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Boredom vs. Structure: Is One “Better” for a Special Needs Child?

There is a lot of parenting buzz about letting your kids be bored because only then will they tap into their imaginations and learn to be self-reliant. Childhood boredom can lead to many wonderful things like invented games, improvised plays and backyard expeditions. Then again, many children with special needs need structure. Some get very anxious when they are unsure where to go and what to do. Others get lost in time and distractions in ways that are not beneficial or can get up to activities that are destructive or unsafe. Throughout this article please understand that when I refer to unstructured time I never mean for it to mean unsupervised time. Safety is crucial! Also, this is not about boredom in school – this is about the summertime, weekend, hanging out at home type of boredom. So how do you balance your child’s need for structure with the healthy benefits of downtime?

I was faced with this dilemma of schedule vs. free time on only the fourth day of summer break, when my special needs child dramatically threw herself on my bed and sighed, “I’m bored.”

As always, take the unique needs of your child and your family into consideration. If you work, if your child is in a summer program or camp or if your child has a caregiver this may not all be up to you. You will need to get input from your child’s team to see how he or she tolerates unstructured time before you can decide how much boredom to allow at home.

Even when it seems like I am letting my kids hang around the house doing nothing, I always have a secret schedule in my mind and am always watching the clock and listening to the sibling rivalry. Sometimes I have to step in and redirect, sometimes I can let it play out. Sometimes I have to force them all to unplug, or go outside or read.

If your child needs structure and scheduling, try building some imagination time into the daily agenda. Start small, maybe ten minutes, and build the time up as your child can tolerate it. Knowing there is an end time may also help the child feel less anxious about free time.

Some children have trouble making choices. In this case you can schedule something like reading time or art time, but allow your child the choice of what book to read or what art materials to use. If that is too overwhelming, you can give your child two or three options and let them choose. Then stop giving the options. Eventually you can work up to giving your child bigger choices, like reading time or art time. Even using the phrase “play time” instead of “free time” may offer the child a hint about appropriate choices during this time. If the idea of unstructured time is very overwhelming to your child, brainstorm a list of things they could do during free time, then post it somewhere or keep it in a notebook so you can consult it as needed. You may even want to make a Boredom Jar so the suggested activities will be randomized when your child pulls one out.

As always, if unstructured time doesn’t work for your child right now that is fine, but as our kids grow up and we try to teach them to be independent you can revisit it at a later date.

When Should Your Allergic Child Start Wearing A Medic Alert?

Medic Alert Foundation: Kid’s Medical ID’s

Everyone has a habit- some of us don’t leave the house without our keys while others need to make sure that all of the lights are turned off. Whatever your habit, chances are these are things that were learned easily by repetition.  We are all taught at an early age that repetition helps us to remember to do things with less concentration. If your child has severe (e.g. life threatening) allergies, the same can be done to help teach your children to stay as safe as possible each and every time that they leave the house.

Begin As Soon As Possible This truly means as soon as possible. Regardless of what age your child learns about their allergies, it is crucial that they understand the importance of wearing some type of medical I.D. item. From the moment that your child is diagnosed with an allergy, make it part of their daily routine to check for their medical I.D. before they leave the house. Just as we teach them colors and numbers, teach them to advocate for themselves before they even understand that’s what’s actually happening. Always be open and honest with your child and explain the reason for having their allergies easily accessible for those who may need to see it in the event of an emergency.

Medical I.D. is Necessary Many parents feel that having their child wear a medical I.D., especially at an early age, may not be necessary. Parents who are with their children most of the time feel that they can ensure that proper allergy information is exchanged directly from them. Although this is understandable, it may not always be the case. Car accidents can happen at any time. This is one example of the possibility of a parent not being able to speak for their child due to what may have happened to them during the accident as well.  Sometimes things happen in life that we do not expect. Should a parent fall ill, become unconscious or be unable to speak or communicate for whatever reason, a medical I.D. would still be accessible in the interim.  With a medical I.D. product, everything is clearly seen. If you relay allergy information to a family member or guardian, they may not share the complete information if they are affected by an accident or are under stress.

What is Appropriate? Luckily, there are quite a few items that are available now. There are multiple styles, colors, sizes and ways to showcase the important information that just may save your child’s life.  Having more than one I.D. is often recommended as well (one somewhere on yourself and one on your personal effects).

  • Medic Alert Foundation: Medical ID

    Infant car seats can use a D. Wrap as a first line of information if someone was removing your child from the car. If there is an accident, emergency responders instinct is to reach for the car seat- having the wrap attached makes all of the emergency information travel with them.

  • Shoe tags are also recommended. Having emergency information on a car seat is the first step but for parents who rely on babysitter or daycare, shoe tags will still be with your child after they are taken out of their car seat.
  • Necklaces for both boys and girls are available as well. These are items that can always be worn so, in this case, the habit would be to make sure it’s not missing. I do recommend that you research the appropriate items and length for younger children who still like to put things into their mouth.
  • Bracelets are often the preferred jewelry. The reason being- a necklace may slip back underneath your child’s head and become invisible if they are lying down whereas a bracelet will always be on a place where vitals will be checked.

Allergies can be a tricky part of life, especially for younger children and new parents as well. By teaching your children that this is their normal way of life, they will grow up not feeling as if they should have done something differently. Empower your children by letting them pick out their I.D. items and always have open conversations with them on why they need to keep themselves safe. At such early ages, our children are like little sponges of information- let them sink it all in but always let them know that their safety comes first.

Talking To Your Kids About Your Cancer

If you have cancer, discussing it with your children may be difficult. But listening and talking to them can be reassuring, as well as helping them understand your diagnosis.

Keep it simple

Children may have heard things about cancer that frighten them, so speak to them honestly and simply about what you’re going through. Ask them what they think cancer is and explain anything they don’t know.

Be honest

Explain it in language your children will understand. The word “cancer” becomes less frightening for everyone if it’s described as cells that have grown faster than other cells in the body.

Create time and space to talk

Choose a time and a place to talk to your children where they’re most likely to listen and feel at ease, and where you won’t be interrupted.

Let them know they can always ask you questions and talk to you about how they feel, especially if they’re sad and upset. They need to know you’ll listen to their worries and help them cope.

Reassure them

Let them know that even though you’re ill, you still love and care for them. Explain how your illness might affect your moods and feelings, but that you’ll always love them.

Be clear

You don’t have to tell them everything at once. Just be clear about the situation you’re in. If you don’t know the answer to any of their questions, say so. It might be a good idea to read about it together, or ask a doctor or nurse to explain things.

Be positive with them

Try to be honest yet hopeful, but be careful not to make promises you’re not sure you can keep. Most of all, your children need to know that everyone’s doing all they can to make you better, that you still love and care for them, and that there are things they can do to help.

Children under six

Young children react to being separated from you and to changes in their routine. Ask people who your children feel safe and familiar with to help look after them or take over some of the things you usually do. Young children need consistency, so it’s a good idea to have the same person helping if possible. Always try to let them know in advance about any changes to their usual routine.

If you’re in hospital, have a regular time to call home or when they can call or text you. Make sure they have a photo of you and tell them you’ll be thinking about them. Prepare them in advance for what they’re likely to see when they visit you, and tell them about the different people who are there to help you.

Children aged 6 to 12

Children aged 6 to 12 can understand more about the cancer and its effects on the body. Use simple, straightforward language and short sentences to explain things, and don’t overload them with information.

All children need reassurance that:

  • nothing they or anyone else did or thought caused the cancer
  • cancer isn’t like a cold and you can’t catch it – it’s OK to sit close, hug or kiss


Teenagers may find it hard to talk to you or to show you how they feel, and at times their behaviour may be difficult.

Help them see that talking about feelings is a positive and mature way of coping. Encourage them to talk to someone close, such as a relative or family friend. Ask them what they think and include them as you would an adult. But don’t forget, they still need your guidance and support, and keep the usual rules and limits.

More support

Cancer Research UK has information on talking to children about cancer, with links to useful books and leaflets.

Macmillan also has information and advice on talking to children about your cancer.

Breast Cancer Care has resources and support about talking to children of various ages about breast cancer. The charity has produced a picture book called Mummy’s lump, which can be useful for younger children.

Healthtalk has articles and videos of people talking about their experiences, including:

Does My Child Really Need Dental Arch Expansion?

Arch expansion, or the expansion of the upper jaw, is a form of orthodontic treatment often used to correct a narrow upper arch or crowded upper teeth. Expanding the upper jaw is a potential first step in early orthodontics – if your child’s smile is demonstrating a constructed maxillary arch, he or she will need orthopedic forces to expand the maxilla. By expanding your child’s arch, or the circumference of his or her palate, his or her smile will have more space for permanent teeth to move and grow.

The best age for arch expansion patients is, ideally, as young as possible, but no earlier than the age of five. Upper jaw expansion is most successful when it is performed in children under the age of sixteen, because your child’s baby teeth will be replaced by permanent teeth between the ages of six and thirteen.

Benefits of Arch Expansion

  • Correction of Cross Bites – If your child’s upper teeth actually fit inside his or her lower teeth, he or she may have a cross bite. A cross bite can result in asymmetrical growth of the lower jaw, which can lead to facial asymmetry.
  • Reduction of Overcrowding – Once his or her upper arch is expanded, your child’s smile will have more room to accommodate the development of teeth.
  • Improvement in Breathing Abilities – Does your child experience difficulty breathing through his or her nose? This may be the issue! In fact, dental arch expansion can develop the airway and influence breathing in a number of positive ways, including lessening a patient’s risk of developing sleep apnea and treating existing sleeping and breathing disorders. Continuous mouth-breathing can result in unhealthy inhalation of unfiltered bacteria, dry mouth, and potential halitosis.

Don’t hesitate to look into improving your child’s airway and dental issues!

The Processes of Arch Expansion

  • Fixed Appliance – A fixed appliance, also referred to as a Rapid Palatal Expander (RPE), sits in the top of your child’s mouth at all times. It is traditionally attached to the molars with metal rings, but some appliances may be removable in certain cases. This appliance stretches the bone and cartilage of the palate, forcing it to expand. The appliance comes with a “key” that can be used to tighten the device, therefore, placing outward pressure on the two halves of your child’s upper jaw. Your dentist will recommend a set tightening schedule, and you can simply tighten your child’s RPE in the comfort of your own home on a daily basis. Slowly but surely, your child’s upper jaw will expand.
  • Removable Appliances – Similar to a fixed appliance, removable appliances use slow, gentle pressures to mold your child’s arch form, moving teeth and allowing new bone to grow. Some options for removable appliances include OcclusoGuards, positioners, Bionators, Myobrase, Schwartz plates, and sagittal appliances.


  • Does it hurt?
    • There may be some initial discomfort once the application is placed, but typically, no. Patients report a feeling of pressure on the teeth, roof of the mouth, behind the nose, and even between the eyes, but no pain. This pressure fades away within minutes of adjusting the application.
  • How can I help my child through the process?
    • To make the first couple of days more comfortable for your child, you may want to find some fun foods that do not require a ton of chewing. This can include yogurt, pudding, mashed potatoes, ice cream, etc. A day or two after the device is placed, eating should feel normal again. Because food can be easily trapped in the device, be sure to encourage and monitor your child’s oral hygiene regimen. Always make sure your child’s application is clean. Guide your child to stay away from sticky foods, like jelly beans or caramel.
  • How long does my child have to wear the device?  
    • An average timeframe for arch expansion is 6-9 months.
  • How is the device fastened to my child’s mouth?
    • Expanders are typically glued or bonded to your child’s teeth. There are removable expanders, however, fixed ones have the advantage of never being lost or forgotten.
  • Is the device noticeable?
    • Outwardly, no. When the device is initially placed, your child may produce more saliva and have a harder time speaking and eating than usual. After a few days, these symptoms should subside.

Your child’s smile depends on his or her “big kid teeth” fitting into a little mouth! By aligning the upper and lower jaws to meet properly, your child’s arch will have plenty of room for tooth growth.

How We Praise Preschoolers Can Impact Character Development

How many times a day do you find yourself saying, “good job” to your young child? I know for me, this cliche phrase slips out numerous times a day. We all know that praise and encouragement (especially for good behavior) can be a strong motivator for children, especially around the preschool years. Preschoolers are in a stage of development where they are learning what it means to be them—self-concept.

Research is showing that the particular ways in which parents praise their children can influence, at least to some degree, how children come to understand themselves and their efforts. The key, it seems, is to help kids develop a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset” when it comes to how they think about their intelligence and ability to grow and learn. A “growth” mindset is one in which the child believes their efforts and trying new skills are what helps them learn and conquer new challenges. In contrast, some kids learn to think that their skill and intelligence are “fixed” and cannot be expanded with effort.

According to researchers, the preschool years are a key time to help kids understand this difference and how parents’ use praise may play a role. The commonly used comment, “good job” is generic praise in that it doesn’t inform the child what specifically they did well. On the other hand, “process praise” like the comment, “good job sharing with your friend” is the type of praise that helps the child understand what they did right so that they know what to focus on in the future.

In research studies, this difference in the types of  praise used by parents was predictive of children’s “motivational framework” years later. That simply means that the children had more of a mindset of growth. Process praise that emphasized the child’s effort, strategies, or actions helped the child understand that their intelligence is not fixed but they can achieve new skills by trying.

This growth mindset is all part of a larger set of “non-cognitive skills” that help kids learn and achieve. These skills, like resilience, self-control, and persistence have little to do with their innate cognitive ability. Many researchers in the last few years have begun to emphasize these skills. In his recent book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough explores many of these traits. He cites many research studies that illustrate the value of helping kids deal with failure and overcome it to move on with a task or class. Perhaps most importantly, he explains the difference between helping kids develop self-esteem and character,

“I think there is a real difference between developing self-esteem and developing character, and in the past few decades we’ve become confused about that. Yes, if you want to develop kids’ self-esteem, the best way to do it is to praise everything they do and make excuses for their failures.

But if you want to develop their character, you do almost the opposite: You let them fail and don’t hide their failures from them or from anybody else – not to make them feel lousy about themselves, but to give them the tools to succeed next time.”

What a gift we can help our kids develop! I think this message is so powerful because it can apply to so many aspects of life. In school, kids need these skills to persist in a hard class or sport. Consider later in life, when your adult child is faced with a tough job situation or even a difficult personal relationship. I can easily see how these character traits like persistence, dedication, and passion can serve them well. Even in their own personal development as a person, these traits are crucial to overcoming bad habits or staying healthy.

So the next time you’re are tempted to say, “good job” to your persistent preschooler, try pointing out how well she/he stuck with the task at hand. The language we use really can make a difference in our children’s future mindset.

Video: What Pregnant Women Should Know About Pre-Eclampsia

In this brief video, NHS Midwife Suzanne Barber explains the warning signs of pre-eclampsia. Find out more about pre-eclampsia here

Editor’s Note: Video Highlights

  • Pre-eclampsia usually affects women in the 2nd half of their pregnancy.  If left untreated it can put both the mother’s and the baby’s health at risk as it could lead to your child being born prematurely or failing to grow as expected in the womb.
  • Early indication are often detected by your community midwife or GP (*family doctor) during an ante-natal (*prenatal) check. Women with pre-eclampsia have high blood pressure and protein in their urine.
  • Pre-eclampsia could come on quickly. If it does, symptoms may include:
    • Swelling: face, hands, ankles
    • Severe headaches that don’t go away
    • Visual disturbances
    • Upper abdominal pain
  • You are more at risk of pre-eclampsia if you:
    • Are overweight
    • Have had kidney disease
    • Have diabetes
    • Have high blood pressure
  • If you are diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, you will have more active antenatal care and will be monitored more closely, however if there is cause for concern, you may need to be admitted to the hospital, and it may be advised that you have your baby earlier than expected.
  • Your GP or midwife may advise you if supplements can help lower your risk of pre-eclampsia.
  • If you feel unwell and experience any of the symptoms described above, see a midwife or GP.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.