Five Ways to Keep Your Family Healthy This Winter

Winter FunIt may be cold outside but winter needn’t be the unhealthiest time of year for you and your family.

Here are five ways to make sure that even when your body is telling you to hibernate you can keep healthy and fit, no matter what the weather’s like:

1. Eliminate your sleep debt

“On average we sleep six-and-a-half hours a night, much less than the seven to nine hours recommended,” says Jessica Alexander, spokesperson at the Sleep Council, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of a good night’s sleep to health and wellbeing. But in winter, we naturally sleep more, due to the longer nights. “It’s perfectly natural to adopt hibernating habits when the weather turns cold,” says Jessica. “Use the time to catch up.”

Read more about how to get a good night’s sleep.

2. Drink more milk

You are 80% more likely to get a cold in winter so making sure your immune system is in tip-top condition is important. Milk and dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are great sources of protein and vitamins A and B12. They’re also an important source of calcium, which helps keep our bones strong. Try to go for semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, rather than full fat, and low-fat yoghurts.

Read more about healthy eating.

3. Eat more fruit and veg

When it’s cold and dark outside it can be tempting to fill up on unhealthy comfort food, but it’s important to ensure that you still keep your diet healthy and include five portions of fruit and veg a day. If you find yourself craving a sugary treat, try a juicy clementine or satsuma instead, or sweet dried fruits such as dates or raisins.

Winter vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, swede (rutabaga*) and turnips can be roasted, mashed or made into soup for a comforting winter meal for the whole family. Explore varieties of fruit and veg that you may not normally eat.

Read more about how to get your 5 A DAY.

4. Try new activities for the whole family

Don’t use the cold winter months as an excuse to stay in and lounge around. Instead, get out with the whole family to try out a new activity, maybe ice-skating or taking a bracing winter walk on the beach. Regular exercise helps to control your weight, boost your immune system and is a good way to break the tension that can build if the family is constantly cooped up inside the house.

Read more about different types of exercise for your and your family.

5. Have a hearty breakfast

Winter is the perfect season for porridge (oatmeal*). Eating a warm bowlful on a cold morning isn’t just a delicious way to start your day, it also helps you to boost your intake of starchy foods and fibre, which give you energy and help you to feel fuller for longer, stopping the temptation to snack mid-morning. Oats also contain lots of vital vitamins and minerals.

Make your porridge with semi-skimmed (2%*) or skimmed milk or water, and don’t add sugar or salt. Add a few dried apricots, some raisins, a sliced banana or other fruit for extra flavour and to help you hit the five-a-day target.

Read more about healthy breakfasts.

Editor’s Note: * translation provided for our U.S. audience

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 12-22-2014 to 12-28-2014

twitter thumbWelcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use Twitter and Facebook to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues not on Twitter or FB (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 10 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety Headline of the Week:
If Your Son Has Been Sexually Assaulted – 5 Things You Must Do
Information we hope we never need – but important to have

Parents, When Does Your Child Really Need A Life Jacket?

Wearing-a-life-jacketWhen you think of a life jacket, that sturdy vest that keeps you afloat, you probably think of large boats. While it is true that you should ALWAYS wear a life jacket when you are on a boat, a life jacket has far more uses for keeping you and your children safer around water. Today we are going to talk about when to wear a lifejacket, what constitutes a real life jacket, and how to convince the (usually male) disbelievers to wear a lifejacket.

Let’s start with the obvious, wearing a life jacket on a boat, because too many people still leave the life jacket sitting next to them ‘in case I need it’. 70% of boating fatalities result from drowning, and 85% of those who drown are not wearing a life jacket. It doesn’t matter if you have a little Sunfish sailboat for tooling around a small lake, a ski boat, a fishing boat, or a 90 foot ocean-going Oyster, if you end up in the water unexpectedly because you trip, are hit by the boom, get knocked by a wave, are dizzy from sunstroke, or any other unexpected accident, your odds of drowning are really high. Even if you see the person go in, think for a minute how hard it is to see a wet head in the water if they aren’t also wearing a life jacket, much less how difficult it is to retrieve the person when they are shocked, cold, and maybe injured. Even if you can get back to them and haul them onboard in a matter of minutes, they may already have started the process of drowning. My mom rule is that if you are above deck, you have a life jacket on, even docked or at anchor. And if it’s rough weather, it stays on, period. The new life jackets are light and comfortable, it’s not a hardship. Granted, if you are on one of those huge passenger ferries or a cruise ship, no one expect you to parade around all day in a lifejacket, but do know where they are kept and if you have a child, know where the child-sized jackets are stored. For your own recreational boating, click here to learn about Coast Guard approved lifejackets, the only type of lifejacket you should ever trust with your child’s life, and your own life. If you are traveling, call ahead and ask, many places have life jacket loaner programs, so you don’t necessarily have to invest yourself.

What most parents don’t think about is when lifejackets should be used off of boats. If you have an inexperienced or weak swimmer, a very young child, or anyone with physical or mental limitations, have them wear a life jacket whenever they are near water. If you are in a pool and at arm’s length, it isn’t necessary, but for a day at the beach or the lake, at one of those fabulous big resort pools, or even if you just have more than one child to watch, a life jacket adds a layer of safety and peace of mind. It is almost impossible for anyone, even vigilant lifeguards, to see beneath the surface of rough water, so better to keep the head above water in the first place. Children forget they can’t swim, they jump in or walk until they are over their heads, or just get tired, and next thing you know, they are bobbing just beneath the surface.

You may be thinking, I’m covered, I picked up a great floatation suit at the store, or always have those inflatable arm bands in our bag. First anything inflatable. If it inflates, it deflates. Those inflatable arm bands are still sold everywhere, because the water safety field hasn’t gotten the message out there, but if you have some, do me a favor, pick up the scissors and drive a hole right through them before you put them in the garbage. Not only can they deflate, especially at a beach or in rough water, but they really limit a child’s arm motion if they are trying to swim. I’m all in favor of having fun in the water, and inflatable rafts and rings and toys can be great fun, but they are for fun, not for safety. Inflatable arm bands aren’t even for fun. If you have a question about any floatation suit or vest you have, see if there is a label saying it is Coast Guard approved. Or go directly to the Coast Guard website to learn more. A true life jacket can turn an unconscious person onto their back so their face is not in the water.

There is the gray area of a child who is over-confident in the water but doesn’t have solid swimming skills, or has the skills but not the confidence. For this child, you really want them in the water practicing their skills, under your supervision, but a life jacket may be too restrictive. My go-to is still the SwimFin. It’s a shark-shaped fin that straps securely around a child’s middle. A UK-product, it has passed the European Union flotation regulations, except that it is still not a life jacket, because it won’t keep someone on their back if they are unconscious. I would never use SwimFin in the ocean or any other open water that has a current, a tide, or waves, but for a pool when you want to play more safely, it is absolutely brilliant. It changed one of our vacations from my daughter saying ‘I’m bored, I want to go back to the room’ to my having to beg to get her out of the pool at the end of the day. I still kept an eagle eye on her, but it gave her the freedom to practice her strokes and jumps. Her swimming skills and confidence improved exponentially and appropriately on that trip. Major bonus, all the kids at the pool wanted to wear one because it looks so cool.

Finally, how to you convince the ‘I’m too cool to wear a life jacket’ members of your family (statistically the males). For them, I have two videos to recommend. Both tried and tested within my family. For the younger males, have them watch this ‘Heroes Wear Life Jackets’ video that features Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers. My son said he was definitely more likely to wear a life jacket after watching – because it makes life jackets cool.

For the older males, here is an award-winning interactive video that simulates what happens when you are knocked into the water. You have to keep scrolling to stay alive. I admit I couldn’t watch for long, but the guys I work with said it got pretty graphic and frightening. But, it did convince one of the most recalcitrant non-jacket-wearing avid boaters I know to start wearing a life jacket. I didn’t push or nag, just forwarded the link in an email and said, ‘thought you might find this interesting’. Sometimes all it takes to change behavior is a slight nudge in the right direction and someone else explaining why they need to change.

Study Suggests it May be Harder to Detect Autism in Girls

Word picture about autism“Thousands of girls may have autism that has never been diagnosed because they cover-up the signs so well,” the Mail Online reports.

The headline is prompted by a study focusing on one of the key symptoms of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD): a failure to recognise the emotional states of others.

Researchers wanted to see if there was a gender difference associated with this symptom.

Children were assessed as having ASD-like traits if they scored highly on a well-validated checklist assessing social reciprocity (responding to others’ emotional states) and other verbal and nonverbal social traits.

The children were also given two tests to assess how well they could recognise emotion. The first was a test of how well they could distinguish emotions from photos of faces of other children expressing emotion such as happiness of fear.

The second test was more subtle. They were shown an animation of a triangle and a circle animated in such a way as to convey emotions; such as a jaunty bouncing to convey happiness or a slow slouching movement to convey sadness.

This test, known as the Emotional Triangles Task, is designed to assess the ability to detect recognise emotion from movement (a real-world equivalent would be trying to judge somebody’s likely mood by the way they are walking).

Researchers found that girls with ASD-like traits could recognise emotion from photos of faces as well as girls without ASD-like traits. However boys with ASD-like traits performed worse than boys without ASD-like traits on this test.

But both girls and boys with ASD-like traits struggled with the Emotional Triangles Task.

The concern now is that girls with ASD may be going misdiagnosed and are not receiving the support they need. This finding may have implications on how ASD is diagnosed in girls.

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from University College London and was funded by the National Institute of Health research and Wellchild, a UK charity for sick children.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

This story was covered by the Mail Online. The majority of the research was well-reported. Although it should be noted that the assertion that untreated girls with autism may be prone to eating disorders and depression in later life was based on a quote from the National Autistic Society.

Long-term outcomes of the participants were not assessed by the study.

What kind of research was this?

This was a cross-sectional study that aimed to investigate the potential association between autistic-type traits and emotion recognition, and whether this differs in boys and girls. This is the ideal study design to investigate this question.

What did the research involve?

The researchers used data from 3,666 children participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC); an on-going cohort study of children and parents.

The children were assessed using the Diagnostic Analysis of Non-Verbal Accuracy (DANVA) – the facial recognition test at 8.5 years of age and by the Emotional Triangles Task at 13.5 years.

The parents had also returned the results of the Social Communication Disorders Checklist (SCDC), a well-validated tool designed to detect for autistic-like social communication deficits at 13.5 years of age.

The SCDC measures social reciprocity, for example responding positively to positive actions such as kindness, and other verbal/nonverbal social traits.

A higher SCDC score is an indication of more deficits in social communication, and a score of nine or above is predictive of ASD. DANVA included a test assessing facial emotion recognition, by showing photographs of children expressing happiness, sadness, anger, or fear.

The Emotional Triangles Task assessed emotion recognition from the movement of objects, in this case a triangle and a circle moving around a screen during five-second animations.

The researchers compared performance on the DANVA and the Emotional Triangles task between children who scored higher or lower on the social communication disorders checklist. They then analysed boys and girls separately.

What were the basic results?

Children who scored nine or more on the SCDC had higher odds of:

  • Making at least seven errors in facial emotion recognition (all faces)
  • Making at least three errors in facial emotion recognition when shown ‘high-intensity’ faces
  • Making at least five errors in facial emotion recognition when shown ‘low-intensity’ faces
  • Making at least three errors in facial emotion recognition when shown fearful faces
  • Making a least two errors in facial emotion recognition when shown sad faces
  • Misattributing faces as happy at least four times

However, when boys and girls were analysed separately, it was found that girls scoring nine or more on the SCDC were not at increased odds of making any type of error in facial emotion recognition than girls who scored less than nine.

However, boys who scored nine or more on the SCDC had higher odds of making errors in the recognition of emotion in all types of faces compared to boys who had scores of less than nine. They also had higher odds of misattributing faces as happy.

Children with high SCDC scores performed worse on the Emotional Triangles Task, where they had to recognise emotions from the movement of objects.

Higher SCDC scores were associated with poorer emotion recognition in the happy and sad conditions. When boys and girls were analysed separately it was found that girls with high SCDC scores had poorer emotion recognition in the happy and sad conditions than girls with low scores. Boys with high SCDC scores had poor emotion recognition in the happy condition.

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers conclude that “autistic-like social communication difficulties were associated with poorer recognition of emotion from social motion cures in both genders, but were associated with poorer facial emotion recognition in boys only”.

They speculate that this might be because girls learn to compensate for facial emotion recognition difficulties and it is this speculation that caught the media’s attention.

They go on to say that “the implications of this are far reaching with regard to the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders in females, suggesting that more subtle assessment may be required to identify those individuals with difficulties”.


This was a large, interesting and useful study. It suggests that both boys and girls with defects in social communication skills suggestive of ASD have difficulties in emotion recognition from social motion, tested using the Emotional Triangles Task.

However, only boys with ASD-like social communication deficits have difficulties in recognising emotion from faces – girls with ASD-like traits perform as well as girls without ASD-like traits on this task.

This suggests that there may be differences in the characteristic traits associated with ASD between boys and girls, and implies that the criteria used to diagnose ASD may need to be gender-specific.

This study has one main strength in that it used data from a large number of children. However, the authors point out that it also has limitations, including that the group of children studied (from Avon, England) have been found not to be representative of the UK child population as whole.

So it is not known whether the findings are applicable to other groups across the country. Unfortunately, the study doesn’t specify how the children living in Avon were different from the general UK population but one might speculate there may be differences in ethnic diversity or socioeconomic background in this area, compared to the UK average.

They also point out that fewer girls than boys scored above the threshold of nine on the SCDC.

This may mean that the numbers of girls with scores above nine wasn’t big enough to detect a significant difference in facial emotion recognition, rather than there not being one.

It should also be noted that this study looked at autistic-type traits, but did not confirm a diagnosis of ASD.

Further research will be required to confirm the findings of the study, and to investigate if, how or why, girls might be able to compensate for facial emotion recognition difficulties.

Analysis by Bazian. Edited NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter.


“Thousands of girls may have autism that has never been diagnosed because they cover-up the signs so well,” the Mail Online reports. The headline is prompted by a study focusing on one of the key symptoms of autistic spectrum disorder.

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Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 12-15-2014 to 12-21-2014

twitter thumbWelcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use Twitter and Facebook to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues not on Twitter or FB (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 13 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety Headline of the Week:
5 Reasons To Rethink Santa’s Lap

8 Proven Tips To Get Your Kids to Write Thank You Notes

writing-thank-you-notesDid you know that writing “thank you” notes is a simple, verified way to boost your child’s gratitude? That’s what researchers from the University of California at Davis and Southern Methodis University found. But that’s not all: Researchers also discovered that being thankful might be the key to raising your child’s happiness and well-being.

For more than ten years two professors, Robert Emmons and Michael McCollugh, examined data of several hundred people who were involved in their simple gratitude experiments.

One ten-week study asked a group to write down five things in a journal they were grateful for that happened in the last week for four days a week.

A second group listed ways they were better off than others as a way to appreciate their blessings. The psychologists then looked at the medical and psychological tests of each participant prior to the study, and then again ten weeks later.

  • Those simple gratitude exercises made those participants feel 24 percent happier.
  • But that’s not all: the students were also more optimistic about the future, felt better about their lives, slept better, felt healthier and less stressed, were less materialistic and more likely to help others. And those results were not hard to achieve.
  • Best yet, you can help your child reap some of those results just by encouraging them to write thank yous.

While most of us agree that taking the time to write “thank yous” is a habit of gratitude we should encourage, getting many kids to actually write them –without the whines and complaints — if often a problem.

So here are a few fun (and a bit sneaky) tricks to getting your kids to write those notes for this year’s batch of holidays presents. Kids can start writing cards at young ages

8 Tips to Get Kids Into the Habit of Writing Thank You Notes

1. Set expectations for gratitude
Be clear and upfront this year. Any present–regardless of the price or size–deserves a “thank you” note. If your kids hear those expectations now, they’ll be less likely to put up a battle later. Parents who raise grateful kids don’t do so by accident.

2. Keep reminding!
Keep in mind that kids may need constant reminders. “Did you remember to thank Jeff’s mom?” And don’t overlook the slips: “You can call to thank her when you get home.”

3. Enforce the “Write then play” rule
Implement one simple family rule: “You must write the thank you note first, and then you may use the gift.” Believe me, that mandate speeds up the writing process.

4. Set age appropriate guidelines
A young child can dictate his comments and only needs to sign his name. School age kids should use this rule from The Etiquette and Leadership Institute at Athens, Georgia:

“The total number of sentences in a thank you note should be half the child’s age.”

So a ten-year-old should be expected to write a minimum of five complete sentences; a six-year-old should write just three sentences.

5. Turn on kids’ creative juices
Another way to get kids more involved in the “thank you” writing process is to ask them to come up with their own unique way of thanking Grandma. A few creative “thank you” note ideas for kids might include:

  • Making a video just for that person that expresses appreciation.
  • Taking a photo of the child wearing or using the gift. The developed four-by-six inch print makes an instant postcard; the child just writes a brief note on the back and addresses and mails it. Tweens and teens can take a photo from their cell phone and send it to Grandma (along with a thoughtful message).
  • Writing the thank you on a piece of card stock and then cut it into a few pieces like a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Spelling out the thank you use M&M’s or alphabet cereal glued on a piece of cardboard.
  • Picking a flower and press it flat for a few days between wax paper arranged inside a heavy book. Once the flower is pressed send it inside a heavy piece of folded paper with a note.

6. Help imagine the emotion behind the gesture
A hard lesson for kids to learn is that they’re really thanking the person not for the gift but the thoughtfulness behind it. “Grandma thought a lot about what to give you this year.” “Mark went to five stores to try to find what would make you happiest.” Keep reinforcing the thought that went into the purchase.

7. Be the example
One final tip: Remember, your kids are watching your example. So don’t forget to write thank you notes yourself! Have you written your thank yous?

8. Thank your kids
What about thanking your kids? Don’t overlook your kids’ daily thoughtful deeds. Just be sure to tell them what they did that you appreciate so that they are more likely to copy your example and send their own “appreciation messages” to others.

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

Dr Borba’s 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 is available at