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Your Child

Kid’s Insomnia Linked to Mental Health Problems

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As a parent and an adult, you know how important a good night’s sleep is to one’s well being.  Children need a good night’s sleep too and if they consistently suffer from sleep problems it could affect their mental health.

A new study examined the possible connection between sleep and young children’s mental health and found that there was a link for children as young as age 4.

Researchers looked at sleep patterns and the mental health of 1,000 children starting when they were toddlers. They found that those with sleep disorders at age 4 were at increased risk for mental health problems -- such as anxiety and depression -- at age 6. They also discovered that children with mental health problems at age 4 were at increased risk for sleep disorders at age 6.

The study wasn’t designed to prove that a lack of sleep actually causes mental health issues or vice versa; the researchers could only show an association between these factors.

The most common type of sleep disorder is insomnia.  Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep was diagnosed in 17 percent of the children at age 4 and in 43 percent of them at age 6. Insomnia increased the risk of anxiety, depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 4 and the risk of behavioral problems at age 6, the study authors said.

Children with anxiety, depression, ADHD and behavioral problems at age 4 were also at increased risk for insomnia at age 6, the researchers said.

"It is common for children to have periods when they sleep poorly, but for some children, the problems are so extensive that they constitute a sleep disorder," study author Silje Steinsbekk, an associate professor and psychologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said in a university news release.

"Our research shows that it is important to identify children with sleep disorders, so that remedial measures can be taken. Sleeping badly or too little affects a child's day-to-day functioning, but we are seeing that there are also long term repercussions," she explained.

This study’s findings are not unique, previous studies have also found a connection between 4-year-olds with sleep disorders that show symptoms of mental health problems. The new study shows that this link also occurs over time and goes both ways.

It may be that both problems have similar genetic causes or share the same risk factors, the researchers theorized.

"Given that so many children suffer from insomnia, and only just over half 'outgrow it,' it is critical for us to be able to provide thorough identification and good treatment. Perhaps early treatment of mental health problems can also prevent the development of sleep disorders, since psychiatric symptoms increase the risk of developing insomnia," Steinsbekk said.

If your child has sleep problems he or she may benefit from an overnight sleep study. The study can help determine if your child has diagnosable problems such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, snoring or something more serious. Talk to your pediatrician  if you feel your child is having difficulty sleeping on a regular basis.

Source: Robert Preidt: http://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/anxiety-news-33/study-links-sleep-troubles-to-children-s-mental-health-699182.htmlanxiety-news-33/study-links-sleep-troubles-to-children-s-mental-health-699182.html

Your Child

Gluten-Free Diet Not Recommended for Healthy Children

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A “gluten-free “ label on a food product is one sure way to increase sales as the popularity of such items continues to rise.

For people with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eating gluten can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, upset stomach and bloating. However, for healthy adults and particularly children, there are many reasons to avoid going gluten-free according to a commentary recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics, by Norelle Reilly.

Dr. Norelle Reilly is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center and the director of pediatric celiac disease in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University.

In a recent Time Magazine article, Reilly lays out four reasons why healthy children should not be on a gluten-free diet.

1. Gluten is not naturally toxic except for people with celiac disease, however, in almost all children, gluten travels through the intestine without causing disease and will never lead to problems. To date, science has not shown that there is a toxin in gluten that makes it bad for our bodies. A balanced diet containing fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and a variety of carbohydrate sources is the best way for healthy children to stay healthy, Reilly notes.

2. A gluten-free diet may not provide balanced nutrition for children. Some people assume that gluten-free food and healthy food as the same thing. Not necessarily so, says Reilly.

Many gluten-free substitutes for items such as breads and cookies are actually higher in fat and calories than gluten-containing varieties. Gluten-free items such as some cereals and breads may also not be nutrient fortified to the same degree as those with gluten. Folate and B-vitamins are often added to our usual starch staples, silently protecting people whose diets may not be very balanced from deficiency. Without these quiet sources of nutrition, vitamin deficiencies could develop, she writes.

Gluten-free foods are often fiber deficient, which is important for gastrointestinal health, including maintaining regular bowel movements. Quite commonly, children who initiate a gluten-free diet become constipated. Increased consumption of rice, a common gluten substitute, may also expose children to more arsenic in their diets, as arsenic is frequently present in the earth where rice is grown.

Reilly says that growing bodies and brains require balanced nutrition. For those children who need a gluten-free diet, balance can be implemented safely and healthfully with the guidance of an experienced registered dietitian to help avoid all of these and other nutritional pitfalls.

3. Have your child tested for celiac disease before putting them on a gluten-free diet. You can’t know for sure whether your child is gluten sensitive or has celiac disease until a physician has tested them. Symptoms alone are not enough to determine whether your child has celiac disease. Being on a gluten-free diet before having your child tested can make it more difficult to determine whether he or she actually does or does not have the disease.

Reilly suggests that if you are concerned that your child may have a problem with gluten, speak to your child’s doctor before banning it from your child’s diet. A child with celiac disease needs special monitoring over time and their family members may need to be tested. Even if you plan to give the diet a try regardless of the test result, it is extremely important for your child and family’s health to know why the diet is necessary.

4. A gluten-free diet is hard to maintain and expensive. For children who require this limited diet for long-term health, parents, schools, and the medical teamwork to make the child’s experience in school and at home as easy as possible.

Reilly notes that the children she has treated for celiac disease would trade in their gluten-free diet in an instant if they knew gluten would not make them sick.

In addition she adds, gluten-free foods are incredibly expensive and for many families the diet can be challenging to financially sustain in the long run.

Many adults prefer a gluten-free diet, but Reilly cautions that parents should check with their pediatrician or family doctor before putting their healthy children on the same eating plan.

Story source: Norelle Reilly, http://time.com/4329517/4-reasons-why-your-kids-should-not-be-gluten-free/

Your Child

Flavored Spray May Help Pills Go Down A Little Easier!

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When your child is sick, chances are you have a difficult time getting him or her to swallow their prescription pills. It’s a problem parents and caregivers have in common- getting a child’s medication into their body. Liquids typically come in several flavors, which can be helpful, but pills are another matter.

Some pills are tiny and smooth – making the job easier. But others can be large powdery and oddly shaped. To make things worse, they may need to be taken throughout the day. So, what’s a parent to do?

The results of a small study may be just what the doctor ordered. Researchers have found that a flavored spray, called Pill Glide, may make pill taking a lot more flavorful -- and maybe even enjoyable.

"There was a significant decrease in the difficulty of taking medicine with these sprays," said Dr. Catherine Tuleu, a pharmaceuticals researcher at University College London, who conducted the research with colleagues at Great Ormond Street Hospital in the UK. "The kids liked to be in charge and to change the flavor."

What is Pill Glide? It’s a spray that is squirted into the mouth to lubricate and add flavor to tablets and capsules to make them easier to swallow. It's available in five flavors: strawberry, peach, grape, bubble gum and orange, with strawberry coming through as the favorite in the trial. Its ingredients include artificial flavors and sweeteners. This spray was used in the trial study with results published in the journal Pediatrics.

Tuleu and her team tried it among 25 children ages 6 to 17 that were receiving long-term therapies for HIV or organ transplants and who were transitioning from liquid medication to solids or were known to struggle with swallowing pills.

Keeping diaries, the study participants used a six-point scale to note the levels of difficulty they experienced when taking their regular tablets for two weeks and then using the Pill Glide sprays for one week. The final analysis was conducted on 10 children who had kept complete diary entries.

The flavored sprays were found to decrease the level of difficulty by a score of 0.93, almost one full level on the scale used by the team.

"The swallowing of medicine in the form of pills often poses a real challenge for a good many children, making this study of definite interest," said Dr. Laura Jana, a pediatrician and director of innovation at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health, who was not involved in the research. "Something as seemingly simple as improving the taste and ease of swallowing a pill can have a significant impact on the proper and effective use of medicines."

The trial was very small and limited especially when you look at the number of participants, their health issues and the age group. But it may still be a process worth considering.

Tuleu acknowledges these limitations, and in addition to trying Pill Glide among larger groups, she wants to test its benefits in children who are less familiar with taking pills and who start out on solid pills, rather than transitioning from liquids.

"It would be interesting to try it with more naïve patients," she said. "If swallowing is not the challenge anymore, giving medication could be a lot easier."

Will this product make it easier for all kids to take a pill? Probably not. But this new approach may help some kids get past their difficulty with swallowing larger, more uncomfortable pills. It’s worth a try!

Story source: Meera Senthilingam, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/01/health/kids-swallowing-pills-spray/

Your Child

Teaching Kids About the Meaning of Memorial Day

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For many kids, Memorial Day is just another three-day weekend celebrated with family bar-b-cues, a visit to the lake or pool, watching the latest action movie or any other of the numerous ways people spend the beginning of warm weather and a holiday. This year it falls on May 29th.

What is often lost in the celebrations is the meaning of Memorial Day and why it is an important reminder of sacrifice and service. Talking to your child about the history of Memorial Day and what it stands for can help them learn about the immeasurable cost of the freedoms they enjoy.

The preamble to Memorial Day was Decoration Day, established in 1868 – three years after the Civil War ended. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

Local ceremonies were also held across the northern and southern parts of the United States, honoring union and confederate soldiers.  It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May.

In December 2000,  “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” was passed to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.

The National Moment of Remembrance asks all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.

Memorial Day doesn’t have to be only a day of remembrance for our veterans, but also a day to think about and celebrate the lives of family and friends that have been lost.

Most children learn why we celebrate Christmas and other religious holidays. They learn early about what the July 4th holiday is all about. Many a child’s first play is the re-enactment of the pilgrims and Native American Indians gathering to share food on Thanksgiving. But Memorial Day is sometimes given a vague description or is scrambled in commercials promoting holiday savings.

Enjoy this 3-day holiday break from the stress of school and work but also take a little time to talk about the meaning of Memorial Day with your child. And perhaps, stop for a moment of silence at 3:00 pm in remembrance of those who have lost their lives because of their service to our country.

Story source: https://www.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp

 

 

Your Child

Kid’s Allergies Linked to Depression and Anxiety

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According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 40 percent of U.S. children suffer from allergies. It is the third most common chronic disease in kids under the age of 18.

A new study suggests that children who have allergies at an early age are more likely to have problems with anxiety and depression than those that do not.

One reason may be that children with allergies tend to keep their troubles to themselves or  “internalize” them.

“I think the surprising finding for us was that allergic rhinitis has the strongest association with abnormal anxiety/depression/internalizing scores compared to other allergic diseases,” said lead author Dr. Maya K. Nanda of the division of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology, at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

Rhinitis is more commonly called “hay fever” and includes symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy or watery eyes.

The researchers studied 546 children who had skin tests and exams at age one, two, three, four and seven and whose parents completed behavioral assessments at age seven. They looked for signs of sneezing and itchy eyes, wheezing or skin inflammation related to allergies.

Parents answered 160 questions about their child’s behaviors and emotions, including how often they seemed worried, nervous, fearful, or sad.

Researchers found that the four-year–old children with hay fever symptoms or persistent wheezing tended to have higher depressive or anxiety scores than others at age seven.

The more allergies a child had, the higher the anxiety and depression scores.

“This study can't prove causation. It only describes a significant association between these disorders, however we have hypotheses on why these diseases are associated,” Nanda told Reuters Health by email.

Another reason for the association may be that children with allergic diseases may be at increased risk for abnormal internalizing scores due to an underlying biological mechanism, or because they modify their behavior in response to the allergies, she said.

Other studies support the idea that that a biologic mechanism involving allergy antibodies trigger production of other substances that affect the parts of the brain that control emotions.

In a 2005 study, Teodor T. Postolache, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the mood and anxiety program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore found that peaks of tree pollen increased with levels of suicide in women.

Postolache says allergic rhinitis is known to cause specialized cells in the nose to release cytokines, a kind of inflammatory protein. Animal and human studies alike suggest that cytokines can affect brain function, triggering sadness, malaise, poor concentration, and increased sleepiness.

The new study took race, gender and other factors into account, “so the strong association between allergic disease and internalizing disorder we found is definitely present,” Nanda said.

The severity of mental health symptoms varied in this study. Some children had anxiety and depression that needs treatment, while others were at risk and required monitoring, she said.

“We think this study calls for better screening by pediatricians, allergists, and parents of children with allergic disease,” Nanda said. “Too often in my clinic I see allergic children with clinical anxiety (or) depressive symptoms; however, they are receiving no care for these conditions.”

“We don't know how treatment for allergic diseases may effect or change the risk for internalizing disorders and we hope to study this in the future,” Nanda said.

Experts hope that if parents know that allergies may contribute to their child’s mood or behavior, they will be more likely to keep a closer eye on their child for signs of depression or anxiety and seek treatment if necessary.

The study was presented in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Sources: Kathryn Doyle, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-kids-allergies-depression-idUSKBN0UC1TW20151230

David Freeman, http://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/allergies-depression

 

Your Child

Exercise: Reducing Depression - Behavioral Problems in Kids

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Two new studies examined whether kids that have serious behavioral disorders or who may be at a higher risk for depression might benefit from exercise. The results showed positive outcomes for both sets of children participating in the studies.

For one study, researchers focused on children and teenagers with conditions that included autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression.

They looked at whether structured exercise during the school day -- in the form of stationary "cybercycles" -- could help ease students' behavioral issues in the classroom. Cybercycles are stationary bikes equipped with virtual reality exercising games.

Over a period of seven weeks, the study found it did. Kids were about one-third to 50 percent less likely to act out in class, compared to a seven-week period when they took standard gym classes.

Lead researcher, April Bowling, said the results were meaningful.

"On days that the students biked, they were less likely to be taken out of the classroom for unacceptable behavior," said Bowling, who is now an assistant professor of health sciences at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

"That's important for their learning, and for their relationships with their teachers and other kids in class," she said.

The study was done at a school that enrolls kids with behavioral health disorders, many of whom also have learning disabilities. Their usual gym classes focused mainly on skill building, with only short bursts of aerobic activity at most, according to the researchers.

For seven weeks, 103 students used the stationary bikes during their usual gym class -- twice a week, for 30 to 40 minutes. Their classroom behavior was tracked and compared with a seven-week period without the bikes, when they had gym class as usual.

Overall, the study found, the students were better able to control their behavior in the classroom during the stationary-bike trial.

Another recent study from Norway, adds more evidence to the benefits of exercise in children. Researchers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology measured activity levels in 800 six year olds who were asked about their exercise habits and any depressive symptoms. Follow ups were recorded at 8 and 10 years of age. Overall, children who exercised more, at a moderate to vigorous intensity, showed fewer depressive symptoms years later.

While the researchers noted that exercise alone isn’t a cure for depression, it has been shown to alleviate some depression symptoms.

“I think that physicians, parents and policy makers should facilitate physical activity among children,” says Tonje Zahl, the study’s lead author. “The focus should be on physical activity not just for the here and now benefits, such as improving blood pressure, heart rate and other physical benefits, but for the mental health benefits over the long term,” she says. All children should be targeted for this, she adds.

Experts say there are several theories as to why exercise may help kids control their behaviors. Bowling suggests that exercise may redirect the brain away from worrying.

Another theory is that exercise affects neurotransmitters -- chemical messengers in the brain that help regulate mood and behavior.

Bowling notes that it’s unfortunate that many schools are focusing so much on academics that they are cutting out gym and recess.

"If we really want our kids to do well, they need more movement during the school day, not less", she said

If children are unable to get the exercise they need at school, there’s always active playtime, walking and sports after school that can help provide some of the same benefits.

Both studies were published in the online journal, Pediatrics.

Story source: Amy Norton, http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/news/20170109/exercise-an-antidote-for-behavioral-issues-in-students#1

Alice Park, http://time.com/4624768/exercise-depression-kids/

 

 

Your Child

FDA Warning: High Lead Levels in Herbal Remedy

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The Food and Drug Administration is issuing a warning to parents and caregivers about high lead levels found in the herbal remedy, Balguti Kasaria Ayurvedic Medicine.

The herbal remedy is marketed for use in infants and children for various conditions such as rickets, cough and cold, worms, and teething. According to the product packaging, the product claims to help with digestion and bowel movement and improve the immune system.

The North Carolina Division of Public Health first reported high levels of lead after testing the product.

In addition, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services notified the FDA that two children were found to have high levels of lead associated with the use of this product. The families of the children affected stated that they had the product mailed to them from India. At this time, the FDA has received one report of developmental delays in a child who was administered this product.   

Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world's oldest holistic healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India.

It’s based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Its main goal is to promote good health, not fight disease. But treatments may be geared toward specific health problems.

In the United States, it’s considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Parents and caregivers should familiarize themselves with the symptoms of lead poisoning. High lead levels have also been found in toys, costume jewelry and other products that children use.

The symptoms are:

  • Developmental delay
  • Learning difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sluggishness and fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Hearing loss
  • Seizures
  • Eating things, such as paint chips, that aren't food (pica)

Lead poisoning symptoms in newborns - Babies exposed to lead before birth might:

  • Be born prematurely
  • Have lower birth weight
  • Have slowed growth

The FDA is urging parents and caregivers to stop giving the product to children and to consult a healthcare professional. Balguti Kesaria is sold online and made by different companies, including Kesari Ayurvedic Pharmacy in India. The product has also been mailed or brought into the United States.

Story sources: Da Hee Han, PharmD, http://www.empr.com/safety-alerts-and-recalls/balguti-kesaria-ayurvedic-medicine-high-lead-levels/article/680132/

http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/ayurvedic-treatments#1

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lead-poisoning/symptoms-causes/dxc-20275054

Your Child

Sports Variety Recommended to Avoid Overuse Injuries

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Kids who participate in a variety of sports are more likely to benefit from lifelong physical activity according to a clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Researchers also noted that children, who specialize in a single sport at a younger age, are at a higher risk for overuse injuries from training as well as increased stress and burnout.

In its report, “Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes, “the AAP reviewed patterns of youth sports and found the culture has changed dramatically over the past 40 years.

"More kids are participating in adult-led organized sports today, and sometimes the goals of the parents and coaches may be different than the young athletes," said lead author Joel S. Brenner, MD, FAAP, past chairperson of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.

"Some are aiming for college scholarships or a professional athletic career, but those opportunities are rare," Dr. Brenner said. "Children who play multiple sports, who diversify their play, are more likely to enjoy physical activity throughout their lives and more successful in achieving their athletic goals."

The AAP suggests that kids participate in several sports and delay specializing in one particular sport until late adolescence.  The academy also advocates banning the practice of ranking athletes nationally and recruiting for college before they reach their late high school years.

About 60 million children age 6-18 participate in organized sports annually, according to the 2008 National Council of Youth Sports. Of those, about 27 percent participated in only one sport, the council found. Increasingly, children specialize in one sport early and play year-round, often on multiple teams. By age 7, some participate in select or travel leagues that are independent of school-sponsored programs.

About 70 percent of children drop out of organized sports by age 13, research shows.

While there are a variety of reasons why kids may choose to drop out of sports, Brenner believes stress may play a role.

"One reason could be pressure to perform better and lack of enjoyment due to a variety of reasons, including a lack of playing time," Dr. Brenner said.

During the recent Olympic games in Rio, sports such as figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics and diving gained international attention and praise. There is no doubt that these remarkable athletes have been training diligently since they were children. While few will achieve the kinds of success these athletes have, it hasn’t stopped them from trying.

Youth athletes often begin their competitive sports careers as early as age seven, with some youth participating in organized sports activities as early as age four, if not sooner. With an estimated 25 million scholastic, and another 20 million organized community-based youth programs in the United States, the opportunity for injury is enormous.

That is not to say that children should avoid sports, in fact, physical activity is necessary for normal growth and good health. However, when young children specialize in one particular sport and the activity level becomes too intense or too excessive in a short time period, tissue breakdown and injury can occur.

These overuse injuries used to be seen frequently in adult recreational athletes, but are now being seen in children. The single biggest factor contributing to the dramatic increase in overuse injuries in young athletes is the focus on more intense, repetitive and specialized training at much younger ages.

The AAP has these recommendations for young athletes and their parents:

•       Delay sports specialization until at least age 15-16 to minimize risks of overuse injury.

•       Encourage participation in multiple sports.

•       If a young athlete has decided to specialize in a single sport, a pediatrician should discuss the child's goals to determine whether they are appropriate and realistic.

•       Parents are encouraged to monitor the training and coaching environment of "elite" youth sports programs.

•       Encourage a young athlete to take off at least three months during the year, in increments of one month, from their particular sport. They can still remain active in other activities during this time.

•       Young athletes should take one to two days off per week to decrease chances of injury.

"The ultimate goal of sports is for kids to have fun and learn lifelong physical activity skills," Dr. Brenner said. "We want kids to have more time for deliberate play, where they can just go out and play with their friends and have fun."

The AAP report was published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Story sources: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/AAP-Clinical-Report-Young-Children-Risk-Injury-in-Single-Sport-Specialization.aspx

http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/kids-sports-injuries-numbers-are-impressive

 

Your Child

Kids: Safe Lawn Care

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This is the time of year when kids are most likely to be playing in the yard. Daylight hours are longer and winter’s chill is fading fast or gone.  It’s also the time when insects and weeds make an appearance, demanding some type of control.

All pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides are toxic on some level. Along with killing pests and weeds, they can also harm you, your children, your pets, and any wildlife on your lawn.

Researchers have noted that young children are especially at risk from pesticides. Their bodies and immune systems are still developing. They are also more likely to spend time outside on the lawn, playing or crawling and coming in contact with any pesticides used there.

As population growth and sub-division building increases, these chemicals have increased in usage.

 However, pesticides, herbicides and insecticides are not the only ways to have a welcoming lawn and insect control. If you must use some pesticides, you can help keep your family safe by using them with care, and only when needed.

Lawn care starts with the basics. When your lawn is healthy, there’s less of a chance for weeds and pests. Pests often mean that the soil is lacking nutrients. Without healthy soil, grass and other plants have a harder time growing and staying healthy. A soil test will tell you what the pH level is and whether your soil needs extra nutrients. Most grasses do best in a soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. If you find that your soil needs help or a pH adjustment, you can add nutrients as needed.

Compost is a healthier option for adding nutrients than many chemical fertilizers. Most lawns can use a good fertilizing at least once a year. You can top-dress with a quarter- to a half-inch of compost. Or look for fertilizer that's labeled "slow release" or "natural organic" fertilizer.

A soil test will tell you what the pH level is and whether your soil needs extra nutrients. Most grasses do best in a soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. If you find that your soil needs help or a pH adjustment, you can add nutrients as needed.

You can also do online research about what kind of grass grows best in your part of the country. County extension offices often have an abundance of material on grasses, flowers and tree types that your area is compatible with and need less watering.

Mowing can have a dramatic effect on lawns. By leaving your grass a little longer -- usually between 2 ½ and 3 ½ inches -- you can usually improve your lawn's health. This is because the leaves of longer grass have more access to sunlight, which helps the grass grow thicker and create deeper roots.

Longer grass is better for your soil, since it provides more shade and helps the soil retain moisture. It also makes it more difficult for weeds to grow.

When pests appear, many experts agree that integrated pest management (IPM) is the most effective and environmentally friendly way to control pests. Basically, this means using holistic ways to treat pests when possible, such as mowing your lawn higher to shade out weeds or planting more disease-resistant types of grasses or plants, and only using pesticides when needed.

Here are a few suggestions to try before you reach for the pesticide:

- Give nature a little time to work. Damaged parts of your lawn may bounce back over time. And most lawn and garden pests have natural enemies that will help control pests. For example, ladybugs and praying mantises eat other bugs while not damaging your lawn or garden.

- Pull out weeds using a long-handled weed puller. It's usually easier than by hand.

- Vinegar can also be used to kill weeds.

- Mulch garden beds to prevent weeds.

- Remove diseased plants so the problem doesn't spread.

If you do decide to use a pesticide, follow these guidelines to help keep your family safe:

- Make sure you know what kind of pest you're dealing with so you can choose the right type of pesticide. Your local extension agent or other local lawn expert can help you identify the problem. There are also organic lawn and pest care companies.

- Don't treat the whole lawn if it’s unnecessary. Use pesticides just where you have the problem.

- Read the label on the pesticide carefully and follow the instructions.

- Wear gloves, and long pants and sleeves while using the pesticide to protect your skin. Wash clothing separately before wearing them again.

- Keep children and pets away from the area for the time recommended on the label.

- If you hire a lawn care service, find one that uses an IPM approach to lawn care or uses organic or chemical-free processes.

Fleas and ticks are some of the most annoying pests during summer and can be difficult to control. 

Fleas and ticks prefer a moist environment. Overwatering is an invitation to these pests. One of the safest ways to treat your yard is the application of Diatomaceous Earth (often just called DE). Diatomaceous earth, which is available at garden centers, is crushed rock that contains the fossilized remains of diatoms, an alga. The hard-shelled alga grates against the fleas and kills them mechanically, not chemically. Don’t buy the DE that is intended for pools; it has been chemically treated and isn’t for use around pets. DE is easy to use by sprinkling areas in the yard where fleas are likely to congregate, such as your dog’s favorite hangouts. Wear a filter mask when spreading the fine powder and keep your dog inside while treating the yard.

Another natural way to treat your yard is by using beneficial nematodes, microscopic round worms that are safe for your family and your pets. Along with fleas, nematodes kill weevils, crane flies, grubs, corn borers, and other vegetable garden pests. The nematodes are microscopic so you won’t see them; you’ll purchase them on a small sponge that contains about one million live nematodes, enough for about 3,000 square feet of yard space.

After soaking the sponge in water, you’ll spray the yard with the mixture. You can purchase the nematodes as far in advance as about a week prior to the yard application; just keep the package in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

Organic lawn care can be a little more laborious at the beginning, but as your soil becomes healthier– less and less time is needed to maintain it.

Having a safer lawn may mean that you learn to live with a weed or two. But even healthy lawns have a few weeds and pests. Knowing that your kids are safe when playing hide-and-seek or leapfrog should make any weeds that do pop up a little easier to tolerate.

Story sources: http://www.webmd.com/children/lawn-care#1

Paris Permenter, John Bigley http://www.petsafe.net/learn/10-ways-to-prevent-pests-naturally

 

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DR SUE'S DAILY DOSE

Count your blessings this Thanksgiving!

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