How to Talk to Your Kids About…Strangers

As parents, we know we need to talk to our children about strangers, but it is hard to know how to talk to our children without scaring them.

Start by helping your children understand what a stranger is. A stranger is anyone that your family doesn’t know very well. They don’t have to look mean and evil like TV portrays.

When I was explaining strangers to our daughter, she said, “but we don’t know policemen, so are they strangers?”

Ah, after talking about bad strangers, be sure you explain that there are also Safe Strangers. Safe strangers are those people that our children can go to for help. Firemen, policemen, and teachers are good examples.

Once your child understands what a stranger is, talk about dangerous situations.

Explain to your children that anytime an adult…

  • Asks your child to keep a secret
  • Asks them for directions or help
  • Does or says something that makes them uncomfortable
  • Encourages them to disobey you or do something wrong

They need to get away and tell an adult immediately.

Next, role-play situations that your child might be faced with. (Helping your children understand that in these situations, it is okay to say “no” to an adult).  Some examples might include…

  • A stranger asks your child if they want a ride home
  • A stranger stops to ask if your child has seen their missing dog
  • A stranger asks your child for directions
  • A stranger asks your child if they want a treat or candy.

Talk to your child about what to do if they are ever faced with one of these situations.

  1. Never get close to the car, or the stranger. Keep your distance.
  2. Yell “No” as loud as you can and run away from the stranger.
  3. Tell an adult, or safe stranger what has happened right away.

Practice possible dangerous situations so your children know what to do. This will give them more confidence if the situation ever presents itself, and will give you a little peace of mind as you send them out the door each day.

How Safe Is Your Local Drinking Water?

My friend, Kristin, – the most environmentally conscious person I know – is moving. Her hubby’s company gave him a few options for a transfer, and the family is weighing the pros and cons of each.

While Kristin didn’t have a hard time researching schools (GreatSchools.org), housing prices (Zillow.com) or air quality (StateOfTheAir.org), she was having trouble looking into the drinking water quality in her area. Her family filters water at home. But her two kids, like my daughter, are huge water drinkers and are always refilling their bottles in the fountains at school and the playground. Plus, they typically have water at restaurants — and most of the time free restaurant water is straight from the tap. It’s important to Kristin to live in a community with clean water so she doesn’t have to worry if her kids are quenching their thirst with cancer-causing chemicals still found in some local water supplies.

I told Kristin that I’d help her out. (And if you ever need anything, post your concern and I’ll see what I can do!) I started by contacting Cathy Milbourn from the Environmental Protection Agency. She said that every July, residents should be mailed a water-quality report from their local water supplier. The report lists the levels of common water containments. Check out the EPA website for help understanding the report.

That report is helpful, of course, if you’re already a resident. But what about if you’re like my friend Kristin and want to compare water quality in different towns? The EPA does provide links to the water-quality reports for many areas of the country here. The water supplier is required by law to do it if they serve 100,000 people or more. If you don’t see the report in the system, you can reach out to the water supplier directly for a copy of it. (Their contact info is on the EPA site.) While you’re at it, check whether your local community’s water contains fluoride, which helps build strong teeth. If it doesn’t, talk to your child’s dentist or pediatrician.

Another helpful resource: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) maintains a National Drinking Water Database, which compares thousands of communities. With just a quick glance, I was able to find out that Arlington, Texas, and Providence, R.I., boast the cleanest water; Pensacola, Fla., and Riverside, Calif., have the worst. Fascinating! Take a peek and also read the EWG’s tips for safe water here. How does your community fare?



Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 08-20-2012 to 08-26-2012

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of 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 15 news-worthy events.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:

Typical toddler behavior or ADHD? 10 signs that indicate you may want your child evaluated by a physician   http://t.co/5x66uIKi

Answers Parents Need to 5 Challenging Back-to-School Questions

A while back the TODAY show offered parents the opportunity to call, email or skype in parenting questions about their children’s education. I appeared as the TODAY parenting contributor along with a fabulous high school chemistry teacher from Los Angeles and an incredible principal from the Baltimore area. The Today Show website was flooded with queries, but there were five the producers chose to be answered live because they were asked so frequently by parents.  Here are my answers:

1. What do you do if your child’s teacher turns your child off from learning?

Most kids complain about a teacher, but if your kid isn’t a complainer, has legitimate and serious complaints that could jeopardize his learning, set up a teacher conference. Don’t rush to judgment but start on a positive note. Describe your concern, and then ask what two of you can do to solve it. (Use “we” more than “you” – you’re more likely to get a more helpful response). Then wait a week and see if there is any change. If there is no resolution and your child’s, persist. Go up the chain of command: principal, superintendent, to the school board. You may have to switch schools, but a toxic teacher can hinder your child’s education not only that year but start a lifelong spiral of defeat.

2. How do you know when to worry about your child’s learning? How do I know if my child has a learning disability?

If a child is really struggling (usually in math, reading or speech), just doesn’t get it, and is falling below his potential, abilities or peers it may be a learning disability. Talk to their teacher, and request an assessment for a possible Individual Education Plan (I.E.P.). If you’re not successful, make a written request to the site administrator. A learning disability is not a phase or something the child outgrows. If not treated early, things can snowball: your child gets further behind, his self-esteem plummets and behavior problems can result. Also, know that if the child is tested privately, you may pay – make sure school district accepts test results.

3. Your child is being exposed violence and sex at school that you never expected. How do you prepare them and yourself for the grittier parts of life?

Kids are exposed to R-rated issues at younger ages so get savvy and prepare yourself so you can prepare your kid. Talk to other parents. And eavesdrop on his friend’s conversations. (Carpooling is a great way to get that info!). Kids do need guidance to make sense out of usually false information as well as a sounding board to handle tougher issues like bullying and violence and sex. Tips:

  • Begin from the get-go by keeping an open dialogue with your child so he will come to you. You can then make sure that you give him information that is geared to his level of understanding.
  • Do believe your child. Kids say they told us “tough stuff” when they were younger, but then stopped when we responded with an “I don’t believe it” attitude.
  • Teach your child the difference between Reporting (trying to keep someone out of trouble) and Tattling (trying to get someone in trouble) in case there is bullying or violence. You and your child should know how to report threats to your school (and please take threats seriously 75% of kids before they commit homicide, suicide or violent act tell a peer. Kids are our best safety net.
  • Don’t ever promise your child you won’t tell – you may have to step in and report.

4. How much should I rely on my child’s guidance counselor?

A little reality check here: the average student–counselor high school ratio varies from 400 to 1,250[i] so you must be proactive. Go to every one of those open houses and always stop by and meet the guidance counselor at least once a year. Once there, clarify your teen’s educational aspirations early whether it is Ivy League to Junior College. Different courses have different values at different universities and you must ensure that your child is on the right course track. You also may want to tell the counselor that you do not want your teen changing courses without your permission. Teens do that often and there’s a rude awakening when your child is minus a key class. You want to make sure that counselor’s skills match your teen’s needs. You can request another counselor from the principal if you don’t think his or her needs or being met. There are also outside educational consultants but do know they can be pricey.

5. Should I push my teen into that challenging AP classes when he balks?

This is always a tough call but three things help you make the right decision:

  • Previous history:  Take into account the child’s past grade in subject as well as the teacher or counselor recommendation. Do they feel your child is capable?
  • Kid’s view:  Listen to the kid’s “why not” factor to help you determine if there is “just cause for not taking the class. Hear him out. There may be another reason besides “It’s too hard.”
  • Check your expectations:  Ensure your expectations match your child’s actual abilities. Think of a rubber band: the right expectations stretch your child’s potential without snapping his spirit.

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[i] Guidance and School Counseling – A Brief History of School Guidance and Counseling in the United States 

[i] Counselor ratio of 1-to-250 is recommended by the American School Counselor Association;

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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 is now available at amazon.com.

Three E’s For Optimal Child Nutrition: Educate, Expose & Empower

My children, in pre-school and elementary school, are at an age where they are curious, but cautious about the foods they eat. This is a natural and normal state for their ages and I am reminded to utilize my education to train my children to choose healthy foods on their own. Just like anything else in life, we would all agree that we want to train our children to eventually be able to do life on their own and it is no different with food choices. But how do we go about doing that? This is the challenge, and I fully realize it’s a challenge, because I am living it out myself. But stay encouraged. we can do this together!

Educate. This requires us to be tapping into accurate and reliable informational resources. If you have inacurrate or undeveloped nutrition knowledge, then your children will naturally have the same. There are so many governmental, reputable origanizational and university websites that you can count on to bring you unbiased, reliable information. A great portal of information can be found starting on the U.S. Government’s Nutrition landing site that connects to other governmental nutrition sites. The American Dietetic Association, which is the national association for Registered Dietitian and Dietetic Technicians, has a wealth of information as well. Start there. Obviously I am biased to say you should consider getting individualized guidance from a Registered Dietitian in your area as this is the best way to get off to the right start. But actively become educated so you can educate your children.

Expose. Let’s be honest. We all come to the food table with certain likes and dislikes. Are you a picky eater yourself? Do you dislike most vegetables? Do you eliminate certain food groups altogether? These things can directly impact your children’s exposure to foods. Even if we would categorize ourselves as “healthy eaters,” we all have a tendency to gravitate toward our favorite foods. This can also limit our children’s food exposure because even healthy repetition is limiting. Head to a new grocer or even visit your local farmers market to investigate new foods.

The biggest thing I want to say about exposure is that we all need to remember to serve our children foods that they have already rejected. I know, I know – food wastage comes to mind – but if we remember that children are curiously cautious to new foods, we will gain patience. I have seen this many times with my daughter and continued exposure has led to eventual acceptance much of the time. My son is at an age where he is rejecting most vegetables, and that’s OK! I still serve them to him knowing that most likely he will accept some of them. Exposure is a big topic when it comes to child nutrition because we like to make the foods that we already know our children like because we want them to eat! Let’s take the school lunch, for instance. Many of us commonly think that sending a school lunch with your child is the healthier option. I would challenge you by saying that is not always the case. The typical “healthy” brown bagged lunch has maybe a sandwich (primarily peanut butter and jelly, but also lean lunch meat), baked chips and a fruit cup or a fruit snack along with a juice or maybe even a milk. Where is the vegetable? Most children either do not have a vegetable or they get the same baby carrots everyday. Maybe your child will get the lettuce and tomato on the sandwich and that is good. But what about the next day? Is the lunch something different, or will it be more of the same? You see, the typical school lunch always provides the option of a vegetable and in most cases, provides variety from the home food. That is why I feel comfortable allowing my daughter to purchase school lunch mulitple times per week. This way I know my daughter will have the opportunity to take in a variety of nutrients by eating a variety of foods. But will she choose the vegetable, you say? That’s where empowerment comes in.

Empower. This is another big one. It is essential that we teach the “why’s” behind good nutrition. Let’s not stop by saying “because it is good for you.” And certainly, I do not encourage any talk, particularly with young children, about eating certain foods to avoid being “fat”. This is sure to cause poor relationships with food, so please refrain from talking about your own fad diets and dieting practices around your children if at all possible. We all need to be healthy. And kids want to be strong and smart. I teach my children that healthy foods such as whole grains, lean meats, fruits, vegetables and milk provide “super powers” that will give them all they need to run fast, read better and can even make their skin nice. My daughter loves that eating vegetables makes her skin look like a princess. See, she gets that and it encourages her to make that healthy choice much of the time. I tell her that eating candy is fine when it is eaten sometimes, but when you eat it all the time, it does not give you the fuel her body needs to be all that she can be. So, right now she thinks she is carrying around the “secret” that healthy foods have “super powers.” The other day, she asked if it was OK that she tell her best friend the secret. I told her it was OK. You can go ahead and share the “secret” with your kids, too!

The Surprising Benefits of Peer Pressure

Kids do some crazy things to keep up with their friends – even preschoolers (“I dare you to eat a worm!”). But as negative as it can be, there are a few benefits of peer pressure.

“There’s no doubt that peers can make each other more aggressive, but they can also make each other smarter and happier,” says psychology professor William M. Bukowski, Ph.D., of Concordia University in Montreal. “In fact, the positive effects of peer influence are more important than the negative effects.”

Here’s how going along with the crowd can be a smart move after all — and how you can encourage your child to reap the rewards.

Benefit of Peer Pressure: Encourages excellence. Students who learn with smarter classmates tend to perform better academically themselves, according to a 2011 study in Child Development. That’s because kids imitate each other, especially when they’re unsure of how to behave. They also reward each other for acting a certain way — by laughing, smiling and giving each other high-fives. “Children have expectations of one another, and they make those expectations clear,” says Bukowski.

Your move: Book more playdates with the kids who model doing the right thing.

Benefit of Peer Pressure: Teaches flexibility. Kids who are eager to fit in will turn on a dime as needed. But while hating grilled cheese one minute and loving it as soon as a playmate eats it seems wishy-washy, that tendency can develop into a willingness to accommodate and compromise, a key feature of all reciprocal relationships, according to Bukowski. “It may be that it’s okay to behave one way in one circumstance and another way in another, but they have to decide what’s best for them,” he says.

Your move: Don’t criticize the flip-flopping—even if it drives you nuts! Remember that it’s your kids’ way of learning to compromise and be flexible.

Benefit of Peer Pressure: Develops empathy. An upside to worrying so much about what peers think is that it helps kids develop a greater awareness of their own feelings, which in turn improves their social skills. “It’s through interaction with others that you can learn most easily what it’s like to be someone else,” says Bukowski.

Your move: When your child is upset with a friend, suggest considering the other person’s perspective.

Benefit of Peer Pressure: Prevents obesity. A 2011 study from the University of Buffalo showed that friends influence how much a kid eats. “Individuals are influenced by the eating and activity norms set by those around them,” says Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics in the University at Buffalo’s Division of Behavioral Medicine and first author of the study. And Salvy’s study found that a child is less likely to nibble out of boredom after school if she’s busy playing with a pal. “Friendship is a great way to minimize stress and boredom and the eating associated with those feelings,” says Bukowski.

Your move: Expand your child’s social network to include kids who are active, have a positive attitude and seem to bring out the best in your child. With the right friends, peer pressure can be a powerful force for good.