9 Simple Tricks to Avoid the “Sick-Kid Meltdown”

Keeping your child healthy is probably the most important job you have as a parent. But as every mom knows, it often requires asking your little one to do some of her least favorite things, like getting a shot or swallowing a spoonful of medicine. And that can make your life, well, challenging. But you can cut down on those tears and temper-tantrums with a few clever parenting moves. These expert-approved stay-happy tricks will keep your sick kids smiling during even the most difficult situations.

Meltdown trigger: Going to the doctor’s office

  1. Give your child advance notice. “Resist the urge to wait until the last minute to tell your child about a doctor’s visit,” says Bette J. Freedson, a licensed independent clinical social worker and parenting expert in Lynn, Mass. “Letting her know on the way to an appointment can create a sense of panic.” Instead, give your child at least a day to process the information and ask questions.
  2. Read her a story. “Books are a terrific way to ease your child into a new or uncomfortable situation,” says Freedson. “They’re more likely to discuss how their favorite characters handle going to the pediatrician than talk about their own upcoming visit.” Try reading The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor or Biscuit Visits the Doctor. Or, make up your own bedtime story, says Freedson. “That way, you can write the script for the lesson you want to teach.”
  3. Have a role-playing session. A few days before the appointment, give your child an old white shirt to wear as a doctor’s coat and ask him to give you a “checkup.” Then, reverse roles, with you as the physician. “Rehearsing the scenario is a gentle way of allowing him to play out his fears,” says Freedson. “It’s also an ideal time to teach him that it’s OK to be a little scared.”

Meltdown trigger: Getting a shot

  1. Numb the area. Bring an ice pack — or ask the pediatrician for one — and place it just above the injection site right before she administers the shot. “Cold can help overwhelm the pain,” says Dr. Amy Baxter, a pain researcher in Atlanta and mother of three. One product to consider: Buzzy ($35; Buzzy4Shots.com), a bee-shaped vibrating ice pack.
  2. Give her a mini-massage. No ice on hand? In a pinch, use your own fingers to move your child’s skin on their arm above the injection pre-shot. “That wiggling sensation confuses the nerve, which cuts down on the amount of pain your kid feels,” says Baxter.
  3. Provide a distraction. Give your child an age-appropriate task that he can easily master to divert his attention. “Don’t give him a task that’s too hard, like specific math facts,” says Baxter. “That can add pressure to an already stressful setting.” Instead, ask him to name two things in the examination room that are yellow, or have him point out four objects that are circles.

Meltdown trigger: Taking medicine

  1. Make it fun. Instead of telling your little one that it’s time for medicine, pull out his favorite novelty spoon and ask him who he’d like a visit from — Bob the Builder or Buzz Lightyear? Another kid-friendly tool: Ava the Elephant ($10; AvaTheElephant.com). In a modern spin on the “here comes the airplane” trick, Ava dispenses the medicine through her trunk. Measure the proper dose first and then help her take her medicine, adding your own elephant trumpet noise to make your child laugh.
  2. Chase with a treat. When your child is particularly stubborn about taking her medications, a fun bonus may help the medicine go down. Heather McCarron, a mom of three in Jackson, N.J., gives her daughters a liquid medication and promises that she’ll refill the empty medicine cup with a favorite healthy drink, like chocolate milk or fruit juice. While you never want to make medicine seem like candy, McCarron still finds “that small incentive makes my girls feel like they’re getting something special.” You could also reward them with a favorite activity, like a game or extra playtime.
  3. Mask the taste. To make the medication more appealing, mix it with a sweet food like applesauce, yogurt or a fruit smoothie. You can also ask your pharmacist about FlavorX ($2 per prescription; FlavorX.com), a product that’s added to medication to make it taste like one of eight kid-friendly flavors, such as bubblegum or grape. Just make sure you use a child-safe bottle and store it in a safe place, so your kid won’t reach for it like candy.

World Record Swim in Honor of Childhood Drowning Prevention

Don Walsh is an extraordinary man by anyone’s definition. Mentor to Navy SEAL candidates, 3-tour Vietnam War Veteran, coach for minority women’s triathalon teams, guitarist, water safety author, husband, and father. He’s been a serious open water swimming competitor for three decades, including circling Key West (12.5 miles), Manhattan (28.5 miles) and the Isle of Jersey (41.5 miles). Did I mention he also has a day job, inspecting bridges for the County of Monmouth?

Don is truly a ‘good guy’ and a great role model for kids. His incredible spirit and generous heart have moved him to dedicate a personal milestone to raising awareness about saving kids from drowning.

In what we believe will set a world record, Don will kick off his 11th year of consecutive monthly open water swims in honor of Childhood Drowning Prevention Month. On May 1st at 1pm, Don will plunge into the Atlantic at Brielle Road Beach in Manasquan, New Jersey.

Help us to raise awareness by spreading the word. Share this on Facebook, tweet it, tell your friends, forward it to your local press.

One child drowns every minute. We can change that. Help us spread the word.

Ride The Brain Train: Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind

In this New Era of neuroplasticity, we have grown to learn that early brain development is so important for infants, toddlers and children. The brain is an amazing organ, growing changing and adapting to life experience.

Did you know that your baby is born with more than 100 billion neurons, or brain cells — all that he or she needs for a lifetime. Many people do not. That is why in 2011, we have partnered with several colleagues and parents to help education about brain based interventions become common knowledge in families across the US and the UK.

We call our educational initiative The Brain Train and this is our goal: To inspire parents, educators and grandparents to share one brain-based fact with three people in an effort to bring brain-based education to 100,000 families in 2011. Now, you don’t have to become a neuroscientist, you simply have to feel motivated to learn and share kernels of knowledge with people you love. Our colleagues Wendy Young, Sue Atkins and Deborah McNelis have helpful brain-based parenting tips on their sites. Everything from The benefits of interacting face to face with your little ones to preventing Melt-downs with activities and fun! We’ve already started airing brain-based shows on Dr. Lynne Weighs In #Blog Talk Radio. If you have brain-based knowledge to share please do so on our FB page.

Four Valued Yet Simple Facts You Can Share Today:

  1. Your child’s brain is primed at birth for learning. Research conducted at the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia concludes that your baby’s brain will develop more in the first five years of life than throughout the rest of his life, and a significant amount of research points to the first three years of life as being most critical to your baby’s developing brain.
  2. According to Zero To Three – “The first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a baby’s development. A newborn’s brain is about 25 percent of its approximate adult weight. But by age 3, it has grown dramatically by producing billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these cells.”
  3. As an infant and young child, brain cells are not yet linked to form the complex networks required for mature thought processes. As your baby grows into a toddler and preschooler, brain synapses grow and connect, forming the neurological foundation upon which he will build a lifetime of skills. By the time an infant is two or three years old, the number of synapses is approximately 15,000 synapses per neuron (Gopnick, et al., 1999). This amount is about twice that of the average adult brain.
  4. The brain is so efficient that it prunes connections that are not used and deemed not needed by the brain. That is one reason it is so important to develop language, motor and social-emotional pathways through interaction, communication, love, nutrition, exploration and play in the early years.

According to Deborah McNelis of @braininsights:

The brain organizes through a “use it or lose it” process. The brain eliminates and strengthens connections in an effort to become more efficient. So, experiences that are repeated frequently lead to brain connections that are retained. Connections that are not used often due to lack of repeated experience are eliminated. This is how a child’s brain adapts to the experiences in daily life.

Brain development is valuable for school-aged children as well. Activities such as soccer, martial arts, horseback riding, swimming and activities that include movement across the anatomical planes of the body increases synaptic connections. It turns out that yoga and meditation are not simply calming but likely brain building.

If you are ready to Take A Ride on The Brain Train consider these books and check back often for new tips and insights.

For coaches, clinicians and social workers, join our May training to bring brain-based parenting to your practice.

Thank you! For making brain-based parenting knowledge universal. Share the knowledge!


This post reflects Dr Kenney’s “The Family Coach Method” used in practice for a number of years, and released for publication just over a year ago. The Family Coach Method is ‘rug-level,’ friendly and centered on the concept of families as a winning team – with dozens of age-appropriate sample conversations and problem solving scenarios to guide a family to the desired place of mutual respect, shared values and strengths. The goal is to help children to develop the life skills, judgment and independence that can help them navigate the challenges of an increasingly complex world. The Family Coach Method is also being taught as an Educational Series where parents can join with other moms and dads in live calls with Dr Kenney.

Hand-washing 101: Kill Germs, Don’t Spread Them

Our hands allow us to work, interact and take care of our children — but they can also make us sick. “Hand-to-face contact is the most common way germs are spread,” says Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, the vice chairman of academic affairs in the pediatrics department at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, a physician at The Children’s Hospital of Denver, and the author of Germ Proof Your Kids: The Complete Guide to Protecting (Without Overprotecting) Your Family From Infections. That’s why proper hand-washing is the best defense against cold and flu.

Most of us — 85 percent, reports an American Society for Microbiology study — hit the sink in public. But Rotbart says the majority aren’t scrubbing up correctly. Read on to get the clean truth about how to kill germs with proper hand-washing protocol.

  • Take it all off. Before you turn on that faucet, remove your rings. According to a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, ring-wearers had higher counts of bacteria on their hands before and after washing than those who didn’t wear them. Afraid you’ll misplace your band? Shift it up your finger and clean beneath it.
  • Add a squirt. There are dozens of soap options available, but you can keep it simple. “There’s no need for an antibacterial brand,” says Rotbart. “They’re no more effective than the standard variety.” He also recommends reaching for a liquid form. “The residue in soap dishes can make those bars a breeding ground of bacteria.” For the cleanest suds, sterilize your dispenser pump in the dishwasher every other week.
  • Scrub thoroughly. “The purpose of washing your hands is creating friction to rub away germs, not to kill them,” says Rotbart. Teach your child to clean his entire hand, including the wrists, backs of hands, between fingers and beneath fingernails.
  • Time it right. How long you spend washing up is key: A study from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that rinsing with water for five seconds didn’t remove any germs, but washing with soap for 30 seconds eliminated them all. Experts recommend lathering up for 20 seconds, or the amount of time it takes to sing the “ABC Song” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” twice. Then rinse thoroughly; the water temperature doesn’t matter, says Rotbart.
  • Reach for a paper towel. “When you rub your hands with a towel, you’re removing the last traces of germs,” explains Rotbart. Since viruses can live on cloth surfaces, make sure each family member has his or her own. In a public bathroom that’s all out of towels? Spend a little extra time with the air dryer. “Bacteria continues to reproduce on wet hands,” says Rotbart. In fact, a study published in Epidemiology and Infection found that when sick people touched someone else with damp hands, they transferred a whopping 68,000 microorganisms.

When to Wash

We all know to scrub after using the bathroom or before dinner, but there are less obvious times when your little one should lather up:

  • After playing with animals
  • After school and day care
  • After playing with someone who is sick, or in a doctor’s waiting room
  • After playing outside
  • After blowing his nose or coughing into his hands
  • Before bedtime

When You’re Not Near a Sink

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are great when soap and water aren’t available. Germs can only survive in moist environments, and the rubbing alcohol in these sanitizers evaporates moisture on your skin, which kills any germs that may be on your hands. Rotbart recommends stashing separate bottles in your purse and kitchen.

Who’s Gawking at Your Kid’s Photos??

With all of the photo-sharing apps and websites out there, it’s easier than ever to stay up-to-date on the lives of loved ones. But with the freedom and accessibility comes concern about who you want viewing your online photos: Grandma? Yes. Creepy guy from high school whose friend request you accepted out of guilt? Not so much. So before you upload your personal snapshots, keep these tips in mind.

  1. Choose a safe site for your photos. Photo-sharing services like Shutterfly, KODAK Gallery, Snapfish and KeepandShare let you post your photos on a password-protected (and free!) space. Only users with the password have access to your photos.
  2. Be mindful of Facebook’s privacy settings. Facebook allows users to choose who sees the photos they post. You can make them available just to your friends, or open up your albums to friends of friends too — or even everyone (meaning, the entire Facebook network). But unless you’re comfortable having strangers view photos from your kid’s first birthday party, choose the friends-only option.
  3. Back up photos to the cloud. Even if you never plan on sharing one snapshot, storing your photos on a site like PictureTrail.com or an online backup service such as Mozy is a good idea. Cloud services let you back up your photos, so if your computer or external hard drive were to crash or get stolen, your pictures would still be preserved somewhere. So if you don’t already have an account for a file-storing online service, sign up for one to preserve your memories.

At What Age Are They “Old Enough” to Swim Unsupervised?

When should you allow your child to go to a pool or beach without adult supervision? How old is ‘old enough’?

Stefanie (from PediatricSafety.net) alerted me to an interesting article last week that prompted the question – a 14-year old girl saved her 10-year old brother from drowning while the two played at a hotel pool, unsupervised. No charges were filed against the parent because 10 was deemed ‘old enough’ by the local police to be in the pool without adult supervision.

But there was no mention of either child’s swimming abilities. Could the 10-year old swim? Could he truly swim or just paddle a bit? How responsible was the younger brother? Was he a dare-devil or a cautious kid? How deep was the water? Was he tired or jet-lagged? Did he have any physical, emotional or mental issues that would have impaired his abilities or judgment? There are plenty of guidelines that tell us what age and weight our child has to be to change car seats. Laws dictate when our child can drive, drink and vote. But water safety is the great unknown – so many variables that are hard to measure.

So how do parents determine if a child is ‘old enough’ to be unsupervised at a pool or beach? Broward County in Florida is on the cutting edge of water safety and they recommend a minimum age of 12, though some experts believe it should be even higher.

Until national standards are developed, as a parent I’d set 12 as the minimum age (though I’m feeling better with 15), but I’d also look closely at all the other variables. Is your child a truly competent swimmer? (ask their swim teacher, don’t rely on your judgement or your child’s) Who else will be in the pool? Are they competent swimmers or could your child get in trouble with a panic-stricken friend who could pull someone under? How many children? More children = more adrenalin = more potential trouble. Is it a pool or open water? If it’s open water does your child have experience in that particular kind of open water? A river is different from a lake which is different from an ocean.

As parents, if we do our job right our child grow up to self-regulate their behavior and make responsible decisions, but it’s also our job to keep them safe until those skills are in place. Besides, volunteering for pool patrol is a pretty nice way to spend the summer!

I’d love to know your thoughts!