Currently browsing Community

Teaching Your “Very Friendly” Child How to Meet a Strange Dog

Boy meets dogMany of you have children that either grew up with a friendly, sweet, loving dog, or got the pup after you had your children, so it is easy for those children to mistakenly think all dogs are friendly. It is these same children that often do not think twice about approaching a dog they do not know in an open and friendly manner; just to potentially receive a growl, or even a bite.

So how can you teach your child how to appropriately and safely get comfortable around other dogs…. The ones they do not know, and who do not know them?

In my next article, we will talk about how you can help your child if they are very fearful of dogs, how to help them to overcome it… But let’s tackle the ‘overly friendly’ child first. Here are some important rules to set down for your child when meeting a strange dog for the first time…..

  • Always ask the owner first. It is very important to teach your children to ask some important questions before approaching any dog. For example:
  • Is your dog friendly? (Too many people stop asking questions after this one. It is important for your child’s safety that they learn to ask a few other key questions as well….such as…..)
  • Does he like to be petted?
  • Has he ever been pet by kids before?
  • Is there a specific way I should pet him?
  • Are there areas that I should avoid petting?
  • Be aware of the dog’s body language. Even if the owner has said it is okay to pet the dog, and that there are no sore spots or anything on the dog that need to be avoided, not all dogs are in the mood at that moment to be approached. The dog may have been out on a long walk already and may be tired, or maybe the walk was more stressful that day than usual. (See my previous article on recognizing a dog’s body language)
  • Stand to the side of the dog to pet them. When we stand directly in front of a strange dog to pet them, especially a child who is lower to the ground, direct eye contact usually occurs….which any dog can perceive as a threat or a challenge.  Also if they get spooked for any reason, they will not think to go around your child if they go to bolt…. They will barrel straight ahead, potentially causing your child to be knocked over in the process. It is better to go from the side of the dog rather than in front (usually by the dog’s shoulder).
  • Let the dog sniff your hand first. Many people think this process is to let the dog get your scent first. This is not really the case…. They caught your scent long before you approached them. However, many people instinctively go to pet the top of the dog’s head first, which can tend to spook them… as some dogs are what we call ‘hand shy’. In some dogs, it can be perceived as a precursor to getting hit….especially a former shelter dog. So by approaching them from the side and placing your hand palm down under their nose first, it is a very non-threatening gesture to them. It is often said to ‘let them sniff you first” because it is much easier than explaining all the other stuff.
  • Do not hug the dog or get in its face. This may be a common sense thing for us adults, but remember, we are dealing with children. Once they see the dog likes to be pet and is friendly, more often than not, they go in for a hug or to kiss the dog. Hugging a dog…. Any dog, can tend to make them feel trapped or threatened, and in a matter of seconds, they can go from ‘digging this petting session’ to ‘why am I being grabbed and restrained’ and try to break free of the hold. Especially from your children that tend to have a ‘death grip’ so to speak. Also, a dog that might be fine with humans might not be so with other dogs, and a child moving in for a kiss might be reminiscent to the dog of another animal moving in for a bite.
  • Use slow gentle strokes when petting the dog. This piece of advice is for adults as well as for kids…. Often, after we get in the initial pets and see the dog is okay, we tend to be a bit less careful, and may start rubbing the ears, or just scratching the sides…. And more often than not, we take this cue from the owner, seeing them do it, we think it is safe to assume that the dog likes it, and it is therefore okay for us to do it too. But remember, ears, paws, and tail are sensitive areas on a dog’s body…. And even though they may be comfortable with their owner doing this….it is important to remember the owner has already built their relationship with the dog as a safe and comfortable one. The dog does not know you yet, any more than you know them…. So take it slow and pet with slow comforting strokes from the back of the neck to the base of the tail and their sides. Long slow strokes are much more comforting to a dog than quick and rapid movements. And remember to keep ‘checking in’ with their body language. Just because they were okay at the start, does not mean they remain that way. If you notice their body language change, it is time to end things on a good note and move on. This makes for a positive experience for everyone involved.
  • If your child is going to a friend’s house that has a dog, remind them of these rules. It is important to remind them that their friend and the dog have had time to get to know each other, not to just ‘jump in’ and act the same way around the friend’s dog that the friend did, but to take their time so the dog can get to know your child as well.

So a quick recap of everything, make sure to ask all pertinent questions before petting a strange dog…. get in the habit yourself of always doing this.  Remember that kids mimic everything we do, and if this is always the way you do it, it is a pretty good bet that going forward, your child will always do this as well, even at a friend’s house when you are not there to remind them. Go slowly, take your time, greet the dog from the side by its shoulder and put your hand, palm down, under its chin first. Pet slowly from the back of the neck to the base of the tail and the sides, and remain vigilant watching their body language. If it has changed at all, it is time to move on and end things on a positive note. As always, an ounce of awareness equals an advantage in your and your child’s health, safety, and well being.

Cleaning Your Kid’s Ears: Are Q-Tips Safe?

A friend once told me with great disdain, while watching me wiggle a cotton swab deep in my ear canal with great satisfaction, “I never use Q-tips to clean out my ears.” Apparently a little girl with Q-tipdoctor once told him never to put anything smaller than his elbow into his ear, and he took these words as gospel.

Do you ever have the feeling when someone tells you some great truth, a law of the universe that you’ve been breaking for years in ignorance, that it’s remarkable that you have survived this long, having missed out on some basic manual on life along the way? I often wonder if the parents in my practice feel this way as I spout my wisdom on general health issues, and they look chagrined at having broken the rules with their child. The good news is, it’s hard to break your child. ..especially with things like the management of ear wax.

So what are the rules of proper ear hygiene? Though I think that my friend’s doctor was a bit dramatic, I do agree that for the most part, cotton swabs do more harm than good for children’s ears.

Here’s the lowdown.

Ear wax (otherwise known as cerumen) is icky, and sometimes smells quite foul, but it actually serves several important functions. It is created in the outer half of the ear canal, where it serves to lubricate the skin of the ear canal, and prevents flaking and itching. It also has antibacterial properties and protects the skin of the ear from infections like otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear.

Ear wax almost always comes out of the ear on its own accord. There are small hairs, called cilia, lining the outer half of the ear canal which act as a conveyor belt, pushing the old wax out as the new wax is formed. And so under most circumstances, ears clean themselves.

What is the harm of a little friendly assistance? There are several potential problems caused by good intentions. Often, especially in children’s small ear canals, using a cotton swab actually pushes the wax deeper into the canal, to the far recesses where there are no hairs to help remove it. In children who make a thick, moist wax, their ears often become so clogged with wax that their hearing becomes dulled, which can impact speech development in younger kids and learning and behavior in older kids.

And then there are those over-eager toddlers who wiggle a little too hard and deep and puncture their eardrum. This common injury usually heals very well, but sometimes the tiny bones that are essential for proper hearing are damaged or the membrane fails to heal and an innocent cleaning exercise can have profound impact on the life of a child.

In the end, though I was chagrined myself when I first heard this advice, I too now recommend avoiding q-tips or cotton-tipped swabs for ear hygiene.

Tips for Parents:

  • The secret to clean ears is to use a wash cloth only on the outer, visible part of the ear to clean the wax as it naturally comes out. Internal cleaning is not necessary, and may be harmful.
  • If you are concerned about your child’s hearing, visit your doctor to see if they have ears plugged with wax.
  • Never allow your children to play with cotton swabs or place anything else (carrots included) in their ears.
  • Itchy ears are often caused by over-zealous cleaning habits. A few drops of mineral oil can help soothe them while you wait for the ear’s natural lubricant to return.

Keeping Your Food Allergic Child Safe At The Grocery Store

toddler girl sit in shopping cart in supermarketWhen someone becomes a food allergic parent, this changes every single aspect of your daily routine. Allergy triggers are everywhere and must be avoided as much as possible. This means preparing ahead of time to ensure minimal risk of exposure. This may also mean that your new routines will be forced to change as your allergic child grows and goes through new stages of their childhood. One of the trickiest, most nerve-wracking stages can be the years that your child is touching everything to seek out their new environment. How does a parent keep their child safe, allow them to process their newest childhood developmental stage but also be able to tackle a simple chore such as going to the food store? Luckily, it can be done.

When my son was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, going food shopping became a new area of terror for me. We were surrounded by food and the worst part- most of his high allergy triggers were placed in open barrels throughout the store where anyone could touch them. We survived with little or no injury and I wanted to share my tips to make sure everyone else does the same. Food shopping for food allergy menus is stressful enough so let me help you focus your energy in other areas.

Always Have Medications

I cannot repeat this enough- ALWAYS have any necessary medications with you, no matter where you go. Always have two epinephrine auto injectors, antihistamine, and asthma inhalers- anything that you may need at a moment’s notice. Many people assume that they can avoid allergic triggers but there is no definite way of telling what, when or where an allergic reaction can happen.  Being prepared means always being one step ahead of a possibly fatal incident. Your child’s life is worth so much more than not taking 20 extra seconds to pack these items up with your belongings for your venture out.

Stress Doesn’t Help Your Child

I know this may seem like a given but it’s a fact; the more stress you show your child, the more they see it, feel it and react to it. The calmer you are in the way you approach situations, the calmer your child will also be. Not only does this teach your child to go into multiple situations with a more focused way of thinking but it will show your child to always begin in a more positive frame of mind. Stress can also trigger some people’s allergies so it is best avoided as much as possible. Not to mention anyone who is stressed too often does not treat their immune system to function as optimally as it should. Less stress within a child’s behavior is better health for the child and better health for parents.

Use Wipes

We have been deemed as the “germophobe” generation – use it to keep your child safe. Many food stores offer free sanitizing wipes at the entrance, use them. This may not remove all traces of possible allergens from the previous person who used your shopping cart but it will be better than risking a simple touch of a handle bar that was just grabbed with a handful of a food. Children eat all of the time and children touch everything all of the time- this includes your shopping cart. If you prefer a gentler wipe due to chemical or ingredients, pack your own. There are natural brands such as Water Wipes or you can even bring a bag that has your own wet wash cloth with a gentle soap on it.

Cover Everything

As mentioned before- children touch everything. When they are teething, they also taste, lick, bite and try to put everything in their mouth as well. For a child with food allergies, a shopping cart can be a disaster waiting to happen in the blink of an eye. One of the best items I ever found was a reusable shopping cart seat cover. This is a cloth item that you can bring with you and fits most sizes of shopping cart seats. There are multiple types available but I recommend one such as Infantino because:

  1. Walker -shoppingcartcoverYou want a seat cover that will completely cover the entire shopping cart seat, including the handle bars.
  2. You want something that is thicker and more padded to keep your child comfortable (some products are very thin and less padding causes a cranky child).
  3. Your cart cover should include its own seat belt because those also go into your child’s mouth, which is another cross-contamination threat.
  4. Other options to look for are attachable sippy cups or areas to attach your child’s snack container, teething ring or pacifier. All of these items will fall on the floor if not attached and this poses another allergy threat as well as an unhappy child who looks to these for comfort.

Travel With Food

The best way to entertain my child and keep him seated so I could get my shopping done was (plain and simple) food. I always brought safe snacks for him to have. I even made an effort  during our food shopping trips to see what other children were eating or what types of samples the store was giving out. If my child wanted to try it because he saw it, I would bring a similar food item so that he felt like he was also getting to try new foods like the other kids in the store.

It’s never about giving in to your child- it is about safety and planning out your routine as effectively as possible. Having a child with food allergies should never seem like something that cannot be a part of whatever you and your family do- there is always a way to do anything, you just need to find a new way to do it.

Distracted Driving Kills: Please Watch With Your Teens (Video)

Alex Brown age 17,

Cady Reynolds age 16,

Margay Schee age 13,

Joe Teater age 13,

Ashley Johnson age 16,

Julie Davis age 58 – her granddaughter was 2.

Kassy Kerfoot age 18.

What do all these people have in common? They are the real names of some of the 5,500 people who die and the 500,000 people injured on our roads each year due to distracted driving. Some of the victims are innocent occupants and pedestrians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Innocent – small consolation – dead is still dead. Most are under 20- they are our children- they are our future.

Distracted driving is texting while driving; it is talking on cell phones. It is any activity that takes the focus off of the task of safe motor vehicle operation. It only takes a moment of inattention. But enough of me rambling.

Below is a link to a video that is 3 minutes 50 seconds duration. If you watch it-you WILL be moved, you WILL make a difference in someone’s life. You will show a teenager in your family this video- you will watch it together. You will think twice before you respond to a text while driving. You will set an example for your kids to follow. Just 3 minutes and 50 seconds.

Making a difference- changing a life for the better need not take long- it usually just takes action. Please make a difference- pass this along.

For more information on teen and districted driving:

In This Brave New World, We Are EVERY Child’s Village

There are many amazing blogs by mothers of children with special needs out there in the blogosphere. Recently I read a blog post by a mother of a special needs child about the bothersome reactions strangers have to her child when out in public. I reached out to her and left a comment reminding her that up until recently special needs children were automatically institutionalized, or kept hidden away at home. Today, thanks to greater medical and psychological understanding, these children and adults are gaining acceptance and standing up for their rights. We as trailblazers must educate some of our society about this portion of our planet’s population.

My children have been involved with the CHIME Institute for many years, even though only one of them is technically considered a special needs child. CHIME believes in inclusion. While the environment is hardly perfect, at least it is a step toward improvement.

Just this morning I saw an older child laughing at the way a younger child with Downs was pronouncing something. I didn’t say anything because the younger child was too smart to give this kid the time of day, but I did catch the older one’s eye and give him a stern look. He knows I know his parents, and he shuffled away. I hope that was enough of a warning. I’ll keep my eye on him.

For a glimpse into the CHIME Institute, click here. For some great mom blog reads, click here and here. Some of the comments are great, too.

Pneumonia, Bronchitis and Kids – More Common Than You Think

Pneumonia in kids is probably more common than we all realize. It represents an infection of the lung tissue which can be caused by viral illnesses, bacterial illnesses or a type of organism that is somewhere between a virus and bacteria called mycoplasma. The most common cause of pneumonia is usually viral, but viral illnesses can predispose lung tissue to become infected with bacteria. Other ways of acquiring pneumonia are by inhalation (this is unusual but certain illnesses such as tuberculosis and anthrax may be acquired in this manner).

The best way to diagnose kids with pneumonia is through a thorough history and physical exam that your doctor will perform on your child. Another way that can be used to diagnose pneumonia is through the use of a chest X-ray, but small areas of pneumonia or early pneumonia might not show up on X-ray. Your Doctor will be able to diagnose this early on by piecing together what you tell him and his observation and examination of your child.

One thinks of pneumonia as an illness with high fever and severe productive cough but this is not always the case and sometimes all that is seen are the symptoms created by the body to help compensate for the changes occurring in the lungs. If a large amount of lung tissue is involved and it becomes difficult for the gas exchange (oxygen in and carbon dioxide out) to take place then a signal is sent to the brain to increase the rate of breathing so that more air is forced in and more oxygen can be extracted. When it is even more difficult to breathe the child may use muscles not ordinarily used to help with breathing such as abdominal muscles and neck muscles and one can observe this. With further progression of the disease less oxygen will reach the body and mild blueness or cyanosis will be seen in the skin.

OK we’ve talked about the more severe problems with pneumonia but let’s get back to the beginning and restate that most pneumonia is mild and might very well be a natural progression of a cold. In a considerable amount of children with mild pneumonia the diagnosis might never be made because it is not severe. And because most of these are viral in nature, they will clear up as the cold clears without the use of an antibiotic, and the child never exhibits the signs and symptoms mentioned in the previous paragraph.

If your Doctor pieces together the parts of the history and physical exam and decides your child might have pneumonia, and if your child appears sick or ill, he might very well begin an antibiotic because the exact nature of the pneumonia might be difficult to determine. Most of the time pneumonia can be adequately treated at home without the need for hospitalization and he/she will recover fully without any subsequent problems.

Bronchitis is a wastebasket term describing what is thought to be inflammation and mucous collection in the tubes that lead from your nose and mouth down into your lungs due to many causes- again usually viral. Any cold with a significant loose cough probably represents some degree of bronchitis or tracheitis (higher up). Generally, it also does not necessarily need an antibiotic to “cure” it because bronchitis, like mild pneumonia, will also go away as the cold resolves. There are instances, again, when your child’s doctor might very well decide to use an antibiotic for your child and those would include when your child looks sick or ill (because significant bronchitis and pneumonia can look exactly the same) or if your child has any sort of chronic lung condition such as asthma or cystic fibrosis where the chance of bacterial infection is increased.

So, especially during the winter months, if your child is diagnosed with pneumonia or bronchitis, you needn’t panic or assume the worst. Just follow your child’s doctor’s advice and he/she will be just fine.