As part of Australia’s Kinderling Radio Conversation for Parents series, I had the pleasure of sitting down with parenting radio host extraordinaire, Shevonne Hunt and discussing a topic I have found to be of near universal interest to parents of young children. Tune in and listen to this 16 minute discussion of sleep insights, strategies and practical parenting tips
Are you up to your eyeballs in chicken nuggets? Tired of being treated like a short-order cook? Worried your children will never eat their broccoli? Join uh-PARENT-ly cohosts Tracy Weiner and Anne Johnsos as they share their mealtime struggles and get advice from Dr. Laura Jana, author of Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor and a Bottle of Ketchup
As part of Australia’s Kinderling Radio series, “Kinderling Conversations for Parents,” I recently had the pleasure of once again getting to sit down in Sydney with radio host extraordinaire, Shevonne Hunt for a heart-to-heart discussion about the ever-important parenting topic: young children and their (sometimes challenging) sleep habits. Feel free to tune in and listen to this 16 minute discussion.
Originally posted on my US News & World Report parenting blog (Feb 16)
THIS YEAR’S flu season is officially reaching its peak, and this year’s strain of influenza virus is cause for considerable concern, striking with a vengeance not seen in decades. It’s causing more severe illness, more hospitalizations and even more children’s deaths, as parents do what they can to try to protect their kids.
In reality, the strategies being recommended to combat this year’s flu are essentially the same as those employed in years past. While you’re likely to have heard about many of these strategies before, it’s nevertheless useful to remind ourselves of the importance of washing our hands and covering our coughs; getting everyone in the family who is 6 months or older vaccinated; and being on alert for and recognizing early the signs of the flu – such as fatigue, body aches, cough, sore throat and fever – and it’s potential complications, from sinus infections and pneumonia to heart problems, particularly in more vulnerable individuals, like the very young and very old or those with compromised immune systems.
Now that’s easy to say, and it sounds like easy enough advice to follow. Yet each year I’m left wondering why it is that, as parents, we don’t always feel confident in our approach to fighting the flu. In large part, it’s the fault of the virus responsible for causing the flu. The influenza virus is cunning in its ability to change from year to year, which makes it all the more difficult to protect against.
But I would also suggest that there are some parenting practices and commonly held parenting beliefs that, despite our best intentions, stand to get in the way when it comes to protecting our children, and ourselves, from flu’s wrath.
It’s useful to start with a clear understanding of what “the flu” actually is, and what it isn’t….
Originally posted on my US News & World Report parenting blog (Aug 17)
WHAT IF I WERE TO START this blog post with the phrase, “In a great green room…,” ask you what the brown bear sees, or simply inquire as to what very hungry caterpillars eat? I’m willing to bet that most of you, as parents (not to mention grandparents, child care providers and early educators), would be able to finish the sentence and answer the questions without pause.
I imagine that for many of you, these ever-so-simple references would likely also conjure up the colorful images and happy memories that tend to go hand in hand with reading such beloved children’s books as Margaret Wise Brown’s, “Goodnight Moon;” or “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” written by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle; and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” written and illustrated by Carle. Yet all too often, I find that discussions about early literacy move away from what we all know and love about the experience of reading aloud with young children, and towards the more literal, academic advantages. That includes getting kids familiar with “sight words” – or commonly used words kids are encouraged to memorize, or know on sight; teaching them the sounds of letters; and all of the various other nuts and bolts of learning to read.
That’s not to say efforts focused on promoting early literacy and helping young children make the necessary connections between sounds, letters and words are without benefit. After all, learning to read affords children the ability to spend the rest of their lives reading to learn. There is no question that reading aloud with young children can facilitate their learning their ABCs and help set them up for reading and life success.
Originally posted on my US News & World Report parenting blog (May 5, 2017)
AS ONE OF ONLY A FEW pediatricians at last week’s TED2017 conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, I want to let you in on a little secret I’m fairly sure most parents and conference attendees don’t know: The TED conference is actually a parentingconference.
Sure, influential people from around the globe gather to hear thought-provoking talks delivered on “the world’s largest stage.” But when you get right down to it, the 90-plus carefully curated talks collectively paint a picture of the world in which our children will live.
It is this glimpse into what the future holds for our kids that makes TED especially relevant to parents. Whether you’re the world’s greatest female athlete sharing thoughts on becoming a parent (as Serena Williams did), or a parent on the go, what unites us is our shared hopes and dreams for our children. The legacy we leave will depend on how well we prepare our children to live healthy, meaningful and productive lives in a rapidly changing, complex world. This makes parents the people most in need of knowing the direction in which the world is headed. Ironically, we are also the least likely to have enough spare time to watch a 15-minute video online. That’s why I’m so compelled to share a handful of key parenting takeaways from TED2017…
I admit it – I do well with resolutions. I truly believe that people tend to accomplish more when they have a set goal in mind. I personally love to rise to a challenge, and find that setting a formal (and preferably public) goal definitely has a way of bringing out one’s competitive nature.
So when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I have to say I’m a believer. As someone dedicated to promoting health and safety year-round, I obviously think it’s important to set goals throughout the year. But if ushering in a new year happens to give you an increased sense of motivation, then by all means, run with it because now is the perfect time to shift gears from helping your children create holiday wishlists to helping them (and you) focus on setting some realistic family goals that are sure to deliver on the promise of an even happier, healthier 2012.
Okay, so what’s the best way to figure out what one’s family goals should be? While each of your family members’ individual resolutions can be customized according to age, ability, and circumstance, I figured it might be helpful to get you started by offering you some simple family-friendly resolutions – you know, those completely do-able resolutions that don’t seem nearly as challenging as, say, signing up for a gym membership in January only to lack the willpower come March to make use of it. Or running a marathon. While there’s nothing wrong with either of those resolutions (I’ve made them both myself in years past), there’s nothing wrong with first reaching for the “low-hanging fruit” resolutions that are sure to give your family both a sense of accomplishment and a big bang for your buck when it comes to improved healthy, safety and well-being.
– Walk more. That’s right, walk more. Around the block, to the grocery store, with friends, on the treadmill – wherever and whenever you can. Running is fine, too. But if that seems a bit daunting or impractical, the important thing for kids and adults alike is to be more active in 2012. As someone who just placed my own order for a FitBit, let me add that if you and/or your children are more likely to put their best foot forward with a concrete goal (or a cool new gadget), then using a pedometer may prove to be just what it takes to get up and get going.
– Sleep more. You see – I told you these resolutions would be attainable, if not downright desirable. I mean, who doesn’t want to sleep more? But as a pediatrician married to a surgeon and therefore accustomed to dealing with the demands of both professional schedules and with the many sleep-related challenges of parenthood, I fully understand why most of us simply don’t get enough sleep. I have also become increasingly impressed with how important sleep is to one’s overall health. So whether it’s an improved bedtime routine for babies or toddlers, taking/keeping the TV set out of your child’s bedroom, keeping tabs on your teenager’s sleep habits or simply placing more value on your own sleep needs – I strongly recommend it.
– Read more. Daily, whenever possible. Not just for work, not just when your kids are required to, but for fun. Read aloud to your kids. Read quietly alongside them. Make a point of reading the newspaper. Encourage your tweens or teens to start reading it too. Read on paper or in any electronic form you choose. Regardless of what angle you take, resolving to read more will enrich your family’s new year.
– Drink more. Water, that is. Just back from a recent trip to NY where I discussed water as a key aspect of health, hydration, and tackling the obesity epidemic with a wide range of magazine editors, I decided to toss it in my resolution list. It’s not just because I think drinking more water is the one and only solution to better health, but because it strikes me as such an easy one once you and your family set your minds to it. The goal in encouraging more water consumption in large part actually relates to getting everyone (kids and parents alike) to drink less soda, less juice, and less sugary liquids in general. If your family is not in the water-drinking habit, consider committing to milk with meals and water with snacks, and making water more appealing by filtering it (typically tastes better), bottling it (re-usable water bottles are both convenient and better for the environment), or simply adding some natural flavor (a wedge of lemon/lime or even a slice of cucumber!).
– Engage more. Social networking now seems to be the key to everything from successful weight loss to professional success. Yet one of the things we risk in what is sure to be an increasingly wired (or wireless) 2012 is the lack of meaningful, personal engagement with others in our community. That’s why I firmly believe that all families should set a goal of teaching their children to more actively engage and become contributing members of society. Taking some lessons from the Helping Hands curriculum at my child care center, this can be as simple yet meaningful as having even very young children visit the Humane Society or a local retirement home; send letters of thanks to those serving in the military; and/or collect mittens, books, pennies, diapers, coats or cans of food for those less fortunate. Whatever you choose, remember that one of the most powerful lessons we stand to teach our children (and live by ourselves) is that it is our meaningful connection with others that brings the most happiness.
– Laugh more. At yourself, with your kids….the point is that while resolutions can be a good way to improve one’s health, it’s just as important to make sure that stress doesn’t get the best of you. I’ve found the best way to do this is to remember to laugh, and always remind yourself of how fortunate you are to have your family, your friends, your health, and the gift of another year.
On that note, I want to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy, healthy and accomplished new year. I’ll look forward to sharing 2012 with you and everyone in the Live Well Nebraska community.
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska
Whether you’re an Omaha parent or the First Lady of the United States, it has become all too clear that childhood obesity is a large and growing problem that warrants it’s current spot at the top of our collective parenting priority lists (not to mention our country’s). Sure, there are some bigger-picture issues at stake here than whether or not you are successful in your attempts to get your child to eat green vegetables. And yes – it can easily seem like some of the root causes of the obesity epidemic fall far outside of our parental control – from the multi-billion dollar a year business of marketing unhealthy foods to children to the concerning inadequacies of lunch programs and drastically cut physical education activities in schools. In other words, we have our work cut out for us.
I remain convinced, however, that as parents, we all still have the ability to significantly shape our children’s eating habits, teach them an healthier approach to food, and ultimately impact their overall health and nutrition. I don’t hold any misperceptions about the fact that it will take quite a bit of parental effort and commitment. But it’s well worth the effort.
Okay, so I imagine that very few, if any, parents would disagree with me thus far. And there’s certainly a cornucopia of nutrition resources out there custom-designed to make it exceedingly easy to figure out exactly how much calcium or vitamin D your child needs in any given day, what types of fats to avoid, and even how to serve your child’s nutrition up on a proportionally pleasing plate.
The problem is that few things are harder than getting a child to open his mouth when he doesn’t want to. Instilling healthy eating habits in our children isn’t just about knowing what we should be serving our kids – an admittedly very important first step in the right direction – but figuring out how to get them to play along. In other words, it’s one thing to know what it is we’re supposed to be doing and feeding our children. It’s altogether another to know how to go about doing it.
And that’s why I want to share with you several of the ten overarching peacekeeping strategies my Food Fights co-author and I distilled in order to arm all parents with the skills and approaches necessary to wage war on the childhood obesity epidemic – one French fry, grocery store meltdown, or food refusal at a time.
- Don’t fight over food. Mealtime was never meant to be contentious, and no matter how much you commit yourself to instilling in your child healthy eating habits, vow never to turn the dinner table into a battlefield. In short, this means committing to some basic ground rules about how you’re going to approach food (including those listed below), and then applying them calmly and consistently.
- Never let them see you sweat. In other words, don’t let your child know just how much parental self-worth you have resting on whether or not he eats a bite of broccoli. Studies show that the more you blatantly “push” healthy foods, the more likely your child is to resist. Conversely, I might add, the more that foods are restricted, the more likely children are to want them (and eat more when given the chance). It’s simply your job to place healthy foods in front of your child, and your child’s job to decide how much to eat.
- Try, try…try, try again. If I were really to make this point, I would write out the word “try” ten to fifteen times to add greater emphasis to the number of times it can take for a child to try a new food before accepting it. I know it may seem a bit shocking. But once you understand that calmly offering new and healthy foods on a regular and repeated basis makes a very real difference, it is usually much easier to swallow the many predictable rejections. In particular, I like taking the low-key approach of teaching children to ask for “No thank you” bites. Children get to retain a sense of control, know that they will not be forced to eat, and you accomplish your goal of exposing them to new foods.
- Out of sight, out of mind. This may seem like stating the obvious, but when it comes to your child wanting, begging, and/or whining for unhealthy foods in lieu of healthier ones, let me remind you that it is under your complete control to regulate what foods come into your homes. If you don’t want your child begging for it, then don’t buy it. Of course trips to the grocery store, visits to the grandparents, and child care (all topics addressed in detail in Food Fights) can all pose more of a challenge and will require additional consideration.
- Eat by example. I would be remiss if I didn’t make the closing (and perhaps most important) point that all the nutrition resources, no thank you bites, and dietary directives in the world won’t stand nearly the chance they would otherwise if you don’t eat by the same principles. From the time you enter parenthood, your children will be watching you, and they’re far more likely to eat as you do than as you say.
With that said, I wish you and your entire family good health and a lifetime of “peas and homini!”
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska
For good or for bad, parents today are faced with the fast paced nature of both the real world and a virtual one. Much of the virtually continuous stream of information, videos, tweets and texts we receive on a 24/7 basis relate in one way or another to what we can, should, and/or are expected to do to be good parents. And let’s face it – keeping up with all of the modern-day parenting advice would be hard enough even if all of it was fact-checked for us. Unfortunately, this is not often the case, as much of what we hear, see and read is unfiltered, potentially unfounded, and confusingly contradictory.
Having spent much of my professional career as a pediatrician increasingly committed to making sense of pediatric and parenting advice in both of these worlds, I have found that what parents often want to know from me is simply how to filter the good from the bad and separate fact from fiction.
Knowing that you all are probably as busy as I am, I decided that this week I would distill down to as few words as possible the handful of things I consider to be some of the most well-founded, important things you can do as parents can do to make your kids smarter, safer and healthier. In other words, the following is my list of the “low-hanging fruit” of parenting.
Move more. I feel the need to say this because it’s painfully obvious that it has become incredibly easy for our children (and for us) to barely move in the course of any given day. Whether it’s walking instead of driving to school (or work) or taking an evening walk around the block, getting out of the car instead of rolling your way through drive-thrus, or signing up for organized sports, joining a gym, or participating in more vigorous daily exercise regimens – every step counts towards an healthier life style.
Use restraint. Literally speaking, I’m simply referring to the use of car seats and seat belts in motor vehicles. With motor vehicle crashes clearly identified as the number one cause of death in children, and the correct use of car seats and seatbelts clearly shown to have a huge impact on reducing motor vehicle-related injuries and deaths, taking the time to buckle up comes with a huge return on your parenting investment.
Read. For every parent who has ever asked my opinion on what they can do to help their children become smarter, excel in school, or head down a path of success, reading always factors in to my answer. Reading aloud to babies, toddlers, young children and teens alike not only fosters improved language skills, but also a love of reading that will serve children well for their lifetime. One of my favorite sayings to emphasize this point is that children spend the first few years of school learning to read, and the rest of their lives reading to learn.
Sleep. For parents of infants and young children, this conversation usually focuses on getting children to fall asleep, stay asleep, sleep in their own room, and do so without requiring repeated interventions. For parents of teens, the conversation often shifts to too little and too late. But regardless of your child’s age, it is becoming convincingly clear that instilling your child with good sleep habits is not only a good thing for your own chances of getting a good night’s sleep, but your child’s overall health and well-being.
Wash your hands…and while you’re at it, remember to cover your cough (preferably with your arm rather than your hand) and vaccinate. The fact of the matter is that while modern day science and research is continually coming up with new medicines, treatments and technologies to improve our families’ health and more effectively treat disease, the simple act of teaching our children to wash their hands (which includes committing to consistently doing so ourselves) remains one of the single most effective things we can do to limit the spread of disease. So is protecting against all of the vaccine preventable diseases.
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska
I admit that I sometimes (often) sit down to my computer to get work done while at the same time leaving the TV playing in the background. It was in this context that I recently overheard a discussion on one of the national morning news shows about how numbers can define women – most notably numbers that pertain to one’s age and weight. Without paying too much additional attention to the ensuing conversation, the idea nevertheless spurred me to write a blog on the subject. In part, that’s because I think it’s a fairly sad statement on our society when someone’s weight and waistline does more to define them than their skills and accomplishments. But that’s a topic for another day.
For now, I thought I’d take this interesting concept and take a closer (and hopefully more uplifting and lighthearted) look at how various numbers have a way of defining several stage of childhood.
Newborns by the numbers. Even the instant newborns make their appearance in the outside world, many run the risk of being defined by the number of hours of labor they subjected their mothers to. That said, newborns also start out being largely defined by their birth weight – which is more often than not included in announcing a baby’s arrival. I feel compelled to note that the accompanying but often-neglected length and head circumference measurements may seem of less immediate interest to proud parents, but they’re actually of equal importance.
And then, of course, there’s the number of diapers, the numbers of hours of sleep (or lack thereof), and the numbers of daily feedings that make up the bulk of a new baby’s day. These numbers are unarguably important, but I like to remind new parents that it’s good to make sure that these numbers don’t count for more than they’re worth. After all, getting to know and love your newborn goes well beyond a singular focus on numbers.
First year figures. What often wins out in the most noticeable numbers category for infants is simply the number of times you’re likely to call and/or visit your doctor, if for no other reason than the first colds, first fevers, and first (and many subsequent) shots that typically take place during this first fun-filled year. That said, don’t let these numbers scare you. Having numerous questions is to be expected, it’s a great time to take advantage of the frequent contact to establish a healthy relationship with your pediatrician, and the five to seven well-visits (along with their associated vaccinations) and any necessary sick-visits will all serve as an integral part of insuring your child’s health and well-being , not to mention your confidence as a parent.
Toddlerhood by numbers. Toddlerhood is all about numbers. Numbers of words, number of steps, numbers of teeth, and making the celebrated association between one’s age and one’s finger count as evidenced by the skill of holding up two finger to proudly answer the commonly asked question, “How many years (or fingers) are you?” Of course this age may also unfortunately give rise to keeping count of how many times one bites ones friends before learning to curb this normal but socially unacceptable impulse. While it can be painful to live through for everyone involved, toddlers usually overcome this impulse within a matter of weeks to months.
Keeping Count for Preschoolers. Number one and number two come immediately to mind, as three is the typical age at which children master the life skill of putting their pee (number one) and poop (number two) in the potty. While using the potty is a frequent focus of the age, this is also a time when children start to figure out (please note that as the owner of a child care center as well as a pediatrician, I said start, not necessarily master) social skills involved with interacting with, playing with, and negotiating with an increasing number of friends.
Kindergarten counts. At this age, the number of new crayons in the box (with the more the better) and the number of wheels on ones bike (the fewer the better) endearingly add up to quite a lot in the world view of a kindergartener (and more than a few early elementary age children as well!).
I could keep counting, but for the sake of space and time I won’t, except to fast forward to the age at which children start middle school. I can tell you from recent parental personal experience that an impressive amount of effort (and sometimes anxiety) is directed towards remembering the numbers associated with ones newly assigned locker combination, as well as the added challenge of finding ones way to a larger number of classes in a larger number of classrooms.
There are obviously plenty more numbers that relate to each of the ages and stages of early childhood. I’m just glad that for the most part, they all generally add up to fun, meaningful, and important aspects of an healthy childhood.
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska