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Mom is Sick. How to Avoid Kids & Dog Taking Charge

Professional dog trainers talk a lot about being the ‘pack leader’ and setting solid rules, boundaries and guidelines for our animals as well as our kids. We discuss the importance of being consistent so that our kids and animals know what to expect and what is expected of them. But what happens when we are not at our best due to illness or injury? What sort of dangers or difficulties may we encounter during these times? Especially when we are the primary rule makers and enforcers?

The number one ‘reaction’ I have repeatedly encountered with both children and animals is Insecurity. The ‘unknown’ can be scary for all of us and can make us worried, fearful, apprehensive, and a host of other feelings we might go through. And as parents, it’s instinctual to want to shield your children from these unpleasant feelings. We try to smile and act like everything is okay, and for a little while, it may work. But no one can hide these feelings forever. You suddenly find yourself short tempered, frustrated, weepy, etc. And often, it is over silly insignificant little things. So, you started out trying to ‘protect’ your kids, and now you are snapping at them and everyone is walking on eggshells.

Now let’s look at the family dog: You can ‘paste’ that smile on your face and tell them that everything is okay, but they can see right through the facade. Or more accurately, they can see, hear, smell and feel right through it. Words have little to no value to dogs. If you said to your dog, “Rex, I’ll let you out in a few minutes, then we’ll go to the park and practice “SIT” and “STAY”, what they heard was…“REX, blah blah OUT blah blah PARK blah blah SIT blah STAY.

Why? Because they don’t understand words like we do (except for the ones they have heard repeatedly.) They communicate through scent, body language, voice inflections, and gestures. A good example is the sentence “What did you do?” If you smile and say it in a happy excited voice, the tail will wag furiously, and they will circle you for pats and love. However, those same four words said with your arms across your chest, a scowl on your face, and in an angry tone will have them running to hide! When your entire demeanor shifts involuntarily, they feel it!! They know when something is wrong.

So, how can this inconsistency affect your household?

I can best answer this question by sharing with you a recent experience I encountered:

I got my dog Reilley at 3.5 months old. He had a few negative behaviors even as a puppy, such as resource guarding his toys and food around other dogs (see my article Recognizing a dog’s body language before your child gets bitten’ to understand what resource guarding is.) I had to work hard to help him overcome this. I run a dog boarding and training business… it simply would NOT do if MY dog had issues that could potentially put a client’s dogs at risk! So we worked on socializing Reilley with kids and with other dogs.

All was going well and according to my plan, until I needed surgery on my leg. And although I did my best to act like the surgery was no big deal, I was scared and nervous. I saw a few subtle changes in my dog’s behavior, but nothing that overly concerned me. When I came home from surgery, I was lying in bed recuperating and I enjoyed having Reilley lying on the bed next to me keeping me company and cuddling with me. My mom had come to town to help and Reilley’s care was taken over by her and my husband. Everything seemed relaxed and my recovery was going well.

It did not take me long to realize that something big had changed for my dog. This dog who had been social and outgoing with every dog and person who arrived here was suddenly standing back, guarded, and growling at dogs and people! I had seen dogs react negatively to change before, but it had always seemed to affect their behaviors (actions)… a previously housebroken dog starts having accidents, or they are not listening to commands they know very well…. But this was a huge change in his personality, and I did not understand it. So I asked for help. I described what I was seeing to my dog trainer friends through the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and sought their guidance. Although their advice made total sense to me after the fact, I must admit I was a bit surprised at first with what they all had to say.

  • Prior to my surgery I was the primary rule maker as well as the rule enforcer. Not that Reilley grew up in a prison, but there were a number of rules we had set that we lived by every day, and they worked for us (e.g. I poured his food and he sat and waited for permission to eat). My husband on the other hand, was a “dump the food in the bowl and walk away” kind of guy.  And Reilley, like a lot of kids who hate rules but in reality, NEED them, didn’t do well when the rules actually went away. My inability to enforce the rules he was used to living by had left my dog feeling insecure and unsure
  • Because I was the ‘pack leader’ in my house, I was the person in charge of welcoming guests into our home – I maintained order. With others caring for me, I was no longer the “leader” enforcing calm and overseeing who had permission to be there. I was no longer the protector. In the absence of my leadership, he became confused and began to question our roles…I was the sick and injured member of the ‘pack’, maybe it was HIS job to protect me and not the other way around.
  • Finally, because dogs can be so child-like in their actions and reactions, seeing his leader so scared and vulnerable made him very nervous and insecure. (Not so dissimilar to a child realizing for the first time that a parent is fallible or does not always have the answers.)

You may be thinking, ‘what’s the big deal, your dog growled at some other dogs.’ But consider this… what if there were children that he was growling at? An insecure or fearful dog can be an unpredictable one.

So what if you, as the primary care-giver suddenly became ill or injured?

How do you help your family (including the family dog) acclimate to this time of crisis?  How do you help them through it when you are in pain or feeling miserable and are temporarily unable to be the ‘enforcer’?

The two most important answers I can give you are preparation and communication.

I. Preparation:  Obviously this applies more so when you have to go for surgery or something similar that you know about in advance. But even though injuries and illness are often unexpected events, there is still some planning you can do ahead of time, so you are ready if the need should arise.

  • Spend time talking with your significant other, or, if you are a single parent, chose one or two family members or friends you trust with the health and well being of your kids and pets.
  • Make a full list of schedules and routines that include……
    • what time the kids get up, head out for school or the bus, get home from school, and when homework is typically done,
    • what time and day each child has an extracurricular activity, what time they eat supper, approved and not-approved snacks, and what time they need to be in bed. You can also include how much screen time they can have, and approved ‘viewing’ items.
    • Make sure you include things in your list like how you personally reward your child for a job well done or correct or discipline your child for not doing what they are supposed to. (e.g. do they earn stickers on a wall chart or cookies with milk?)
  • While it is a child’s job to push boundaries and try to get away with stuff, even though they think they want these ‘perks’, in the end, it can be quite unsettling for them to suddenly get their way because it varies from the normal routine which can again make them insecure and fearful.
  • Remember to update this list frequently, as schedules and routines may change or vary.

Now, as for the dog:

  • Do not assume just because the family pet is like another child to you, that everyone else will feel the same way. Make sure the person who agreed to stay and help with the kids is also okay with taking care of the dog.
  • Create a similar list for the dogs that you did for the kids, with the dog’s regular routine.
  • Include in the list behaviors that you approve of and do not approve of so that they can follow through (ie: allowed on furniture, allowed to jump up on people when greeting people, etc)
  • Do some research on local boarding facilities just in case it is too much for the person caring for the children to care for the dog as well. This way it is a comfortable choice and not a last-minute decision that keeps you up worried.

II. Communication is vital for all parties involved… whether it is being honest with your kids about what is going on (within reason and age appropriate of course) or talking very openly with the person you have entrusted your kids care to. This reduces so much stress for everyone involved…. Including you! The last thing you want if you become sick or injured is to worry about your household becoming an unruly chaotic place. This can cause the kids to act out, and this is especially important if you happen to have a special needs child whose life is all about the schedules and routines they have come to depend on. And since the family dog tends to feed off the emotions of the family, why risk him being on edge and nervous or fearful…. Which can lead to behavior changes ranging from accidents in the house, to all out aggression.

So I will wrap this up with one last piece of advice: If you are on the other end of this, meaning you did not see this list prior to this scenario happening, and you find yourself now dealing with a chaotic household, heed the advice of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music when she says,  “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start”…

Don’t be afraid to go back to basics with both the kids and the dog. 

For the dog, it might be going back to some crate training and basic commands to remind them you are in charge; for the kids, same thing.  😛  Just kidding…for the kids, it may be being very strict about routines. Whatever you did when they were young to have your house chaos-free and running smooth, repeat until you are back there again. It will not be a lengthy process to back-track a bit, but it may be very useful to help get everyone back on track. The ‘basics’ bring with it a familiarity that everyone may need for now.

8 Steps to Boost Your Child’s Immune System

Editor’s Note: This is not an article about how to keep your kids safe from Coronavirus – our focus is to improve your child’s overall health and immune system. The healthier we can keep them, the more we improve their chances of fighting off each new bug that comes their way

The best offense is a good defense. It’s a saying that holds as true for football as it does for cold and flu season. But fending off colds doesn’t just mean reminding your kids to wash their hands. “How much you sleep, what you eat and how you spend your free time all play a role in having a strong immune system,” says Dr. Alan Greene, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine and an attending pediatrician at Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

Follow this eight-step plan to keep your little ones — and you — healthy, happy and sniffle-free:

Scale back on sweets. According to the American Heart Association, the average American gets about 22 teaspoons of added sugar in one day — more than three times the amount the organization recommends. Not only can an excess of the sweet stuff pave the way for weight gain, but it can also wear down the immune system. “Refined sugar causes blood sugar spikes, which compromise white blood cells, the body’s first line of defense against colds,” says Greene. To scale back, swap out your kid’s soda for water and offer fruit instead of candy. The American Heart Association advises that children ages 4 to 8 who get about 1,600 calories a day should limit their sugar intake to 3 teaspoons — or 12 grams — a day.

Clear the air. Here’s another reason to protect your child from secondhand smoke and chemical-based household cleaners: “These pollutants damage cilia, the tiny hairs in your nose that help block viruses,” says Greene. Declare your home and car smoke-free zones, and use gentler cleaners — or save the serious scrubbing for the times your kid’s in day care or on a playdate.

Let ’em laugh. When life gets hectic, it’s sometimes simpler to rush through your day without cracking a smile. But taking time to have fun and giggle with your family is crucial for your well-being. In fact, research from Japan’s Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine found that watching funny movies boosts the production of the body’s natural cold- and flu-killing cells. Try having a tickle-fest, or pop in a chuckle-worthy DVD.

Serve some bacteria. The good kind, that is! “Probiotics strengthen the immune system,” says Greene. “The trick is giving your child enough of these friendly bacteria.” He recommends looking for a product with 5 to 10 billion units from more than one strain of probiotics, such as a combination of lactobacillus and bifidus regularis. Most yogurts contain only 1 billion units per serving, so consider stocking up on fortified juices too.

Score some D-fense. Not getting enough of this vitamin, which the body converts from sunlight, can increase your odds of catching a cold by up to 40 percent, reports a study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Because it’s very difficult to consume that much from foods (good sources include dairy and seafood), look to supplement your child’s diet with a vitamin that contains at least 600 IU of D, the amount recommended by the Institutes of Medicine. Pick a brand with D3, the form that’s more readily absorbed by the body.

Stress less. Too much tension can trigger the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that dampens your body’s defenses, says Greene. Of course, it’s impossible to rid your child’s life of all stresses, but teaching him coping techniques can help him better deal with them. The next time he seems anxious, have him lie down with one hand on his tummy. Ask him to take deep breath; his stomach should push against his hand when he inhales and move away when he exhales. Eventually, he’ll learn to take these “belly breaths” when he’s feeling frustrated.

Get moving. Freezing outside? Resist the temptation to camp out in front of the television. Staying active provides a number of healthy benefits, including a stronger immune system. According to a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, people who worked out five days a week came down with 46-percent fewer colds than their couch-potato counterparts. So bundle up and go on a family walk or create an indoor obstacle course.

Have a set bedtime. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who logged more quality shut-eye were five times less likely to get a cold than those who tended to toss and turn. Experts recommend that children younger than 12 should log 10 hours of sleep a night, one- to three-year-olds should get 12 to 14 hours, and those younger than 1 need 14 to 15 hours. To help put your little one — and colds — to bed, create an evening ritual that signals it’s time for sleep, like reading a favorite book or doing a few easy stretches.

Summer Camps are “Serious Fun” for Special Needs Kids

Paul NewmanSummer is in the distant future in my mind, but the buzz at my school’s pick-up and drop-off area has already turned to camp. Working parents (as well as stay-at-home parents) are scrambling to find programs that will keep their kids engaged and challenged and also give them great social skills and memories. Children with special needs may have serious medical conditions or need support with daily living skills, but that doesn’t mean that they have to miss out on the camp experience …thanks to Paul Newman.

Yes, the handsome man on the spaghetti sauce jar (and amazing human being and actor) started a camp in Connecticut for seriously ill kids back in 1988. He thought all kids deserved some time to have some “serious fun” and just be kids. We all know that laughter is the best medicine, and the campers have the opportunity to find new strengths and make new friends – all the while being cared for in a safe environment.

Active disabled five year old boy playing on the monkey bars with his fatherThe program has seriously grown, with participating camps and programs nationwide.  Now the actor’s legacy is even being shared globally – and don’t let me forget to mention that for kids who are accepted there is no charge.  Yup, thanks to grants, donations and other amazing connections this is all free for the campers and their families!  As you can imagine, they always need volunteers, too.

Find your closest program, camp or volunteer opportunity here.

Parenting Resources to Keep Kids Safe Online

In many cases, children are more adept at using technology than their parents.  Today’s children are Digital Natives, meaning that they grew up with technology and social media is a way of life for them.  They never knew a time without smartphones and social media.  For anyone over 30, their teen years didn’t involve posing for selfies, using emojis or having to worry about sexting problems.  However, as parents, we have more LIFE experience than they have and that’s what can make the difference in keeping kids safe online.

Many parents feel a sense of trepidation when it comes to what their children do online and that’s to be expected.    The concerns involve not only what can happen to their kids, but how do they help them get through the problems.  From cyberbullying to sexting and online predators, there are many real dangers to our children.  Shawn Henry, of the FBI reported that at any given time, there are an estimated 750,000 child predators online.

Fortunately, there are some great resources available to help parents with their concerns.  If you’re reading this now, then you’ve found one – Pediatric Safety!  Dr. Michele Borba, Dr. Lynne Kenney and others are here for you.  Dr. Kenney’s article on teaching kids empathy, while not specific to online issues, is spot-on about having life experiences that can help kids with problems of both offline and online matters. Kids with empathy are less likely to cause trouble online.

Below are several other resources available to you, including some free online sources and recommended reading to help parents understand more of what they can do and in some cases, use as teaching aids with their children.  They may not always listen to their parents, but when they see real stories about what has happened to their peers, it may open their eyes and make them more receptive to what their parents have to say about online safety.

Cyberbullying Research Center

This is by far, my number one, go-to source on the Internet for help when it comes to online (and even offline) bullying issues.  After all, cyberbullying is simply one more form of bullying.  It has specific attributes, such as staying anonymous, that physical bullying doesn’t have, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful or less damaging to the target.

Heavily focused on doing the research to make their case, Dr. Justin Patchin and Dr. Sameer Hinduja are outstanding in the field.  Too often, people may want to dismiss cyberbullying and its effects as being overblown or simply anecdotal.  These guys have done the research to prove the effects and they have plenty of free resources for anyone to use.

Common Sense Media

For parents looking for help on everything from what apps might cause problems to what movies are appropriate for certain ages, Common Sense Media is your best option.  The site is broken down by age, by topic and provides “ultimate guides” for many popular apps and websites.  There is a wide selection of material available in Spanish as well, which can be extremely helpful!  Like the Cyberbullying Research Center, they are heavily involved in research and can provide you with a lot of data to support their positions

Needless to say, I love this organization and everything that they do.

International Bullying Prevention Association

People who bully offline are more likely to bully online.  So, while their focus is not exclusive to cyberbullying, IBPA does provide resources to parents trying to understand what their kids are experiencing online.  Their dedication to bullying in any form, online or offline, is very hard to beat.  They have resources available for youth, family members, educators and more.

I especially like the resources dedicated to our youth.  Many victims of bullying never tell anyone, suffering in silence.  Just letting kids know that there are resources out there for them, specially designed for them gives them the opportunity to at least find some help if they don’t want to speak to anyone about their problems.

Darkness to Light

Child sexual abuse includes the sharing of intimate pictures of minors online.  Perhaps the most valuable resource they provide is working as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse within the community and at all levels of government in the U.S.  Education is great, but we need more people who will get involved in protecting our kids and Darkness to Light will do just that!

Unless you’ve experienced this for yourself, you can’t relate to how this feels.  Having known a family personally that has been through this experience, I know the kind of trauma it can bring with it.  If you ever have the opportunity to attend their training, I highly recommend it.

Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate

I don’t know what I can say about this book except that you should read it.  A target of online harassment herself, Sue Scheff, who I am proud to call a friend and a mentor, does an amazing job with this book.  Her storytelling teaches us how to avoid the problems that so many of us find ourselves getting into all too often.

These stories illustrate the real life repercussions that often accompany online actions.  We tend to think of cybersafety issues such as bullying and shaming as being mainly problems for kids, but Sue shows how it affects people from all walks of life and all ages.  Her examples of what I call the #OnlineMeetsOffline lesson is one that we all need to learn the easy way, not the hard way – by learning how to avoid it, rather than experiencing it for ourselves.

Cyberbullying and the Wild Wild Web

Jayne Hitchcock’s latest book is another great book that provides real-life examples of just how much is at stake when we go online.  The target by an online stalker, she knows full well how dangerous it can be – something that our Digital Natives may not fully appreciate.  While most people would agree that the Internet is largely a wide open, unmonitored and unregulated breeding ground for poor behavior, Jayne shows you quick and easy lessons to avoid problems from happening in the first place.

She uses examples of what can happen to create learning opportunities for people.  For families, the fact that the book is relatively short means that children may be less likely to be intimidated by it and actually read it.  Once they get started, they won’t want to put it down.  I was really involved in reading this book and couldn’t put it down.

Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology

I love this book!  Diana Graber is a middle school teacher and a cybersafety advocate whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person.  She uses great examples of how things can go wrong and shows us how to do them the right way.  Her C.R.A.P. acronym (Currency, Reliability, Author & Purpose) is a great way to teach the value of doing good online research for school – I now use it in my own classes at Thomas Jefferson University.  Diana is very adept at relating to teenagers and parents learn how to talk to their kids about the value of good Digital Citizenship even if they aren’t up on the latest technology.

Conclusion

The approach parents take is key to helping protect our children.  A heavy-handed approach rarely works with children in general and in the case of technology/social media, it’s too easy for them to get around any restrictions parents may place on them.  The use of multiple accounts on the same platform (known as Finstas) and easy access to zombie devices make it almost impossible to prevent them from using the apps, so it’s more important to make sure that they know how to do it wisely.

I know what other parents are feeling, because I’m a father to a teenage daughter.  Our ability to teach our children life lessons based on our own experiences is more important than our ability to use technology as well as they do.

My Roller Coaster Kid: Calm Things Down and Enjoy the Ride

Up and down, over and under, so the roller coaster goes. Are you worn out just thinking about it?

roller coaster kidLife with an intense child is like a ride on a roller coaster, some moments are thrilling, others calm, still others fear-inducing. Intense kids feel so powerfully, they see more, hear more acutely and feel more deeply. Of course, they have to share all of it with you, ’cause life can be just so overwhelming. It’s almost like in their meltdowns and fits they say, “Here Mom, hold this.” Meaning, hold my pain, suffering and overload for a moment while I try to gather myself together.

What seems like a behavioral issue to many, the school, your parents, (you know what I’m sayin’) is more likely a problem of brain mediation than willful non-compliance.

You see, children want to be calm and happy. Evolution encourages children to strive – to live well, be loved and thrive. When children are willful, obstinate, unhappy or anxious, this is not their healthiest state. Their behavior and mood signal an imbalance in their body and brain.

So what can you do about it?

  1. Know that the limbic brain is older and in the case of intense kids, momentarily more powerful than the frontal lobes. So plan for those amygdala melt-downs and prepare calming strategies with your child ahead of time. Talk about the times they feel like they are going to lose it and ask them if you can help by offering some pre-planned calming solutions like taking a walk, a bath or a bike ride. Consider calming music from advancedbrain.com (sound health) or calmmeforhealing.wmv.
  2. Know that food and nutrition matter. Remember, it is not what you eat but what your body assimilates that is important. Consider whole food pharmaceutical grade vitamins, a transition to whole food and protein at each meal to help your child’s brain have better access to healthy nutrients.
  3. If you need more help see a developmental pediatrician, pediatric psychologist or neuropsychologist who specializes in cognitive and limbic calming strategies. Meditation, yoga and brain exercises can help increase neuronal connections thus harnessing the power of the Thinker to manage the Caveman.

Intense kids are creative, intelligent and lovable, you just have to plan for the squall…after all living on the coast is beautiful, it just storms sometimes

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familycoach-book-smallerThis post reflects Dr Kenney’s “The Family Coach Method” used in practice for a number of years, and released for publication just this past September. The Family Coach Method is ‘rug-level,’ friendly and centered on the concept of families as a winning team – with dozens of age-appropriate sample conversations and problem solving scenarios to guide a family to the desired place of mutual respect, shared values and strengths. The goal is to help children to develop the life skills, judgment and independence that can help them navigate the challenges of an increasingly complex world. The Family Coach Method is also being taught as an Educational Series where parents can join with other moms and dads in live calls with Dr Kenney.

Childhood Teeth Grinding: How to Know

When you watch your child sleep you see sweet dreams and peaceful slumber right? This sweet slumber is often disrupted by the sound of grinding or gnashing of teeth.

Most kids aren't even awareBelieve it or not, 3 out of every 10 children grind their teeth at night, also known as Bruxism. This is common in children especially under the age of 5 but fortunately most children will outgrow this bad habit.

Although it is not known why kids develop Bruxism, there are several reasons thought to induce this behavior. Some kids grind because their upper and lower teeth are not yet aligned properly. Pain from erupting teeth or an earache can also be a common cause. Stress is also a known origin of teeth grinding or gnashing.

Bruxism can go undetected with little to no side effects in some children while other cases often turn into what is referred to as TMJ or Temporomandibular Joint Disease. TMJ is only developed when grinding becomes or persistent in a child.

Typically a child will not be aware that he or she is grinding their teeth so it is usually a family member who picks up on it.

Here are some symptoms you should look for:

  1. Complaints of jaw joint or face pain from your child in the morning
  2. Pain when your child chews
  3. Grinding like noises when your child is sleeping

If you think that your child is grinding his or her teeth at night, take him or her to your family dentist. Any dentist can identify chipped teeth or wear on their enamel as well as any unusual sensitivity. By asking some key questions your dentist can identify whether the problem is psychological or anatomical which will help them develop a treatment plan that will be effective for your child.

While most children will grow out of Bruxism, it’s important that you keep a close eye on your child and maintain regular visits to the dentist in order to keep the problem in check. There are different approaches that may help your child such as a custom made mouth guard or basic stress relieving techniques before bed. Your dentist can help you identify what will work best for your child.