Back-to-School Tips for Special Needs Kids and Caregivers

Last updated on August 23rd, 2013 at 08:22 am

back to school pencils 2It’s back to school time! For some kids this is an exciting time – seeing school friends, getting new clothes and prepping for an exciting school year. But for special needs kids and their caregivers, transitions can be challenging. Kids with social issues may dread going back to a room full of people. Other special needs kids, as well as typical ones, may not be looking forward to ending the summer days of play and going back to long days of work – and homework.

To help the child transition:

  • Get kids involved in school supply shopping. Let them choose notebook colors, lunchbox characters, eraser shapes and juice box flavors. This may help them get excited about returning to school. Even if you are annoyed by Annoying Orange, that silly face may make your kid smile. Also, check in with your child about food preferences – last year’s favorites may be considered yucky today.
  • Brainstorm lunch and dinner ideas. Some kids like looking forward to a special treat in their lunches. It also may help some kids get through the week by counting off until Taco Night, Spaghetti night or whatever food fits into your child’s special diet.
  • Set up playdates with school friends your child hasn’t seen in a while so they can reconnect outside of campus. If that’s not possible, review pictures or yearbooks to see last year’s classmates.
  • Visit the school to refresh your child’s memory. If you can’t get on campus, just drive by. If your child is visual, make a map of the route to school or of the campus. Try letting your child “drive” to school on Google Earth.
  • Meet the child’s new teacher ahead of time if possible. Or look up your school’s website and find a picture of the child. Some sites even have little bios of teachers. Help your child send an email or write a letter to the teacher.
  • Talk about the best parts of last year.  Review papers, awards and souvenirs from favorite field trips to stir up happy memories and associations of school.
  • Start school bedtimes and mealtimes at least a week before the first day. Start earlier if your child takes longer to adjust.
  • Print out some worksheets or let your child play online educational games to get those brain gears engaged. If you can get a copy of this year’s reading list, visit the library and browse the books to get your child interested in the stories.
  • Play school. Let the child have a turn as the teacher.
  • Start a rewards system for homework, daily behavior, reading time or any other issues specific to your child. Get suggestions for rewards from the child for extra motivation. Chuck E. Cheese’s has printable rewards charts for everything from doing homework to not picking their nose that can be exchanged for game tokens, and there are other sites that offer charts as well. You can also make your own as a craft project or print personalized ones with your computer. Or do the marble method (add marbles to a glass or jar, when a certain mark is reached the reward has been earned), paperclip chain or anything else that appeals to your child.

For caregivers:

  • Watch your language. Be sure you are talking up school in a positive way.
  • Be sure all medications, permissions and arrangements have been set up with the school.
  • Do as much as you can the night before. Here are some suggestions:
    • Prep ingredients for lunch and/or dinner. Dust off the crockpot if needed.
    • Set up the coffee pot. This is a big one for me!!
    • back to school bus 2Pre-pack lunchboxes with non-perishables.
    • Lay out clothes. Cut off tags or prewash with fabric softener if your child has sensory issues.
    • Check for signed forms, paperwork and homework.
  • No matter how much your child fusses, stay calm. Save your tears and frustration for when you get back into the car alone, or meet up with other moms for coffee after drop off so you can vent.

Make Your Family Vacation Safe, Secure and Fun

Last updated on March 9th, 2018 at 10:39 am

Vacation - packed and readyVacation is a fun and exciting time. For a family with children who are finally old enough to travel, it could be the first vacation that the parents have had in years. Unfortunately, vacations have unique pitfalls that must be avoided to have a safe and fun holiday.

Follow these tips to keep your getaway from getting out of hand.

Hydrated and shaded

When going on vacation to a sunny beach or a scenic hiking trail, we often get caught up in the beauty of nature and forget the inherent hazards that it can pose to its admirers. Those dangers include sun damage and dehydration.

In warmer climates, dehydration becomes a serious threat, especially to small children. Get a water bottle for everyone in the family and make sure that everyone drinks their fill several times a day.

Not only can the heat dry us out, but sunburns can develop quickly, especially on a child’s delicate skin. When outdoors, wear sunscreen. Plan your outdoor excursions for the morning and the evenings, and try to spend the hottest hours of the day inside. If you can’t avoid being out in the sun, find wide-brimmed hats for you and your children.

A secure arrival

Vacations are a lot of fun when you arrive safely and on time. When on a long road trip, sometimes you can get lost. Not only does getting lost cut into your leisure time, but it can pose a hazard when you begin to travel in unfamiliar territory.

Always bring a map when travelling. If possible, bring a GPS unit or a smartphone that is capable of GPS tracking. Try to avoid letting your gas tank slip below half-full, just in case.

If you’re vacationing in a large city, bring along a copy of bus schedules and use them when possible. Not only does it cut your greenhouse gas emissions, but buses hardly ever get lost.

First aid within reach

Young children are particularly prone to bumps, bruises and all sorts of small injuries. Being on vacation doesn’t exempt them from that fact.

Always travel with a first aid kit in your car. If you’re flying, taking the train or going by boat, carry a small first aid kit with you. Before you leave for your destination, find the locations of nearby hospitals just in case something more serious occurs.

Crowd control

If you pick a vacation spot that is teeming with people, you should speak with your child about crowd safety to ensure that you don’t get separated. Preparation is the key to addressing this kind of serious travel mishap.

Teach them to hold your hand when in a crowd and stay close to you at all times. If possible, avoid the crowds all together by moving around them, or by visiting the attractions during off-peak hours. If avoiding the crowd isn’t possible, you can pick your child up and carry them if necessary.

Sometimes the worst happens even when you do all that you can to prevent it. Before you leave the hotel room in the morning, talk with your children about what to do if they get lost. Tell them to seek help from a responsible adult immediately. Make sure they carry contact information. It can be a card that you slip into their shoe, a wristband with your phone number on it, or even a phone number written in Sharpie on their inner arm. If possible, include a current photograph of the family so your child can quickly get assistance in finding you.

If your child is lost, get help quickly. Find someone in charge and give them a description of your child, including what they are wearing.

Prepare for enjoyment

By taking the time to prepare before going on vacation, you can prevent many of the potential security problems that you may face. Vacation is a time for fun and relaxation, and with proper preparation you can set your mind at ease.

Making Mealtime Traditions for Your Family

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 03:58 pm

Making Mealtime TraditionsFor Nancy Richmond, Sunday dinners are something to treasure. While her family sits down to eat together in the dining room practically every night (with candles and tablecloths no less), these meals are special. “My husband cooks the same kind of wonderful meals he makes all week long, but it’s different. We’re all more relaxed,” says Richmond. “Sunday night is the evening we’re most likely to invite company and the night my kids invite their friends.”

Mealtime traditions – whether it’s Sunday supper, Saturday morning bagels or Tuesday night pizza – are more than just good food and fun times. They are the glue that holds families together. “These traditions are the things that make us feel we belong somewhere and that we’re special – that our family is different from other families,” says Barbara H. Fiese, Ph.D., director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and a researcher in the way routines knit families together.

It isn’t easy to pull off a family dinner every night of the week, which is why designating one day for a special meal is so important. “The average meal gets eaten in anywhere from 18 to 20 minutes,” says Fiese. “The average kid watches four to six hours of TV a day. There’s room in there somewhere. Just turn off cell phones, computers and the TV and sit down together.”

Here’s how to keep everyone at the table…and happy to be there:

Tweak your tradition… Sooner or later, most kids will groan and snort at the idea of spending any more time at the table than they have to. “As kids grow up, expect plenty of eye-rolling but don’t give up,” says Fiese. “Teens may act like they want you to drop the routines entirely, but they don’t.” Ask if they’d like to try a little cooking instead of always getting stuck with the dishes, for example. For Richmond, allowing kids to invite friends has made a huge difference: “Sometimes we get 10 kids here – there’s always something we can fix in the kitchen to feed them.”

…Or borrow someone else’s. For anyone who grew up in a traditional Italian home, the scent of slow-simmering sauce (known as gravy, to some) is a cherished memory. Many Southerners feel the same way about chicken-after-church dinners. If you love your Sunday dinner tradition, but are tired of your traditional Sunday food, take a page from someone else’s cookbook. Vary the menu on your typical Sunday meals and see what happens.

Make It Extra Special

Tere Estorino and her 3-year-old son, Max, live seven houses away from her parents, so they share many meals together. But her favorite occasion is the monthly brunch her parents host, when her siblings and their kids all converge for an hours-long Sunday brunch – Cuban style. “I love that my son is getting to know his aunts, uncles and cousins this way. I know it’s good for Max, but it’s also good for me,” says the 31-year-old Miami mom. “I so look forward to a Sunday spent talking and laughing with my family. I need that connection, too.”

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 08-05-2013 to 08-11-2013

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 03:59 pm

twitter thumbWelcome 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 20 events & stories.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:

What is Omegle? An app to “chat with strangers online“.  What Parents Need to Know…

The 5 Best Stress-Reducing, Back-to-School Apps for Parents

Last updated on August 14th, 2013 at 03:57 pm

Getting your kids back to school doesn’t have to be stressful. These great apps will make your life easier now — and all year long.

Is it Contagious - thumb

1. School Supply List

Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPadThis easy-to-use app will make sure you don’t forget any supplies this year. It lets you create separate lists for the students in your family and then combine them to make shopping easier — and take advantage of any sales. You can also sort the lists by items or stores.

Cost: Free

2. Cozi Family Organizer

This app’s motto is “Family Life. Simplified.” And boy, does it live up to it. Cozi does it all — allows you to share a family calendar, create to-do and grocery lists, and more, keeping everything and everyone synced. Plus, it sends out automatic texts or emails to family members so no one misses an event or appointment, saving you the time and mental effort of reminding everyone.

Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Android

Cost: Free

3. MyHomework

No more forgotten math tests or last-minute realizations that a miniature replica of the Taj Mahal is due tomorrow. This app will help you and your kids keep track of assignments, tests and more with a simple color-coded calendar and reminders on your devices.

Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Android

Cost: Free

4. iEarnedThat

Trying to motivate your child to clean his room (without all the yelling and threatening)? Skip those old-school sticker reward charts and use this app instead. Simply snap a photo of a reward your child wants (say, a new toy) and this app breaks it into up to 60 puzzle pieces. Your kid can then earn the reward one puzzle piece at a time — no stickers required.

Works with: iPhone, iPod touch and iPad

Cost: $1.99

5. Is It Contagious?

Should you keep your child home from school because he (or his schoolmates) have an illness other kids could catch? This app, created by the folks at and reviewed by pediatricians, answers that dire question about dozens of common childhood conditions from pinkeye to ear infections and more. (Of course, you should always check with your doc too.) In addition, you get essential info on prevention, symptoms, treatment and when to seek immediate care.

Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Android

Cost: Free

What are your favorite back to school apps?

At What Age Are They “Old Enough” to Swim Unsupervised?

Last updated on November 3rd, 2018 at 05:00 pm

Editor’s Note: In honor of Pediatric Safety’s 4 year bloggiversary, we are publishing 4 of our  favorite posts from the past, one each Friday for four consecutive weeks. This – our 4th and final post – was originally published in April 2011 by Rebecca Wear Robinson, a member of our PedSafe Expert Team. Rebecca has dedicated her life to keeping kids safe around water and it is both an honor and a privilege to work with her. 

When should you allow your child to go to a pool or beach without adult supervision? How old is ‘old enough’?

Old enough to swim alone?Stefanie (from alerted me to an interesting article last week that prompted the question – a 14-year old girl saved her 10-year old brother from drowning while the two played at a hotel pool, unsupervised. No charges were filed against the parent because 10 was deemed ‘old enough’ by the local police to be in the pool without adult supervision.

But there was no mention of either child’s swimming abilities. Could the 10-year old swim? Could he truly swim or just paddle a bit? How responsible was the younger brother? Was he a dare-devil or a cautious kid? How deep was the water? Was he tired or jet-lagged? Did he have any physical, emotional or mental issues that would have impaired his abilities or judgment? There are plenty of guidelines that tell us what age and weight our child has to be to change car seats. Laws dictate when our child can drive, drink and vote. But water safety is the great unknown – so many variables that are hard to measure.

So how do parents determine if a child is ‘old enough’ to be unsupervised at a pool or beach? Broward County in Florida is on the cutting edge of water safety and they recommend a minimum age of 12, though some experts believe it should be even higher.

Until national standards are developed, as a parent I’d set 12 as the minimum age (though I’m feeling better with 15), but I’d also look closely at all the other variables. Is your child a truly competent swimmer? (ask their swim teacher, don’t rely on your judgement or your child’s) Who else will be in the pool? Are they competent swimmers or could your child get in trouble with a panic-stricken friend who could pull someone under? How many children? More children = more adrenaline = more potential trouble. Is it a pool or open water? If it’s open water does your child have experience in that particular kind of open water? A river is different from a lake which is different from an ocean.

As parents, if we do our job right our child grow up to self-regulate their behavior and make responsible decisions, but it’s also our job to keep them safe until those skills are in place. Besides, volunteering for pool patrol is a pretty nice way to spend the summer!

I’d love to know your thoughts!