How to Talk to Your Kids About…Bedtime

Last updated on March 16th, 2021 at 02:35 pm

Bedtime is hard for many families. Everyone is tired, worn out, and short on patience. As parents, if we stick to a routine and change the way we think about putting our kids to bed, it will really help with the bedtime battles. It can be a great time of day when we relax, connect, listen, talk and teach.

Remember, sleep breeds sleep. The more your child sleeps, the more your child will sleep. We need to stop thinking that skipping naps will make getting them into bed easier.

To make bedtime an enjoyable time of day for everyone, ESTABLISH A ROUTINE. By sticking to a routine, kids know what to expect. This will help them feel safe and secure because things are predictable. Predictability brings comfort.

Your routine should include…

  • Setting a bed time and sticking with it. The more lenient you are with bedtime, the more going to bed will be a battle.
  • Starting your bedtime routine at least 30 minutes before you want your kids to be in bed. This will allow time for your child to wind down, just like we need to do. Rushing them through bedtime prep does not allow them to do and say all that they need to in order to feel ready to stay quiet and sleep.
  • Establish a sequence in which you will accomplish the same bedtime tasks every night. (For example…Put on Pj’s, go to the bathroom, brush teeth, read a book, talk about the day, say prayers, hugs and kisses, lights out).
  • Change the way you think about bedtime. Time to start thinking about bedtime as a way to connect with our children. A time to laugh and snuggle and talk.

When talking to your kids about bedtime…

Don’t threaten. (“If you don’t go to sleep, you can’t play tomorrow”). This only makes things worse. Instead, stick to a routine, give lots of time to get ready for bed, and talk about the fun things that you will do, like “Tell me what you liked best about today and then we will turn out the lights”.

When kids get out of bed, be firm and say “You need to sleep in your bed”. Then, with little to no words at all, return them to their beds. At first, you might have to do this a lot. Keep with and don’t give in, not even one night.

Don’t get 10 glasses of water. Only respond to requests once. Explain that they can have one request and that is all. They will learn to use that request wisely and pretty soon, the requests will stop. Going up every time they call will fuel the fire and drag the process out for hours.

If bedtimes are already difficult in your family, remember that behavior can be modified. Establish and stick to your routine, don’t give up hope, be patient and don’t quit.

Should You ‘Friend’ Your Teens Online?

Last updated on March 16th, 2021 at 02:38 pm

A decade ago, reading your teen’s diary would have been the ultimate form of privacy invasion. Nowadays, checking out their Facebook page or Twitter feed can yield the same sense of betrayal — if they don’t know you’re doing so. So how does a parent protect their kids from the dangers lurking on the Internet? The answer may be to join them online.

Sites like Facebook are appealing to kids and adults alike (as evidenced by the number of your old high school classmates who’ll inevitably friend you when you sign up), so your kids won’t take issue with you having an account. The question is whether your should “friend” them. If you’re worried about the amount of time they’re spending online (and what parent isn’t?), go ahead and send them a friend request or start following them on Twitter. But do so with the agreement that you won’t do the following:

  1. Scold or reprimand them on their wall. You may be upset that they forgot to unload the dishwasher or didn’t take out the garbage, but Facebook and Twitter is not the place to air those feelings. Discuss the issue the old-fashioned way — face to face.
  2. Comment on their posts. You may be proud of the “A” they got on their latest math test or think the YouTube video of a cat singing the national anthem is just as hilarious as they do, but there’s no need to voice your opinion online. The more unobtrusive you are, the more likely your kids are to forget that you’re monitoring their activity.
  3. Friend or follow their friends. Your own kids probably aren’t thrilled that you’re a part of their social network, but they don’t really have a choice in the matter. But their friends are off-limits. Not only can friending their friends be a little creepy, but it’s also unnecessary. If you’re connected to your own child’s account, you’ll be able to see what their friends are posting as well.

In the end, even though the Internet can seem so anonymous, be transparent with your kids about your wanting to connect with them online. And when in doubt, follow the golden rule of friending them or commenting on their wall: Treat them how you’d want to be treated if you were them.

Helping a Child Who’s Afraid of Dogs Through Their Fear

Last updated on March 16th, 2021 at 02:47 pm

Timid boy is holding of the mother on the garden.About two months ago, we discussed the ‘overly confident’ child around strange dogs….. We discussed teaching them the appropriate ways to approach, and the right questions to ask before petting any dog they did not know. Now I want to discuss the flip side of that….. The shy, quiet, or fearful child. I would like to teach you some skills to help your child through this for two reasons…. The first, no one wants to see their child afraid of something….especially if it is something you might happen to love! The second reason is because, contrary to what might be popular belief, a child who is afraid of dogs is just as much at risk as the child who runs up to a dog they do not know and throws their arms around it.

How is my child at risk just because they are afraid? Here are some typical behaviors that a fearful child will tend to display that can easily provoke, stimulate or arouse a reaction from a dog.

  • First – when a child gets fearful, often their initial reaction is to scream and run away. Why is this so bad? There are two reasons:
    • First ….the dog may think they are playing, and give chase, which makes the child scream more, and run faster which usually ends in the child tripping and falling and getting hurt while they are trying to get away, or the dog jumping on them in their excitement, which can result in them accidentally scratching the child, or again causing them to fall and possibly get hurt, (you tend to see this more with puppies).
    • The second reason is not usually as innocent, and can be just as, if not much more dangerous, (you usually see it in older dogs). Have you ever seen the animal shows on television, where they show an animal hunting its ‘prey’? Now I don’t want you to think that I am equating your little loved one with prey, but your child screaming and running away can easily turn on the “pursuit” instinct in a dog that already has a high natural prey drive, like a hunting dog. And your child getting pounced on and pinned will not be something easily forgotten.
  • The next one on the list…. Hiding. Children who are afraid of something will typically look for a quick place to hide…. Which for most smaller children will be a low-to-the-ground hidey hole that they think will keep them safe like under a bed, a table, behind a couch….…. Like playing hide and seek. They think if the dog can’t see them, they won’t find them, therefore they are safe. But children usually do not understand that the dog is relying much more on their nose and ears to find the child than their eyes. Then the dog sticks its (more often than not… curious) nose into their hidey-hole, and we are back to the scream-run-chase scenario.
  • Trying to push the dog away or throwing something at the dog to make it move away can lead to a dog feeling threatened… especially if you do not know the full background of the dog, and if there were any abuse issues… like a dog who came from a rescue group or shelter. A dog perceiving any action as a threat can become a potential threat to your child. Most dogs when threatened go into fight or flight mode. While a dog that “runs off” (flight) will probably not reassure your child that dogs are “safe” to be around, a dog that enters “fight” mode and starts growling may be particularly terrifying, even if they never come any closer.
  • Offering the dog a treat as a friendship gesture, then getting afraid of the teeth when the dog opens their mouth to take it, and pulling their hand away quickly….with the treat still in their hand! This is a typical tactic many parents and well-meaning dog owners will try, “Here…. Give the doggy a treat so he will know you are his friend!”. The problem with this is that we are not thinking like the fearful child at this moment. What is the scariest part of the dog to the child? The mouth which contains the teeth!! So you hand the child something and instruct them to go directly to the most dangerous part of the dog, and ask it to open its mouth to receive the treat…. Thereby showing the child all of those big teeth!!

    “Grandma!! What big teeth you have!!” said Little Red Riding Hood…
    …and the wolf responds, “The better to eat you with my dear!!”

    Crazy right?? The other problem with this scenario is when they pull their hand away with the treat still in it, more often than not the dog will try to jump up to get the treat from them.

So let’s use the Little Red Riding Hood analogy as a segue into the next part of this; What causes some of these fears?

There are many reasons a child might be afraid of dogs. The reasons can range from a simple thing like lack of exposure to them, to the more common one…. one of their parents is afraid.

And then there are things that the kids hear, like the old story of Little Red Riding Hood as I wrote above, or even being in the room when the news is on where they may hear of a ‘child being attacked (or mauled) by yet another dog!’

I have also heard parents say things randomly to their kids that I must admit, shock me…. Because they do not realize the impact the words can have on a young impressionable child. For example, not too long ago, when I was in a pet store, they had an adoption event going on. Mom obviously did not want to stop and play with the pups there at that moment, but the child did. So to make the child leave the pups alone, she said, “If you go near that dog…. It will bite you!” To me, that is the equivalent of telling a young child, “If you act up, the police are going to arrest you” and then wondering why the child grows up with a fear and dislike for police officers! So I caution you to choose your words wisely around kids…. They often take things quite literally and at face value.

So if you have a fearful child, how can you help them to overcome this? There are many things you can do to help your fearful child overcome a fear of dogs. Arrange a “meet and greet” with a neighbor’s or a friend’s dog – one where you know the owner (is attentive) and the dog (is relatively calm).

  • I do not recommend your child’s first experience to be with a puppy or a giant breed dog. As adults, when we think of puppies, we think of harmless playful babies that our kids will enjoy. But for the fearful child, this is not ideal for a few reasons. For one, they are very unpredictable and usually full of much more energy than an older dog. They also tend to jump up on you a lot causing some accidental scratches on young tender skin. happy family with labrador retriever dog in parkAnd their rapid quick movements may frighten your already fearful child more than help them. Also, don’t forget they are teething, and will nip at or on anything to relieve the pain… which usually ends up being fingers. Of course a giant or large breed dog may be intimidating to a small child just because of their size alone. For these reasons, I recommend their first encounter with a dog be with a quiet middle sized breed of dog who has had some training and manners. One that will be calm and gentle with your little one.
  • Talk to your child before the meet and greet. Make sure they understand some simple rules such as no screaming or running around the dog. If they change their mind about the meet and greet at any time, or become afraid or uncomfortable, let them know it is never too late to stop it, and that all they have to do is calmly tell you they want to stop, and you will hold their hand and calmly walk away with them.
  • Make sure when the initial ‘meet and greets’ are done between your child and dog, that the dog is on a leash. Even the most well behaved, calm, older dog can spook or react incorrectly to something, so to protect your child, remember…. Leash equals control!
  • If lack of exposure is the reason for their fear, remember to start off slowly. Don’t push them too far or too fast when they are not ready…. Again, you do not want to make the fear worse.
  • If one parent has any fear at all of dogs, I recommend that they not be present during the initial meet and greet. Our kids look to us for cues quite frequently when they are not sure how to react to something, if they see you afraid, they might become afraid too.
  • When you bring your child up to the dog, do not walk up to its face. Remember… the face contains the mouth which contains the teeth. However, the tail and back of the dog carry no threat to your child. So have the dog’s owner put their dog in a DOWN/STAY position, and have them sit next to the dog distracting him, while you accompany your child around the back. Make sure the owner knows it is okay for the dog to look, and not to hold the dogs head. This is an unnatural thing for the dog and may make them want to pull away from being restrained, scaring your child with their sudden movement in the process. Now, let your child gently stroke the dogs tail. You can ask them some age appropriate questions, like for a young child, “Is the tail soft? What color is the tail?” Or for an older child, check in with them, “Is this okay? Are you feeling comfortable?” etc. If they are comfortable, you can encourage them to gently move their hand up to stroke the back, then the neck, etc. Do not bring them around to the face of the dog unless you are sure they are comfortable with all of the other things.
  • The last thing you can do is make sure the dog knows how to gently take treats, and then place a treat in the palm of your hand, fingers spread out wide, and let them see the dog ‘lick’ the treat from your hand. Then ask if they want to try it. If they do, assist them with it by holding their hand in yours. What this will ensure is that they don’t pull their hand away with the treat, making the dog jump up to get it back. If they say they don’t want to, praise all the work they have done that day and tell them how proud you were that they were so brave, and try again soon.

COVID 19 Update: Due to the recent pandemic, we recommend the following changes to maintain the CDC’s safe social distancing guidelines
Instead of having the friend/dog’s owner hold their dog’s leash, have them in the room at the recommended 6 feet separation from your family, and have mom or dad hold the leash of the dog. This way the owner of the dog can watch their pup from a safe distance for any shift in body language, while mom and/or dad can work with their fearful child.

Remember this is something your child will get comfortable with over time…so take the time to practice with them, gradually introducing them to different dogs. Keep in mind, you always want to check with the owner how the dog is doing “on that particular day” before you start or resume practicing. Even the sweetest, gentlest dog can have an “off” day…(read more about recognizing dog’s body language here) and the point of this is for your child to be comfortable, so remember to check in periodically with them during the process. Better to walk away feeling great and with a sense of accomplishment, then to stay and feel disappointed.

How Concerned Should Parents Be About Instagram?

Last updated on April 3rd, 2021 at 03:02 pm

The most popular social media app used by kids is YouTube, followed by Instagram. Owned by Facebook, its popularity has been steadily on the rise, as Facebook continues to work towards attracting a younger audience.

So, what should parents be concerned about when it comes to Instagram? Do you know what problems can exist online? Cyberbullying is the most commonly known problem for being online, but it’s hardly the only one. It may not even be the most serious one.

Below, I will discuss the potential risks as I see them when it comes to using Instagram.

What the Numbers Mean:

The numbers / ratings represent the likelihood that you will see the risky behavior occur within this app.

  • Rating < 5 is minimal risk and is highly unlikely to occur on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Most apps have some risk to them in all of the areas, but specific apps have a greater tendency for it to happen either by the features that the apps have or from sheer volume of use by kids.
  • A rating of 5-6 should concern parents, but not overly so. Few apps may rate less than 5 on areas of concern, but most have at least rating of 5-6. That goes true for apps that kids and adults use. Basically what it means is that the possibility of an issue coming up is possible, but not overly so.
  • A rating of 7 or 8 is problematic. Not only should parents be concerned that the behavior might happen, they should be prepared for when it will happen. It may not even by something that their child does deliberately. Many predators hunt for children on apps that they know kids will be likely to use and kids often send inappropriate content to each other without asking if it’s okay first. The problems in question may happen often or may be of a serious enough nature that apps with multiple ratings of this high should be considered high risk to parents who wish to keep their kids safe online.
  • A 9 or 10 rating is extremely concerning as that behavior is very likely – almost a certainty! It also involves issues that should be of extreme concern to parents, such as sextortion and child pornography. I’m not about to tell you how to parent your child, only to give advice. However, for any app that actually received a rating of 10 for one or more concerns, that’s an app that I will not let my own child use.

Catfishing (9 out of 10)

Like most social media sites, there is little, if any verification that the person using the account is who they say that they are. As this video shows, it is all too easy to pretend to be someone else online and just as easy to use it to trick others. It can go much farther than you might expect, as in the case of Notre Dame football star, Manti Te’o. Back in 2013, he was tricked into believing that he was in a romantic relationship with a woman he’d never even met!

Cyberbullying (8 out of 10)

The potential for cyberbullying exists anywhere, even on LinkedIn, believe it or not. With Instagram, it can often come from pictures that the person posted which were meant to be silly or sexy. Body shaming is pretty common in cases like this on Instagram.

In other cases, it can come from online games, such as “Hot or Not” and “Smash or Pass”, where a collage of people is posted and others indicate if they think specific people are attractive or not. Typically, the collage includes a picture of someone that the initial poster expects will be widely panned by others to entice others to participate.

Language (8 out of 10)

There is virtually no filter on what people say on social media platforms and Instagram is no exception. This can include vulgarity and even hate speech. Companies like Instagram may try to catch/eliminate hate speech, but overall, there is much that gets missed or intentionally left up on the site.

In the United States, Article 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 has become a hot topic of late. Essentially, it prevents social media companies from being held liable for what others post on their sites, declaring that while they host the content, they aren’t responsible for it. Other countries have similar laws on the books.

Nudity (8 out of 10)

Online nudity is something that I’ve been very concerned about and Instagram is one of the leading examples of why. In a previous article for Pediatric Safety, I explained more about what social media companies will allow and while there are some guidelines, there are plenty of accounts that post pictures and videos that most parents would probably not want their kids to see.

Many adult actors/actresses and lingerie companies have Instagram accounts that push those boundaries. Some even break them. Often, especially in the case of the adult entertainment industry, they use Instagram as a means of attracting people to another site where full nudity is allowed, often for a fee. Similar to language issues discussed above, there is just too much content and pictures are harder search for using technology than text to find inappropriate content.

Privacy (6 out of 10)

Most social media sites allow users to block specific people who troll or harass people. Instagram is one of the sites that allows users to block everyone, so that the account holder has to choose to let people see their account. Instagram calls that setting an account to “Private”. It’s a great feature that more people need to use if they want to limit what others see.

Sexting (7 out of 10)

While probably not the app of choice for sexting, it certainly has the potential for being used this way. That’s certainly true if they wish to include images that they wish to have seen by many people. The reason why this didn’t get a higher rating is because Instagram isn’t really the best app for direct messages between two people, but it is still a place where people can post racy images, as I mentioned above in the section that discusses nudity.

Sextortion (7 out of 10)

Once someone posts an image online that incudes intimate content, they open themselves up for sextortion – blackmail of a digital, sexual nature. Combined with being catfished, the video below is a very realistic example of how sextortion starts. I frequently show this video when I speak at schools or with parents’ groups and the looks I see in the audience never cease to surprise me.

Several years ago, a photographer from New York City caused a major stir when he took racy images, mainly from people’s Instagram accounts and turned them into pieces of art, which he sold in galleries for serious amounts of money without asking for permission. The courts determined that he didn’t need to ask for their permission or compensate them because of what is known as “fair use” laws.

If this can happen, then it’s not too hard to see how easily others might be able to use similar images for sextortion. While very illegal, if someone makes such posts, it opens them up to the possibility of sextortion later. The problem is that if the other person has already downloaded the image and the initial poster deletes it, it’s too late to stop someone from using the image against them. The best solution to this is to never post/send such pictures under any circumstances.

Stalking (8 out of 10)

As it relates to social media, stalking has two areas of concern: online and offline and they are more closely related than you might expect.

Privacy settings, as mentioned above, can help, by helping keep unwanted visitors from seeing what your kids post. Note that I said, helping, not eliminating/stopping. Nothing is foolproof when it comes to preventing social media posts from being seen by unwanted eyes. Nothing.

Even without online interaction, when someone has access to what an Instagram user posts, they can see what they’re doing by simply looking at their posts. This is pretty common between romantic partners after they break up. Even if one person severs the relationship on Instagram, unless their account is set to private, there is nothing stopping the other person from creating another Instagram account and seeing what they post (see above, Catfishing).

Viruses (4 out of 10)

Instagram posts themselves rarely have links in them. That’s because Instagram does not support live links in posts. If a link is included on a post, viewers need to copy/paste it into a web browser and most people simply won’t do that. What can happen though, is a live link can be part of the user’s profile. Posts then indicate that there is a link in the profile for people who wish to “see more” than what they’re seeing on a single post. That post can be to anywhere and it can download virus/malware onto a device.

Bottom Line

What does all this mean? Overall Instagram’s scores seemed pretty high. The fact is they were, and many apps that are popular with kids may look similar. Digging into the details is where you’ll see the subtle differences that will help you, as parents, determine where you need to focus in order to keep your kids safe. When it comes to Instagram, there are some basic principles that all users, but especially kids, should follow:

  1. Trust, but verify – Be wary of what you share with people online and who you accept to follow you on Instagram. Start by setting your Instagram account to private. Whenever possible, confirm off of the app if someone requests to follow you; making sure that they really are who they claim to be.
  2. Assume that whatever you post on Instagram will be seen by everyone, not just the people who have access to seeing your posts. There are many different ways that can sidestep privacy settings, so while they are a good first step, they should not be assumed to be 100% safe.
  3. Never follow links posted by people on Instagram, even if they are your friends. They may have been duped into sharing a link that introduces a virus. Only links from well-known, reputable sources should be followed.

By following these simple guidelines, Instagram can be a fun app to use. For additional information on how to protect yourself and your children on Instagram, check out Instagram’s Help Center.

If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to check back here, as I plan on reviewing other popular apps used by kids using this same method. You can also check out all of my articles here on Pediatric Safety by visiting my profile and complete list of articles.