My 12-year-old, Natasha, loves all things fashion. In an attempt to move this obsession into the realm of concrete and creative, I signed her up for sewing lessons. It turns out she has an aptitude for sewing--and now she wants to be a designer. She is even more obsessed with fashion, and what she wears, than before.
- Work requirements should be reasonable and fair for parents with disabilities. Anyone who can work should work, plain and simple. But many parents with disabilities can't--and the way the bills are written now leaves things very vague in a way that could put many families at risk of losing their benefits. It needs to be clear, and it needs to make medical sense.
- Job search requirements should make sense. Of course people should look for a job. And given how little welfare actually pays, most people I talk to would way rather have a job than be on welfare. But it can take time to look for a job--and you need childcare, and a way to get to interviews. Not that people can't figure this stuff out. But we need to be realistic and fair with families.
- Rules for reapplying for welfare should make sense too. If people need to reapply for benefits after being off them, we should look at their current situation, not their situation when they were on benefits before. Things change. That's why they are reapplying.
- Education and training are crucial. That's how people get off of welfare, so it's a worthwhile investment. Which is why...
- Getting a college education should count for something. It can be a family's ticket out of poverty--and off of benefits--forever. Yes, lots of people work while they are in school--but when you have kids, that gets harder. It will cost us less in the long run if we support poor parents while they get a degree.
- We shouldn't make pregnant women work longer than is safe. Both versions of the bill are a bit unclear as to how long a pregnant woman has to work. That should be very clear--and ultimately decided by the woman's doctor.
- The families of legal immigrants need somewhere to live too. There are provisions that could stop some lawful immigrants from applying for public housing. These are people who have played by the immigration rules--we should play fair too.
- Buy the right comb. You need one with long metal tines that are very close together. The LiceMeister is a good example, but there are various ones out there that will do the trick. Do not rely on the one that comes with the lice treatments.
- Set time aside for combing every day. Whether it's quick or long depends on how much hair your child has. At the beginning, when there's more to get out, it will take longer; after a few days, it should go faster.
- Have good lighting, and a cup of water (or sink) nearby for cleaning the comb after each swipe.
- The hair needs to be tangle-free or the comb will get stuck. You can put conditioner on and do it in the tub, or use detangling spray.
- Separate the hair into sections, and comb from the scalp out. The nape of the neck and behind the ears are where lice are most likely to hang out.
- Use distractions, like a video, while you comb. Or make up stories together.
- Keep combing every day until you've gone 8-10 days without finding anything--that's how long it takes for an egg to hatch.
- Make sure everyone has their own brush and comb. No sharing allowed.
- Wash all hats and clothing in the hottest water possible, and forbid any sharing until the infestation is over.
- Wash bedding regularly in the hottest water possible. If things can't be washed, put them in the drier on the hottest setting possible (this is a good way to deal with stuffed animals).
- Vacuum furniture regularly. Don't buy the anti-lice furniture sprays--they can be toxic, and vacuuming works just fine.
- Be careful and thoughtful about the media images your children are exposed to. The images with the most devastation and horror are the ones that are likely to get picked up by TV and the Web, and those are exactly the ones that are toughest for children to see (toughest for anyone, really), especially video images. As mesmerizing as it might be, it's best to look at those images without your children--or keep their exposure really brief.
- Be truthful in your explanations of what happened, but keep it brief and leave out gory details. There was a very bad storm that hit the Philippines. Many people were hurt or killed, and and it destroyed a lot of buildings. Lots of people are doing everything they can to help.
- Focus on the heroes and helpers. There are always stories of ordinary people saving lives, and of all sorts of people doing extraordinary things to help. As those stories come in, talk about them more.
- Reassure children that events like these are very rare. This was an extraordinary storm. The Philppines, too, as a country of islands with lots of small and lightly constructed houses, was particularly at risk for destruction. This is not the case for us here in Massachusetts. Yes, we are on the coast and yes, bad storms happen. But what happened there is really unlikely to happen here.
- Talk about all the ways that people work to keep them safe from natural disasters--and talk about ways that they can keep themselves safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about preparing for a hurricane--you can use that as something to talk about.
- As a family, choose a way to help. Three organizations that are on the ground helping already are The Philippine Red Cross, The World Food Programme (you can also text the word AID to 27722 to instantly donate $10--I did it, it works) and UNICEF.
- First and foremost: see a doctor. This should go without saying, but it's common for parents to think that if there's no blood involved and their kid is acting more or less okay, they don't need to see a doctor. But any headache after a head bump that is more than a mild one, and any headache that comes with dizziness, vision changes, sensitivity to light or noise, trouble with memory or concentration, or sleep problems warrants a visit to your doctor or an emergency room.
- Kids shouldn't go back to school until they feel better and are able to concentrate and work for at least 30-45 minutes (which is about the length of the average lesson). This is important: they don't need to feel perfect, they just need to feel better and be able to get something out of school, even if it's just for part of the day and with built-in rest periods. While doctors can help figure out when to send kids back to school, ultimately parents are the ones who need to make the decision, because they know their kids best.
- Parents, doctors and the school need to work as a team to figure out the best school program for a child who has had a concussion. The school team should have people involved in both academics and physical activity. It's really important that all team members communicate well and often.
- The amount of work and homework a child gets should be increased slowly, making sure they can tolerate it. This is where the communication becomes really important!
- If symptoms last more than 3-4 weeks (most get better by then), the child should see a concussion specialist (talk to your doctor about this) and there should be more formal changes made in the child's school program.
- Kids should be back to their academic baseline before they go back to full physical activity or extracurricular activities. This is one recovery you really don't want to rush.
- Kids need to be seen. Twice as many kids get hit by cars on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Use reflector bands, carry glow sticks, do whatever it takes so that your kid is really visible.
- Kids need to see. Masks are great, but not if you can't see where you are going.
- Kids need to be able to walk comfortably, without falling down. Which is hard if you can't move easily in your costume, or if you trip on it.
- Accessories should be sensible. Swords or wands that poke other kids are not always sensible. And since you are likely to end up carrying stuff that needs to be carried, you might want to rethink those extras.
- Factor in the weather. The cute little dress is fine, unless it's chilly out. There have been years my children refused to wear outerwear because it "ruined" the costume...if it's not too late, pick something that actually works outside.
- Be sure you are seen! Carry a flashlight and/or glow sticks, don't cross the street between parked cars, and if there's no sidewalk, walk close to the side of the road facing traffic.
- Pick well-lit streets, and only go to well-lit houses.
- Supervise your kids! Pay close attention to where they are walking and what they are doing.
- By middle school, many kids will be ready to go out without you. If you decide that your child is ready, be sure that a.they are in a group; b.you know and approve the route; c. you can reach them at all times and vice versa.
- Give them a healthy dinner ahead of time, so that you don't have gorging on candy while you are out (you may still have gorging, but hopefully it will be less)
- Be alert--kids, cars and people do unexpected things on Halloween. Don't drink and trick-or-treat.
- Try not to drive on Halloween. If you have to, be really, really careful and drive slowly, because some family who hasn't read this might dart out between parked cars...
- If your child has any food allergies, bring your Epipen. You never know what might happen or what your child might eat when you aren't watching.
- Set some guidelines ahead of time as to how far you will go and how long you will be out. Saves you arguing later.
- Don't let your kids carry huge bags for candy (like pillowcases). Keep it small...you'll end up with fewer arguments over candy, and fewer arguments about going to more houses to fill it up.
- Chat with people at houses as you go along, rather than just grabbing candy and running to the next house. It makes it more pleasant, sends a better message to your kids, and can be a nice way to meet people.
- Make a big deal out of handing out candy, and have some other fun activities at home too--moving some of the emphasis off trick-or-treating is a good thing.
- When you get home, after candy inspection and sorting (and trading), store the candy out of reach. Come up with a plan for disbursement. Again: planning ahead avoids arguments. You may be able to ease it out of the house after a while...some dentists will take it, or you can do something like my friend Wendy Sue Swanson and have the Switch Witch take it.
- Have fun yourself. Maybe wear a costume yourself. Do some decorating. Use it as an excuse to act like a kid. We don't get all that many of those.
- 72 percent of them have used a mobile advice for media, up from 38 percent 2 years ago.
- 38 percent of kids under 2 use mobile devices for media use (so you aren't the only one who is using videos on your iPhone to amuse your toddler in waiting rooms).
- While there are lots of cool educational apps out there, kids this age get most of their educational content from TV: 61 percent often or sometimes watch educational TV, while only 38 and 34 percent do educational things on mobile devices or computers, respectively (sorry, Angry Birds is not really educational).
Every year, around my dead son’s birthday, I usually find myself wanting to write about the gift of him and the hard-won blessings of grief.
This year, I’m not feeling all that blessed. This year I’m feeling very sad, and thinking about just how hard hope can be.
I don’t actually plan on writing about Aidan every year. It’s just that writing is how I process what I’m feeling, and his birthday brings so many feelings. And while it’s a sad day, usually what I mostly feel is stronger and wiser because of him. It feels good to write about that; it anchors for me that everything we lived, and his loss, had purpose.
But this year, I’m not feeling so much sanguine wisdom. This year I’m remembering just how hard it was to make it through the days when he was so sick, and after he died.
Part of the reason, I think, is that my middle daughter is going through a tough time right now. Sometimes when she talks to me about it, there simply isn’t a way to spin it positively for her. All I can say is: You’re right, it sucks.
Because sometimes things just do suck.
Bad things happen all the time, sometimes even awful things. Yes, you can find ways through—even ways to emerge stronger and wiser. But it’s really hard work.
It’s that hard work that I am remembering this year on Aidan’s birthday (which is a lot less fun than feeling blessed, I have to say). Getting through it takes courage and strength, but it takes something even harder: hope.
It takes a particular kind of hope, because no amount of hope can make sure things turn out the way you want, let alone cure incurable diseases or bring people back from the dead. This is a different kind of hope. It is a hope that rises above and finds a different way to see and think. It is the hope that life can get better.
That’s what I’ve been trying to tell and teach my daughter recently, without a whole lot of success. Because it’s easy—normal, actually—to feel powerless in the face of sadness and loss. Sometimes it truly does seem that life is unfair, that everyone else gets to be happy and you don’t, that you are stuck in an infinite loop of pain.
Sometimes it’s little things that you have to grab onto to slow you down as you go around that infinite loop. Like comfort foods, or favorite movies. For brief moments, you feel better—and the simple fact that you can feel better at all helps. So does the simple fact that you can identify and choose these things, that you can say: I’m going to make cocoa and watch The Sound of Music. The choosing gives you a glimpse of the possibility of power over your days and feelings. It’s just a glimpse, but it’s a beginning.
And when somebody smiles at you, and you smile back—or when a neighbor leaves a casserole, or you laugh with a friend or hug someone you love, you are reminded of the goodness of the connections between us, and how those are always possible too.
And when the bright red of a sunrise, or a haunting melody or a poem or the intricate patterns of ice on a window catches you and momentarily takes your breath away, you are reminded that as awful as life might be sometimes, beauty doesn’t go away.
That’s the essence of this kind of hope, I think: it’s the understanding that badness and goodness coexist, that the fact that sometimes things truly suck doesn’t mean that there isn’t reason for optimism.
I managed this kind of hope finally when we lost Aidan. Which isn’t a guarantee that I’ll always be able to do it—but at least I had the practice of it, and maybe that means I can help Elsa out of her loop.
Which, I guess, is another hard-won blessing of grief—and another reason for hope.
Aidan, at 5 months
- Have a calming bedtime routine--nothing too active or exciting. Try a nice bath or shower, snuggling, reading...things like that.
- Cut out the TV and video games. Not only can they be exciting, but the blue light they emit can actually activate the brain (so even the non-exciting shows can be a problem).
- Start the routine early, a good hour or so before bedtime (you might want to stop the TV earlier). Relaxation can take a little time.
- Holding students back has been show to hurt students' peer relationships, self-esteem and school attendance
- Holding students back is linked to behavior problems in children, which get worse as a student reaches adolescence
- Students who are held back are more likely to drop out.
- A version made without using any eggs at all, for people with very severe egg allergies (people with milder allergies can generally get the flu vaccine--talk to your doctor). This one is only for adults 18-49, though.
- Also for grownups (18-64): a version that gets injected (with a smaller needle) into the skin instead of the muscle
- For people 65 and older, there is a higher dose version.
My youngest, Liam, turned 8 recently. As I gave him a birthday hug and remarked on how big he was (“That’s because I’m standing on the couch, Mom,”) I told him that I was glad he was born. “Why?” he asked earnestly. “I’m happier because of you,” I said.
And wiser, I thought.
And wiser, I thought.
As a pediatrician, I’ve had lots of years of school and other training. But as I look back on my life so far, I think that the most important lessons I’ve learned, the ones that really guide my daily life, were lessons I learned from my children. While there are countless things they’ve taught me (like that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches get irretrievably mushy quickly, or that keeping diapers off to help rashes is just silly), here are the top eight:
Life is messy. One only has to look at our house to see that this is true. But more than just in our house, orderliness and perfection are hard to come by—and overrated. Some of the best moments in life come when you give in to messiness and enjoy it…and stop worrying about everything being perfect. Besides the fun that can come from a bit of chaos, there is the simple fact that…
Sh*&t happens. This is true in small ways (diapers and pets will both teach you that quickly) and big ways. Despite our best efforts and hopes, things just don’t always work out well. Sometimes they even work out tragically. This is deeply sad and frustrating, but it cannot be changed; it is a simple truth that has to be accepted, and risen above. Which is often much easier said than done, but is never impossible. We’ve found it easier when we remember that…
Laughter is necessary. Really. It’s important to laugh every day, I think. There’s nothing like a fit of the giggles to make the world bearable. Whether it’s silly knock-knock jokes (“Boo Who?” “Why are you crying, Mommy?”), Monty Python Flying Circus marathons, or just cracking up over burps (or farts, if you have a first-grader), laughter lightens us, connects us, stops us in our tracks and gives us a different perspective. Kids expect and pursue laughter; we grownups too often don’t. Another way that kids are different is that they…
Celebrate whenever possible. Whether it’s a birthday, losing a tooth, making a goal at a soccer game or getting a good grade on a test, reasons to celebrate (and have special dinners or ice cream or buy a little prize) abound. Yes, it can be overdone (we’ve all seen the parents who overdo it), but the basic concept is a good one: we should be grateful and find (legitimate) reasons to appreciate each other and the good things that happen. It’s also important to reinforce that…
Hard work pays off. As a parent, you see a lot of hard work. You watch your children learn to walk, ride bikes, read, learn to swim, study for tests and do so many other new and hard things…and while the hard work doesn’t always pay off in the way you expect (and is so much harder when your child has special needs), it always pays off. I am continually humbled and inspired watching children learn everything they need to learn, and it’s helped to teach me that…
Patience isn’t optional. It takes patience to learn something. It takes patience to be a parent, incredible amounts, more than anyone ever could have explained to me. I get to practice being patient every single day as I parent our five children. Other things that take incredible patience are getting everyone ready in the morning, laundry and T-ball games. Along with patience, I’ve learned that…
Loving means forgiving. Our children make us crazy. They make us angry. They break our hearts on a regular basis…and yet, I’ve learned, really loving them means letting all of that go and forgiving them. When we do, it also makes it more likely that they will forgive us when we inevitably make them crazy, angry or break their hearts too.
And last but not least…
Snuggling makes everything better. We grownups forget, sometimes, about the power and comfort of physical closeness, of the way that so much can be said and healed by holding each other. My children remind me of this every day, and for this lesson, as for all the rest, I am grateful.
It's hard to know what to say to children when someone they know has cancer--and it's even harder to know what to say when that someone is a friend or classmate.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of that, I asked Kendal Temple, an oncology community outreach nurse from the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center who regularly talks to children who have classmates with cancer, what advice she would give to parents.
“Learning that a friend or classmate has cancer can be a frightening and confusing experience for children,” she said. “Parents have an important role to play in providing information, allaying fears, and helping their children not just navigate the friendship but learn how to comfort, support and assist a friend in need.”
It’s really important that parents help their child understand that despite the difficult physical changes they may see in their friend, such as hair loss and weight loss, the friends is still the same person—and should be treated that way.
Here are some specific suggestions:
- Try to explain cancer in a way that children will understand. Tell young children that certain cells in their friend’s body are not working right and that doctors use special medicine called chemotherapy to make the cancer cells go away. Older children can understand that cancer occurs when certain cells multiply and divide very quickly—crowding out healthy cells, making it hard for the body to work the way it should.
- Answer the difficult questions children ask (like: Will my friend die? Will the cancer come back?) honestly without being alarmist. Some children die of cancer, and sometimes it comes back. But we have lots of good treatments. Although 83 percent of children under age 20 with cancer now survive, it’s best to stay away from specific predictions because each individual cancer case is different.
- Children might say, “But Uncle Joe died of cancer.” Let them know that childhood cancer is very different from adult cancer.
- Young children may need reassurance that cancer isn’t contagious, and that their friend didn’t get cancer because she did anything bad.
- Children of all ages may need reassurance that childhood cancer is very rare.
- Help your child understand the side effects of cancer treatment. In addition to causing hair loss, chemotherapy often causes nausea and fatigue. It also lowers the body’s resistance to infection, so things like hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes (with the inside of your elbow, not your hands) and not sharing drinks or snacks is more important than ever. Your child’s classmate may also spend time in the hospital or at home—this is normal.
- Reach out to the teacher or family friend coordinating assistance for the family and see what you and your child might do to help. Sometimes it’s as simple as sending a card.
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, says Temple. “Encourage your child to come to you or another appropriate adult with questions. Often the things children come up with in their heads are much scarier than what’s really going on.”
To learn more about childhood cancer, what we are doing about it and how to talk to children about it, visit the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month page of the Dana Farber/Boston Children's site.
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Of the many reasons why women who want to breastfeed end up stopping, lots of them are reasons we can’t fix. Some women simply can’t breastfeed, no matter how hard they try. Some have medical conditions, or have to take medications that make breastfeeding impossible. Some of them can’t do it because of work or other life circumstances.
But way too many women stop for reasons we can fix. And that’s not okay.
In a really interesting study just released in the journal Pediatrics, researchers interviewed more than 500 first-time moms before birth and then at regular intervals through 2 months. They found that women who had at least one concern about breastfeeding at day 3 (which is when most moms are going home from the hospital, away from the hands-on help) were 7 times more likely to give formula and 9 times more likely to stop altogether.
This is hardly a shocker. Think about it: they are physically and emotionally exhausted and hurting in places and ways that they had never imagined before, and now they are expected to stick this brand-new human being for whom they are fully responsible onto a part of the body that has heretofore only been sexual, and cross their fingers that the baby is actually going to get milk out of it, let alone enough milk?
Add to that the fact that breastfeeding is hard work. Despite the media depictions of blissful, peaceful moms with babies at the breast, the inconvenient truth is that breastfeeding hurts at the beginning and takes both mom and baby some time to learn.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that while 75 percent of new mothers start out breastfeeding, only 13 percent do it exclusively for 6 months, which is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. This is a shame, because breastfeeding has all sorts of health benefits for baby and mom, and can help with bonding (it can be a lot easier, too—no need to worry about having enough milk, you just pull up your shirt).
In the study, the women were most likely to stop when they had trouble breastfeeding or when they were worried about having enough milk. That’s what makes me the most sad, because with some trouble-shooting and support most problems can be worked through—and most of the time when mothers are worried about not having enough milk they actually have plenty. Breastfeeding is different from bottlefeeding; breastfed babies like to be at the breast a lot, both because the milk is so quickly digested and, well, because for them the breast is just about the best place in the world. Too many mothers think that their babies want to nurse all the time because they don’t have enough milk, when it’s actually normal.
That’s the problem: we don’t do a good enough job of teaching women about what’s normal for breastfeeding, let alone supporting them when they hit the inevitable bumps in the breastfeeding road. We need to do a better job of both.
We could, and should, make teaching about breastfeeding part of prenatal care. We also need to make lactation support easily available for any mother who needs it (given the health benefits of breastfeeding, we should be able to make the case to insurers).
We need more Baby Friendly Hospitals, where mothers are actively supported in breastfeeding—and babies aren’t given formula unless it’s medically necessary. We need more workplaces to give mothers the time and space they need to pump, so that they can breastfeed after returning to work.
I think it would help, too, to have more breastfeeding in the media (like in movies and TV shows), and more public breastfeeding. If we made breastfeeding more ordinary, it might make it more likely that people would talk about it, ask questions about it and learn about it.
Not everyone can breastfeed, and not everyone wants to. That’s fine; there’s way more to parenting than breastfeeding. But the mothers who can, and want to, should get the help they need. This is about feeding babies, and about the health of our future adults. We can do better.
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