How to Talk to Your Kids About…Strangers

As parents, we know we need to talk to our children about strangers, but it is hard to know how to talk to our children without scaring them.

Start by helping your children understand what a stranger is. A stranger is anyone that your family doesn’t know very well. They don’t have to look mean and evil like TV portrays.

When I was explaining strangers to our daughter, she said, “but we don’t know policemen, so are they strangers?”

Ah, after talking about bad strangers, be sure you explain that there are also Safe Strangers. Safe strangers are those people that our children can go to for help. Firemen, policemen, and teachers are good examples.

Once your child understands what a stranger is, talk about dangerous situations.

Explain to your children that anytime an adult…

  • Asks your child to keep a secret
  • Asks them for directions or help
  • Does or says something that makes them uncomfortable
  • Encourages them to disobey you or do something wrong

They need to get away and tell an adult immediately.

Next, role-play situations that your child might be faced with. (Helping your children understand that in these situations, it is okay to say “no” to an adult).  Some examples might include…

  • A stranger asks your child if they want a ride home
  • A stranger stops to ask if your child has seen their missing dog
  • A stranger asks your child for directions
  • A stranger asks your child if they want a treat or candy.

Talk to your child about what to do if they are ever faced with one of these situations.

  1. Never get close to the car, or the stranger. Keep your distance.
  2. Yell “No” as loud as you can and run away from the stranger.
  3. Tell an adult, or safe stranger what has happened right away.

Practice possible dangerous situations so your children know what to do. This will give them more confidence if the situation ever presents itself, and will give you a little peace of mind as you send them out the door each day.

An ADHD Dog Trainer Shows Special Kids How To Use Calm Energy

I have been writing articles about safe and healthy interactions between kids and canines for Pediatric Safety for over two years now, and in those articles I have shared numerous personal stories with you all… so I think it’s safe to say that through those stories many of you have gotten to know me pretty well. I have shared about what is was like growing up with ADHD and learning disabilities in a time where it was not really known about in my post: Growing Up With ADHD – Have Things Changed?“. I broached the subject of being in recovery from addiction in Kids, Pets & Your Holiday Party: Read this List (check it twice!) and I got into a bit more detail about it and also talked a bit about suffering for many years with low-self-esteem in Building a Child’s Confidence Through Dog Training“.  

So now, I want to combine little bits of all of that into this month’s article, because being a professional dog trainer, and especially being a member of a wonderful organization like the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) has changed me.  There are so many observations and realizations I have made about myself since becoming a member; both personally and professionally! The changes I had to make to grow as a trainer helped me take a new look at the struggles I had so many years ago and how I might have handled them today.  It is my hope that in sharing this story with you, I may be able to help many of you who have dogs and also a child who struggles with ADHD. I hope I can potentially offer you a different perspective on how they may see and perceive things, not based on years of research, studies and statistics, but based solely on my own personal experiences… who knows, maybe some of those same tactics can help you and your child too.

Early on in my career as a dog trainer, I really did not understand why I did not do well with toy breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese, Chihuahuas, etc. It was obvious (even to me) that I did not do well with them, but I just couldn’t grasp the ‘why’ of it. So I shied away from them. I took all the calls for the mid-sized dogs (Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Wheaten Terriers…)  large breeds (Golden and Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Huskies…) and even giant breeds like the Great Dane, Rottweiler’s and Mastiffs!. I was consistently successful with any breed that wasn’t tiny and typically nervous, so I referred those clients elsewhere. But I think deep down, it did bother me! Who wants to admit they cannot succeed in any area of their chosen profession? I sure didn’t!

But it was exactly this time, eight years ago, that I attended my first IACP conference!

To say that I ran the gamut of emotions- from excited to nervous, insecure, and petrified -would be a huge understatement! I do need to mention here that as a New Yorker, we all tend to talk a bit faster than most. I arrived at the conference a New Yorker with ADHD and extreme nervousness! Fortunately most of the other attendees acclimated to my hyperactivity pretty quickly… but I couldn’t help but notice how often words like, ‘Calm, tranquil, peaceful, and consistent’ were used in conjunction with the word ‘energy’ (ie: ‘calm energy,’ and  ‘tranquil energy,’ etc.).  Even the trainers who had their dogs with them … Both the trainers AND their dogs… were all so STILL!  And my first thought was ‘CRAP! I can’t do that!’ I immediately flashed back to my childhood. It was a time in my life when the word ‘can’t’ first became my mantra.

But then came the main meeting…. And the main speaker, Cesar Milan, took the stage. His primary methodology is all about using a calm energy… building the dog’s respect for him by being assertive, firm and consistent…and CALM. At the end of his speech, when it was time for questions and answers, you bet I had some! But when I stood up to take the microphone to ask it, in my nervousness, the rapid speech was tripled, and my words seem to come out in a jumble, all tripping over each other! And Cesar, obviously having no clue what I was trying to ask, came to the edge of the stage, and in a calm and very thoughtful pose, looked at Peter, my husband, and asked, “How often is she this hyper?”

At this time the entire audience of trainers, all of whom had spent the last few days already with me and having already witnessed my hyperactivity, began to laugh… and in front of thousands, I began to cry. All that pent up nervousness, all of those hidden insecurities up until that point, all the overwhelming new knowledge (and with it, the self-doubt) came rushing to the surface.

I somehow regained my composure, eventually got out my question, and he answered it, but it was when we spoke afterwards that some things suddenly started to make sense to me. I envisioned myself arriving at a client’s home with a tiny dog, that is fearful and nervous, and me coming at them at a hundred miles an hour! How would I personally feel if I was afraid, and someone came at me like that? I was just lucky that I hadn’t gotten bitten yet!

As I thought more and more on this, other memories resurfaced…. How as a child, our dog Brandy would often come to me to rough-house and play, but if he wanted to cuddle, or just wanted to be calm and still, it was my sisters he sought out. As a kid, I took it as a personal rejection. Now I realize it wasn’t.

And I started to change the way I worked with my clients.

  • When I had to work with a small dog, when I arrived at the house, I had to take a few deep calming breaths before ringing the doorbell. And I found when I calmly and assertively greeted them, both owner and dog seemed more calm and receptive!
  • Another challenge I had was my impatience and aggravation sitting in traffic for an hour prior to arriving at a clients house…. So to combat that, I left an extra half hour earlier than I needed to to arrive on time. This allowed me to arrive, park near-by and do something (reading, listening to some music, etc.) to bring down my level of agitation prior to arriving at the person’s house… And amazingly, I found this not only worked well for the many small dogs I now worked with, but for the larger hyper pups as well!

When I tried to help my clients with hyperactive ADHD kids, and I would explain the importance of the kids being calm around the dog, there was one key fact that I forgot….

Almost anyone can be calm for an hour during a focused training session. But if I was able to curtail that hyperactivity full time, I would not have the diagnosis of ADHD! Was I seriously asking my client’s hyperactive kids to be calm full-time and expecting them to accomplish it?

I needed to figure out a way to help them interact with their dogs better, because I could physically see the different way the dog or pup reacted to the ADHD child versus older or calmer family members.

  • With the calmer children, the dog was more relaxed, did not mind lying next to them and even cuddling with them….
  • The ADHD child was filled with scratches and nip marks from the dog chasing them and jumping on them. Also a child that feels rejected by the dog that won’t cuddle with them will often try to ‘force the dog to stay with them’ by holding their collar or wrapping their arms around him. If a child physically restrains a dog and the dog wants to get away, there is a very high risk in that moment of the dog biting the child to free themselves.
  • My toughest challenge was trying to figure out a good way to explain these dynamics to the child as well as explain to the parents the potential risks and dangers in a way so that they could understand and be receptive to the necessary changes.

What we did (and what you can do)

  • The first thing I wanted to do was work with the child (and Mother) alone… without other family members present. (This made the child feel less self-conscious and more important – he was getting to work alone with the trainer)
  • Next, I wanted to show the child that they too can have a ‘cuddling session’ with the dog. I sat on the floor with the child and we just talked a bit about the puppy, and I asked him if he would like to be able to cuddle with the puppy too, and he looked so sad when he said, “Yes, but the puppy doesn’t like me that way.” This was my opportunity to explain to him that if all they did was run and go crazy with the dog that would ALWAYS be their relationship, so he had to show the pup that they can do this.
  • Next I sat side by side with the child, with my legs stretched out in front of me. I opened my legs a bit and I put the puppy on his back in between them, then gently held him in place. Once the dog had settled on me, I told the boy to gently pet all the way up, and all the way down the dog’s body, instead of quick rough movements in one spot, and to avoid the paws and ears for now, as they are sensitive areas on a dog that tend to get them easily riled up when messed with.
  • The little boy did as I asked, and then when the pup was nice and calm, I switched the pup over to in between Mom’s legs and we continued the gentle petting. It was important that Mom was comfortable with this and understand what she had to do if she was going to be able to continue this when I was not around.
  • After pup was relaxed with Mom, we instructed the child to sit the same way his Mom and I did, and then we calmly put the pup between his legs, and I let his Mom help him to keep the pup still and calm. We continued this, and much to the little boy’s delight, the puppy let out a huge sigh, and then closed his eyes!

When the pup was nice and relaxed, we got him up slowly and then put his leash on and all of us (Mom included) went for a walk. We worked on walking SLOWLY, and getting the pup to keep pace with the boy, instead of the other way around. The boy seemed to have a bit of trouble walking slowly for any length of time, so we practiced taking ten steps, and then telling pup to SIT. I praised the boy, and had the boy praise his dog (calmly and gently). We did this again and again…. Every ten steps we stopped and sat. The Mom told me she had never seen her son so calm and focused, and I pointed out to the Mom and the boy how receptive the pup was to his training.

A dog can be such a wonderful tool to help a child with special needs. All it really takes is a little know-how, some time, patience, and understanding. This is why they are so often used for therapy.

As an adult who has dealt with ADHD all of my life, I hope some of this helps you to help your child move out of the “I can’t’ Mantra, and into the “Wow… I really can!” all the while helping your child and pet build a safe and beautiful relationship!

Healthy Back to School Lunches Kids Will Want to Eat

For many kids across the country, school is starting and that means kids will be eating lunch away from home. Proper nutrition is important for physical health and brain function.

A child who does not get enough nutrients in her lunch or has a sugar crash shortly after lunchtime may have a harder time focusing and learning. But how do we get kids to eat healthy at school whether they are choosing from the cafeteria foods or taking a lunch from home?

Here are some ideas I shared on Oklahoma City’s KOKH Fox 25 morning show to help your kids choose or take healthy lunches they will actually want to eat and won’t trade with their friends.

Get Kids Involved in Choosing What to Eat

Kids who are given choices about what goes in their lunchbox will be more likely to eat what is packed. The key is giving two or three choices among healthy options. Would he prefer whole grain bread or a whole grain tortilla or pita pocket? Broccoli or carrots? Grapes or an apple? Milk or water?

Teach your kids what different foods do for the body and how our body needs nutrients offered by these foods to fuel it so we can do the things we need to do and the things we enjoy. Does your kid like sports or have a favorite athlete? Point out how athletes (such as all our great Olympic champions) eat healthy foods and avoid junk foods so they have the energy and the strength to participate and excel at their sport. When kids understand how healthy foods can benefit them (make them stronger, faster, and even smarter) then they will be open to eating those foods.

If your child eats the school cafeteria’s food, get a menu for the week or month and have your child make some choices from the menu before going to school. This way, you can help guide the choices. If there is not a healthy option listed for a certain day, you can plan to pack a lunch that day.

Packing a Balanced Lunch

A balanced lunch is one that consists of a serving of protein (think lean meats, low-fat cheeses, nuts or nut butter, beans), a vegetable, a fruit, a serving of whole grains (whole grain bread, whole grain tortilla or pita pocket, whole grain rice, etc.), and a dairy serving (if able to have dairy).

Let your child help choose the foods he will take to school and help assemble his lunch. Kids who make their own lunch will want to eat it. Guide the choices when needed and praise healthy choices. And remember, it is okay to pack a little sweet treat too. A small cookie, fun-size piece of candy, or other small treat helps kids learn that these foods are okay in small portions and not with every meal. All things in moderation! As long as it is a small treat, even if she eats it first, she’ll still have room for the rest of her healthy lunch.

Add some WOW Factor to Make Lunch Fun

Another way to get kids to enjoy eating healthy lunches is to make them visually appealing and fun. Think outside the boring sandwich box! Cut foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters or fun-shaped sandwich cutters. Or consider making lunchtime kabobs using wooden skewers or thick big pretzels and alternating meat cubes, cheese cubes, and cherry tomatoes or a variety of fruits and veggies. Mix up some healthy trail mix to eat instead of chips or fries or pack some pita chips, wheat crackers, or crunchy carrot sticks. The more colorful the fruits and veggies, the healthier they are, so make a colorful lunch salad with dark leafy lettuces, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and pack a side of a low-fat, low-calorie dressing.

Do your kids love pre-assembled lunchable-type lunches? Make your own healthier version with whole wheat crackers, lean meats and low-fat cheeses cut down to size and in fun shapes. Do they like to dip their foods? Veggies and fruits can be dipped into low-fat yogurt or veggie dip. Do they like bite-sized foods? Cut up everything and pack them into separate compartments or put them in small snack-sized sandwich bags. Love a variety of fruits? Cut them up and mix to make a yummy fruit salad. Like to grill or cook-out? Make “campfire” foil packets with their favorite lean meat and veggies, grill until done and pack for lunch. Make it fun and they will be excited to eat their lunch and won’t be tempted to trade!

Saturday at AMC, DC League of SuperPets is Sensory Friendly

New sensory friendly logoSince 2007, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other special needs “Sensory Friendly Films” every month – a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fun new films in a safe and accepting environment. Saturday, DC League of SuperPets is Sensory Friendly at AMC.

Enjoy the magic of the movies in an environment that’s a little quieter and a little brighter. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

Families affected by autism or other special needs can view a sensory friendly screening of DC League of SuperPets on Saturday August 13th. Tickets are typically discounted depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Coming Soon: Bullet Train (Wed. Aug. 24th) and Minions: The Riser of Gru (Sat. Aug. 27th)

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Editor’s note: Although DC League of SuperPets has been chosen by the AMC and the Autism Society as this month’s Sensory Friendly Film, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for Rated PG for action, mild violence, language and rude humor. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.

An EMS Guide to Hurricane Preparation: Keep Your Family Safe!

girl_under_umbrella_hurricaneWe are just beginning August and already in the middle of an above-average hurricane season. While the thought of being in hurricane season may not concern most people, the thought of getting ready for a hurricane can cause some worry and panic if left to the last minute.  The long lines, the financial cost, and finally the letdown when yet another hurricane comes and goes and turns out to be nothing more than a windy, rainy day has made properly preparing for hurricanes a bother and an afterthought. I realize that hurricanes, unlike earthquakes can take days and sometimes weeks to happen and give ample time to prepare, but the fact remains that proper preparation and planning can avoid putting you and your family in danger both during and after a storm.

As an EMS provider, I would like to share with you some of the basic hurricane preparation tips that we tell people and also share with you some of the issues that I have seen in the aftermath of storms and weather events.

INSIDE YOUR HOME

  • How many people will you be preparing for? Will it be just the people in the house or will there be extended family or grandparents as well.   Preparing for four people and housing more will deplete supplies very quickly.
  • Do the people in the plan have special needs, handicaps or medications that need to be filled? What about medical devices that require power?  Beds, oxygen tanks, breathing machines, asthma machines etc.  All need to be considered.
  • If you have a baby or small child, do you have an ample supply of diapers, formula, medication, clothing etc.
  • Food and water. Buying nonperishable food is recommended, and having at least a 3 day supply is recommended as well. How will we cook the food?   Propane tanks should be filled and ready, does a barbecue need to be purchased or brought inside?  Refrigerators and freezers should be set very low to preserve food in times of power loss.   Enough water should be purchased to keep people hydrated during times of power loss and no air conditioning to avoid any heat or dehydration issues.  Water should also be considered for cooking needs as well.
  • Do you have enough batteries to power devices? Do you have a power generator in the event of a loss of power for an extended amount of time?  There are many different sizes depending on your power needs.   Do you have gas for your generator?   When storing any type of fuel, please do so in a well ventilated area and not in the living area as fumes may be toxic.
    NEVER RUN YOUR GENERATOR IN OR NEAR THE LIVING AREACarbon monoxide from the exhaust can be fatal.   The generator or any motorized device should be run outside, in a well ventilated area, well away from where people are gathered or living.    Do you have extension cords to run into your home from the generator?  Make sure you buy properly rated cords or you could risk a fire starting from overheating of the cords.
  • All pets should be brought in during the storm and enough food and water should be on hand for the pet inside the home.  Will there be different pets in the house and could that cause problems?   Do the pets take any medication that need to be filled before the storm?  Do any of the people staying in your home have any pet allergies? And will this be a possible issue?
  • First Aid supplies. During a storm, EMS providers and fire trucks cannot go outside once the winds hit a certain miles per hour and may prevent us from responding to your home in an emergency.  Having a basic first aid kit and supplies such as band aids, gauze, ice packs, ace bandages etc. will help in times of delayed response by EMS.

OUTSIDE YOUR HOME

  • Patio items. Are there any items that may fly way during a storm?  Patio furniture, above ground pools, Barbecues, boats, golf carts etc..  If it can be brought inside then it is recommended, but if it cannot then secure it the best you can or try to find an alternate storage site.
  • Securing your home. Do you have impact windows and doors?   If not, then are there any hurricane shutters that need to be put up?  Do you own hurricane shutters?  If not there are places that sell them in standard sizes.  Do we have any lingering roof or window issues that may worsen during a heavy rain and wind event?  A little drip can turn into a lot more very quickly. Do you have a flooding issue around your home?   Sandbags may need to be filled and placed as well.
  • Vehicles can get severely damaged when left outside in a storm.  If you have nowhere to store your vehicle then I recommend pulling it as close to the building as possible to avoid as much exposure as possible and it can provide some protection to the structure as well. Having the vehicles fully fueled beforehand is recommended in case of emergency and also to avoid the long lines at the gas station that always result.
  • Sheds and outside storage. In hurricane Andrew here in south Florida, there were numerous reports of tool sheds being sent air born and the tools inside become very sharp and dangerous projectiles in the process.   Please secure sheds and storage as much as possible and bring tools inside if possible.
  • Items attached to the home. Any items on the roof such as turbines or whether devices can be ripped off leaving very large holes in the roof and should be removed and capped if possible.  Below ground pools should be lowered to avoid damage to the pool as well as the overflowing possible causing flooding towards the home.

Being 100% prepared for a hurricane truly depends on your needs and the needs of those around you.  The list of possibilities is endless but the basics are not.  What things do YOU and YOUR FAMILY need to survive on a daily basis?  Is a question that should be asked, and contrary to your kid’s beliefs, internet is not one of them. The basic essentials of shelter, food, water, and medicines trump all else. The overall list can be long and daunting and looks much worse when done at the last minute.  But having the essentials on hand at the beginning of hurricane season leaves time to accomplish everything else thus making that list not so bad.  Having been born and raised here in South Florida and gone through hurricane Andrew, I can tell you firsthand that the supplies we had made all the difference and it will for you as well. I hope this list has served as a guide and a good place to start for you.

Thank You