How to Talk to Your Kids About…Imaginary Friends

Why Imaginary Friends?

Being a toddler can feel very restrictive. Always being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Older siblings and friends want your toys and you are always competing for attention. Imaginary friends are the ideal companions. They never take your toys, they do what you say, and never steal your attention. They can also serve as an outlet for children to express their emotions, a scapegoat to blame things on, and can serve as a protector when kids are scared.

Imaginary friends can worry parents. We are afraid that something is wrong with our child or that they won’t ever have real friends. There is no need to worry. Good research shows us that kids who have imaginary friends have plenty of real friends. They are creative, independent and sociable.

As parents, how should we talk to our children about imaginary friends?

DON’T make fun of imaginary friends, or make your kids feel dumb for having them.

DON’T initiate, by asking about the imaginary friend. Wait until your child initiates to play along.

DON’T let your child use their imaginary friend as an escape goat.

DON’T use the imaginary friend to get your child to do what you want.

  • DO welcome and accept the imaginary friend. Just keep it in the context of pretend. As adults, we can pretend too.
  • DO provide lots of opportunities for your child to use their imagination. Play with them so they learn how to role-play and make believe.
  • DO spend plenty of time with your child so they aren’t making up friends because they aren’t getting enough attention from you.
  • DO provide opportunities for your child to communicate and express their feelings, so they don’t use imaginary friends to communicate how they feel.

And most important…

  • DO learn from the experience. Imaginary friends can give valuable insight into how your child really feels. If the imaginary friend is scared of the dark and doesn’t want to go to bed, it could mean your child is afraid of the dark. Listen to what your child’s imaginary friend is saying and be open to the insights it might provide.

Having an imaginary friend is very normal. Unless your child is becoming withdrawn, and refusing to interact with others, you can usually rest assured that after a little time, the “friend” will be dismissed.

Until then, be open and kind to your family’s new addition.

Is Your Kid a Twitter Addict?

Social media certainly has its place in a teen’s life. But as a parent, one of our most important roles these days is not to let our teens become “twidiots” or twitter addicts.

With its infamous 140-charater limit, Twitter hosts stars with millions of followers (hello, Charlie Sheen, Oprah, Kim Kardashian). When teen idol Miley Cyrus decided to fire up her Twitter account again a couple of months ago, it became semi-big news.

Twitter and Facebook dominate the news far too much, if you ask me. The media’s love affair with social media knows no bounds — and it’s out of control.

The problem is there are real dangers that your Twitter-obsessed teen – or anyone who uses the microblogging service – must keep in mind. Here are the two big ones:

Phishing Scams: First of all, Twitter users are repeatedly the target of phishing scams. Scammers send direct messages or tweets that include a generic message (such as “You’re on this video” or “I think I see you here”) to get people to click on a link. The link takes you to a fake Twitter page that asks you to log in with your username and password, which the scammer then uses to hijack your account.

Malware:  Second, fake Twitter profiles have been used to spread malicious software (known as malware). Many times, scammers use fake celebrity profiles or fake news about celebrities to lure you in. These profiles and tweets look legit. But they are created to infect your computer with malware that lets the scammer use your computer to send spam, install spyware, steal your identity or launch attacks on other computers.

I’m not suggesting that your teen should never tweet. I’m just advocating social-media life balance. Tell your teen why it’s a good idea to take his eyes off the screen and take a break from Twitter. Then, set some clear Twitter rules for your kids:

  • Post no more than one or two tweets per day. Unless your kids have a very compelling reason for sending more (they won’t), this shouldn’t be an issue.
  • Don’t auto-follow everyone. Are more than a couple of hundred followers really necessary? Do you really want a bunch of strangers constantly knowing what your kid is doing and thinking?
  • Beware of phishing and malware. Educate your kid about the phishing scams and malware risks out there. Knowing what to look for will help them avoid trouble.
  • Know that mom/dad is watching. Let your kids know you’ll be following them too. 



PedSafe Weekly Tweet Roundup: 03-19-2012 to 03-25-2012

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s “Weekly Tweet Roundup”– a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news from around the world.

Each day we strive to tweet relevant and timely health and safety information for parents, medical professionals and other caregivers. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing pretty well at keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 25 tweet-worthy events.

PedSafe Tweet of the Week:

**RECALL: CPSC recalls over 1 million Safety 1st Push ‘N Snap child safety cabinet locks http://t.co/oZHNWWvi

Beware of Falling Furniture

Be honest. Most of us do not consider the furniture in our homes or even the television to be dangerous to our children. The kids run and play and laugh and occasionally knock over a chair or bump into a desk or fall off the furniture but that seems to be the extent of our worry when it comes to furniture. Well according to a new study furniture related injuries are on the rise and if your kids are anything like mine, we have some work to do.

According to the study conducted by the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission, most furniture tip-over-related injuries occurred among children younger than 7 years of age and resulted from televisions tipping over. More than one quarter of the injuries occurred when children pulled over or climbed on furniture. Children ages 10-17 years were more likely to suffer injuries from desks, cabinets or bookshelves tipping over. Head and neck injuries were most common among younger children, while children older than 9 years were more likely to suffer injuries to the lower body.

Despite warnings from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the number of injuries involving televisions and other furniture tipping over onto children has increased in this country since the early 1990s.

“There was a more than 40 percent increase in the number of injuries during the study period, and the injury rate also significantly increased during these years,” said study senior author Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “This trend demonstrates the inadequacy of current prevention strategies and underscores the need for increased prevention efforts.”

So what can we as parents do? Parents can minimize risks to children by placing televisions low to the ground and near the back of their stands and strapping televisions and furniture to the wall with safety straps or L-brackets. Purchasing furniture with wide legs or with solid bases, installing drawer stops on chests of drawers and placing heavy items close to the floor on shelves will also help prevent tip-overs. Additionally, parents can reduce a child’s desire to climb furniture by not placing attractive items, such as toys or the remote control, high on top of furniture or the television.

Caregivers and even those of us in the emergency medicine field should be aware that furniture tip-overs are an important source of childhood injury and that education geared towards simple prevention steps will decrease the number of injuries to children associated with furniture tip-overs.”

Helping Kids Cool Hot Tempers

“I tried to stay calm, but it was too late!”

“I wish I could tell when I’m about to explode.”

“Don’t keep telling me I’m going to lose all my friends because of my temper. I can’t help it.”

Your child may be more excitable or passionate by nature, but some times this emotional temperament can get out of control.

Though you can’t change your kid’s basic personality, you can teach him some strategies and skills to help him get along and handle intense feelings. And there are important reasons to do so.

Let’s face it, hot tempers can cause serious damage in health, relationships, school and life, as well as ruin your kid’s reputation. Unless kids learn ways to recognize their own unique danger signs to control their anger, problems are inevitable. After all, hot-tempered kids are no fun to be around.

New studies show that hot tempered kids are also more likely to be bullied or be a bully.

All the reasons to work on this issue problem A.S.A.P. Here are some ways.

Part 1: “Parent Plan” to Help Kids Tune Into Body Alarms

Explain Body Temper Alarms

Go over the way you use your child act when she’s starting to get mad. “You always make that little hissing noise and grind your teeth. Sometimes you stamp your feet. Those are your danger signs that big trouble might be on the way.”

HINT: Each child (as well as you) has their own physiological signs. Those signs materialize whenever we’re under stress and have a fight or flight response. The trick is to help your child identify her unique signs before she loses her temper.

Don’t expect instant recognition: it may take a week or two before she can identify her signs.

Dig Deeper

Talk to your child about what’s causing her temper to flare so quickly.

“You don’t seem like the same kid lately. Anything you want to talk about?”

“You seem so tense and quick-tempered with your friends. What’s going on?”

“I know the move was really tough. Do you think that’s at the bottom of your bad temper lately?”

Point Out Negative Effects

Take time to discuss the negative effects of inappropriate anger displays. Here is a sample dialogue, but personalize it to fit your child and the anger issues:

“Anger can really hurt you. You could lose a friend, get a bad reputation, lose a job, get suspended from school, get hurt. If you don’t control your temper you could be headed for danger and lose your friends.”

Pinpoint the specific negative effects your child’s outbursts have. Doing so often helps the child gain that inner strength to want to change.

Brainstorm Temper Triggers

Help your child recognize the things that bug him the most so he can handle the situation better when he’s with his friends.

“I noticed that whenever George starts exaggerating you hit the roof.”

“What is about the way Lori criticizes your hair I can see your blood pressure rising.”

Help your kid identify that certain look, unfairness, not sharing, interrupting, telling secrets behind your back, put-downs and other things that make his blood boil so he can avoid setting off his temper.

Part 2: “Kid Plan” to Learn Temper Alarms

It may be a great revelation when you tell your child that her body actually sends out warning signs when a hot-temper attack is approaching. Tell her how it happens to you:

“My face gets flushed. My hearts starts beating faster. It’s harder for me to breath. My voice gets louder and I can’t think straight. Body temper alarms like these happen to everyone when they get angry and begin to lose their temper. But good news! You can stop yourself before the volcano erupts.”

Then teach your child these important steps. The best way to teach any new skill is to SHOW the skill, not TELL. So be the model! Repetition, repetition, repetition is how kids acquire the skill so they can use it on their own.

Step 1. Hear the bells going off.  LISTEN

Whenever things are getting rough, pay very close attention to changes in your body. Everyone is different but usually alarms go off in your body that warn you that if you’re starting to lose control. So be on the alert for any familiar body signs that you might be losing your temper.

Step 2. Hit the snooze control.  STOP

Even a few seconds pause are enough to stop your temper from exploding or keep you from doing something you may regret later on.

Find what works for you. Some kids pull a big stop sign in front of their eyes or yell, “Stop” inside their heads. It will help you put the brakes on your temper.

Some kids say to themselves: “Chill out.” Or “I can keep my cool.”

Step 3. Turn down the volume.  BREATHE

Once you’ve told yourself to keep under control you have to take a slow deep breath. You can slow down your heart rate and get yourself back in control by taking slow, deep breaths.

Step 4. Get back into tune.  SEPARATE

Back off from whatever is about to blow up in your face. You could count to 10 (or to 100); hum a few bars of the Star Spangled Banner, think of a pepperoni pizza or gaze up in the sky or whatever it takes to regain your sense of calm.

Word to parents: Do not expect overnight success! Teaching a child to calm a hot temper and learn to identify his unique body temper alarms will take 3 Cs: Consistency, Commitment and Calmness. Aim for gradual diminishment of the temper. If temper outbursts continue or escalate despite your efforts, then it’s time to seek professional help. Meanwhile, don’t forget to use those four steps yourself:

  1. Listen
  2. Stop
  3. Breathe
  4. Separate

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Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions has been released and is now available at amazon.com.

Are Used Bike Helmets Safe to Buy for Kids?

It’s important to insist that your kids wear bike helmets. Research shows that wearing one while riding reduces a child’s risk of brain injury by 88 percent. But, the truth is, it’s best to buy a bike helmet new. It could have been damaged in a crash — even if you don’t see cracks — and might not be able to withstand another one. When purchasing a helmet, look for the CPSC seal, which means it meets the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The helmet should sit flat on top of your child’s head and be snug enough so that it doesn’t slide down over the eyes when pushed or pulled. The chin strap should be snug. Many kids wear their helmets loose and tipped back, exposing their foreheads. But this doubles their chances of suffering a serious head injury. Never buy a helmet that’s too big so that your child can “grow into it.” It might not protect him in an accident. For an illustration of exactly how a bike helmet should fit your child, check the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) web site.