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Pediatric Safety and Stepmother-hood: New Beginnings

Hello dear readers. I am Clara Ember and I am the new Junior Editor for Pediatric Safety. I am a newlywed at 28 and in addition to gaining the companionship of a handsome and intelligent young man, I also found myself suddenly in the role of stepmother to a seven-year-old boy. As someone who never planned on having children of her own, the change was a significant one. I have always liked children and I am aunt to three beautiful little ones, all of whom I love dearly, but see rarely.

I put a lot of thought into motherhood before marrying my husband. His son does not live with us, (he stays with his grandparents) but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to have a significant part in his life. The first few times I met him I was a nervous wreck. What happened if he didn’t like me, or if I didn’t like him? What if I was just terrible at being a responsible adult and ended up being a bad influence on him? What was I supposed to talk to him about?

When he first met me, he called me by my husband’s ex’s name. Over and over and over again. Awkward right? As it turns out, five-year-olds don’t understand breakups and to him, I looked like her. I was a short girl with short hair, that’s the same right? I was so shy that I had no idea how to handle it, so I just stayed very quiet.

Then we went hiking around my husband’s parents property. We had been hiking for about 20min when we came to a pile of logs we had to climb over. He jumped on top of them and turned around with sparkling brown eyes and held out his hand. “Here Clara!” he said, “Let me help you.” My heart melted and with it, went all of my fears about how being in his life would play out. Suddenly it didn’t matter that I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, I would simply love him the best I could and figure out the rest.

He’s too young to really understand what my role in my life is now that I’m married to his father. He sees me as a friend, someone to play transformers and trains with, someone to cuddle. Truthfully, I’m just figuring it out as I go, but what a beautiful journey it is…

I am amazed by parenting, by the balance it requires and the subtle (and not subtle) guidance required to direct and teach a little human. One must be firm and gentle, challenging and comforting, and constantly engaged.

But I’m not telling you guys anything you don’t already know. You are more than aware of the hardships and beautiful moments of having a child and I salute you for all of the work you are putting into it. That being said, if you more experienced parents have any advice you’d like to pass along to a new stepmom, I would love to hear it! Mostly we play outside and build things with legos, but I would like to start teaching him more and building a more solid relationship with him. I want to be a mentor as well as a friend, but I know that’s something you can’t force.

I am really looking forward to working with our authors and staff to continue to bring you intelligent and useful content to help you all on your parenting journeys. After all, it takes a village.

And if you have any questions you would like to ask me, my inbox is always open and I will respond as quickly and honestly as I can. Have a wonderful weekend!

Video: Common Questions About Kids and Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a common childhood illness. But what steps should you take to look after someone who catches it? In this video Dr Rishi Duggal explains what to do if you or your children get chickenpox, and when to get urgent medical advice.

Editor’s Note: Video Highlights

The main symptom is the rash – it can occur in 3 main stages:

  • Stage 1: red spots on face or chest
  • Stage 2: after a couple of hours to a day, spots spread to other parts of body – spots can form fluid filled blisters, very itchy
  • Stage 3: these form scabs or crust – can take several weeks to fall off

How to treat it?

  • Can manage pain with paracetamol (*acetaminophen)
    • Avoid ibuprofen with chickenpox as some may have bad reactions to this
  • Calamine lotions and cremes/gels can help soothe the skin
  • Make sure you’re well hydrated
  • Keep your child out of school and if it’s you, stay away from work

How do you catch it?

  • Chickenpox is HIGHLY contagious – really easy to spread:
    • Through droplets infected person has breathed, sneezed or coughed out
    • Through contact with fluid from blisters
    • Even being in same room with someone for 15 mins who has chicken pox

When to get help

  • Contact your GP (*doctor) or NHS 111 if:
    • You’re not sure if you or your child has it
    • Your baby is less than 4 weeks old and has it
    • If you’re pregnant or have a weakened immune system
    • If your symptoms aren’t improving after a week
  • In rare situations your skin can become red or swollen and even more rare, you can find it difficult to breathe.  Seek urgent advice.

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

Depression Ruins Lives – What If My Child Has It?

Depression doesn’t just affect adults. Children and teenagers can get depressed too.

Some studies show that almost one in four young people will experience depression before they are 19 years old.

It’s important to get help early if you think your child may be depressed. The longer it goes on, the more likely it is to disrupt your child’s life and turn into a long-term problem.

Signs of depression in children

Symptoms of depression in children often include:

  • sadness, or a low mood that doesn’t go away
  • being irritable or grumpy all the time
  • not being interested in things they used to enjoy
  • feeling tired and exhausted a lot of the time

Your child may also:

  • have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
  • not be able to concentrate
  • interact less with friends and family
  • be indecisive
  • not have much confidence
  • eat less than usual or overeat
  • have big changes in weight
  • seem unable to relax or be more lethargic than usual
  • talk about feeling guilty or worthless
  • feel empty or unable to feel emotions (numb)
  • have thoughts about suicide or self-harming
  • actually self-harm, for example, cutting their skin or taking on overdose

Some children have problems with anxiety as well as depression. Some also have physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.

Problems at school can be a sign of depression in children and teenagers and so can problem behaviour, especially in boys.

Older children who are depressed may misuse drugs or alcohol.

Why is my child depressed?

Things that increase the risk of depression in children include:

  • family difficulties
  • bullying
  • physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • a family history of depression or other mental health problems

Sometimes depression is triggered by one difficult event, such as parents separating, a bereavement or problems with school or other children.

Often it’s caused by a mixture of things. For example, your child may have inherited a tendency to depression and also have experienced some difficult life events.

If you think your child is depressed

If you think your child may be depressed, it’s important to talk to them. Try to find out what’s troubling them and how they are feeling.

See some tips on talking to younger children and talking to teenagers.

Whatever is causing the problem, take it seriously. It may not seem a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child.

If your child doesn’t want to talk to you, let them know that you are concerned about them and that you’re there if they need you.

  • Encourage them to talk to someone else they trust, such as another family member, a friend or someone at school.
  • It may be helpful for you to talk to other people who know your child, including their other parent.
  • You could also contact their school to see if they have any concerns.

When to get medical help

If you think your child is depressed, make an appointment with them to see your GP (*doctor).

  • If necessary they can refer your child to their local child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) for specialist help (in the UK)**.
  • See more about CAMHS.
  • If you are worried about any aspect of your child’s mental health, you can call the charity YoungMinds’ free parents’ helpline (in the UK)** on 0808 802 5544 for advice.
  • The YoungMinds website also has mental health support and advice for your child.

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

** Resources in the United States

Back-to-School Medical Exams: Parents, What You Need To Know

This exam is a very important part of good child health for many reasons.  It gives the child, parents and physicians the opportunity to adequately evaluate the status, physical and emotional, of the child who is entering a new classroom setting.  After being out and about for the summer months your child has been given enough time to break those school time habits and possibly get into a lifestyle not conducive to studying again.  The exam time allows for physician and family to discuss this in front of the child.

If your child is an athlete, there are issues to discuss and recognize. An exam that focuses on the orthopedic, neurologic and cardiac systems is very important.

  • Family history can be reviewed and if it suggests genetic issues that may impact on a child’s ability to play a sport, testing can be undertaken prior to the sports season in order to clear such a child to play a given sport.
  • The issue of cerebral concussion during contact and sometimes non -contact sports can be addressed and the seriousness of this can be stressed to child and parent alike.  More and more emphasis has been placed on the significance of such injuries, and rightfully so, as repeated concussions can lead to permanent problems
  • Orthopedic issues can be identified that may predispose an athlete student to further and more significant problems.  These may result in alterations in training procedures such that emphasis is placed on protecting certain areas of the body.
  • There are issues that may prevent a child from playing an impact sport altogether; such as a single organ which is usually found in pairs- kidneys, eyes, testicles, etc.  Certainly emphasis would be placed on avoiding injury to the remaining organ and might prohibit playing a certain sport.  It is important for the child to hear such things directly from his/her Doctor, rather than be restricted by parents.

The pre-school exam can stress the importance of looking for aberrant behavior in class mates and avoiding such behavior: smoking, drugs, early sexual behavior, risk taking, just to name a few that in the presence of peer pressures might be difficult for a child to “just say no”.

Depending on the age of the child such issues as sexuality and gender issues can be addressed, including natural progression of puberty and beyond.

Immunizations can be reviewed and if not up to date, the proper recommendation can be given and the fears of parents and children about these immunizations can be openly discussed.

It is easy to see how this back-to-school medical exam is as important, if not more so, than obtaining the right papers, pencils, etc.  Parents, please keep this in mind as the school year approaches

Chores Outdoors? Watch Out for Hidden Allergens

Sometimes, we joke that one of the reasons that we had children was to help with the household chores. Admittedly, having them pitch in does help everything run a bit more smoothly. Chores are also a parents’ way to ready their children for adulthood, teach them responsibility and to show them first hand that nothing is as easy as it seems. The majority of parents are excited the first time they don’t have to mow the lawn or pull up some weeds from the garden. What some parents may not know is that caution must also be taken to avoid unseen allergy triggers. First and foremost, our children (especially those with allergies) should always take the necessary precautions to avoid as many health and life threatening situations as possible.

The most typical triggers include environmental components that fly through the air and love to settle inside of our nasal passages as well as our hair. Even on the clearest of days, sending your child out into the beautiful air may bring them back to you in a sneezy, itchy condition you were not expecting. What began as pitching in for the family could end as an allergy-saving effort with the entire family. Since we cannot stop the pollen changes or the plants from needing to be trimmed, check the forecast before you venture outside. Be sure that your child is prepared by having them wear a mask, eye protection and gloves. Simple precautions could help keep this allergy explosion under control.

Sometimes obvious triggers are not so obvious. Those who have insect or bee venom allergies should always remember to have two auto injectors and other medications with them at all times in case of a surprise meeting. The trouble is that some of these insects are no longer as visible as they used to be. While you are watching out for them up in the trees, you could be walking right into a swarm that has burrowed underground. Even though they are only looking for a safe place to live, they see disturbances as a threat and may swarm into action instantly. A single sting is scary but multiple stings are definitely horrific to think about. Be aware of your surrounds and wear long pants and long sleeves to limit the possibility of easy access of areas to be stung.

Another source of outside allergy reactors may be found in cicadas. If you have a shellfish allergy, be prepared before your child decides to pick one up and see what they are all about. Cicadas are part of the arthropod family (which shellfish belongs to) and although they may seem quite harmless, they could be an instant reminder of that shellfish allergy. Most of us don’t even consider insects and shellfish to be related but an allergy doesn’t discriminate. If your child is curious, have them wear gloves and be available in case the nature seeking turns into a completely different scenario.

We have all been told “leaves of three, let it be” to avoid poison ivy and sumac  but what is often left out of the conversation is the lingering impact that the oil can have on us when we eat specific foods. Cashew trees and mango trees are part of the same plant family that contains urushiol oil on their leaves just like poison ivy and sumac. In addition to that, each time you break out from an exposure to these plants, the worse your reaction will become. Some people have reported having an allergic reaction to mangos and/or cashews after being exposed to urushiol oil. This may not be the case for everyone but being knowledgeable and cautious may keep you one step ahead of an unanticipated snack turned dangerous. If your child has a known cashew or mango allergy, the best thing to do is to have them be especially careful to avoid poison ivy and sumac. If your child is an outdoor fanatic, teach them what to watch for and tell them how important it is to wear protective layers to avoid contact with the oils (just as they should for other outdoor triggers) and make sure your child showers off with a product that can remove the oils to lessen the chance of cross reactivity.

Having a child with allergies can be tricky- being prepared is always the first step in avoiding any allergy trigger. With multiple factors waiting for an opportunity to jump out from around the corner, parents who have children with allergies and the children themselves can understandably be afraid to learn this new phase of life. Keeping an open and honest discussion with your child about their allergies and what they can do to make it easier for them are simple ways to ensure that your child understands how to be prepared. It also sends a gentle reminder to you as a parent about how important it is to pass along knowledge about your child’s health as well as how to keep the yard clean. Teaching the responsibility of a chore can always wait but teaching the responsibility of understanding your allergens is something that must be learned immediately.

Parents, You Have a Homework Assignment! Make Sure…

Good morning parents.  I hope everyone had a fun and safe summer with the kids because now, as if you already didn’t know, it is time to send them back to school.  I am more than positive that each and every one of you is well versed in supply lists and projects that will all be due on the first day, not to mention the beginning of homework.  Well before the kids get any homework, I would like to take this opportunity to give you the parents some homework of your own for this brand new school year.

The assignment I have for you is about making sure and it comes in 2 parts:

As a parent, aside from the required vaccinations and records you must submit to the school, the first part of your assignment is to make sure that the school, the school nurse, the teachers and anyone else that will be caring for your child at school is aware of any conditions they may have that could pose a problem or delay in an emergency. For example: Allergies, Asthma, or even Heart Conditions.  As a paramedic, the number one problem I have faced at schools is the lack of knowledge about the student and the ability to quickly contact parents.  The best way I can recommend to take care of these situations is to schedule meetings with these people and talk to them about your child.

The second part of making sure is asking questions.   Schools generally hold meetings or back to school nights where parents have time to ask questions of administrators and teachers.  Given the world we live in now and what we see every day on the news, I would like you to ask your school what they have done in preparation for given emergencies.  Are ALL the teachers CPR / First Aid certified or only a select few? Does each class have first aid equipment or just the main office? Has the school done any specific training on active shooter situations?  Does the school have a set plan in place to handle any of these situations?  What kind of communication will the school have with parents in an emergency?   Phone, text, email etc.

I know these are not the types of things we would like to think about when we send our children off to school, but they are real concerns.  Please take the time and find out what types of plans the school has made because in an emergency, information will be vital and plans are necessary.

Thank you and have a safe school year!

*Photo credit: Innovation_SchoolCC license

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