewy foods should be avoided for all young children, but most foods can be safely given to young kids at the table.

Don’t wait until your child is school aged to realize they’re behind on this important skill!

Family Meals

Eating together as a family is one of the best things you can do to raise healthy and independent children. As long as you use the time wisely.

If families eat while watching television or playing on smart phones or tablets, no one is connecting during the meal. No one is really enjoying the food or the conversation.

There are many studies that show the more often families eat together the less likely kids will develop obesity, get depressed, do drugs, smoke, and consider suicide.

Kids who eat with their families are more likely to eat healthy foods, do well in school, delay having sex, and have stronger family ties.

Help stop the habit of mindless eating.

Encourage eating at the table as a family as much as possible.

Offer healthy food choices and let everyone decide how much of each thing to eat.

If you worry that your child isn’t eating adequately, talk to your pediatrician.

We all do it sometimes. We grab a snack and plop down on the couch to watch a movie. Before we know it the whole thing is gone. We only meant to eat some of it, but downed it in one sitting. That is distracted eating at it's finest. It exemplifies the problem of eating without intention. Not because of hunger. Not even healthy foods typically. Just eating because it's there.

Resources:

MyPlate offers portion sizes for children, tips on healthy foods, activities for kids to learn about nutrition, and more.

If you’re a Pinterest fan, check out my Nutritional Sites and Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables and Other Healthy Stuff

Nutrition.gov has several resources for healthy eating.

Stanford Introduction to Food and Health looks very interesting. I haven’t taken the free online course yet, but another pediatrician friend highly recommends it.

How do you prepare kids to leave the nest?

It’s graduation season, which has me thinking of all the ways our kids grow over the years. They’re born, then just a few years later they are in kindergarten. In just a blink of the eye they get a locker in middle school. Then high school is over. The world awaits… Where does the time go? How do we prepare kids to leave the nest?

Life Skills

Over the years I have spent a lot of time reflecting about at all the life skills my kids have learned and what they need to learn to be successful, independent, healthy and happy.

One important thing to master is personal safety. I talked extensively about teens and alcohol in a previous post. Please take the time to review it and discuss it with your teens.

School

I have never really thought that school is about learning the actual subjects. It’s more about learning how to learn. How to organize. How to be responsible. I have always told my kids I don’t care what grade they get as long as they learn what they need to and do their best.

Home

Home life is also a process of learning. We need to teach our kids how to live healthily and respectfully with others. Kids can learn to take care of themselves more and more each year. We need to teach them to be responsible with money. Ideally they will learn to argue a point without losing control of their emotions or being hurtful.

In all of this reflection, I came up with a list that I have shared with my kids, and I invite you to share it with yours.

Skills needed to leave home successfully: 

Good hygiene habits

  • Brush teeth twice daily. Floss once a day.
  • Shower or bathe daily. Wash hair as needed for oil control.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Shave as needed.
  • Flush.
  • Brush hair at least daily and get a hair cut regularly.
  • Clip and groom nails regularly, both fingers and toes.
  • Use personal hygiene products correctly, including deodorant, facial acne cleansers, etc.
  • Wear clean clothes and change underclothing daily.

Healthy habits

  • Get adequate sleep to wake fresh and ready for the day. Set an alarm and get up on your own.
  • Eat healthy foods and limit junk food and sodas.
  • Be able to prepare simple healthy meals.
  • Take vitamin D daily.
  • Understand common over the counter medicine indications and how to use them appropriately.
  • Understand why you are taking medications (if you are), how to take them, and what is needed to get more. This depends in part if it’s over the counter or a prescription medicine.
  • Know your medical history, including any allergies and chronic health care problems.
  • Learn how to obtain your vaccine record.
  • Know how to take care of common injuries until they are healed.
  • Exercise regularly, at least 3 times a week.

healthy strategies to handle stress

  • Journal
  • Prayer or meditation
  • Sketch or other artwork
  • Talk to someone openly—don’t hold bad feelings in!
  • Take a long bath
  • Think before speaking
  • Deep breathing
  • Laugh
  • Exercise
  • Schedule down time
  • Think about the problem from different points of view
  • Break big projects into small parts to be able to complete in parts
  • List the good things going on and be positive
  • Avoid over scheduling
  • Learn to say “no”
  • Enjoy social interactions as well as alone time.
  • Exercise the brain by doing puzzles or reading.
  • Try mindfulness apps

know how to…

  • Cook a healthy, balanced meal.
  • Grocery shop on a budget to incorporate nutritional balance.
  • Properly clean dishes and tidy up the kitchen after eating.
  • Balance a check book, make a budget, and pay bills on time.
  • Do easy repairs around the house.
  • Understand health insurance plans – how to get them, what they cover, what is excluded.
  • Manage the basics of money investment, retirement planning, savings.
  • Handle a road side emergency.
  • Find important numbers (doctor, dentist, insurance, etc).
  • Do laundry.
  • Clean a bathroom, use a vacuum, and dust.
  • Sew basic clothing repairs (buttons, hems, etc).
  • Get help when needed.
  • Apply for a job and build a resume.
  • Choose words carefully: they can build someone up or crush someone down.

Be a good friend and responsible family member

  • Be clear with plans: Look at the family calendar when making plans. Get permission from all parents involved; let family know where you will be and when you will be home.
  • Keep a phone available to be able to call when needed. Answer calls/texts from parents and others in an appropriate amount of time!
  • Treat everyone with respect: family, teachers, friends, and strangers.
  • Require that others treat you with respect.
  • Do random acts of kindness occasionally.
  • Volunteer regularly.
  • If you feel unsafe, leave the situation. Tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
  • Do only things you and your parents will be proud of.

Things to do to show you are getting ready to leave the nest…

  • Complete assigned homework and chores without reminders or nagging.
  • Keep your room picked up and clothes off the floor.
  • Hang your towel to allow it to dry between uses.
  • Clear dishes from the table.
  • Clean up after projects or play. Return all things to their proper place after using them.
  • Throw all trash in the trashcan. Recycle things that are recyclable.
  • Responsible use of cell phone, computer, and other electronics. Turn off before bedtime to allow uninterrupted sleep.
  • Spend and save money responsibly. Never spend more than you can afford. Use credit cards wisely.
  • Take pride in your work: schoolwork, chores, job, and helping others. Do it to the best of your ability and ask nicely for help as needed. Recognize that work is not always fun, but necessary. Doing tasks with a good attitude will help.
  • Time organization skills: Do not procrastinate until the last minute. Plan ahead and do big projects in small steps. Be prepared with all materials you will need for a project and ask in advance if you need help acquiring items. Use tools (apps, calendar, checklists).
  • Take care of your things. Keep them in proper working order, clean, and put away.
  • Drive responsibly.
  • Accept consequences with grace.
  • Earn trust.
  • Know when to trust and follow others and when to take your own path. Make independent decisions based on your own morals. Have the courage to say “no” if something goes against your beliefs.

A final thought

As a mom of a college freshman on a campus where they don’t allow freshmen to have cars, we found that having his own Amazon Student Prime membership helped. We started the year with him asking me to order things, but it was easier if he could do it himself.
Of course be sure your student won’t abuse the privilege if you’re footing the bill, but if they need something and don’t have the ability to shop locally, this is a game changer! And it would make a great graduation gift.

Prepare kids to leave the nest

Don’t be intimidated by this list! Many of the ideas are things they should be learning along the way.

During the school years teachers increase expectations each year. You can do the same… start with baby steps and then really buckle down in high school to be sure they’re ready!

Sometimes they surprise you.

How do you prepare kids to leave the nest? There are many things kids should be able to do before moving out into the world. Help them learn as they grow. Let them become independent.
How do you prepare kids to leave the nest?

7 Ways to Keep Kids from Wandering and Getting Lost

Some kids never leave their parent’s side when out and about, but others wander without concern and are at risk of getting lost. I’ve had one of each, so I know first hand how scary it is to have a wanderer. Many parents worry that their kids will be abducted, but the large majority of lost kids leave on their own accord. Usually there’s no foul play and they can be found relatively quickly (though it seems like an eternity for a worried parent). What can you do to keep kids from wandering and getting lost?

Many times that parents realize their kids are missing, the child hasn’t made the same realization. Parents might be scared to death, but the child is fine – they are often enjoying an adventure and completely unaware of the problem.

Why do they wander?

Distraction and fun

Most of the time they have no clue what they’re doing, especially if they’re too young to really comprehend rules. They aren’t afraid if they’re focused on something else, which can be anything that gets their attention.

It doesn’t take much to get a child’s attention, especially if you’re at a new place.  The new place is also riskier because if they do get separated, they don’t know where they are or where to go for help.

Sometimes kids just want to do something fun because they’re bored. How many kids decide to play hide and seek while shopping? I’ve seen many crawl under clothing racks…

Small children can dart between people in large groups, making it hard to keep up with them without pushing and shoving others out of the way. They don’t realize when they’re focused on something that you’re not right there. Despite saying “excuse me,” I felt inconsiderate plowing through crowds to keep sight on my runner. (She was more than a wanderer…)

Parents get distracted too

Maybe you’re comparison shopping to decide which brand to buy. At some point you have to pay and talk to the cashier.

When your phone buzzes, it’s easy to answer a quick text. Studies show many parents spend a lot of time on their phones when they’re with their kids.

If you hear another child’s cry, do you look in their direction to be sure they’re okay?

And if you have more than one child, you can only really watch one at a time…

It only takes a second to look away from your own child for them to bolt and disappear.

A kid’s view

Kids don’t worry about wandering and getting lost. They get bored or get distracted.

I know one child who was lost at his brother’s sporting event. He decided he was tired and wanted to lay down, so he made it to the family vehicle and took a nap inside.

It all made sense to him, and he didn’t understand why all the parents (it was his brother’s game, so the whole team was looking for him) were upset.

We recognize that a small child roaming through a parking lot is dangerous, but he thought it was reasonable to nap in his familiar seat. He figured his parents would go to the car at the end of the game and find him.

Kids don’t think like adults. We need to talk to them about rules.

Stranger Danger

“Stranger danger” has a nice ring to it. It’s catchy to say. It’s commonly taught to kids.

But it isn’t effective or safe.

The large majority of strangers are good people. If a child is lost, they shouldn’t feel afraid to talk to the right stranger. I’ve heard of kids refusing to talk to caring adults, which delays reuniting them with their families.

The large majority of abducted (and abused) kids are victims of people they know – not strangers.

talk to kids about boundaries & rules

Kids should never be alone with an adult other than the “safe” people you’ve identified with them. This helps to protect them from predators they know.

They should know to never leave with a person unless that person knows a code word. Even if that person knows their name (it’s easy to listen and learn a kid’s name, or it might even be printed on their shirt or backpack) they shouldn’t leave with that person unless it was pre-arranged or they know a special code you’ve discussed.

All kids who are potty trained should know that there are places on their body that are private. Private mean no one should look or touch there unless you’ve given permission for that person. Permission should be given if they need help toileting (including wiping), bathing, or when it’s part of a medical check up. These private places include anything a swimsuit or underwear would cover.

See the bottom of the blog for resources on talking to kids about these big topics!

7 WAYS TO KEEP KIDS FROM WANDERING AND GETTING LOST
7 WAYS TO KEEP KIDS FROM WANDERING AND GETTING LOST

7 Ways to Keep Kids from Getting Lost

Preparation is key!

Talk to your kids about what they should do if they are separated from you.

A lot will depend on their age, maturity level and where you’re going.

If you know the place you’re going has a lot of distractions and crowds, such as an amusement park, you will need to plan differently than if you will be in a neighborhood park that is familiar or a family gathering where they know lots of people.

1. Supervision

When you’re out and about, it goes without saying that someone needs to be responsible for watching the kids.

This is especially true if you’re going with a group. Sometimes there are so many adults, it’s easy to think someone else is watching a child, but no one is. Make it clear who is responsible for watching each child.

If there are a lot of kids for each adult to watch, have the kids pair up with a buddy. They should not leave their buddy. Schools use this system for field trips and it helps keeps track of the kids.

Remind kids that they should never be alone with an adult, even one they know, unless it’s one of their safe adults. (A safe adult is someone you trust wholeheartedly.) There’s safety in numbers!

For your own safety and to avoid mistaken intentions, never be alone with a child who is not your own unless you have permission from their parent. Having two adults around in restrooms and other private areas is especially important!

2. Give kids identifying information

Until kids are old enough to know your phone number (and be able to tell it clearly to a stranger), have them carry it around in some manner. They should know that they can pull it out when needed.

You can make a bracelet with your number. Get number beads from a craft store and kids can help string them!

Put contact information on dog tags so they can wear it as a necklace. Even boys think this is pretty cool.

There are places to make customized temporary tattoos, or you can just use a permanent marker. This isn’t my first choice, but in a pinch, we all have markers.

3. Be ready to identify

I’m that parent who didn’t remember what I dressed my kids in most days. If they were appropriately dressed for the weather, I didn’t really care. But it does matter if you’re looking for a lost child.

If a child is lost and you’re stressed, it’s especially hard to recall what they were wearing.

In today’s world of everyone carrying a phone with photo capabilities, it’s easy to snap a picture.

Take a picture of your child before going to crowded areas. This photo will not only be recent, but will also show what clothing your child has on, which makes it easier to find your child.

4. Be prepared for boredom, hunger, and fatigue

When kids are tired, sick, hungry, or bored, they’re more likely to act up or try to make it fun.

Tired

Plan the trip around nap times as much as possible. Bring a stroller to let a tired child rest if needed.

Sick

Ideally we’d all stay home when sick. Bringing kids to public areas when they’re sick spreads germs.

Keep sick kids home whenever possible. It’s better for them and the community!

Hungry

If they will normally eat during the time of the outing, bring along something to eat.

Make sure the snacks are not going to leave a mess.

Don’t include nut products, since leaving residues around a public place could be life threatening to another child. (There are many other food allergies, so ideally you will wash their hands and wipe surfaces after any foods.)

Boredom

When you know the places you are going are not kid-friendly, try to make it into a game or at least get the kids involved.

The grocery store can be a place to talk to kids about choosing healthy foods. You can do simple math with them by figuring out how many apples you need for the family for the week or by choosing the better deal among differently sized packages.

If you know the kids will have to stay in one place for a while, such as waiting at the DMV, bring books, small toys or games to keep them occupied.

5. Practice

Practice with your kids what they can do if they’re separated. Their risks and abilities change as they get older, so you need to continue the conversation and adapt the plan over the years.

I sometimes would covertly watch my daughter when she ran ahead to see how long it took her to realize I wasn’t right behind her. I wanted to see what she would do when she did figure it out. By preschool she was a pro and knew what to do. She would yell my name or ask another child for help, but at least she stopped where she was and didn’t continue to run further away.

Adults look, kids stay put

I always suggest teaching kids to stay put if they realize they’re lost, unless they’re not in a safe place. If they’re in a street or other unsafe place, they should go to the closest safe location.

Kids should NEVER leave the building or area to look for you. You can teach older kids to go to the front of the store (or find a person in the uniform of the place you are) when you think they’re capable of doing this. Younger kids should just stay put.

Remind them that you will always look for them, and if they stay in one place it’s easier to find them. If they keep moving, they might go to a place you’ve already looked but left, so you won’t find them.

Get loud

Remind them that it’s okay to yell for you by name or whatever they usually call you, even if they’re in a place that’s usually quiet.

Safer Strangers

When lost, it’s okay to ask for help. This is why I don’t want kids to be taught stranger danger.

They should know that if an adult approaches them when they’re not lost, they should be cautious. If they’re at a park and an adult asks for a child’s help looking for their dog, that’s not right. Adults can ask other adults for help. They shouldn’t ask kids for help.

If an adult is offering to help when a child is lost, usually that’s okay. Yes, it’s possible that they’re taking advantage of the situation, but how likely would it be that a person of that caliber would be right there when your child is lost? Most people are good.

Kids should be told to give your phone number to a person who’s trying to help. It’s okay to give their name to a person who works at the place you are visiting. It’s confusing because kids are taught to not give their name and personal information to strangers, but it can help find parents names are shared.

Kids should be taught that they should not leave the area, especially with a strange adult. It’s okay if they help the child find the front of the store or a worker, but they should NOT take the child outside the building or park.

Ask another child for help

That child can then ask the adult they’re with to help your child.

Kids are generally safer to talk to and not as threatening to a child who’s already scared.

The other adult can call your phone if your child knows or is wearing your number. (Pay attention to your phone when looking for your child and answer calls from unknown callers!)

Ask a worker for help

Kids can also look for people wearing the uniform or nametag representing the place you are.

Point out what people wear when working at the location you’re visiting. Whatever it is, be sure your child knows what to look for.

We used to stop at the front of the store routinely so my daughter could be reminded what the cashiers wore. She could talk to someone with that uniform if she was lost.

6. Meeting place

Elementary school aged kids can learn where to meet you if they get separated when they show enough maturity and confidence.

Point out a customer service desk, a landmark at a park, or an easily found place where you are going. You can both go there if you get separated.

By middle school many kids like to be able to shop or play at a park with friends. If your child displays the maturity to do this, then it’s a great way for them to develop independence. Be sure that they know a time and place to meet and how to contact you if they need you before that time.

7. Restraints

I know “restraints” sounds so negative, but think about it.

It’s for safety, not punishment.

We restrain kids in the car because we know it can help to save their lives.

Not only can toddlers and preschoolers wander and get lost, but they can easily get injured when they’re not supervised.

Shopping carts and strollers

If your toddler or preschooler runs around, he’s not safe. If you strap him into a shopping cart or stroller, they’re safer.

Be sure to use the straps appropriately. They can keep kids from climbing or sliding out.

Our stroller just had a lap belt. The newer ones with shoulder straps would have prevented the time my daughter jimmied out of the lap belt and onto the concrete head first. I was pushing her in the stroller, trying to keep up with my son who was running ahead. I was unaware she was climbing out because I had my eyes on my son. She had quite the goose egg!

Leashes

I also have become a fan of leashes for young kids. I know many people think they’re cruel and only appropriate for animals, but I have had great experiences with them.

As mentioned above, my daughter was a runner. I lost her more times than I want to admit. She hated being strapped in a stroller – as I shared above. Of course she often refused to hold hands because she wanted freedom. Family outings that should have been fun quickly became miserable.

When I first got the leash my husband was horrified.

My kids loved it.

It was a cute monkey backpack with a leash. They loved taking each other for walks around the house and even fought about who would wear it. Since it was a backpack, they could carry favorite toys inside.

In public areas my daughter would wear it happily. When my husband saw how my daughter was so much happier having “freedom” while being leashed to us in public, he was sold on the idea.

Warning: if you use one, be ready for judging looks. That’s okay. If they have a runner, they’ll understand. If not, they have no idea.

Leash and book suggestions

I’m an Amazon Associates Member. I do get a small amount of money if you purchase from the following links, but there is no increased cost to you. As always, I only link to products that I recommend regardless of where you purchase them.

These wristband harnesses are great because they allow roaming while being safe, but do not look as much like a leash. There are two sizes, which can allow a child to go a bit farther than many of the backpack styles. It’s basically like holding hands from a distance!

I suspect you’d get fewer evil looks from strangers by using the wristband, but young kids might actually prefer the backpack styles because they’re cute and they can carry “stuff” in them.

I like these because they’re insulated for food storage in addition to having a strap for safety.

Going to Disney? I can see these popular there and for any Disney fan. I lost my 3 year old briefly several times on one Disney trip…

This monkey is similar to the one my kids loved. They’re also backpacks, so they can store a few of their favorite things inside. There are many cute designs.

Safety books



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Transitioning to The Big Kid Bed

Parents often try to keep the crib as long as possible to avoid the problem of their toddler/preschooler leaving the bed again and again at bedtime, but eventually they all need to take the plunge and get a big kid bed. How do you get a kid to stay in a bed?

Daycares do it

How do you know when your child's ready to move to the big kid bed?It always blows me away that daycares get 1 year olds to sleep on cots.

They stay there… how???

I suspect they are following what the older kids in the class are doing and they are never left alone. That makes it easier on many levels.  Parents don’t have that luxury at home when transitioning to the big kid bed.

When’s the right time?

Many parents are tempted to move their toddler to a bed before the child is really ready. Many experts advise continuing the crib until around 3 years of age.

Remember that the crib also is a place of security, so sleep problems can develop if kids are transitioned too soon.

Many kids that leave the crib before they can understand rules (around age 3) have a hard time staying in the bed.

Some kids are able to climb out of the crib, so parents think it’s safer to move to a bed. This is one solution, but you can also work on ways to keep your toddler in the crib.

Make sure the space is safe

Before you let kids sleep in a bed that they can easily get in and out of, make sure the room is safe.

This is a great time to check the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Change batteries when you change your clocks.

Furniture should be secured to walls so climbing kids won’t pull them down.

Don’t allow window cords to be reachable by kids. Too many kids get hurt from cords and window coverings.

Don’t put beds near windows.

Keep all medications and poisons out of your child’s room. This includes diaper rash cream and other “non-medicine” hazards.

If you have a bunk bed, be sure kids under 6 years of age don’t sleep on the top bunk. If your little ones won’t follow the rules, you should unbunk the beds.

Make sure kids can’t get out of their room without you hearing them. They could be at risk falling down the stairs or simply get into trouble helping themselves to junk food or extra tv time.

For more safety tips, check out Charlie’s House.

Build excitement

Parents can get the child excited about leaving the security of the crib by talking about the bed before it is used.

Have kids help pick out sheets or a pillow for the bed.

Remind them during the day how big they are when they ___ (fill in the blank with “use a spoon,” “pick up a toy,” etc). Warning:  This can backfire if they really are afraid of the bed and they do want to not be big, so they stop all the “big kid” behaviors.

Addressing fears

If kids are afraid of their new bed, lay together to read books at nap and bed time.

If you still have the crib available, ask if they want to sleep in the bed or the crib. Simply having the choice might empower them to want to stay in the bed.

Feel free to leave a light or night light on in the hall (or even in the room if they prefer).  Eventually they won’t need it, but it can really help if they want it!

Go through a routine of checking the closet (then closing the closet door), checking under the bed, and picking a favorite toy to be there while your child sleeps.

Use a comfort item. It’s amazing how much the power of suggestion that a stuffed toy will stay with them works!

Let them know you will check on them soon… and do, but wait a little longer each night until they are asleep when you check.

If your child has fears related to sleep, check out The Most Common Reasons Why Kids are Afraid to Sleep from AT Parenting’s Child Therapist & Author, Natasha Daniels.

Falling out

For kids who are prone to falling out of bed, decide what works best for that child.

Some parents put the mattress on the floor instead of on a bed frame, so if they roll off it’s no big deal.

Many parents use bed rails that keep kids in the bed.  Unfortunately if they roll hard enough, they can get trapped between the mattress and bed rail.  I know this from experience! My son would do that and it would FREAK him out. He usually went to sleep without much fuss, but after he would get stuck in the rails he was too scared to sleep. We finally just put the bed against one wall and moved everything away from the other side of the bed except a nice layer of pillows and blankets. When he fell out of bed (yes, most nights…) he landed on the pillow pile and kept sleeping.  Problem solved!

Pick a reasonable bedtime

Account for all the time it will take to do all the stall tactics when picking the bedtime.

If sleep time needs to be by 7:30, and you know they will resist brushing teeth, need to potty a 2nd time, get a drink, check the closet and under the bed, and read 3 books… get started in plenty of time to do all of that and still have them tucked in for the last time before 7:30.

Ironically as kids get more tired, they get more wired, so DO NOT allow this process to run too late! They will hit a 2nd wind and be up far too long.  We all know what kind of day tomorrow will be if they are up too late tonight… and it isn’t pretty!  Then they are overly tired for the routine the next night, which can lead to an earlier 2nd wind and more troubles!

Card trick

One trick I’ve learned that works well for older toddlers and preschoolers is the card trick.

They start each night with 3 cards.

Every time they leave their bed for another hug, a drink, to potty, etc, they surrender a card to you.

Once all 3 cards are gone, they can’t leave the bed any more.

If they have cards left over in the morning, they get a sticker for each card.

They can earn up to 3 stickers (or make it special to get an extra sticker if they have all 3 cards!)

When they reach a set number of stickers they earn a prize.

Supplies:

Cards

You can use cards from a regular deck, or you can make it even more fun by having your child make his own cards.

Sticker chart

I also suggest making a simple sticker reward chart, keeping in mind how difficult you think it will be to earn stickers and set a realistic goal for all the needed stickers to be earned within a week.

If they don’t earn the prize fast enough at the beginning they might lose interest (but it needs to be enough time that they earn it). You can make it more difficult over time, as their bedtime routine gets better.

For ideas of reward charts, check out this fantastic free site!

Simple prizes

Prizes shouldn’t break the bank.

You can find trinket toys inexpensively or even pick an “event” as a prize. Maybe your child has been wanting to go to a new park. Maybe they want to have an extra book read at bedtime.

The most important thing is that the child will want to earn the prize.

Playing the game

Go over the rules of the cards and stickers during the day several times so they know the rules before you start the system.

At bedtime minimize the talking and just let them figure it out when you ask for cards or refuse to let them have a 4th resistance tactic.

Remember that each day is new, so they start with 3 cards and you can talk up how much you know they can keep them all!

Praise all the good choices.

If they struggle with it, find positives to praise… “You kept your cards a little longer last night. I can tell you’re working on keeping them all night!”

When kids leave their bed

If kids end up in your bed in the middle of the night and you don’t want them there, you must firmly but without much discussion bring them back to their room.

Too much snuggling, talking, or other interactions will only reinforce them coming to you again.

And again.

Night after night they get to spend more time with you– that’s what they see every time you give them attention when you need to limit the interaction.

Attempt to get them to walk themselves, but if they refuse, carry them with outstretched arms facing away from you to decrease body contact.

Family bed

If you don’t mind them in your bed, be sure you’re ready for a long term commitment to a family bed. Once the habit’s started it will be harder to break until the child wants to sleep independently.

Sleep deprivation makes parents do things they never thought they would…  you just want to get sleep.

Yes, I’m one of those parents who succumbed to being tired and let a little one stay in my bed. I realized I was kicked and punched often throughout the night by my lovely little angel who was not a great bedfellow. She affected my quality of sleep for quite awhile. She wasn’t sleeping well either. We all needed to have our own space. Her nightly visits didn’t stop until we made a firm decision to stop the behavior.

Weaning from a family bed

When we decided we simply couldn’t do the family bed anymore, we tried several methods to get our daughter back to her room. Many of these are discussed by Dr. Craig Canapari’s At Long Last: Sleep Training Tools For the Exhausted Parent.

The thing that finally worked was a slow wean.

We made a bed on the floor of our bedroom and let her sleep there. We slowly moved that bed further from our bed, then into the hall, and finally into her room. Eventually she even made it to her own bed.

If problems continue

If all else fails, talk to your child’s doctor about sleep problems.

Some sleep problems are due to real medical conditions and these should be evaluated.

If sleep problems continue, loss of sleep can affect growth, learning, behavior, and more… don’t let it get to that point!


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Pacifiers in babies and children: Encourage or discourage?

There’s a lot of debate about pacifiers and since it’s Children’s Dental Health Month I thought I’d tackle the issue. Many parents are apprehensive to start one with a baby, yet many babies need to suck. Sucking is a natural reflex. Sucking on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects may make babies feel secure and happy and help them learn about their world. They can even be sucking on a hand or arm when still in the womb. Many babies find their thumb or a finger to suck on and self-soothe if not offered a pacifier.

Baby friendly?

pacifiers, thumb suckingI personally was unhappy to hear of the “baby friendly” initiative at our local hospitals that discourages any pacifier use during hospitalization.  I think it makes parents fear the pacifier even more than they had before and they have benefits as well as cautions.

I’ve seen more mothers get frustrated with breastfeeding when they can’t use a pacifier. I have rarely seen a problem with breastfeeding when babies are allowed to use a pacifier.

Studies do not support the thought that pacifiers affect breastfeeding rates.

This Cochrane Review also failed to show problems.

Things to love about pacifiers:

Babies have a natural desire to suck.

Even in the womb we can see babies sucking. A pacifier allows them to fill this need, which allows parents to have a much needed break.

Pacifiers can help with pain relief.

There’s a natural pain relieving property to sucking. Think about how addicted older kids are to sucking on a thumb or pacifier. It is soothing. Adding sugar to the pacifier for painful procedures helps pain even more.

Don’t give your baby sugar at home. It’s not good for them and can lead to cavities once they have teeth.

Pacifiers help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

We don’t know why they help, but studies show that pacifier use decreases the risk, along with sleeping alone on a firm, flat surface, on the back, without soft bedding.

Parents can control use.

Pacifiers can be weaned gradually and kids tend to outgrow them earlier than thumb-sucking.

Infants over about 4 months of age can develop other self-soothing abilities, so you can use them just for sleep in older infants and toddlers.

Keep them in the crib to decrease the risk of germ spreading from displaced/replaced pacifiers.

 

I like pacifiers better than thumbs

If a baby wants to suck, he will find his hand if something else isn’t offered. Babies eventually find thumbs or fingers if they want to suck on something.

Thumbs are always with a baby and child, so they can suck on them whenever they want, not just in the crib when a parent gives it.

Thumbs can get red, dry, and cracked with sucking behaviors – especially in dry weather. This can be painful to the child. The drive to suck is so strong they continue to do it despite pain. It can also lead to infections of the thumb.

Most kids will stop a pacifier habit by 3 years of age. If a pacifier is limited to sleep time only, kids are already not in the habit of sucking on something all day long. They only have to learn to fall asleep without sucking.

Thumbsuckers continue their habit more often and much longer. Often it’s not until they’re teased at school that they decide they want to quit. Until they make the decision to quit it’s hard to make it happen.

Thumbs are never clean. At least you can wash the pacifier and keep it in the crib. Kids play with their hands and you can’t keep the thumb out easily after they’ve touched everything.

a few cautions to pacifier use:

 

Don’t use them instead of feedings

Don’t use a pacifier to try to limit the number of breast feedings in a day, especially early on. Newborns need to eat quite a bit. Trying to “hold them off” with a pacifier will only limit your milk supply and could cause them to not gain sufficient weight.

Work with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant to be sure your baby is feeding enough if you’re feeling a need to breastfeed less.

Latch problems

I find that most babies can go back and forth from breast to pacifiers easily.

Most isn’t all.

If your baby seems to have trouble latching on the breast after using an artificial nipple (either a pacifier or a bottle) then stop the artificial nipples and focus on breastfeeding. (If you need to supplement, you can use a syringe, a supplementing system, a spoon, or other methods.) Continue avoiding artificial nipples until breastfeeding is going well.

Work with a lactation consultant if you have continued problems.

Pacifiers can spread infections.

Ear infections and other illnesses can spread easily from pacifier use.

Wash them regularly.

Keep them in the crib for babies over 6 months of age to avoid exposing it to germs from other kids.

Choking risks.

Pacifiers can crack and come apart as they age. Be sure to check it regularly to make sure it’s not damaged. You don’t want it to become a choking risk.

What about teeth?

After permanent teeth come in, sucking can cause problems with the proper alignment of the teeth. It can also cause changes in the shape of the mouth.

Both finger or thumb-sucking and pacifiers can affect the teeth in the same ways, but pacifier use is often an easier habit to break.

General recommendations about stopping the sucking habit

Be careful how you approach stopping a thumb-sucking habit or pacifier use. If you are too harsh or negative it will probably make the habit worse.

Use positive rewards.

Have your child come up with goal ideas and things to earn. Rewards don’t have to be expensive. It can be a trip to a special park or the ability to pick dinner or what book to read. You can also get stickers, trinket toys, an

Sticker charts are a great way to keep track of times that there was no sucking!

For thumb-sucking

Think about making it more difficult for your child to suck his thumb. Keep the hands busy with crafts, toys, etc.

For the older child, talk about germs and how important it is to keep the thumb out of the mouth unless she just washed her hands.

Consider sewing socks or mittens onto long sleeve pajama tops. This will keep the thumb out of reach. (Unless your Houdini takes the PJs off.)

Using a “bad” tasting polish or tabasco doesn’t really keep kids from not sucking their thumbs unless it’s only a reminder to stop. If they really want to suck, they don’t care about the taste. But if they do want to stop and need reminders throughout the day to keep it out of their mouth, the bad tasting nail polishes can help.

For pacifiers
Plan a countdown to not using the pacifier any longer.

Make getting rid of the pacifier a big deal, like any other special event. Find a fun name for the day, like “Big Kid Day” or “Give to baby day”.

Put the chosen date on the calendar and do a count down every day by crossing off dates. Or make a paper chain and tear off one chain daily until the big day.

Find a replacement for the pacifier, such as a new stuffed animal or blanket. The stuffed animal can even be from Build-A-Bear. Put the pacifier inside so the child knows it’s there when he hugs his bear. Whatever you choose, be sure it can be snuggled or used to replace the pacifier for comfort.

Fill a box with all the pacifiers on the big day and leave it out for the “binky fairy” to take to new babies. The fairy can leave the new comfort item. Or you can just have your child put all the binkies in the box and seal it shut with tape when he’s ready to earn the new comfort item.

The big thing is you need to get rid of all the pacifiers. If your child finds one hiding somewhere, he will sneak it and return to the habit quickly.

Books that might be helpful

Note: These are Amazon Affiliate links and I do get paid a small amount for the referral.

In this book for toddlers,Little Brown Bear finds some tricks to help him stop sucking his thumb. It can help put the idea into your child’s head.

This is not specific to thumb-sucking, but the Berenstain Bears always teach kids in a fun way. Sister bear has trouble biting her nails in this story.

Thumb Love is appropriate for the older child who wants to stop sucking his or her thumb. If your school aged child has been the object of teasing due to thumb-sucking, he or she will relate.



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E-cigarette Use In Our Kids – Let’s Stop It!

For many years I didn’t see many patients using tobacco. I admit I’ve been lax in talking about risks because there seemed to be more pressing things to discuss in my limited time at appointments. Recently I’m seeing more kids who are trying nicotine due to e-cigarettes and vaping. These are marketed as a safer option, giving kids a false sense of safety while filling their desire to take risks. Vaping is not safe or cool.

Tobacco is a problem

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.

Nearly all tobacco use begins during adolescence, when developing brains are most at risk of developing addictions.

In 2016, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among high school (11.3%) and middle school (4.3%) students. In 2017, nearly a third of high school seniors report vaping.

About 3 million adolescents in the US vape. Those who start using nicotine by vaping are more likely to transition to traditional cigarettes.

Monitoring the Future 2017 Survey Results
Source: Monitoring the Future 2017 Survey Results

 

Vaping by many names and looks

There are many terms used to describe the use of e-cigarettes, so it can be easy for parents to miss that kids are talking about it. The devices themselves can look like other common items.

Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), e-cigarettes, personal vaporizers, vape pens, e-cigars, e-hookah, or vaping devices are all terms used to describe the device itself.

The devices themselves can be easily mistaken for other things. ENDS can look like traditional tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars, or pipes.  But they can also look like flashlights, flash drives, or pens, so easily hidden from adults.

ENDS liquid nicotine delivery systems
This image from the AAP shows the various types of ENDS.

Some of the more common terms for the behavior include vaping and juuling.

Dripping is similar to vaping, but uses the liquid nicotine directly on heated coils.

Liquid nicotine is called e-liquid or smoke juice.

E-cigarette use is a safer option? No!

One of the selling points for e-cigarettes is that they could be a safer option than regular cigarettes and a way for smokers to quit.

Kids are confusing the “safer than cigarettes” propaganda to mean safe. It’s NOT safer than not smoking. Period.

In fact, there are many studies showing that the amount of carcinogens (cancer causing agents) in e-cigarettes is substantial.

For parents who choose to vape in the home to help prevent their kids from inhaling secondhand smoke, you might want to even reconsider that. Vaping releases chemicals into the air that can cause problems.

Accidental ingestion of liquid nicotine is a growing problem. Common symptoms of ingestion include vomiting, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, increased saliva, and feeling shaky. One teaspoon of concentrated liquid nicotine can be fatal for the average 26-pound toddler.

e-cigarettes, vaping
E-cigarettes are a threat to health. Source: Facts For Parents About E-Cigarettes & Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems

Liquid nicotine is enticing and available

E-cigarette juices are sold in flavors like fruit, candy, coffee and chocolate, so tell me they’re not looking to gain young customers.

Nicotine is addictive. The more kids vape or smoke, the more addicted they become.

Although legally most states prohibit the sale of nicotine products to adolescents, liquid nitrogen is easily available to kids online.

Sadly these products are highly marketed to our kids. Sellers know that if adolescents try it, they are likely to become long term customers of various nicotine products.

Teen and tween brains

Our frontal lobe helps us make healthy choices, but it’s not fully formed until our mid-twenties. This leaves teens at risk for making very unhealthy choices and increased risk of addictions. Teen brains crave stimulation. They take risks to fulfil this craving.

As their brains are growing, experiences and substances affect it. Developing brains can learn and remember things efficiently, but negative experiences and substances also get integrated efficiently. This means teens are more likely to develop addictions than adults.

Kids who vape just once are more likely to try other types of tobacco. Their developing brains make it easier for them to get hooked.

One in 4 teens who use an addictive substance will become addicted, compared to one in 25 who first use an addictive substance after the age of 21 years.

About 90% of adult smokers started before their 18th birthday.

Talk to your kids

E-cigarettes and liquid nicotine are a danger to our kids.

Our kids are bombarded daily with suggestions and choices.

They will see propaganda that encourage vaping online, on television, and in retail stores.

Talk to your kids about all risky behaviors because they do listen.

Learn 6 ways you can help protect your kids from risky behaviors.

Help them understand the risk as well as what to do to avoid peer pressure.

Encourage them to come to you with questions and concerns by remaining non-judgemental and being present. Encourage family meals and activities. Spend time together without screens – turn off the phones!

Vaping devices look like common items, so kids can sneak them into school easily.
Vaping devices look like common items, so kids can sneak them into school easily.