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Daily Dose

Bullying

1:30 to read

Schools around the country are opening their doors as a new school year begins. While excitement and a bit of anxiety are typical emotions for children as they find out their new classes and teachers, there are a group of students who have tremendous anxiety about going back to school….those children who have been victims of bullying.

 

It depends which study you read but somewhere between 10-29% of students report having been bullied. This represents around 13 million kids.  Some studies also show that somewhere around 6-10% of school aged children may be chronic victims of bullying.  No matter the number or statistic, bullying is an ongoing problem among school aged children and may have long last effects on both the child who has bullied as well as for the child who was bullied. 

 

Bullying by definition is “unwanted aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves either a real or perceived power imbalance”. Bullying behaviors are also typically repetitive. Boys are more likely to be bullies and may bully boys or girls while girls tend to bully other girls more often. 

 

There are different types of bullying. It may be physical (not as common), verbal, exclusionary, or cyberbullying.  All of these types of bully behaviors cause psychological and/or physical distress for the victims.  Victims of bullying are more likely to miss school and will have absences for “unknown” reasons where they may just report “not feeling well”.  These children  may often have frequent headaches and stomach aches without any physical findings.  I find that in many cases of bullying a child has been “well all summer” and the physical distress returns once school resumes. Victims of bullying also report difficulty in school with focus and concentration as well as depression and isolation.

 

The majority of bullying takes place at school, especially at times when there may be less supervision by teachers…during recess, lunch time,  bathroom breaks, and on playgrounds.  Unfortunately with the advent of cyberbullying and the use of cell phones, tablets and computers to send mean texts or emails more and more bullying may be occurring outside of school. 

 

Just as teachers need to be aware of bullying at school, parents need to know what their children are doing online. Now is another good time to discuss or re-visit the issue of online bullying and review your own family rules for posting or texting, reminding your child that anything they post may be seen by anyone. Don’t post or send anything to anyone that could hurt or embarrass themselves or others. It just takes one person forwarding a message for it to become “viral” and it will remain in that “mysterious cloud” forever!

 

Prevention of bullying requires that students, teachers, administrators and parents all work together.  Encourage your child to report any bullying behavior or concerns that they have and to get the school year off to a good start. 

 

One last statistic: parents who are involved with their children (including their online lives) and have clear and concise rules are less likely to have children who are either those who bully or are victims of bullying.  

 

  

Daily Dose

Over-scheduling Your kids

1:30 to read

Most schools in my area are starting in the next week or so….which also means after school activities are also getting ready to begin. Is your child going to be over or under scheduled?  It is sometimes difficult to find a happy medium.

 

I am still a big believer in the “one sport” per season rule and one other activity..maybe two if the third activity does not require a weekend game or practice.  So, what does this look like for a child in elementary school….soccer, fall baseball or football for the fall season, as well as girl scouts, boy scouts, debate team, chess team, and then maybe piano or flute lessons?  You can change that up in anyway and substitute dance, gymnastics, volleyball, a foreign language class…but you get the picture. In this way your child should have several days a week with “NOTHING” to do after school…except go outside and play!  This gives the parent or caregiver a break as well from driving all around to transport to the venue for the practice or game.

 

I hear so many complaints from parents who are in a constant state of stress from trying to figure out transportation for their child to the soccer practice that conflicts with the football practice and the lacrosse practice. This also requires trying to  juggle the multiple games on the weekend that go on for hours one after the next, and even on Sunday mornings.  When I hear the parents complain about this ridiculous schedule I am also seeing the children who are over tired, burnt out and may even have stomach aches and headaches due to the stress of being over scheduled.

 

While every parent is well intended and wanting their child to have as many opportunities as possible in both athletic and other extracurricular activities, a parent also needs to sometimes say “no”.  Discussing the logistics as well as the time commitment for each activity, in an age appropriate manner, may help a family decide which activity stays and which one is “punted”.

 

So….sit down before you and your child are overwhelmed and pick the activities that you will do this fall…but leave some room for being bored. Boredom is a noun that we need to hear more often.

 

Daily Dose

Sleep

1:30 to read

Back to school bedtime routines are very important!  Now that kids are having to get up, (often before the sun comes up) going to bed on time makes everyone in the house wake up in a better frame of mind and mood for the day ahead.   

 

Bed time battles are typical for a toddler who has learned to ask for “one more book”, or for the elementary school child who swears “they are not tired” but who falls asleep during bath time.  But who knew there would be even more battles with teens and their electronics??

 

Numerous studies have shown that electronics disrupt sleep.  But, trying to convince your adolescent son or daughter that they need more sleep is a daily struggle. While the studies on sleep recommend that teens get between 8 to 9 hours of sleep, most teens are not even close to that!  (90% report less than 9 hours).

 

During the summer teens keep all sorts of crazy hours and many get the majority of their sleep during what we would consider to be “daytime” hours…as they go to bed at 2 or 3 am and sleep past noon.  So, the minute that school resumes after summer vacation they already have sleep issues trying to “re-adjust” their biological clocks…and then you throw in the use of electronics right before bed and you have the perfect storm for sleep deprivation and daytime fatigue.

 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that “adequate sleep duration on a regular basis leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life and mental and physical health”.  There isn’t a parent around who doesn’t want happy, rested, studious and healthy kids…of all ages. If you throw in less moodiness for teens who get more sleep most parents would sign their teens up on the spot.

 

Why do we all need to disconnect from electronics in order to have better sleep?  That blue light from the electronic screen…of any shape for or fashion works against sleep. It signals the brain to suppress melatonin secretion, which is the hormone that makes us get sleepy at the end of the day. The light from the screen also confuses the brain of it being daytime and increases alertness which may delay sleep…even after turning off the screen.

 

Start the school year with the family rule, parents included, that all screens (phones, tablets, computers) will be off and docked outside of the bedroom at least 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime. While your teen may insist that they won’t use the phone, it is often too tempting to not “cheat” once you are in your own room and asleep. 

 

While this may initially be hard to enforce, once it is the family routine it becomes less of a battle. Everyone will have an easier time falling asleep and staying asleep, and maybe get a few more hours of “shut eye”.    

 

 

Parenting

Back-to-School Jitters

2:00

Where did the summer go? Some children will be headed back to school in less than a week and others within the next couple of weeks. It’s not uncommon for kids to be a little anxious as the big day draws near. Your child may be feeling a lot of emotions right now, ranging from high anxiety to  “I can’t wait.” That's understandable. Think back on how you felt when you started a new job or were moving to a new part of the country, it’s quite similar but without the benefit of life experience to help you process the changes.

Besides the unknown of a new school year, there’s the challenge of getting back into an early morning routine and the addition of after-school activities to everyone’s schedule. It’s a hectic time but with a lot of patience and a little smart planning, it can go smoother than you might think.

If your child’s school offers an orientation or back–to-school night, one way to help ease your little one’s fear is to take them and let them see the school, meet their teachers and say hello to some fellow students before classes begin. A familiar face or two can help make the transition go a little smoother during that first week of school.

If your child is able to meet his or her teachers, give them time to talk and get to know each other, if only briefly. Let your child answer any questions the teachers have instead of answering for them. You might even help your child come up with a few questions they can ask the teacher.

You could check with the teacher and see if he or she would mind having a picture taken with your child. As school day approaches, you can show it to your child talk about meeting their teacher. A little thing like that can help your child develop a familiar feeling for the teacher before school starts.

Since it’s always a good idea to read to your youngster, choose books with a back-to-school theme. There are lots of children’s books that tell meaningful stories about kids facing the challenges of moving to a new school, the first year of school, making new friends and lots of other possible scenarios in story form.

Get organized! Easier said than done, I know. If you’re organized and ready for school it not only relieves some of the pressure on you, but for your children too. Chaos or uncertainty about where to go and what to do adds fuel to a child’s concerns about whether everything is going to be OK or not. 

Let your child help create a study area in the home. Being involved in at least some of the decisions can help make this a personal adventure that they have some say in.

All kids need enough sleep and getting into a good sleep routine can help ease them into the changes school is going to require. As you already know from experience, a tired child is more likely to feel overwhelmed, nervous and cranky.  If you haven’t already, start the new bedtime routine now so that you don’t have the arguments and resistance during the first days of school when everyone is trying to find their footing.

The main thing to remember is that your child, whether it’s their first day to attend, or their last year of school, is going to feel a little jittery. Reassure him or her that everything is going to be fine. The new schedule, classmates, studies and activities will be familiar sooner than they think. Let them know that you understand how the unknown can be a little scary, but that this is also a time when good things can happen as they explore all their new opportunities. 

 

Your Child

Why Kids Should Learn Handwriting

1:45

I think it’s fair to say that handwriting is becoming a lost art. Computers, tablets and phone keyboards have made actual writing with a pen and paper almost obsolete.

What was once an integral part of a child’s daily school lessons, today, gets about one-fourth the instruction time. What is surprising is that in the not too far future, some kids may never learn penmanship at all.

If keyboards become the most popular form of communication, is there really a need for printing and cursive skills? Yes, according to some educators. Not only will children lose the personal touch of handwriting but will they also lose the benefits learning penmanship offers the developing brain.

Putting pen to paper stimulates brain circuits involved with memory, attention, motor skills, and language in a way punching a keyboard doesn't.

"There is this assumption that we live in the computer age, and we don't need handwriting anymore. That's wrong," says Virginia Berninger, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington.

Indiana University psychologist Karin James, PhD, recently published a study looking at brain scans of preschoolers before and after they learned to produce letters, either by printing or typing. Before the lesson, the children couldn't decipher between a random shape and a letter, and their brains responded similarly to each. After they learned to hand-draw a letter, brain regions needed for reading lit up at the sight of the letter like they do in a literate adult. Learning to type a letter yielded no such change.

Other studies have shown that preschoolers that practice handwriting read better in elementary school.

Handwriting also requires concentration and teaches brain circuits responsible for motor coordination, vision, and memory to work together. "If in the future we were to take away teaching handwriting altogether, I worry there could be real negative impacts on children's development," James says.

Timed right, cursive also comes with some unique advantages. Berninger's research suggests kids who link their letters via cursive get a better handle on what those words look like and end up being better spellers, she says. Cursive also allows them to compose their thoughts faster than in block handwriting or via typing (at least until about seventh grade, when their brains become mature enough to manage two-handed typing quickly).

Berninger says parents can offer their children extra guidance with learning handwriting even before their child begins school and through their early years. Some children may learn these skills quicker and some may need a little more practice. But on an average:

Preschoolers can strengthen motor skills by playing with clay, stringing beads, working through mazes, and connecting dots with arrows to form letters.

From kindergarten through second grade, children should master block letters.

Third to fourth grade is when kids can begin and master cursive.

By fifth grade, children should continue to write by hand while being introduced to typing by touch (not just hunt and peck.)

As I’ve become more accustomed to using my computer or phone to communicate with others, I’ve noticed that my own handwriting skills are beginning to suffer. Cursive isn’t as fluid and readable as when I handwrote more often and my eye, hand and pen coordination isn’t near as comfortable as it used to be. 

I hope future generations will not lose the art of handwriting, not only because of the developmental benefits it offers, but because each person’s handwriting is unique to them.

Story source: Lisa Marshall, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/handwriting-matters-kids#1

Daily Dose

Back to School

1:30 to read

Schools around the country have opened their doors and some will be starting soon. This is the first week of school for most students in my area and parents have been busy in the last few days attending “back to school” and “meet the teacher” nights in preparation for a new school yea

So…every school has different rules, expectations and strategies for helping their students evolve into their “best” selves and as you get older the “rules” often change in hopes of making students more independent and responsible. I other words, getting ready for the “real world ‘ one day.

Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Arkansas has recently been highlighted in the news and on social media for the sign that is posted on the entrance to the school. It reads “If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment etc, please TURN AROUND and exit the building”  Your son will learn to problem solve in your absence.”  The school posted the same message on their Facebook page as well.

According to the principal of the school, this has been a Catholic High rule for quite some time…it was also a rule at the high school my boys attended.  While some feel that this is unjust and that the students should be allowed to “phone home” if they have forgotten something, the school’s explanation is really fairly simple…allowing your child to have some “soft failures” and to learn both problem solving skills and responsibility will ultimately mold them into functioning members of society as they reach adulthood.  Sounds reasonable to me.

I know that as my boys went from elementary school, on to middle school and then high school their father and I had greater expectations that they needed to be responsible for getting their “stuff” to school.  We started off the school year with a game of sorts where you were given 3 “hall passes” for the year. I guess this started from something at school where they were given a hall pass to go to the bathroom or the office, and some teachers would hand out homework passes that allowed you to “skip” an assignment. So, each child ( this probably started in about 3rd or 4th grade) had 3 passes/year  where they could call and have us “rescue” them if they forgot something. Once you used up your “hall passes” you had to suffer the consequences of no lunch or turning in an assignment late.  Interestingly, each child was a bit different….one would use them up pretty quickly, another would “hoard” them for late in the year.  One wanted to know if they could be accrued? 

By the time they reached high school it was not a SHOCK when they were told the school rule that they could not call their parents.  It seems they figured out how to borrow money for lunch, or share with a friend, how to borrow a tie or jacket for an assembly and that turning in assignments a day late usually meant 10 points off. Not only did it help them become more organized and responsible, it also made me a working Mom “feel less guilt” that I really was not available to rescue them sometimes, even if I wanted to.  Do you think you would appreciate waiting in your pediatrician’s office (any longer than you may already) while they tried to run a homework assignment to school??  

You might try starting off the school year with a few hall passes and see if it works for your family!  

Daily Dose

School & Infectious Disease

1:30 to read

I received an email this week from a patient…subject line: “potential exposure to Herpangina”.  In the body of the email was the following:

Dear Parents,

We want  to inform you that a case of Herpangina disease has been reported for a child at ….. room #112.  This is a contagious disease that  is spread by direct contact with another person or contaminated objects.  Herpangina is an illness caused by a virus, characterized by small blister-like bumps or ulcers that appear in the mouth, usually in the back of throat or the roof of the mouth. The child often has a high fever with the illness. We have attached further information about this common childhood illness published by Children’s Hospital in Boston. Our teachers are carefully disinfecting their room to help prevent further spread of the disease.

The mother of the child that sent me the email was “freaked” out and “worried” about  sending her child back to pre-school.  

My question is this, when did it become a “rule” to notify parents in a pre-school or day care setting that there were viral illnesses circulating?  It certainly seems unnecessary to me to send notification of EVERY childhood illness that occurs and for most of my families only serves to cause anxiety.  Some of the schools in our area post a sign on the entry that says something to the effect:  “there are cases of diarrhea, RSV, hand foot and mouth and fevers being reported in children that attend this school.”  Really, is it that surprising or necessary? Seeing that many of the numerous viral illnesses that children get these days are spread via respiratory droplets and contact with surfaces, such as toys and tables that everyone touches (computers too), children are exposed to things all of the time.  Do you go to work and ask your co-workers in a conference room..have you had diarrhea, a cough or a sore throat in the last day?

I understand notifying parents of illnesses, such as meningitis, measles, mumps…even chickenpox that are infectious and may be serious or life threatening. Thankfully, there are very few cases of these illnesses to report, now that the MAJORITY of children receive vaccines to these diseases. 

By putting these emails, texts and notices out for every parent to become alarmed about…and then to come to the doctor out of concern that their child  “may get sick….even before they have a symptom”,  serves no purpose. Herpangina and Hand Foot and Mouth are very similar viral illnesses, and both are caused by enteroviruses. It is at times hard to distinguish one illness from the other. But, with that being said, the treatment is solely symptomatic. In other words, treat the fever, make your child comfortable and don’t let them go back to school until they are fever free for 24 hours.  

Lastly, your child is going to catch a lot of these viruses, no matter what you do when they go out to play, shop or go to school. Each time they catch a viral illness it actually helps them to build antibody in order that their immune system may get stronger and stronger. I think the better note is….as winter comes children will get more coughs, colds and viral infections…if you think you child is not feeling well or running a fever, please keep them home from school for the day.  It is just a normal part of childhood…we don’t need any more anxiety in this world.   

 

Daily Dose

Start the Back-to-School Sleep Routine Now

2.00 to read

Getting back into the routine of school days also means getting back to good bedtime routines.How can it be that school is just around the corner? Getting back into the routine of school days also means getting back to good bedtime routines. With that being said, you have to start the process now to ensure plenty of time to slowly get bedtimes re-adjusted. By starting early you can avoid the battles that some parent’s talk about when discussing bedtimes.

Children need a good night’s sleep to wake up happy, rested and ready to learn. Numerous studies have shown that elementary age kids need about 10 hours of sleep a night while tweens and teens still need a good 8 – 9 hours of sleep. I wonder how many children really get the recommended amount of sleep? I think too few. Unfortunately, I know from my own experience that teens seem to operate on a different sleep schedule and rarely are in bed as early as they should be. Most of us have relaxed bedtime a little during the summer and children are staying up later and sleeping longer in the mornings. This is great during the lazy summer months, when schedules are also different. But within a few weeks the morning alarms will ring forcing everyone to get up earlier to get to school. In order to try and minimize grouchy and tired children (and parents too) during those first days of school, going to bed on time will be a necessity. Working on re-adjusting betimes now will also make the transition from summer schedule to school schedule a little easier. If your children have been staying up later than usual, try pushing the bedtime back by 15 minutes each night and gradually shifting the bedtime to the “normal” hour. At the same time, especially for older children, you will need to awaken them a little earlier each day to re-set their clocks for early morning awakening. Why is it that pre-school children want to get up early, no matter what, while school-aged children are happy to sleep through alarms?  Such is life. Also, make sure that you are not only ensuring that you children get a good night’s sleep during the school year, but they also awaken in time for breakfast! Just like my mother used to say, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day’” and that adage is still true. A good night’s sleep followed by a healthy breakfast has been shown to improve mood, attention, focus and over all school performance, as well as even helping to prevent obesity. Start off the school year on the right foot. It is easier to begin with good habits than to try and break bad ones. That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

School Anxiety

2.00 to read

For some of the country school has been in session for a week or two, but September brings the reality of school for all. So I was not surprised to listen to my voicemails recently only to hear numerous messages relating to the return to school.

One of the predominate themes I heard was, “my child seems anxious about school”. Interestingly, the voice mails related not only to young children who might be starting school for the first time, but there were also several calls relating to adolescents in junior high and high school. The “worry” that some children experience as they return to school after 10 -12 weeks of “down time” occurs quite frequently.

Many of us, even adults, get the “butterflies in the tummy” feeling when embarking on a new situation. Whether it be a new school year, or a new job,   along with anticipation and excitement might come a bit of anxiety. At times the anxiety may present itself as a tummy ache, headache, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite or even lethargy.

Everyone responds to anxiety a bit differently. But many times these symptoms go hand in hand with feeling anxious. These feelings are not wanted or planned, but result from our mind/body interaction as neurotransmitters in our brains may produce outright symptoms in our bodies.

There will be many children who have a mystery headache or tummy ache for several days, maybe even several weeks, as the routine of a new school year begins. For most of our children these feelings will pass with a little TLC (tender loving care),  some of my young parents don’t know what this acronym means.  For other children the symptoms may be a little longer lasting and the school nurse might offer her own version of TLC, with a few minutes of rest, or a glass of juice, some reassurance and return to class.  The school counselor may also lend an ear to an older student who just needs some talk time in order to become less anxious.

But for a few, the symptoms do not pass and the anxiety surrounding school may even start to affect other activities. This is especially disconcerting when it seems to involve activities that a child had previously enjoyed, such as dance, or sports or even spending the night with a friend. In these cases it may be time to discuss your child’s anxiety with your pediatrician.  There are numerous professionals that can help your child with anxiety. So, give the back to school routine a bit of time, but at the same time if things are not improving, do not hesitate to call for outside help.   

I'm Dr. Sue and that’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again tomorrow. 

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