Counting Our Blessings: Proven Ways to Raise a Grateful Child

It’s Christmas Day…or the first night of Chanukah…or maybe it’s Thanksgiving… and your family and guests are all gathered together at your table ready for the meal to begin, but you first want folks to share their blessings. Be honest. Which scenario would best depict your reaction when it’s your children’s turn to count their blessings with the group? Would you…

Grateful ChildA. Beam with pride as they describe their gratitude for their life blessings?

B. Gently remind them of things they could share?

C. Want to die from embarrassment since your kids can’t think of anything to say?

If your kids need reminders to say “thank you”, show appreciation or take for granted thoughtful gestures, then it may be time for a gratitude makeover. Here’s another reason to do so: Studies prove that the happiest kids feel an appreciation for life—and that’s regardless of their wealth or personal circumstances. They are also more joyful, determined, optimistic, resilient, less stressed and even healthier. So if you’re a tad concerned that your kids’ attitude of gratitude needs a little boost, the good news is that science also proves there are simple strategies to do so. One of the easiest ways is by establishing family rituals where kids count their everyday blessings.

Here are a few to get you started:

  • Thank You ABCs. This one is great for younger kids to do at the dinner table. You and your kids say the alphabet together but for each letter include something you are grateful for: A, Aunt Helen; B, my brother; C, my cat, and so on. Take it up a notch by explaining why they are grateful. Families with small kids rarely get beyond H, but the point is you’re having fun together and you kids are also learning to be appreciative.
  • Holiday blessings. Say a prayer of thanks together before meals. Some families take turns so that each night a different member leads the prayer. Or do bedtime blessings when each child exchanges messages of appreciation for one another followed by a goodnight hug and kiss.
  • Gratitude letters. Your child writes a letter to someone who has made a positive difference on his life but has probably not thanked properly in the past (such as his teacher, coach, scout master, grandparent). To maximum the impact, research says that your child should read the letter to the person face to face.
  • Set limits. Having too much squelches appreciation. So fight the tendency to overindulge your child with too many things. Always giving kids what they want does not help kids learn to be grateful and appreciative of what they have.
  • Gratitude journals. Another proven way to boost gratitude is by having your kids write something they feel grateful ideally four times a week and continue for at least for three weeks. Younger kids can draw or dictate things they are most grateful for; older kids can write in a diary or in a computer. Why not do so as a family?
  • Thank your kids. Don’t overlook your kids’ daily thoughtful deeds. Just be sure to tell them what they did that you appreciate so they are more likely to copy your example and send their own “appreciation messages” to others.
  • Expose your kids to the less fortunate. Face-to-face experiences can go a long way in helping kids appreciate their blessings. So find ways for you and your child to do charitable work (playing with kids in a homeless shelter, reading to the blind, building low-cost house, or delivering meals for the bed-ridden).

Remember, change is a process not a one-time activity. So stick to your commitment and find simple ways to help your child practice gratitude, reinforce any efforts and don’t give up until you get the desired change.

Happy New Year!

****************************************************************************************************************************Borba - book cover -parentingsolutions140x180

Dr Borba’s new book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions has recently been released and is now available at

Is This Toy Safe?

recalled toyIn 2008 Congress passed the first major overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) since its creation. The new compliance laws provided for tough new bans on lead and phthalates, required larger printed warning messages on toy packaging, cracked down on smaller toy pieces that could choke a child and greatly improved CPSC’s ability to monitor and hold wrongdoers accountable. Toy vendors were required to be fully compliant as of this past February.

Toy recalls have dropped dramatically from 2007 when 45 million toys and other children’s products were classified as unsafe. Still there is no magic bullet to instantly make ALL toys safe. With that in mind, the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) published its 24th Annual Report on Safety for the Toy Industry with guidelines to help parents in purchasing toys for little ones. It also provides examples of toys that may pose potential safety hazards.

The main areas in the report concentrate on choking hazards, excessively loud toys, and toxins like lead and phthalates in children’s products. Key findings:


The law bans small parts in toys for children under three and requires an explicit, prominent warning label on toys with small parts for children between the ages of three and six. In addition, balls with a diameter smaller than 1.75 inches are banned for children under three years old. Unfortunately choking on small parts, small balls and balloons remains a leading cause of toy related deaths and injuries. In 2009 alone, 5.3 million toys and other children’s products were recalled due to choking hazards.


  • Avoid small toys or parts of toys that can fit entirely into a toilet paper tube.
  • Avoid small balls and round objects. Balls should be at least 1.75” in diameter for children under three.
  • Avoid cylindrical pieces of toys that can lodge in a child’s airway.
  • Balloons and pieces of balloon can completely block a child’s airway. Never give balloons to children under 8. Mylar balloons are a safer alternative.
  • Avoid hand me down hazards – keep toys for older kids away from young children.


Almost 15 percent of children ages 6 to 17 show signs of hearing loss. Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by a one-time exposure to loud sound as well as by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over an extended period of time.

In March 2007, the American Society for Testing and Materials adopted a voluntary acoustics standard for toys, setting the loudness threshold for most toys at 85 decibels, and for toys intended for use “close to the ear” at 65 dB.


  • If a toy seems too loud for your ears, it is probably too loud for your child. Don’t buy it.
  • Toys used close to the ear (like toy cell phones) should not be louder than 65 decibels, measured from 10 inches away. More info here.
  • Other toys should not be louder than 85 decibels measured from 10 inches away.
  • For “loud toys” you already own: take the batteries and/or cover the toy’s speakers with tape.

TOXINSrecalled toy 3-lead-smaller

Exposure to lead can affect almost every organ and system in the human body, especially the central nervous system. Lead is especially toxic to the brains of young children. Despite the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) bans, in 2009 the CPSC has recalled nearly 1.3 million toys or other children’s products for violations of the lead paint standard and an additional 102,700 toys and other children’s products for violation of the 300 ppm lead standard.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), levels of phthalates found in humans are higher than levels shown to cause adverse health effects. The data also show phthalate levels are highest in children. Still despite a CPSIA ban, 2 toys were found this year that exceeded the maximum phthalate levels.


  • Keep costume/novelty jewelry away from young children.
  • You can screen a piece of jewelry or toy for lead using a home lead tester available at the hardware store. (This is a screening method, and should not be relied upon as a definitive test.)
  • Check for recalled toys.
  • Avoid plastic toys labeled as “PVC” They often contains phthalate softeners. Look for toys labeled “phthalate-free.”
  • Choose cloth or unpainted wooden toys instead of soft plastic toys.
  • Read the labels of play cosmetics and avoid products with xylene, toluene or phthalates.
  • Avoid plastic bath toys or bath books.

For parents concerned about toxin exposure, the “Absolute Greatest Guide to Green Gifts for Kids” from Healthy Child Healthy World and can be excellent resources


The CPSC is one small agency and there are numerous new toys produced every year in the US…as well as imported from other countries. Unfortunately that means that CPSC is not able to test all toys, and not all toys on store shelves meet CPSC standards. This also means that there is no comprehensive list of potentially hazardous toys. There are things however that a safety conscious parent can do:

As always, in the end, it comes down to you and I being vigilant in the toys we purchase. Hopefully the tips we’ve provided can be of some help…for the holidays…and beyond.



How can a child drown without being in the water???

Do you remember the story about the boy in South Carolina who died of dry drowning last summer? My first thought was ‘I’ve never heard of such a thing…’, the response dry drowningechoed by most parents I talked to as that frightening story made it’s way around the neighborhood grape-vine. I’ve been working on drowning prevention for a couple of years now, so I know all the scary statistics – that drowning is the second leading cause of death in children in virtually all developed countries, that it happens fast and silently and frequently at home – in the pool, the bath, a bucket. The idea that you could drown without being in the water, up to 24-hours later, was really frightening to me so I did a little research to find out more, the excellent web-site was especially helpful.

Dry drowning is drowning without water – or more specifically, drowning 1-24 hours after a small amount of water has entered the lungs. Too much water and you have the drowning we all recognize, less and you have dry drowning. So, when should you be worried about dry drowning? First and foremost, watch your kids when they are in the water. Drowning can happen in as little as 2 minutes of being unsupervised – that’s faster than you can run to the restroom, catch up with your friend on the phone, handle a crisis in the nearby sandpit or grab yourself a caffeinated drink from the snack bar. If someone comes up sputtering and coughing, keep an eye on them and if that coughing continues for more than a few minutes, or it just doesn’t seem right to you, you should call a doctor. Same for shortness of breath or complaining of chest pain – though I’m guessing that with young kids that may come out as ‘my tummy hurts’, since they are a bit fuzzy on anatomy. Keep an especially close eye on kids with asthma, they are more susceptible. If your child is disoriented or lethargic, or if your parenting instincts are saying ‘this just isn’t right’, best to get them to an emergency doctor right away. I’m not a doctor either, when in doubt always get a professional opinion.

So how can kids get in trouble? Certainly all the obvious ways that kids get a mouthful of water – dunking, water fights, going off a fast slide and getting momentarily disoriented. Far less obvious is the young child who can’t swim or any child that is not a confident swimmer – they may have just taken in too much water even if they were never out of their depth.

The best thing to do? Teach your children water safety from infancy. Get your kids in swimming lessons from toddler-age onwards – swimming and water sports should be fun, healthy, life-long skills. Learn CPR. And most important, watch them like a hawk whenever they are in the water – 2 minutes can be the difference between life and death.

Their Coughing is Louder Than the Caroling: What’s a Parent to Do?

Coughing children are a big problem…especially during the holidays. They can’t sleep. They keep their already sleep-Cough Medicine and Kidsdeprived parents awake. They sound dreadful. They cough so hard they barf (ick).

Every parent, at some time, comes to me desperately seeking a cure for their child’s cough. The children are usually desperate too, though after his mom told me that he had coughed for a month, one patient of mine seemed quite gleeful, exclaiming “And I have snot rockets!”

What can an exhausted parent do to help the hacking little one? Isn’t there a medicine to stop that cough?

The marketers of cough and cold medications would like you to think so. Take a tour of the cough and cold aisle in your local drugstore and you will see some very seductive terms: cough syrups are marketed as “mucolytics” (break down that disgusting thick sludge in your lungs!), “expectorants” (out, out, damn goo), and “suppressants” (STOP that painful, hacking cough.) True, “seductive” may be a strange descriptor when discussing snot, but these terms can be very tantalizing to a frantic parent whose kid is hacking up a lung.

A sure fire cough remedy, however, is not as easy to find as these product descriptions would suggest.

Though I would love to have a cure for cough, several widely cited studies have concluded that no cough syrup, whether over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription, actually works. They don’t help kids get better faster. They don’t help kids feel better. They don’t help kids (or parents) sleep through the night. Furthermore, a variety of rare but serious health problems have been associated with use of these medications in children, including death, convulsions, rapid heart rates and decreased levels of consciousness. The American Academy of Pediatric’s Committee on Drugs recommends “that parents be informed about the lack of proven effects and potential risks of cough preparations.” In other words, we should tell our patients that cough medicines don’t work and may be harmful. The American College of Chest Physicians agrees.

I once gave a mom that news that there was no immediate cure for her child’s cough. “Our family,” she said, quite irate, “cannot afford another night without sleep!” Her point was well taken: colds can cause a great deal of stress in families’ lives. So what is a desperate parent to do? Is there any remedy that will help their hacking child?

Though I can’t immediately cure most coughs, there are some helpful treatments that are safe to use for children of all ages.

  • Taking a steamy shower once or twice a day can loosen the thick mucous in the nose and upper airway. Carefully holding your child’s head over a steamy pot or a vaporizer can also loosen the phlegm.
  • Nasal saline drops or saline rinses can be extremely helpful. Babies will hate having water in their nose but it will loosen their mucous and after some spluttering and coughing, they will appreciate your efforts in clearing their breathing passages.
  • For children over 1-year-old, honey is a delicious and effective remedy for cough: see my previous post on honey as a cough remedy for further details.
  • And as with any illness, staying well hydrated will help the immune system fight the infection and can also keep the mucous loose and flowing.

In the end, it is love and time that will cure most coughs, which are usually caused by cold or flu viruses. As usual, please seek medical advice from a physician and not the internet if you have any serious concerns, especially for children who have difficulty breathing, have a persistent cough for more than two or three weeks, or who seem very sick.

Tips for Parents:

  • Tried-and-true home remedies can be very helpful for relieving symptoms of colds and the flu: try honey for children over 1 year old.
  • OTC cough and cold medicines do not cure children or adults when they have nasal congestion and cough. They may be helpful for short term symptom relief. And they are rarely harmful (except to the wallet) for older children and adults. But if you try them and they’re not helping, there is no need to continue to use them.
  • OTC cough and cold medicines should be avoided in young children (<2 years old.).
  • Read medicine bottles closely and use the measuring devices that come with them when giving children any medicine.

Baby Silk

Hi, we’re Dr. Diane Truong and Dr. JJ Levenstein, pediatricians and founders of MD Moms, makers of Baby Silk, the first personal care line for babies developed by pediatrician-moms. As pediatricians and moms, we’ve cared for thousands of children for nearly a quarter of a century. It’s no surprise Baby Silk Linethat during this time we’ve fielded hundreds of questions from concerned parents about common skin conditions and the safety and efficacy of the products available to treat them. One of the most common questions asked in our practices was, “How do I treat my baby’s cradle cap?” Cradle cap, for those unfamiliar, is a greasy, flaky rash that develops on the scalps of many newborns in the first few months of life. As parents ourselves, we couldn’t find any baby products on the market for our own children with ingredients that made sense (i.e., there were plenty of oily emulsions out there, but none with specific keratolytic or exfoliating ingredients). Our solution? To make one ourselves. But we didn’t stop at cradle cap. Because parents also asked about how to treat skin conditions such as diaper rash and dry skin, we created a full line of skincare solutions for babies.

Building MD Moms from the ground up meant we’d need to make sacrifices, but we believed strongly enough in our vision that it was more than worth the investment. With the help of a consultant, feedback from our own patients and a veteran cosmetics formulator from a respected research and development laboratory, our Baby Silk line—inspired by our Gentle Scalp Rub—was born in 2006. In our early stages, we borrowed against all of our assets (college fund, savings, and our home and retirement accounts) so that we could fund the first couple of years of MD Moms until we started to see an increase in sales. Personal time was spent traveling, arranging promotional events and taking part in weekend meetings and special projects. And when we weren’t treating our patients, we spent many late nights rebottling, repacking and shipping thousands of promos.

Because safety is our top priority, each of our products undergoes strict clinical testing and exceeds industry guidelines for safety. We use the latest medical data to ensure that each is effective, gentle and safe for infants. We further validate our products’ gentleness and safety by performing RIPT (repeat insult patch testing on sensitive subjects) to assure that our products are least likely to irritate baby’s skin. All of our products rated “0” on a 1-5 scale (perfect, hypoallergenic, non-irritating score) in the first round of testing. Additionally, we enlist a chemist and Pharm D Safety Assessor to review the chemical specifications and toxicological profiles of our ingredients to ensure that they are safe and fulfill the needs of our young consumers. And with the needs of our little patients in mind, we’re continually working to enhance and improve upon our line.

We know we’ve accomplished our mission when we hear from parents who were elated to find us after unsuccessfully searching for solutions to their little ones’ skin conditions. Also, our company has made it possible for us to raise awareness of the Oscar Litwak Foundation, our children’s Charity of the Year, which brings Mobile Playrooms to hospitalized children who are unable to leave their beds. We’re fortunate to be able to address children’s needs—whether it’s through charity or our Baby Silk line—and will continue to look for ways to improve the health and lives of children.


Q: Aside from using Gentle Scalp Rub, what else can I do to treat my baby’s cradle cap?

A: Cradle cap is best treated by removing the crusts and flakes on baby’s scalp with an oil-based shampoo. Shampoos with an oily base essentially soften the greasy scales, and separate the scales from the baby’s hair. When combined with a gentle exfoliator, like salicylic acid (a derivative of aspirin), the flakes will be easier to rub or comb off the baby’s scalp.

Q: Are there different types of sunscreen?

A: Yes. A variety of sunscreens exist to provide protection from sun exposure: chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens, or a combination of both.

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation on the skin, then disperse this energy into harmless rays. They are made from active ingredients like octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone (which provide UVB protection) or avobenzone (which provides UVA protection). Chemical sunscreens require 20 minutes to activate, and ideally should be applied in 2 coats 20-30 minutes apart, before going outside.

Physical sunscreens (containing titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide) are not absorbed into the skin, but rather sit on its surface and reflect, scatter and block UVA and UVB rays. These ingredients are less irritating, in general, and are immediately active upon application. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Dermatology advocate their use in children, and even in infants under the age of 6 months if direct sun exposure cannot be avoided.

Some sunscreens combine both chemical and physical agents in order to provide broad spectrum protection. Our sunscreen uses only physical agents to provide both UVA and UVB protection.

Q: How can I prevent diaper rash on my baby?

A: The best way to prevent diaper rash is to keep your baby’s bottom clean and dry at all times. Since this is not always possible, using a barrier cream to keep baby’s skin from coming into direct contact with irritants in a dirty diaper will help.

Q: Why is my baby’s skin dry?

A: A newborn’s skin dries out almost immediately after birth, as baby transitions from the moist environment of the womb to his or her new environment in the outside world. Within the first 2-3 weeks of life, a newborn’s skin will typically flake and shed, regardless of what a parent does. After that point, if your baby’s skin continues to feel dry, regular application of a moisturizer can make a difference.

Holiday Visit Safety Tips

The holiday season is in full swing and many families will be traveling to visit relatives. If your relatives do not have young children, their homes may not be child-proofed. In all the hustle and bustle of this busy time of year, distractions can easily take a parent’s attention off of young children and could place your child in danger, if safety precautions are not already in place.

Here are some tips for making your holiday visits safer for your child:

Prepare in advance

When planning your visit, ask your relatives to take some child-proofing measures to prepare for your child’s visit. Provide them with Visiting for the Holidays2some easy ways they can child-proof, but don’t expect them to do a full, thorough childproofing job or spend money on childproofing gadgets. Easy ways to childproof include putting fragile or breakable items high out of reach, and locking away dangerous items, such as guns, lighters, and cigarettes. Cabinets with knobs can be temporarily “locked” with rubber bands wrapped around the knobs to hold them closed. Uncovered wastebaskets can be covered or put in an area inaccessible to your child. Ask your relatives what they are willing and able to do and offer to bring portable childproofing items with you, if necessary.

Pools and hot tubs

Whether a pool or hot tub is full of water or covered for winter, it is a potential danger. If your relative has either, you need to make sure your child cannot access the pool area or hot tub. Check to see what safety measures are already in place (fence, locked gate, alarm, etc) and always keep an eye on your child while outside.


If your relative has pets, it is important to never allow your child to be alone with them. Young children should never be left alone with any animal, whether the animal is familiar with the child or not. Even the most docile, sweet-natured pet can cause serious injury if it feels threatened or protective of its territory. A young child may innocently pull on fur or a tail, or try to eat a pet’s food and be attacked for it. Make sure any interaction with your relative’s pets and your child is closely supervised at all times.


Holiday parties often include alcoholic beverages. If children are around, it is imperative to keep all alcohol out of their reach. It takes very little alcohol to poison a small child. Ask relatives and friends to keep an eye on their own drink and keep it away from your child.


You most likely have all medications out of your child’s reach at your own home, but your relatives without kids may be used to leaving frequently used medications on a counter or on a low shelf. Ask them to temporarily put all medications up high, out of sight and reach of your child. A common place for kids to find medications is in the purse of a relative. Kids may think they are finding mints or candy. Make sure purses are kept out of reach, especially if they contain medicine or any other dangerous item, such as a lighter.


Some household plants can cause stomach upset if ingested, and some are poisonous. If your relative has plants, ask if they can be temporarily put out of reach of your child.


Above all else, the best childproofing tip is to keep a close eye on your child. No amount of childproofing can fully replace adequate adult supervision. This is especially true in an unfamiliar, non-childproofed environment. Do not assume that because there may be several adults around that your child is safe. Too often, when there are several people gathered for a party or visit, each person assumes another is watching the kids when in reality no one may be paying close enough attention to them.

Taking preventative safety measures in advance of and during your trip can make it safer for your child and more enjoyable for everyone. If your relatives work with you to make their home a safe environment for your child, be sure to thank them for their help!