How to Talk to Your Kids About…Imaginary Friends

Why Imaginary Friends?

Being a toddler can feel very restrictive. Always being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Older siblings and friends want your toys and you are always competing for attention. Imaginary friends are the ideal companions. They never take your toys, they do what you say, and never steal your attention. They can also serve as an outlet for children to express their emotions, a scapegoat to blame things on, and can serve as a protector when kids are scared.

Imaginary friends can worry parents. We are afraid that something is wrong with our child or that they won’t ever have real friends. There is no need to worry. Good research shows us that kids who have imaginary friends have plenty of real friends. They are creative, independent and sociable.

As parents, how should we talk to our children about imaginary friends?

DON’T make fun of imaginary friends, or make your kids feel dumb for having them.

DON’T initiate, by asking about the imaginary friend. Wait until your child initiates to play along.

DON’T let your child use their imaginary friend as an escape goat.

DON’T use the imaginary friend to get your child to do what you want.

  • DO welcome and accept the imaginary friend. Just keep it in the context of pretend. As adults, we can pretend too.
  • DO provide lots of opportunities for your child to use their imagination. Play with them so they learn how to role-play and make believe.
  • DO spend plenty of time with your child so they aren’t making up friends because they aren’t getting enough attention from you.
  • DO provide opportunities for your child to communicate and express their feelings, so they don’t use imaginary friends to communicate how they feel.

And most important…

  • DO learn from the experience. Imaginary friends can give valuable insight into how your child really feels. If the imaginary friend is scared of the dark and doesn’t want to go to bed, it could mean your child is afraid of the dark. Listen to what your child’s imaginary friend is saying and be open to the insights it might provide.

Having an imaginary friend is very normal. Unless your child is becoming withdrawn, and refusing to interact with others, you can usually rest assured that after a little time, the “friend” will be dismissed.

Until then, be open and kind to your family’s new addition.

Is Your Kid a Twitter Addict?

Social media certainly has its place in a teen’s life. But as a parent, one of our most important roles these days is not to let our teens become “twidiots” or twitter addicts.

With its infamous 140-charater limit, Twitter hosts stars with millions of followers (hello, Charlie Sheen, Oprah, Kim Kardashian). When teen idol Miley Cyrus decided to fire up her Twitter account again a couple of months ago, it became semi-big news.

Twitter and Facebook dominate the news far too much, if you ask me. The media’s love affair with social media knows no bounds — and it’s out of control.

The problem is there are real dangers that your Twitter-obsessed teen – or anyone who uses the microblogging service – must keep in mind. Here are the two big ones:

Phishing Scams: First of all, Twitter users are repeatedly the target of phishing scams. Scammers send direct messages or tweets that include a generic message (such as “You’re on this video” or “I think I see you here”) to get people to click on a link. The link takes you to a fake Twitter page that asks you to log in with your username and password, which the scammer then uses to hijack your account.

Malware: Second, fake Twitter profiles have been used to spread malicious software (known as malware). Many times, scammers use fake celebrity profiles or fake news about celebrities to lure you in. These profiles and tweets look legit. But they are created to infect your computer with malware that lets the scammer use your computer to send spam, install spyware, steal your identity or launch attacks on other computers.

I’m not suggesting that your teen should never tweet. I’m just advocating social-media life balance. Tell your teen why it’s a good idea to take his eyes off the screen and take a break from Twitter. Then, set some clear Twitter rules for your kids:

  • Post no more than one or two tweets per day. Unless your kids have a very compelling reason for sending more (they won’t), this shouldn’t be an issue.
  • Don’t auto-follow everyone. Are more than a couple of hundred followers really necessary? Do you really want a bunch of strangers constantly knowing what your kid is doing and thinking?
  • Beware of phishing and malware. Educate your kid about the phishing scams and malware risks out there. Knowing what to look for will help them avoid trouble.
  • Know that mom/dad is watching. Let your kids know you’ll be following them too.

PedSafe Weekly Tweet Roundup: 03-19-2012 to 03-25-2012

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s “Weekly Tweet Roundup”– a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news from around the world.

Each day we strive to tweet relevant and timely health and safety information for parents, medical professionals and other caregivers. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing pretty well at keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 25 tweet-worthy events.

PedSafe Tweet of the Week:

**RECALL: CPSC recalls over 1 million Safety 1st Push ‘N Snap child safety cabinet locks

Beware of Falling Furniture

Be honest. Most of us do not consider the furniture in our homes or even the television to be dangerous to our children. The kids run and play and laugh and occasionally knock over a chair or bump into a desk or fall off the furniture but that seems to be the extent of our worry when it comes to furniture. Well according to a new study furniture related injuries are on the rise and if your kids are anything like mine, we have some work to do.

According to the study conducted by the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission, most furniture tip-over-related injuries occurred among children younger than 7 years of age and resulted from televisions tipping over. More than one quarter of the injuries occurred when children pulled over or climbed on furniture. Children ages 10-17 years were more likely to suffer injuries from desks, cabinets or bookshelves tipping over. Head and neck injuries were most common among younger children, while children older than 9 years were more likely to suffer injuries to the lower body.

Despite warnings from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the number of injuries involving televisions and other furniture tipping over onto children has increased in this country since the early 1990s.

“There was a more than 40 percent increase in the number of injuries during the study period, and the injury rate also significantly increased during these years,” said study senior author Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “This trend demonstrates the inadequacy of current prevention strategies and underscores the need for increased prevention efforts.”

So what can we as parents do? Parents can minimize risks to children by placing televisions low to the ground and near the back of their stands and strapping televisions and furniture to the wall with safety straps or L-brackets. Purchasing furniture with wide legs or with solid bases, installing drawer stops on chests of drawers and placing heavy items close to the floor on shelves will also help prevent tip-overs. Additionally, parents can reduce a child’s desire to climb furniture by not placing attractive items, such as toys or the remote control, high on top of furniture or the television.

Caregivers and even those of us in the emergency medicine field should be aware that furniture tip-overs are an important source of childhood injury and that education geared towards simple prevention steps will decrease the number of injuries to children associated with furniture tip-overs.”

PedSafe Weekly Tweet Roundup: 03-12-2012 to 03-18-2012

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s “Weekly Tweet Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news from around the world.

Each day we strive to tweet relevant and timely health and safety information for parents, medical professionals and other caregivers. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing pretty well at keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 25 tweet-worthy events.

PedSafe Tweet of the Week:

Protect Your Child from Household Poisons – Fantastic article by EMS World Please RT!

What Age Should Your Child Start Swimming Lessons?

Most parents wait until their children are school-age to start swimming lessons. After all, most children don’t have the physical coordination to truly master swimming until they are older. They may look at the parent-and-tot classes and think, ‘they are just playing, do I really need to pull on my bathing suit for that?’

The answer is unequivocally YES! Children ages 1-4 have the highest drowning rate worldwide of all age groups. In the U.S., children ages 1-4 usually drown in private pools, were being supervised, but were out of sight of one or both parents for under 5 minutes. It only takes 2 minutes and 2 inches of water to drown. Pretty scary stuff. The great news is that participation in formal swimming lessons is associated with an 88% reduction in the risk of drowning in 1-4 year olds and even informal swimming lessons reduce the risk, which means just taking your child into the water with you and playing ‘safety games’ can make them safer around water. For some fun informal games check out last month’s blog “Fun water safety games! Survival skills for your child” again.

What type of swimming lessons should you consider? Lessons for young children run the gamut from ‘survival skills’ to what appears to just be games with nursery songs. As a mother and an expert in drowning prevention I am strongly in favor of the ‘games’ option. Those games are key to teaching children to feel comfortable in the water as well as forming the basis for teaching elemental skills that are the foundation of swimming.

Some parents become so afraid of drowning that they hope to instill fear of the water into their child in the belief that their child is more likely to stay away from the water. Nothing could be further from the truth, or more dangerous. Fear leads to panic. If a child falls into the water unexpectedly you want them to remain calm, to turn on their back and float, kick for the side, kick and paddle, grab the side and hold on, do monkey hands to the nearest steps or ladder – anything but panic. Early classes will not only keep a child from drowning, but they can buy you that extra minute or two to notice your child is missing.

Some infant survival classes initiate children into the water so abruptly that it is frightening to a child and may take years to undo the damage. A good rule of thumb is to observe a class. If parents are asked to leave the area, if children are crying (beyond the normal apprehension that does occur with some children which should be handled with gentle understanding), if you ever see an instructor force a child’s head under the water, find a different class.

Helping your child develop a safe and respectful attitude towards water, while still having fun, will keep them safe for their whole life. And singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to your baby while you teach them to float on their back is really very magical.