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Reducing Our Kids’ Worries About A Scary, Unpredictable World

Worried child in front of graffitiAs parents, we can reduce our kids’ worries about a sometimes mean, scary, unpredictable world and curb the growing “Mean World Syndrome”

Bombings. Power storms. Terrorism. War. School shootings. Pedophiles. Recession. Cyberbullying. Global warming. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. Sexual abuse, COVID-19.

It’s a scary world out there for us, but how do you think the kids are faring?

Let’s face it – we live in frightening, unpredictable times. But if you are feeling a bit jittery about violence, turbulent weather conditions, coronavirus, or a troubled economy, imagine how our kids must feel. Talk of uncertain times permeates the world around them. Graphic television images of sickness and terrifying events just reinforce their fears.

Think about it: this is the first generation of children who have watched broadcasts of school massacres, terrorist attacks, natural disasters and hospitals filled with sick and dying coronavirus patients from their own living rooms.

Make no mistake: the image of the world as a mean and scary place is affecting our kids’ well-being.

In fact, George Gerbner coined the term “Mean World Syndrome” to describe a phenomenon when violence-related content in the mass media makes viewers believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. And that syndrome seems to be one that our kids are catching.

Our Teens Weigh In About the Concerns For Our World

Several years ago I worked with the schools in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was a glorious Norman Rockwell-type community. Picture perfect. Idyllic. Just plain wonderful. Street lamps are actually shaped like Hershey kisses. I spent time talking to students groups as I always do before addressing the parents, community and staff. It’s my way of getting a pulse on teen concerns.

I always ask the principals to give me a sample of the students so the focus group represents all genders, races, cliques, economics. I end up with a homecoming princess, a jock, a band kid, a theater student, a student council leader, a misfit. Kids. Just kids. And do they ever open up when they know someone is there to really listen.

“What are your concerns?” I asked them. And those teens began to share their worries:

“My grades.” “I don’t know if I’ll get the scholarship.” “I don’t want to let my parents down.” “Peer pressure.” “I don’t know if I’ll get into college,” they said.

“And what are your worries outside of this town?” I asked. “What concerns you about the world?”

The kids are in non-stop mode now and I’m running out of space just trying to jot down their concerns:

“Iraq.” “Iran.” “Global warming.” “Power storms!” “Terrorism.” “Violence.” “Prejudice.” “Sexual predators.” “Recession.” “Getting a job.” “Our future.”

Their “worry list” goes on and on. Then one boy stops us all with his question:

“Do you think we’ll ever live to see the future?,” he asks quietly. “I worry about that a lot. I don’t think our generation will.”

The look on every teen’s face says it all. Each child had the same concern. The fear on their faces has haunted me.

The Kids Are Worried Folks

We think kids don’t think about such “big” worries. Wrong. Those teens are no different than the hundreds of other teen focus groups in this country. And here’s proof.

A survey conducted by MTV and The Associated Press of over 1300 teens nationwide found that only 25 percent feel safe from terrorism when traveling.

The vast majority of teens admitted that their world is far more difficult than the world their mom or dad grew up in. Just consider a child growing up today vs. yesterday. In the 1950s, a survey found that our children’s biggest fears were loud noises, snakes, insects, and a parent’s death. Fast forward fifty years later. The most pressing kid stressor today is still a parent’s death, but “violence” has now replaced loud noises and snakes.

But the biggest fear many teens report today: “I’ll never live to see the future.”

It hurts just to hear their top concern.

The New “Mean World Syndrome”

The fact is constantly hearing about troubling world events does more than just increase children’s anxiety.
It also alters their view of their world.

Many child experts are concerned that today’s children are developing what is called “Mean World Syndrome.” It means our children perceive their world as a “Mean and Scary Place.”

Of course we can’t protect our kids and assure their safety, but we can help allay those fears and see their world in a more positive light.

Studies have shown that about 90 percent of all anxious children can be greatly helped by learning coping skills.

Here are a few parenting strategies you can use to help reduce your kids’ anxiety particularly in these uncertain times and help them develop a more positive outlook about their world.

Tips to Curb Kid Worries About a Scary World

1. Tune Into Your Child – Start by observing your child a bit closer when a frightening event occurs. For instance:

  • Is your child afraid to be left alone or of being in dark or closed places?
  • Does he have difficulty concentrating or is he excessively irritable?
  • Does she react fearfully to sudden noses, revert to immature behavior patterns, act out or have tantrums, or nightmares?
  • Is he bedwetting, withdrawing, crying excessively, or a experiencing a change in eating or sleeping habits?

Each child copes differently, so tune into your child’s behavior. Doing so will help you recognize how your son or daughter deals with life’s pressures and know when you should help to reduce those worries.

2. Monitor Scary News – Limit your child’s viewing of any news that features an alarming event (such as a kidnapping, pedophiles, makeshift morgues and tents setup in convention halls to treat the overflow of COVID-19 patients, etc). Monitor. Monitor. Monitor!

Studies show that seeing those violent images exacerbates anxiety and increases aggression in some kids and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in others. And don’t assume because your kid is older, the news does not affect him.

A Time/Nickelodeon study found that preadolescents said that those TV news bulletins that interrupt regular programming were especially disturbing. They admitted being even more anxious if a parent wasn’t there to help explain the event to them.

If your kids do watch the news, watch with them to answer their questions. Be there!

Also, monitor also your conversation with other adults so your kid doesn’t overhear your concerns.

3. Keep Yourself Strong – Don’t expect to be able to help allay your kids’ anxiety, unless you keep your own in check.Are you watching what you eat and reducing anxiety-increasers such as caffeine and sugar, exercising, getting enough rest, seeking the support of friends, or spending a quiet moment alone?

Remember, you can tell your kids you’re not worried about those world events or a troubled economy, but unless your behavior sends the same message your words have no meaning.

Our parenting priority must be to keep ourselves so we can keep our kids’ strong. That means we need to reduce our harried, hurried schedules so can model calmness to our kids. So just cut out one thing – be it the book club, the violin lessons, or cooking the “gourmet dinner” every night. Just reduce one thing! Your kids mirror your behavior and will be calmer if you are calmer.

4. Be Emotionally PresentDon’t assume because your child isn’t talking about the latest news tragedy or the recession, that he isn’t hearing about it. Chances are he is and he needs to get the facts straight. You are the best source for that information. Your child also needs to know that it is okay to share his feelings with you and that it’s normal to be upset.

You might start the dialogue with a simple: “What have you heard?” or “What are your friends saying?”

You don’t need to explain more than your child is ready to hear. What’s most important is letting your child know you are always available to listen or answers his concerns.

5. Do Something Proactive As a Family – One of the best ways to reduce feelings of anxiety is to help kids find proactive ways to allay their fears. It also empowers kids to realize they can make a difference in a world that might appear scary or unsafe.

  • Put together a “care package” to send to a health-care hero (a supermarket gift card, home-made masks and a hand-written note of appreciation).
  • Adopt the elderly neighbor and leave a batch of homemade cookies outside her door.
  • Or have your kids help you send “hugs” (a teddy bear, crayons, coloring book) to a child who has just lost all her earthly possessions in a flood, tornado, fire or is quarantined at home with a parent in the hospital.

6. Pass on Good News Reports – Draw your child’s attention to stories of heroism and compassion – those wonderful simple gestures of love and hope that people do for one another (that seem to always be on the back page of the paper). Find those uplifting stories in the newspaper and share them with your child.

A wonderful time to review them is right before your child goes to sleep. You can also encourage your kids to watch for little actions of kindness they see others do and report them at the dinner table. Many families call these “Good News Reports.”

It’s important to assure your children that there’s more to the world than threats and fear. Your actions can make a big difference in helping to send them that message.

7. Teach Anxiety-Reducing Techniques – Anxiety is an inevitable part of life, but in times like these those worries can be overwhelming. Here are just a few techniques you can help your child learn to use to cope with worries:

• Self-talk. Teach your child to say a statement inside her head to help her stay calm and handle the worries. Here are a few:

“Chill out, calm down.”

“I can do this.”

“Stay calm and breathe slowly.”

“It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“Go away worry. You can’t get me!”

• Worry melting. Ask your kid to find the spot in his body where he feels the most tension; perhaps his neck, shoulder muscles, or jaw. He then closes his eyes, concentrates on the spot, tensing it up for three or four seconds, and then lets it go. While doing so, tell him to imagine the worry slowly melting away. Yoga or deep breathing exercises seem to be helpful for girls.

• Visualize a calm place. Ask your kid to think of an actual place he’s been where he feels peaceful. For instance: the beach, his bed, grandpa’s backyard, a tree house. When anxiety kicks in, tell him to close his eyes, imagine that spot, while breathing slowly and letting the worry fly slowly away.

Final Thoughts

These are tough times for everyone — but especially for our kids. World events are unpredictable. Tragedies seem to be all the news. As much as we’d like to protect our children, unfortunately there are some things we can’t control. What we can do is help our children learn strategies to cope and those tools will build our children’s resilience to handle whatever comes their way.

Anxious kids are two to four times more likely to develop depression, and, as teens, are much more likely to become involved with substance abuse.

Anxiety symptoms are showing up in kids as young as three years.

If your child shows signs of anxiety for more than a few weeks or if you’re concerned, don’t wait. Seek professional help. Please.

Now take three slow deep breaths. What’s your first step to help your family?

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“My Body Belongs to Me” Children’s Book: Prevent The Unthinkable

Last updated on May 4th, 2020 at 11:49 am

As a former prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City for 22 years, I often encountered My Body Belongs to Me-small2children who were sexually abused for lengthy periods of time and suffered in silence. One case in particular had a profound impact on me and compelled me to write a children’s book called My Body Belongs to Me.

I prosecuted the case of a 9-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather since she was 6. She told no one. One day, the girl saw an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” about children who were physically abused. The episode, “Tortured Children,” empowered the girl with this simple message: If you are being abused, tell your parents. If you can’t tell your parents, go to school and tell your teacher. The girl got the message and the very next day went to school and told her teacher. I prosecuted the case for the District Attorney’s office. The defendant was convicted and is now serving a lengthy prison sentence.

I have thought often of that very sweet, very brave 9-year-old girl. It occurred to me that after three painful years, all it took to end her nightmare was a TV program encouraging her to “tell a teacher.” I wrote My Body Belongs to Me to continue that message. It endeavors to teach children that they don’t have to endure abuse in silence. Parents and educators can use it as a tool to facilitate an open dialogue with youngsters.

The story is a simple scenario involving a gender neutral child who is inappropriately touched by an uncle’s friend. The powerful message really comes through when the youngster tells on the offender and the parents praise the child’s bravery. The last page shows a proud, smiling child doing a “strong arm” pose. The text assures them that it wasn’t their fault and by speaking out the child will continue to grow big and strong. It is a compelling and uplifting message.

The “Suggestions for the Storyteller” section is an important, interactive feature that facilitates the discussion to follow. It will make any caregiver feel more comfortable talking about this important subject, thereby helping to PREVENT the unthinkable from happening to their child. Research tells us that child sexual abuse does not discriminate. It is a problem that affects everyone.

  • In the United States, approx. 1 of 4 girls and 1 of 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • 47% of child sexual abuse victims wait 5 years or more to speak up, if they ever do.
  • 93% of child sexual abuse victims are abused by someone they already know.

It is my sincere hope that by educating girls and boys about this taboo subject, My Body Belongs to Me will prevent them from becoming victims in the first place.

Editor’s Note: This powerful book is now available in bilingual English – Spanish; just in time for April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month. My Body Belongs to Me/Mi cuerpo me pertenece

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

  • To keep your children safe:
    1. No secrets. Period. Encourage your children to tell you about things that happen to them that make them feel scared, sad or uncomfortable. If children have an open line of communication, they will be more inclined to alert you to something suspicious before it becomes a problem. The way I effectuate this rule is as follows: If someone, even a grandparent, were to say something to my child such as “I’ll get you an ice cream later, but it will be our secret”, I firmly, but politely say “We don’t do secrets in our family.” Then I say to my child “Right? We don’t do secrets. We can tell each other everything.”
    2. Teach your child the correct terms for their body parts. This will make them more at ease if they need to tell you about a touch that made them feel uncomfortable.
    3. Teach your child to tell a safe person if someone touches them in an inappropriate way. Discuss with children the importance of telling a parent, teacher or other trusted adult right away.
    4. Let children decide for themselves how they want to express affection. Children should not be forced to hug or kiss if they are uncomfortable. Even if they are your favorite aunt, uncle or cousin, your child should not be forced to be demonstrative in their affection. While this may displease you, by doing this, you will empower your child to say no to inappropriate touching.
  • If you choose to use My Body Belongs to Me as a tool for teaching your family about body safety, here are some suggestions:
    1. Read the book at least once for enjoyment before using it to get into a serious discussion.
    2. After reading the book, help lead an open-ended discussion by asking questions such as the following: What are your parts that are private, Why did the child get scared, What did the uncle’s friend do, What did he tell the little child, If someone touches your private parts, should it be a secret, Why did the uncle’s friend put his finger up to his lips, What did the child do when he did that, Were the mom and dad happy when the child told them what had happened, What did they do, If the child did not tell the parents, who else could be told, How does the child feel in the picture at the end?
    3. Find teachable moments with your child to reinforce the lessons learned in the book.

Finally – A Step Towards Safe Transport for Kids in Ambulances!

Last updated on August 8th, 2019 at 07:02 pm

In 2008 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) convened a working group of representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Emergency Medical Services for Children, the American Ambulance Association, and other key organizations and started a project called “Solutions to Safely Transport Children in Emergency Vehicles”. Finally a long-standing problem was being recognized and addressed: “there are no Federal standards or standard protocols among EMS and child safety professionals in the U.S. for how best to transport children safely in ground ambulances from the scene of a traffic crash or a medical emergency to a hospital or other facility. The absence of consistent national standards and protocols … complicates the work of EMS professionals and may result in the improper and unsafe restraint of highly vulnerable child passengers.”(1)

In fact a 1998 study regarding the use of child restraints in ambulances revealed that 35 States did not require patients of ANY AGE to be restrained in a ground ambulance. Of those States that did require some sort of child restraint system, requirements for an “acceptable restraint” varied significantly.(2)

It is illegal in the US to travel with an unrestrained child in an automobile. However, when a child is already sick or injured, we have been willing to transport them in a vehicle where the passenger compartment is exempt from most safety requirements, they cannot be properly restrained and they have a higher probability of an accident than an automobile. We might not if we knew the following:

  • It is estimated that up to 1,000 ambulance crashes involve pediatric patients each year.(3)
  • In a collision at 35mph, an unrestrained 15kg child is exposed to the same forces as in falling from a 4th story window.(4)

Wednesday September 19, 2012, after an intense 2 year research effort, a public meeting in August 2010 to review the findings and gather input (see Pediatric Safety Post by Sandy Schnee “A Public Meeting on Safe Transport for Kids on Ambulances“), and 2 additional years refining the results, NHTSA has released the official:

BEST PRACTICE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE SAFE TRANSPORT OF CHILDREN IN EMERGENCY GROUND AMBULANCESThank you NHTSA!!

The working group outlined 5 potential child transport “Situations” (see chart below) and for each described their “Ideal” solution – the best practice recommendation for safe a safe transport for each situation. They also presented an “If the Ideal is not Practical or Achievable” alternative – basically an “acceptable” backup plan.

They also came up with guidelines to assist EMS providers in selecting a child restraint system – particularly important because due to the lack of regulation and testing requirements specific to ground ambulances, many of the available child restraint devices were not designed for use in ambulances, some were tested to automotive standards and others were not tested at all.

In the end, the ultimate goal of ALL the recommendations: Prevent forward motion/ejection, secure the torso, and protect the head, neck, and spine of all children transported in emergency ground ambulances.

In short – transport these children safely.

We know that since the adoption of “mandatory use laws” in the U.S. for child safety restraints in automobiles, that thousands of children’s lives have been saved. Yet for years we have continued to allow children to be transported unrestrained on ambulances. With this report, we have finally taken a step in the right direction

It is hoped that the recommendations provided in this report will address the lack of consistent standards or protocols among EMS and child passenger safety professionals in the United States regarding how to most safely transport children in ground ambulances from the scene of a traffic crash or medical emergency to a hospital or other facility. It should be noted that the expectation is that States, localities, associations, and EMS providers will implement these recommendations to improve the safe transportation of children in emergency ground ambulances when responding to calls encountered in the course of day-to-day operations of EMS providers. In addition, it is hoped that EMS providers will be better prepared to safely transport children in emergency ground ambulances when faced with disaster and mass casualty situations”.

…. Amen to that !!

 

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Editorial Update: Quite a bit has happened since the original publication of this article. Suffice it to say that while this was a terrific step in the right direction – it was not enough to cause the system-wide level of change hoped for. According to ems.gov… unanswered questions remain, primarily due to the lack of ambulance crash testing research specific to children.To address this, in 2017 the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) established the Safe Transport of Children Ad Hoc Committee, with the goal of improving the safety of children transported by ambulance through the creation of evidence-based standards. Pediatric Safety will continue to follow their efforts in future articles as they work to improve the national standard of care and establish consistent guidelines for the safe transport of all our children on ambulances. Every ride, every time.

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References:

1. Notice published by NHTSA of Public Meeting on August 5th, 2010 to discuss draft version Recommendations for Safe Transport of Children on Ground Ambulance Vehicles: Federal Register, July 19, 2010,

2 & 3. Working Group Best-Practice Recommendations for the Safe Transportation of Children in Emergency Ground Ambulances: NHTSA / USDOT, September 2012

4. “EMS to Your Rescue?” Int’l Forum on Traffic Records & Hwy Safety Info. Systems – Levick N, July, 2008

Senseez Pillows: Vibrational Therapy to Soothe Anxious Kids

senseez logo -smallMy name is Stephanie Mitelman. I am a Mom and I created the Senseez Pillows. The name Senseez means to ease the senses… Let me tell you the story of how Senseez was born…

When my son was 2, he was diagnosed with a special need. One of his difficulties was sitting in one place long enough to eat his meal, read a story, or sit for circle time.

I spoke to an occupational therapist who recommended a vibrating mat to help with this.I bought one for my son, and he instantly loved the sensations!

But one day, I wanted to take him to our local library for story telling, and though the mat would help… it was large, black, heavy, and had to be plugged in. I was also concerned about my son looking different or standing out with this large mat.

So I went on a search to find a small, lightweight, portable pillow that would offer the same sensations that he could take with him. I couldn’t find one!

So Senseez was born!

Senseez are colorful, lightweight, fun shaped vinyl pillows that offer a gentle vibration when they are squeezed or sat on. They operate on batteries and have a small pouch inside that can vibrate to offer sensations to relax, calm or soothe the body. They’re small enough to take anywhere and are made just for little bums!

Painting on a Senseez pillow

Kids that have trouble sitting for meals, stories, car rides, shopping trips, school work, movies, or anything else will be comforted by the vibrations of Senseez. Kids that have trouble falling asleep will enjoy the relaxing sensations.

The original prototypes were sewn in the basement of our home! We made about 25 pillows by hand, and distributed them throughout schools and therapy centers in our area. Since Senseez was created to be taken everywhere and to be used by multiple children, we used a vinyl material, since it is considered to be the most hygienic and easiest to keep clean. The vinyl is also water resistant. We also created a Senseez furry option for children who would like more tactile input.

After we got some feedback, we hired an engineer to perfect the vibrating mechanism we needed. Once that was complete, we had the pillows tested by Canadian standards for lead, small parts and flammability.

We then connected with an importer who handled the production. Our first order was for 600 pillows. Once the word started getting out, we sold out within 9 months!

In April 2013, we were also invited to do a taping on the Dragon’s Den television show. Today, we have 14 different distributors across Canada and the US, and the pillows are now being used across schools, therapy centers and many homes! The feedback we get is so positive, and the ways in which the pillows are being used is so inspiring. Here is an example:

I wanted to share a positive story regarding your Senseez Pillows. I gave one of the pillows to my client who is part of our deaf blind program. Although she is very fluent in hand over hand sign language as well as Braille, she struggles a lot with expressive communication. We have been working closely with her to initiate requests, preferences, feelings…..communication in general. The pillow was introduced during a session as a sensory aid with vibration. She immediately started hugging the pillow and placing it behind her back ……all while signing the word “happy”.

While her expressive communication still remains a struggle, she is now on a regular basis asking for the “vibrating pillow”. She has created a sign that meshes together the words vibrate and pillow, which she independently will communicate to others!

It’s a huge break through!!!!!! It is the first time that she has communicated a want.

Needless to say, we will be needing some more pillows 🙂

Research shows that vibrational therapy has been used for many years in many different forms. Some children require the vibrations to help calm their bodies, while other children just enjoy the way it feels!

We are thrilled that our pillow is helping children, parents, teachers and therapists!

HEALTHFUL HINTS

Tips for working with children who have difficulty sitting in one place for any length of time:

  1. Some children do best with time limits. Let the child know how long they will have to sit for. A start and finish time can help. i.e: sit for 3 minutes to finish snack.
  2. Sometimes using a visual timer can help. Visual timers are available at most special needs stores.
  3. When training a child to sit for a period of time, start small and the build it up. One minute, goes to two, then five etc…
  4. It is okay to use outside reinforcers during this process. Children respond well to rewards, like their favorite treats. You want to build in a reward at the beginning and it won’t be long before long they won’t need it anymore.
  5. It is also okay to use other distractors like TV or iPad in the beginning. We want to calm the child during this hard task. For some children, TV and iPad can help reduce the anxiety of staying one place may cause. After a while, the distraction won’t be needed either.
  6. And you will need to verbally prompt at the beginning. Prompting is giving a gentle reminder about what the child is supposed to be doing, and reinforcing it when they do.
  7. It is always important to reinforce the good behavior (when they do sit in one place), and not only discuss when they don’t.
  8. And lastly, some children enjoy different sensations to help soothe their senses. Vibrations are helpful. Other sensations could be a weighted vest or blanket, or something that offers compression.

Note: Each child is different and you will have to experiment with what works with your child!

Child Health & Safety News 12/24: Teething Jewelry Safety Risks

twitter thumbIn this week’s Child Health News: How much difference can a later school start make for teens? As Seattle’s school district found out, it can help a lot! n.pr/2STRXo6

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use social media to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we overlook something, but overall we think we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. Still, quite a bit happens every day – so to make sure you don’t miss anything, we offer you a recap of this week’s top 15 events & stories.

  • How Does Sensory Play Help With a Child’s Development? bit.ly/2QPcEFs 2018-12-23
  • Institute of Child Health doctors perform life-saving open-heart surgery on infant bit.ly/2EHf6ql 2018-12-23
  • Celebrity nutrition expert Rujuta Diwekar tells parents How to care for their child’s health and gives tips on child health and the ideal diet for today’s children. bit.ly/2T4F9eJ 2018-12-21
  • Pets Help Prevent Allergies In Infants, Study Says cbsloc.al/2CuE5vl 2018-12-21

PedSafe Child Health & Safety News Headline of the Week
FDA says teething jewelry poses safety risks after child injuries http://bit.ly/2T7DPry

  • Saturday Morning at AMC, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is Sensory Friendlybit.ly/2Luiki1 2018-12-21
  • Can pyruvate improve cardiac function among children with LCOS following surgery? American Heart Association is funding a study http://bit.ly/2V7zQx8 2018-12-20
  • Kids in hot cars: 8 safety tips (even in winter!) https://yhoo.it/2T7Kpyj 2018-12-20
  • Bringing joy to pediatric patients can start with an in-residence dog… a highly trained service dog that works in a healthcare setting to provide specialized tasks and create an emotional connection with peds patients http://bit.ly/2V9FjDC 2018-12-19
  • New child passenger safety law update to go into effect in Nebraska on January 1st http://bit.ly/2CwYMqm2018-12-19
  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding and the common cold: What new and expectant moms need to know: 2018-12-18
  • Social Media Companies, Reporting, and Secondary Victimization – Cyberbullying Research Center bit.ly/2Ci7HMe 2018-12-18
  • Teen vaping continues to rise, survey finds cnn.it/2Erz08q 2018-12-17
  • Will Spanking Kids Really Scar Them for Life? bit.ly/2Bqlij0 2018-12-17
  • Sweets for Kids at the Holidays? What Dentist Approved That? bit.ly/2EqLMUB 2018-12-17

Stop, Look & Paws: Teaching Kids How to Be Safe Around Dogs

We’ve all seen or heard about horrific instances of dog bites to children. I think most of us believe it will never happen to us. Until I became a dog trainer and was doing research on children and dogs, I didn’t realize the alarming statistics of dog bites to children.

According to the Humane Society of the United States:

  • Annually there are 4.7 million dogs bites in the U.S., with over half to children
  • 77% of the bites are from dogs that are familiar to the child
  • Children ages 5-9 have the highest rate of dog bites

In my role as a dog trainer, I work with families that have children and dogs. When I meet with families, I often discover they are unaware of the potential risks when interacting with dogs, and, what dogs are trying to communicate. Specifically, almost without exception, the children really had no idea how to read their dog’s body language or the situations in which the dogs were engaged. Depending on the child’s interpretation of the dog’s actions, they could easily put themselves in harm’s way. For example, let’s say a child sees a dog, and assumes that the dog looks “lonely”. Many times people confuse cautiousness/fear with loneliness. If the child tries to approach and pet the dog to comfort her, the dog may react with a nip to communicate “stay away.” This is especially true when a dog is hiding under an object or piece of furniture.

To fill this critical gap, I searched for tools and activities that would help teach children about dog body language and safety. As a former elementary school teacher, I knew the best way to help children learn is to use an interactive activity that is fun and simple to use. Unfortunately, after months of looking, I couldn’t find anything that had these elements for learning. So, I decided to create my own learning activity called Stop, Look & Paws.

Stop, Look & Paws is a dog safety activity that children play by sorting stickers. Children look at images of dog stickers which either show a common situation (e.g., eating from a dog bowl), or exhibiting specific body language (e.g., tail tucked down between legs). The goal is to ask children to sort the stickers onto an activity board into either the “safe to pet” or “not safe to pet” categories. Children love the hands on part and stickers. A “Dog Sticker Guide” is included to assist parents with background knowledge on each dog sticker. There is productive dialogue between the child and adult while playing the activity. This allows for understanding why the child chose the category they did, and how to correct their decision if needed. Given the stickers are reusable, they can change their mind, and play the game more than once to benefit from repetitive learning.

Since 2017, when Stop, Look & Paws was introduced to the public, hundreds of parents have used this with overwhelmingly positive feedback. In addition, veterinarians and educators have been extremely supportive of Stop, Look & Paws™ to effectively teach dog safety to children between the ages of 4 – 10. While each comment I receive is slightly different, the message is the same: If kids can have fun while learning the all-important lessons about dog behavior and safety, there is a better chance of preventing future dog bites.

My hope is that families use Stop, Look & Paws to educate their children before a dog bite occurs. Help your child understand that every dog is unique, and that it’s best to be thoughtful when interacting with them. I believe it’s very important to begin reducing the 4.7 million dog bites that happen each year.

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

Educate yourself about dog body language and how dogs communicate so you can share this information with your child.

Here are the Top 6 Dog Safety Tips that every child should know:

  1. Ask permission of the owner before petting a dog, and pet calmly. Model this for your child.
  2. Try the 3 second rule. If you pet a dog, stop after 3 seconds and pull your hand away. If the dog then moves closer to you, you can continue to pet!
  3. Don’t approach an unfamiliar dog.
  4. No hugging. Hugging is a sign of love in the human world, but not in the dog world.
  5. Don’t pursue a dog that is trying to move away.
  6. If a dog is pursuing your child, have your child stand still, tuck their arms and hands and look away until the dog moves away. Then they can walk away slowly.