Toddlers and Furniture Tip-Over Risk

The combination of toddlers and furniture such as dressers and bookshelves that are not properly secured can make for a particularly concerning and potentially dangerous combination. That’s why I was more than happy to share some parenting and “toddler brain” insights with Consumer Reports’ Rachel Rabkin Peachman about this very important safety topic.

Nov 5, 2018 by Rachel Rabkin Peachman

After her 2-year-old son, Shane, died from a furniture tip-over in 2011, Lisa Siefert started attending health fairs and other events to hand out furniture wall anchor kits – delicate-looking hardware packaged like picture hooks that are meant to secure furniture to walls.

She was tormented by the idea that families with small children didn’t know about this hidden tip-over danger in their homes. So spreading the word became her life’s work. Now, six years after……(read more)

Sleep Challenges: Parenting advice on what to do when toddlers fight their “day sleep”

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

School-Readiness: Send Kindergarteners to School with These Key Social and Emotional Skills

Originally posted on my US News & World Report parenting blog (Aug 3)

FOR ALL PARENTS OF soon-to-be kindergarteners, by now, you’re well-acquainted with all the work that goes into preparing a child for school. Kindergarten readiness has long been associated with the ABCs and 123s, and understandably so. Mastering skills such as being able to count and recite the alphabet, and knowing one’s shapes and colors all serve to lay a strong foundation for reading, writing and arithmetic.

That said, it’s worth noting that an ability to develop and maintain relationships has recently been added to this list of so-called IQ skills. Its addition makes clear that social and emotional skills, along with several other skills often misleadingly described as “soft” and “non-cognitive,” are now being acknowledged as critical when it comes to school readiness.

Honing the ability to focus and pay attention, be a good listener, share, take turns and play nice with others may seem like common sense. Yet these types of “other” skills are now collectively being recognized to be of equal, if not greater importance, than IQ skills by everyone from educators, pediatricians and neuroscientists to economists, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

With that in mind, it’s important as the new school year begins that parents integrate teaching kids what I like to refer to as QI (think positive “life force”) skills as well, while helping them develop as students. This is something that you’ll want to do, of course, not just before their first day, but as they continue to grow and develop, both in the classroom and outside of it. Here’s a breakdown of QI skills – which I’ve also outlined in my book “The Toddler Brain” and my children’s book, “Jumping Into Kindergarten you’ll want to be sure to encourage and cultivate: ….

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Biting: What To Do When Toddlers Bite

Originally posted on my US News & World Report parenting blog (Dec 11)

A CONCERNED MOTHER recently reached out to a large virtual support group of fellow moms to seek advice regarding a distressing incident involving her young child. She described all sorts of challenges that commonly face working moms today, from the adjustment involved in heading back to work to all-important considerations regarding child care. But at the heart of this particular discussion was a subject that I have long found to be of universal interest to parents and others who take care of young kids: biting.

The virtual response this mom got to her tale of woe was impressive: Hundreds of other moms weighed in, sharing their own biting experiences, insights and frustrations. As I’ve found over several decades interacting with young children and their caregivers, biting can become the bane of a parent’s existence – whether you’re upset your child has been bitten, or the frustrated parent of a biter.

To tackle this issue, I’ve found it most useful for everyone involved to step away from the particular situation at hand – at least for a moment – and start with a clear understanding of what biting does, and doesn’t, represent.

The best way I’ve found to explain it is that biting happens to be the least socially acceptable of all of the predictable and developmentally normal behaviors of early childhood. The thought of one child trying to take a bite out of another child has come to be perceived as far more distasteful than, say, hitting, pinching, pushing, kicking, shrieking or any of a whole host of less-than-desirable toddler behaviors. There’s something about the discovery of a human bite mark on one’s child that parents find especially disturbing. However, a young child’s predilection to bite both friends and foes isn’t abnormal.

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Books and Young Children – 5 Reasons You Should Read Aloud to Your Kids

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.

Read more….

Parenting & TED: Key Parenting Takeaways From the TED2017 Conference

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…


Taking a Page from the Preschool Playbook

As an author myself, I have always had a very healthy respect for the fact that people not only judge books by their covers, but that coming up with just the right title can make or break a book. Much like the marketing slogans you simply can’t get out of your head (think “where’s the beef?” or “yo quiero, Taco Bell”), a really great book title can convey the essence of a book long after the details contained within are all but forgotten.

Whether I’m interacting with business leaders or functioning in my role as a pediatrician, early educator, or parent – the book title that keeps coming to my mind is Robert Fulghum’s All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. This was certainly true when I sat down to catch up on the morning’s national news and saw the lead story about Rutgers University’s head basketball coach “behaving badly.”

My first reaction to the videos, which if you didn’t see them can be summarized as a whole lot of yelling, kicking, shoving, name calling (in the form of homophobic slurs) was to find them quite disturbing. My immediate thought was that perhaps the coach – who was reportedly instructed to get some remedial sensitivity training – had missed learning a few really important lessons in early childhood. What would clearly have served him well was simply to take a page or two from what I call the “Preschool Playbook.”

Having clearly recognized many years ago that what we teach children in early childhood is immensely important to their future life success, my strong belief that what happens in Preschool does not stay in preschool, but rather impacts children’s social, emotional, and cognitive competency for life. This belief is now being supported by everyone from the top brain scientists and academic institutions in the world to the military, the juvenile justice system, and the business community.

With respect to the representative viral video footage released by ESPN on Tuesday, let me just share with you a few fundamentally important lessons we routinely teach from said preschool playbook, and let you be the judge of just how important they are for future life success.

  1. Keep your hands to yourself. The fact of the matter is that children are not born with the ability to control their impulses. While this leads predictably to a certain amount of predictable hitting, biting, throwing and other socially undesirable behaviors, the ability to overcome these urges is unquestionably important for future life success. That said, most children who get proper encouragement and teaching of this important life skill, can be expected to master the impulse to push, grab, throw and/or shove sometime between the age of three or four.
  2. Use your words. Early childhood language development isn’t simply a matter of how early and many words a child can master for the sake of parental bragging rights, but rather how many words a child has at their disposal so that they can better communicate and interact with others. Every parent and child care provider knows the challenge of having a toddler who knows what they want, but has yet to develop the language skills to communicate it. The predictable result? A short fuse, frequent and unexplained “meltdowns,” temper tantrums, and all of the other behaviors so common during toddlerhood and what has long been referred to as “the terrible twos.” By age three, however, children can be expected to reach such fundamentally important developmental milestones as following instructions with 2 or 3 steps, carry on conversations using at least 2 to 3 word sentences, and talk well enough for strangers to understand them most of the time.
  3. If you can’t say something nice…. I’m willing to bet that the second half of these useful words to live by goes without saying. Preschool is all but defined as a time when children are learning and testing out social dynamics. They may (and often do) say some hurtful things to each other, but usually to test them out and see what happens when they say them. When in the care of adults who help them learn what is and isn’t socially acceptable, children soon learn necessary skills such as empathy and the awareness of how what they say effects others. As the parent of a teenage athlete, I’ve often wondered if the “old school” (loosely translated = belittling) coaches perhaps either missed this lesson or simply forgot it.
  4. Use your indoor voice. Sure, this phrase is often applied in preschool to the goal of keeping the decibel level down to a manageable level in closed spaces. But it is also a very important skill to remember when dealing with conflict and disagreement. In fact, whenever I help parents or teachers learn to instruct children more effectively, I routinely remind them that no one – child, adult, or college basketball player – responds well to being screamed or yelled at.

While the Rutgers basketball coach happens to be the story of the day, it is my sincere hope that the public interest fueled by social media isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan. Unless we want to raise a generation of adults who push, shove, belittle and have little-to-no impulse control, can’t control their reactions under stress, and whose overall behavior we find equally as disturbing as what we’ve just witnessed by the Rutgers basketball coach, we need to permanently raise our collective awareness of just how important early childhood education and stop discounting the importance of the preschool playbook.

Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska

Arming teachers with what they really need…pencils, books, and healthy, school-ready children!

There’s no ignoring it. The topic is everywhere. Our country is engaged in a national debate about gun control, and in many cases, whether or not we should arm our teachers. I certainly have concerns about putting guns in closer proximity to our children, since the absence of guns from their homes and communities has been proven the most effective way of preventing firearm-related injuries within this age group. And while the conversation about gun control is long overdue, I feel compelled to point out that there is a more important discussion when it comes to arming teachers.

Far less controversial and already proven “arms” exist, and we actually know a lot about what works when it comes to ensuring our children stay safe and healthy while at school. Here are a few ideas.

Books. Helping children grow up with a love of reading in a literacy-rich environment is crucial for their future success and well being. Every educator and pediatrician I’ve met agrees – children must spend their first few years of school learning to read in order to spend the rest of their lives reading to learn. The sad fact is that far too many child care settings and elementary schools lack the books (or the budget) needed to make this happen. And Omaha is not immune to this problem.

Breakfast. As the co-author of Food Fights, a book that offers solutions to kid-related nutritional challenges, it should come as no surprise that I believe that good nutrition (all day every day) is essential for kids (and adults, for that matter). It’s needed for good physical health, concentration and the ability to learn. The fact of the matter is, hungry children simply don’t learn as well as others. So it’s time to ask the tough questions: How do we provide all children, especially those who are disadvantaged, with a nutritious breakfast?

School nurses and other health professionals. Our health and ability to learn are inextricably intertwined, especially in our children’s earliest years. Unfortunately, budget cuts often leave our schools with little, if any, access to a school nurse or other health professional. Even fewer child care centers have this much-needed access, despite the existence of clear justification for these health consultants.

Vaccines and other germ-fighting tools. Making sure children and teachers are fully vaccinated is so important. This also means insuring measures are in place to limit the spread of infection and missed school days. We need to arm our teachers not only with the paper and pencils, but with vaccinated children, cleaning supplies and disinfecting procedures. Access to hand washing sinks, soap, hand sanitizer, bleach water and/or disinfecting wipes are small investments that can yield big returns.

Children who are ready-to-learn. Key words here: when they enter kindergarten. We have irrefutable evidence that proves investing in early childhood and a strong foundation is hugely important for safety, health and lifelong well being. We also know this foundation must be laid in the earliest years of a child’s life – well before he or she enters kindergarten. That’s why efforts such as First Five Nebraska and Educare are so crucial.

Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska