Currently browsing parenting tips posts

Should Your Child Take The New Fidget Toy Out For A Spin?

Fidget toys called Spinners have become a huge fad for kids. They all seem to love them. Meanwhile, most teachers and parents seem to hate them. In fact, Spinners are being banned in many schools. Some kids are crushed and some parents are furious. Where do you stand? Let’s take a look at Spinners and fidget toys in general and see if we can figure out this issue.

Old school types usually say, “Why are kids being allowed to bring toys to school these days? Why can’t they just sit still?” Here’s the thing – kids have always needed to fidget. They have been tapping pencils, wiggling their feet, chewing their nails, drawing on notebooks and countless other things since formal schooling began. Some of this behavior is expected by teachers, and they know how to manage it in their classrooms. But for some kids, movement is imperative.

Kids who have learning disabilities, or are on the autism spectrum, or have other challenges really DO need to move. It’s not that they are being disruptive, it’s just the way they are wired. Some schools today are getting rid of recess and PE, leaving these kids even less opportunity to be physically active during their day. This leaves kids with even more need to fidget.

Enter the fidget toy. A true fidget is not really a toy but more of a therapeutic tool. The first one I ever saw was an elastic band that was tied across the legs of a desk or a chair and the student could bounce their legs on the band. Some fidgets are much less physically active – putty has been gaining ground in classrooms lately. Rubik’s Cube is a classic example of a fidget for the hands, but it can be loud and distracting to the other students. Fidgets don’t all have to have a solution or an endpoint. Putty can be sculpted into something, but it can also be simply manipulated for the sensory input. In a classroom with an inclusive population, where some kids have special needs and some are “typical” as the term goes, can you allow some students to have these items and say no to the others? This creates even more issues in a classroom.

Enter the Spinner. They come in many colors and materials, and some even light up. They are very well named – they spin. That’s all they do. Some have one circle, others have three, and you can move the spinning bearing to change the motion and the sensation.

All people are drawn to spinning items, this is why there is a now a job called sign spinner, why children have played with spinning tops all throughout history and why pinwheels and whirligigs have been popular since they were invented in China in 400 BC (yes, I did my research). People on the autism spectrum are especially drawn to spinning items, so I could see Spinners calming a tantrum (I work with special needs kids and know first hand that tantrums don’t only happen to toddlers). But in reality they are just being used to show off the latest color or model and taunt the kids who don’t have them. They are also being used as weapons, to poke or spin on someone else’s skin. Eventually they will end up being thrown at someone. They do sort of look like Ninja stars, and many manufacturers have Ninja Star Spinners so clearly I am not the only one who made the connection – and some of those types look very sharp!

To see what all the hype is about I played with one. The key word is PLAYED – it is certainly a toy. If you change the heavy part to one of the outer rings it does have an interesting weighed effect, but I really only see the benefits for kids with special needs and/or sensory issues. I think Spinners would be useful for kids who stim, not necessarily for kids who fidget. You can find a good Spinner for that here.

Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders. It is considered a way in which autistic people calm and stimulate themselves. Another theory is that stimming is a way to relieve anxiety, and other emotions. Common stimming behaviors (sometimes called stims) include  repeating noises or words and spinning objects.  …Wikipedia

A compromise might be to establish rules for when, where and how Spinners may be used. Parents and/or teachers could brainstorm some rules as well as consequences. Maybe they can be used at recess but not in the classroom, or maybe if the class finishes the day’s lesson plan early they would be given some time at the end of class to bring out their Spinners, which might even encourage better classroom behavior. Perhaps they could be attached to the underside of desks so they can be spun out of sight.

While doing research I also found some Youtube videos that teach Spinner tricks which might get the kids up and active trying to balance, toss and catch the toy. There are also instructions for making your own Spinners, so break out the craft supplies and turn off the video games!

Video: How to Introduce Your Child to Sleeping in a Bed

In this brief video, NHS Health Visitor, Sara, discusses how to approach moving your young child from a cot (*crib) to a bed and gives some tips for success.

Editor’s Note: Video Highlights

  • child-moving-to-a-bedThere are no hard-and-fast rules for when to move your baby from a cot (*crib) to a bed – do it when it feels comfortable for your child and for you
  • From 18 months, you might find that your child is too big for a cot or is trying to climb out – that’s the time to move them into a bed
  • For some children, moving from a cot to a bed is really exciting and they accept it really well
  • For other children, they might feel a bit stressed about the change – so you might need to choose a calm time in their life
    • Challenging times for moving from a cot to a bed can be if you’re moving house, if you’ve gone back to work or if your child is not feeling well
  • You may need to move your child to a bed if you have another baby on the way – if so, do it about six to eight weeks before your new baby is born, to help keep your child from being unsettled with too much change
  • Once sleeping in a bed, your child might get up in the night and wander around, so be sure to childproof their room
    • Put a stair gate across the door
    • Check their room for any electrical appliances or wires they could trip over, any small toys or objects they can get hold of or any cord blinds that they could get tangled in
    • You might also want to put barrier next to the bed or put cushions on the floor in case they fall out
  • If your child doesn’t like the bed initially and they want to protest, just stay calm, reassure them, give them a cuddle, but put them back in the bed
    • You might find that you have to do it a few times, but if you’re consistent, they’ll soon get used to being in the bed
  • When your child has slept in the bed, or had some naps in the bed, praise them because it can make a big difference to their confidence and they’ll feel much more willing to sleep in the bed if you praise them for what they’ve done

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


When and How to Treat a Fever: a Pediatrician’s Perspective

I have posted in the past about fever and many of the myths surrounding it (Kids Will Get Sick: 5 Facts a Pediatrician Wants You To Know).  In this post I would like to deal with the causes, nature of fever, benefits of fever, and some “treatments”.  It is one of the most common reasons people bring their children to the Emergency room and probably among the least significant reasons for doing so.

Fever is a symptom of an illness such as cough, runny nose, headache, and many others and, except for the discomfort of the associated symptoms (chills, achiness, drowsiness, etc.) fever, in and of itself, does not need to be treated.  As far as what is the definition of fever, it depends on the age of your child or infant. Just about any fever in an infant less than 3 months of age is considered to be significant for the purpose of evaluation.  As your baby/child gets older the level of fever at which the concern rises does so with the height of the fever and the associated symptoms.  Beyond the immediate newborn period (up to age 3 months) fever (or better termed higher than normal body temperature) is generally considered to be over 100.4 to 100.5 Fahrenheit.

Fever is part of the immune reaction that your body goes through to identify the offending agent and muster the resources to fight off that agent.  Some studies have shown that the presence of fever helps your body fight off the disease in a more rapid and efficient way.  As such, it is easy to see that in fighting off an illness, the reduction of that fever for its own sake is not necessarily the best thing to do.  As I mentioned in my last post about fever, if your child is very uncomfortable due to the presence of fever, it certainly is reasonable to give a medicine such as Tylenol or Advil, but not just because the fever is there.

In an effort to reduce fever by worried parents many methods have been tried; such as placing a child in a cold bath or sponging with cold water, even to go as far as placing ice packs in supposedly strategic places.  This would seem logical at first blush but in fact, human beings have a very good method of warming a cold body, and that is shivering, wherein the muscles go into a hypermetabolic state producing heat by metabolic processes.  It is possible to place someone with a fever in a cold bath and have him or her come out with a higher temperature than before the bath.  So the reasonable approach to comfortably lower a fever is to undress a child with fever but not enough to stimulate chills or shivering, place your child in a warm (skin temperature) bath of only a few inches of water and sponge off your child frequently allowing for natural evaporative processes to cool the skin.  Offer your child plenty of cool fluids that will do some cooling from within as well as keeping him/her well hydrated- fever will cause extra fluid loss through sweating and the hypermetabolic state.  Do not wrap your child in blankets just to “sweat the fever out” as doing this may also inadvertently raise fever, and increase fluid loss and discomfort- certainly covering the child enough to relieve chills and shivering is appropriate for comfort.

In trying to determine whether someone who runs a lower than “normal” natural body temperature is running a fever, just use the reading you get with the thermometer as the difference between a normal temperature and one that “runs low” is very small and would not be significant medically.  Furthermore body temperatures vary throughout the 24 hour day in the same person- so when that “normally low” body temperature was taken becomes important.

So you can almost expect fever to accompany any illness of an infectious nature whether mild or severe.  Keep calm, it is not the fever that is important, but the appearance, behavior and the presence of certain other symptoms that your Doctor with be most interested in when you call his office.

How to Cope with Teen Arguments, Aggression and Violence

Many parents find that when their child becomes a teenager, their behaviour becomes more challenging. But how do you cope if they become aggressive or even violent towards you?

If you’re experiencing aggression or violence from your teen, you’re not alone. A recent Parentline Plus survey found that 60% of calls (between October 2007 and June 2008) included verbal aggression from a teenager, and 30% involved physical aggression, much of it aimed at the parent themselves.

teen aggression and violenceIt is common to keep this kind of abuse behind closed doors and not confide in anyone. Many parents feel  that they have failed to control their child, or that they are responsible for the behaviour in some way – or they may not know where to turn.

However, any kind of aggression can be stressful, and can cause an atmosphere of tension and fear for the entire family, not to mention the possibility of physical harm if their teen becomes violent.

No parent should feel obliged to put up with an unruly teen, and as with any type of domestic abuse, help and support is available. You can find appropriate organisations and helpline numbers (*for the UK)  in “Help and Support” further below. There are also a number of techniques and tips that you might find helpful.

Defusing Heated Arguments

It’s useful to remember that your own behaviour can improve or worsen an aggressive situation, so it’s important to be a good role model for your teen.

Linda Blair, clinical psychologist working with families, advises: “Bear in mind that you are their principal role model. If you act aggressively but tell them not to, they won’t listen. It’s also helpful to remember that their anger is often based on fear – fear that they’re losing control.”

With that in mind, it is worth trying to maintain a calm and peaceful presence. You need to be strong without being threatening. Remember that your body language, as well as what you say and how you say it, should also reflect this.

Avoid staring them in the eye, and give them personal space. Allow them the opportunity to express their point of view, then respond in a reasoned way.

Breathing Exercises to Control Anger

If an argument becomes very heated, Linda suggests that you “stop for a moment”. Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and then exhale. Repeat five times. This technique is very useful in intense situations.

If your teen is becoming aggressive during arguments, suggest this technique to them when they’re calm, so they too have a way of controlling their anger.

If an argument feels out of control, you can also try explaining to them that you are going to walk away, and that you’ll come back again in half an hour. Given the chance to reflect and calm down, you and your teen will both be more reasonable when you resume your discussion.

As with toddlers, if you give in to teenagers because their shouting and screaming intimidates or baffles you, you are in effect encouraging them to repeat the unreasonable behaviour as a way of getting what they want.

Counselling for Teenagers

Family Lives is a charity dedicated to helping families. They suggest that if very heated arguments happen frequently, it may be worth suggesting counselling to your teen. They’ll benefit from talking to someone new and unbiased, someone who isn’t in their family and who won’t judge them.

Read more about the benefits of talking treatments.

Remember they may not know how to handle their anger, and this can leave them frustrated and even frightened. Some guidance from an outsider can be very helpful.

Dealing with Violent Behaviour

Sometimes, teen aggression can turn into violence. If they lash out at you, or someone or something else, put safety first.

Let your teenager know that violence is unacceptable and you will walk away from them until they’ve calmed down. If leaving the room or house isn’t helping, call the police – after all, if you feel threatened or scared, then you have the right to protect yourself.

Family Lives offer this advice for coping with, and helping, a violent teen:

  • Give them space – once they have calmed down, you may want to talk to them about what has happened and suggest that they let you find them some help.
  • Be clear – teenagers need to know that you will stand by the boundaries you set. They need to know that any kind of violence is unacceptable.
  • Talk to their school and find out if their aggressive behaviour is happening there as well. Some schools offer counselling.
  • Arrange counselling – if your teen admits they have a problem and is willing to get help, book an appointment with a counsellor or psychologist as soon as possible. Speak to your GP (*pediatrician  or family doctor) or their school about what help is available.

Help and Support (*in the UK – see end for resources in other locations)

There are many organisations that offer emotional support and practical advice. Getting some support can help you and your child. At such an important development stage, it’s important that they learn how to communicate well and express anger in a healthy way.

  • You can call Family Lives’ Parentline on 0800 800 2222 any time, or email for a personalised reply within three days. They also offer i-parent modules to help you learn more about communicating better with your teen.
  • You can call the Samaritans on 08457 909090 any time to talk about any type of distress and to get confidential support and advice.
  • Youth Access has details about youth organisations and services offering teens counselling, advice and support.
  • Young Minds is a charitable organisation supporting children and young people with mental health issues, and their parents. They provide information to help young people with anger issues. If you discuss your child’s behaviour with them and they are open to getting help, you might like to direct them to the information on the Young Minds website.

Concerned about Mental Health Issues?

If you’re worried that your teen has a mental health problem such as depression, talk to your GP (*pediatrician  or family doctor). In the UK, he or she can refer them to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, who in turn can refer all or some of you for Family Therapy. Or contact the Young Minds Parents’ Helpline on 0808 802 5544 for advice and support concerning mental health issues in young people.

If you are having trouble coping with your teenager, and you suspect you may have symptoms of depression or other mental health problems, discuss this with your GP (*pediatrician  or family doctor). He or she can then suggest suitable treatment. You may, for example, be referred for counselling, or directed to support groups or other services in your area.

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

US Resources for Family and Teen Challenges:

Canadian Resources for Family and Teen Challenges:

Australian Resources for Teen Aggression:


Study: Can Music Help Premature Babies Sleep and Feed?

music-and-premature-babies“Playing music to premature babies ‘helps them sleep and improves their breathing’,” is the headline in the Daily Mail about research into the effects of ‘music therapy’ on premature babies.

While positive effects were found, it is still unclear whether this will lead to tangible health improvements.

The researchers in this study speculate that being born premature could be traumatic (from an acoustic perspective) for two reasons:

  • The baby is prematurely separated from the sound of the mother’s heartbeat and the sounds they were accustomed to in the womb
  • The baby is ‘plunged’ into the noisy environment of a neo-natal intensive care unit

Researchers wanted to see whether exposing premature babies to more comforting sounds could help compensate for these proposed sources of trauma.

They investigated three types of live music therapy, administered with the help of a certified music therapist:

  • A lullaby or any other song chosen by the parent that was modified to be like a lullaby, preferably sung by a parent
  • An instrument designed to replicate womb sounds
  • An instrument that sounded like a heartbeat

The researchers found that the therapies were associated with slowing of infants’ heartbeats, calmer breathing, and improved feeding and sleep patterns. The therapies were also associated with decreased stress levels in the parents.

It is unclear whether music therapy does improve premature babies’ health outcomes. For example, if infants receiving music therapy are able to leave hospital earlier or have better long-term health outcomes.

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from the Beth Israel Medical Centre, New York and was funded by the Heather on Earth Music Foundation, a non-profit organisation that provides funding for music therapy programmes in children’s hospitals.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics. This article was open access, meaning that it can be accessed for free in full from the journal’s website.

This research was well-covered by the Daily Mail. The paper also contains an aside (presumably included in an accompanying press release) that one parent chose to sing a ‘lullabied’ version of Marvin Gaye’s soul classic ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ and another chose 70’s funk standard ‘Pick up the Pieces’ by Average White Band.

What kind of research was this?

This was a randomised crossover trial that aimed to determine whether three different live music interventions in premature infants could affect:

  • Physiological functions, such as heart and respiratory rates, oxygen saturation levels and activity levels
  • Developmental function such as sleep patterns, feeding behaviour and weight gain

The three interventions administered with the help of a certified music therapist were:

  • A lullaby, either Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or any other song chosen by the parent which was modified to be like a lullaby, preferably sung by a parent
  • An ‘ocean disc’ musical instrument, which is a round disc containing metal beads that aims to replicate womb sounds
  • A ‘gato box’, a 2- or 4-tone wooden box or drum that is played with the fingers to provide a rhythm in a manner that simulates the heartbeat sound that the baby would hear in the womb

The ocean disc and the gato box were played live and were coordinated to the infant’s breath rate. All infants received each of the three possible treatments (lullaby, gato box, ocean disc) as well as a control where no sound stimulation was given.

A randomised crossover trial is similar to a randomised control trial, but after a participant has received one treatment they are swapped over to another treatment arm, meaning that all participants received all three treatments and the control.

The trial design does have the disadvantage that the benefits obtained from one treatment might still be present when a second treatment is tested.

What did the research involve?

The researchers recruited 272 premature infants aged at least 32 weeks old with respiratory distress syndrome, clinical sepsis and/or small size for gestational age in neonatal intensive care units.

The infants received each of the three possible treatments (lullaby, gato box or ocean disc) or no explicit sound stimulation (to act as a control).

Each treatment was given twice during the two-week trial (three treatments per week). The day each treatment was given and the time of day (morning or afternoon) was randomised. If the infant received an intervention in the morning, the control was given in the afternoon and vice versa. The interventions were delivered by music therapists in conjunction with parents.

Heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate and activity level were measured at one-minute intervals during the 10-minute phase before the intervention, the 10-minute phase during, and the 10-minute phase after the intervention.

The researchers also analysed the infants’ vital signs, feeding behaviours, and sleep patterns daily during the two-week period.

In addition, self-perceived stress levels in parents of infants in neonatal intensive care were assessed before and after the two-week trial.

What were the basic results?

Activity Level

The percentage of ‘quiet-alert time’ (one of several states of alertness ascribed to newborns) increased during a lullaby. After the lullaby, it decreased.

Heart Rate

All three interventions showed a significant effect over time (before, during, after) on heart rate. Heart rate decreased the most during the lullaby and gato box interventions, and after the ocean disc treatment.

Respiratory Rate

The ocean disc also decreased the number of inspirations per minute during and after the treatment.

Developmental Behaviours

Use of the ocean disc was associated with increased ‘positive sleep patterns’ and ‘sucking pattern behaviour’ increased after the gato box treatment.

Parental Stress

The music interventions were also associated with a decrease in parents’ perception of stress.

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers conclude that the live sounds and lullabies applied by a certified music therapist can influence cardiac and respiratory function, may improve feeding behaviours and sucking patterns, and may increase prolonged periods of quiet-alert states. These interventions also decrease the stress felt by parents of premature infants.


This research has found that live music therapies may slow infants’ heartbeats, calm their breathing, improve sucking behaviour important for feeding, improve sleep patterns and promote states of quiet alertness.

Different interventions led to different patterns of improvement, but all three types of musical therapy appeared to have a positive effect on the infant. The therapies also seemed to help the parents of premature infants feel less stressed.

Although this research is interesting, it is still unclear whether music therapy can lead to tangible health improvements, for example, the researchers did not measure whether infants receiving music therapy were able to leave hospital earlier or had better long-term health outcomes.

There are also practical considerations in that access to musical therapists is likely to be limited.

Despite these limitations, the study seems to provide a degree of evidence that the deep-seated human instinct to sing lullabies to your baby does them good.

For more information, read Getting your baby to sleep

Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter.


“Playing music to premature babies ‘helps them sleep and improves their breathing'” is the headline in the Daily Mail about research into the effects of ‘music therapy’ on premature babies. While positive effects were found, it is still unclear.

Links to Headlines

Links to Science

How to Avoid Your Child’s Advertising-Fueled Nag Factor

I’ll admit it—the first brand name my son recognized was Starbucks. This probably says something about the coffee habits in our family. However, it also says something about the advertising and branded world we live in. At the time of this recognition my son was about 2 or 2.5 years old. It just goes to show how powerful branded messages and advertising are for even the youngest members of our society.

After reading this disturbing article that explained that the 0-3 year old age range is now the prime target for advertisers, I started to delve more into the research on advertising to children.

kids advertising and the nag factorWhat I found was not encouraging. It seems clear that advertisers focus a lot of their time and money on ads for food products targeted to kids, most of which are quite unhealthy. A study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that advertising on children’s television (aimed at kids under age 12) had the highest proportion of food ads (50% of all ads) compared to all other genres of TV. What types of foods do these ads promote? Much like you might expect, these food ads targeted toward children primarily focus on candy and snacks (34%), cereal (28%), and fast food (10%).

Unfortunately, this type of advertising works. Studies show that children who watch more ads for food products on television are much more likely to prefer unhealthy foods when offered a choice.

So why is this advertising to children so effective? One factor, of course, is the advertisers are smart—they have harnessed the knowledge of psychology and marketing to be able to market products (especially food) to children in just the right way to make it very appealing to little minds.

Additionally, as we all know, children are relatively impressionable. Young children, in particular, have very little power to resist advertising when they see it. They do not yet have the skills to understand the advertisers’ persuasive tactics.

Lastly, and perhaps most disturbing, advertisers are aware of and have harnessed the power of “the nag factor.” We all know what that means. Kids nag their parents incessantly for products that they’ve seen advertised, usually on TV. One recent study looked at the “nag factor” and found that kids who are more familiar with commercial television characters are more likely to nag their parents for the products associated with those characters.

For me, one of the most problematic aspects of all this advertising to children is that the advertisers are really trying to indoctrinate kids into the idea that life should be all about purchasing and getting material things.

The good news is that parents are not helpless in this battle with advertisers for their children’s minds (and stomachs). Although advertising, particularly related to food items, is very persuasive to children, parents can be quite persuasive too as long as they promote a constant message of healthy food choices.

In a new study just published, several researchers considered the role of parents’ messages in the food choices made by children ages 3-5 just after watching advertising for food products. In one part of the study, children watched a commercial for French fries and were then given the option to choose French fries or a healthier food option for a snack. Parents looked on and one group was told to encourage their children to make the healthier choice, while the other group of parents was told to remain neutral about the food choice. When parents remained neutral, 71% of the children chose the French fries over the healthy option. However, when parents encouraged a healthier choice, the percentage of kids choosing French fries dropped to 55%. While this is not a dramatic drop, it does show that parental influence does have power, even in light of direct advertising for unhealthy products.

I think it’s unlikely that this type of marketing will end or even slow down, but this research offers encouragement that we as parents can influence good choices by our children, as long as we adhere to a clear, consistent message. It is obvious that advertising has a strong impact on children, so limiting children’s exposure to commercials will most likely make your children’s choices better in the long run and perhaps your life a little easier as a parent (e.g., less nagging).

Additionally, as children get older, I could see it being helpful to explain to them how advertisers play their game. If kids can understand why and how advertising is so persuasive, they might be more likely to resist it.

With my older son, I have begun explaining how some things we see on TV or the internet are a “trick.” The people making the product are trying to “trick” us into spending money on something that is either unhealthy or useless (like a junky toy). I have been reminding him of times when he bought a cheap toy and was bored with it after a day or two. These lessons are starting to sink in but it is an ongoing battle with advertising.

Here are some good resources available for helping kids learn media literacy:


Next Page »