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Athlete’s Foot – A 12-Year Old Boy’s Cautionary Tale

Children's bare feet resting on grassWhen our son Elliott turned 12, he was by nature independent-minded, stubborn and argumentative (but cute!). Add to his natural tendencies the typical behavior of tweendom, and it was not surprising we ended up in the situation that led me to write this post.

This is a cautionary tale about boys, stubbornness, personal hygiene, failed parental nagging….and athlete’s foot.

Elliott had for months paid no attention to taking his shoes off when he got home from school or came in after playing. Since he’s often home a couple of hours before we return from work – and our first thought in the door is usually not “Dude, have you taken off your shoes yet??” – we frequently discovered his shoes still on at bed time.

It doesn’t help that he has genetically sweaty/smelly feet (particularly noticeable as he nears puberty) – and is often out shooting hoops with friends or tearing through the neighborhood in search of spies – which all just adds to the wet, warm biome in his shoes. But we’d given him ample reasons and months (years?) of coaching about the need to let both his feet and his shoes breathe, and yet he still didn’t listen.

Sometimes you just have to let them fall, fail, learn for themselves. So when Elliott came to me last week to show me the scaly scabby area on the bottom of his foot – which I’ve since discovered is the “moccasin” variety of athlete’s foot – I made sure to connect the dots between his behaviors and this undesired outcome. The next day I came home to find his sneakers propped up in front of the lit fireplace, drying out! And now he is putting anti-fungal cream on the bottom of each foot (yes, it’s on both) two times a day – and was excused from gym class (which he loves).

So, if you have a tween boy who isn’t responding to your gentle prodding – or well deserved nagging – about personal hygiene, feel free to use this cautionary tale.

And for added impact, here are some things about athlete’s foot I wish I had known earlier:

  • Athlete’s foot does not just come with a rash…it itches, stings and burns!
  • This fungal infection can spread to other parts of the body – including the hands and groin area
  • It can be difficult to get rid of, especially if it spreads to the toenails
  • Infection of the toenails can result in thickened, cracked nails – or they can fall out
  • More severe infections may require prescription ointments and anti-fungal pills
  • After you have had athlete’s foot once, you are more likely to get it again

Water Workouts: Fun for Kids, Great (& Easy) Exercise for Parents

I am not one of those moms. Not the one who has an endless repertoire of educational and enjoyable crafts activities. Not the one who is genuinely excited about the endless games of trains or Candyland. Not the one who invites 10 5-year-olds over to make designer cupcakes from scratch, with matching hand-cut doilies, after the personalized pedicures. And I never really enjoyed watching many children’s TV shows or movies, with the exception of Lazy Town when my kids were little.

Let's go swimming for the first timeSadly my motivation for watching Lazy Town was not very pure. A truly wonderful show which encouraged an active lifestyle, exercise, friendship and kindness, I admit that I let my kids watch every afternoon when they were young because the star was a hunk and in those early days of sleep deprivation, baggy and stained clothing, my rear and stomach wobbling and sliding south and what felt like zero physical appeal it was like watching mom porn. Fit! Active! Positively Perky!

And then I found the answer. The pool. Not swimming laps, because I’d manage maybe 10 minutes of that before I was recalled to active mom duty, but in the best possible way that also played to my mom-strengths – teaching my kids to be safe while we all had active fun in the water. I got my mojo back (and my figure), which made me a much better mom who happily did some crafts and games and always made time for our beloved story time when my kids were happy and worn out from being in the water and we’d snuggle together.

Not that long ago, I wrote about how parents are the first lifeguard on duty for your child, which means you need to be in the water with less confident swimmers and arms-length from non-swimmers. I promised my tried-and-true fun for kids, great easy workout for mom or dad, so here it goes! Repetition is key, as many times as your child is enjoying the exercise and every time you go in the pool. Think of how many times you say ‘look both ways before you cross the street’ as your inspiration. The goal is to teach your child to not panic, to be able to possibly save themselves if they do find themselves in water unexpectedly, or at least give you a couple more minutes to find your missing explorer, and to give them a positive and enjoyable introduction to water.

Humpty Dumpty’s for upper body. Sit your young child on the side of the pool (mine started when they were 4 months old). Recite the nursery rhyme and when Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall, lift your child and ‘fall’ off the wall, gently forward with their head always above water, then say the same words every time ‘turn around and hold on’ and place their clenched little fists against the wall. As your child gets older they will learn to turn and hold the wall on their own, they will be willing to have their head go under water as they ‘fall’, and eventually you can spot them while they fall, turn, and climb out themselves.

Monkey Hands for a full body workout. Hold on to the wall with your hands and have your child do the same. You are vertical and your feet will be against the wall helping to move you. Use ‘monkey hands’ to scoot around the pool to the ladder or steps. Start with a short distance, expand to the entire side or around the entire pool as you and your child build strength and endurance. You are teaching them to get to a place where they can climb out safely and building their confidence and muscles.

Helicopters for core and arms. Hold your child under their arms and twirl them around in the water with their feet in the water and their head and shoulders held well clear of the water. Children love the feel of the water rushing against their legs, and it’s better than a thousand crunches for you.

Coral Reef Dives for legs. When your child is old enough to dive under, stand with your legs wide and have them dive between your legs without touching. You can start with lifting one leg and then the other to give them more space. For my son, the budding marine biologist, he knew that coral is sharp and if he rubbed the coral and was cut it would attract sharks, which increased his determination, but that might be too much information for many children, so use your judgement. Fun, not fear is the goal.

Finally, anything you do in the water, whether it’s walking at the edge of the surf, walk in the water holding a baby, catching your child as they practice big jumps – it’s going to the gym times two because of the resistance of the water. No matter how you move in the water, it’s going to make you stronger, healthier and in much better shape. But you probably already knew that if you watched Katie Ledecky or Caeleb Dressel, or maybe you were a secret Lazy Town viewer like me.

Stimming and Special Needs: The Good, The Bad and the Flappy

child making stimming motionsHow do you react when when your dog greets you at the door with a wagging tail or your cat cuddles up to you and purrs loudly? You might think it’s cute or that the animal is just expressing its feelings. Do you ever get angry? do you ever think your pet is acting weird? Of course not, it’s just the natural way they use body language or their voice box.

Now think about how most people react to a child having a tantrum, kicking and screaming. How do people respond when a child with special needs is flapping their hands, spinning a toy car’s wheels or banging their head against a wall. Some people get downright angry about these behaviors, especially when they happen in public. But the child is just expressing his or herself, using the body language and sound that come naturally. While some of these may be harmless, many of these behaviors may be considered annoying or distracting and others can be downright dangerous.

Let’s go back to our beloved pets. A puppy naturally needs to chew, so it finds a shoe and chews it to bits. The puppy isn’t trying to destroy your property or do anything to harm you personally, it is just a teething baby that needs to chew. A good pet owner will simply hide all the shoes and introduce chew toys, substituting a more appropriate way to fulfill the puppy’s need to chew. A cat needs to scratch, it is simply instinct as well as a way to mark territory and sharpen claws. Unless the human wants shredded furniture it’s a good idea to provide a scratching post and train the cat to use it instead of the couch to satisfy its need to scratch.

So how can we allow our special needs kids to express themselves without getting injured or doing damage to themselves or to property? Just like with our animal companions, we substitute a more appropriate behavior that satisfies the same need.

  • If a child seems to need to jump, a small trampoline might be just the ticket.
  • If a child needs to chew, fashionable chew-able accessories are available.
  • As for hand-flapping, if it is an expression of happiness or excitement and it is not injuring the child, anyone else or anyone’s property then why change it?

Photo provided by Kfagan6; CC license

How to Keep Kids From Getting Bit Helping with Dog Training

As a professional dog trainer for many years, there are many things I have had to learn to do differently when working with the dogs around children versus what I would normally do.

Things that I would not typically think twice about, I must when kids are around…. Because they tend to copy everything – and some things may be quite dangerous for them to copy without the know-how and quick reflexes.

Some commands are simple to teach, and for those, the children can be around without encountering any issues, for example:

Sit….Stay….Down….Off

All of those commands are simply taught using some treats and simple leash work. Not only are they simple – they’re predominately safe – meaning if your child is practicing this with the pup later on, and he or she hasn’t mastered the art of “sitting”, it is highly unlikely (unless it a 180 lb mastiff and sits on your 3 year old) that there’s a hospital trip in your future

There are however, other commands that I would highly suggest teaching the dog when the children are NOT around, and show them the after-results – such as:

  1. Corrections of negative behaviors
  2. Drop It
  3. Leave It

There are very specific reasons these aren’t taught around children, and I will explain these in detail below. However, the one reason above all that I want to emphasize is that we train our dogs because it keeps our whole family safe, including our pup. The 3 commands I mention above (correcting negative behaviors, Drop it and Leave it), while not particularly complicated, have the potential to endanger your child if they attempt them on their own (ranging from simple emotional distress to a bite).

Correcting negative behaviors

I typically avoid teaching this when working around children because sometimes a pup may require firm quick corrections on a leash – which can cause problems for children:

  • A more sensitive child can get upset when a negative behavior such as jumping on people or guarding a toy or food requires a quick, firm correction with the leash. They do not always understand that corrections of bad behavior are just as imperative as praising the positive, and that we are not hurting the pup or dog.
  • On the flip side of that, a more confident or bold child may try to emulate what we are doing, but in the process may unintentionally hurt the pup or dog because they do not yet know or understand the amount of pressure required on the leash to make the correction yet not hurt the dog in the process.

Drop It and Leave It

These two commands are typically not taught around children for safety reasons. Kids do much better working with these commands after your pup has mastered them.

I also want to clarify here that when I say ‘teaching these commands’, I am not just referring to specific focused moments of training, like when you’re with a trainer, or even when you plan a specific time to work with your pup. I am speaking in general. Any time training takes place – because impromptu training takes place ALL THE TIME. You feed the dog, you want him to sit before he eats, you’re training.

You need to be careful though with impromptu “Drop It” and “Leave It” training. Remember – kids copy everything. Take for instance a dog that just grabbed the TV remote.! The dog has obviously not taken it to switch channels, so chances are it’s taken to become a new chew toy! And they are not cheap to replace! That is when our ‘protect the item’ Instinct kicks in.

Usually the first thing we do is call them to us. We are never thrilled in these moments, so the call unintentionally gets done in an angry voice (“COME HERE!!”) which clearly told Fido you are not happy with him! Of course, now that he knows you are angry, not only does he ignore your call, but he took off in the opposite direction! So what happens next? We jump up to chase them and retrieve the item back.

It is at this point that one of two scenarios ensue:

  1. The kids join the chase… it becomes a big game to both kids and dog, and you end up with more aggravation and pandemonium on your hands, or:
  2. You ran to chase the dog (which was loads of fun for the dog, as he now has your full attention and is playing the “You can’t catch me” game!) and when you finally get him, your kids see you reach in and grab the item from his mouth.

Now some time passes, and you may have forgotten all about this incident…. But your kids haven’t. So the next time Fido grabs something he should not have, such as one of their toys, your kids repeat what you did… only now the dog also remembers it, and also remembers once you caught him, you took the item away, so this time he is more possessive and guarding the item. This is behavior your child did not see last time, and the next thing you know, they reach out to grab the item back, and the dog strikes out and bites. Impromptu Drop It training gone really wrong.

So how could all of this have been avoided? We start with PLANNED Drop It training when the kids aren’t around.

The “Drop-It” command is a simple task to teach, and can be accomplished using one of their simple rope toys:

  1. Get them interested in a toy by playing with it with them.
  2. Once they are engaged in the play, bring the hand holding the toy closer to your body to stabilize it and hold it still…. This ‘discontinues’ the ‘tug’ action of the game.
  3. Grasp the toy with your free hand right in front of their mouth, and start creeping your hand forward, all the while saying, “Drop-It”. This forces them to lose their grip on the toy.
  4. As soon as they do, praise them, and begin again.

Essentially what this does is show them that you are not just taking the item away from them (which can create some ‘possession aggression’) but rather that the game can continue…. but only if they drop the item when you tell them to.

Now, let’s revisit that scenario. To start with, during the early training stages with your dog, the leash needs to be a vital part of his everyday life. Leash equals control.

  • Dog grabs remote, but since the leash was on, you can step on it and then reel him back in!
  • You have already taught the dog the ‘drop it’ command so the kids never see you reach into his mouth to retrieve the item.
  • You can calmly tell the dog to drop it, they do, you praise them, and the moment is done.

Now, the biggest difference between “Drop-It” and “Leave-It” is that Drop It is used when they already have the item they are not supposed to have, while Leave It teaches them not to pick it up in the first place! To teach “Leave-It” we use desirable ‘training traps’ (things that your dog loves to grab) and the leash. Throw the item on the floor, and when they run to grab it, give a quick, firm tug on the leash and say Leave-It!”. Continue doing this until you can drop the item and they do not lunge forward to get it.

Leave-It is especially important for the safety of BOTH the kids and the dog…. if you accidentally drop a pill on the floor, with the Leave-It command, they will not lunge for it. Also, if your child is eating and they drop a piece of food, using the Leave-It command will avoid the dog racing to grab it, and more importantly, the child reaching into their mouths to get it back!

My last piece of advice…. If you have not had the option to teach them yet what ‘Drop It’ or ‘Leave-It’ means and how it is done, and Fido gets ahold of something you do not want him to have, Distraction is always a great alternative. Grab a very high-value treat (a piece of cheese, a piece of hot dog, etc.) something they do not get often, but they will choose over a tasteless remote. Start off standing still and show it to them, and if they do not come immediately, take tiny steps backwards (movement is very interesting to dogs and gets their attention quicker… moving away from them means they should follow or they may miss out on that treat) Try to make it a treat or an item that they can’t gobble up in one bite, giving them ample time to return to the discarded item faster than you can. What you do not want is a race back to the original item…. I can pretty much guarantee they’ll get back there first.

I also want to note that this last piece of advice should be used as an emergency back-up plan, and not a go-to plan of action. The reason being we do not want the dog to learn that if they want a good high-quality treat, all they need to do is grab something they re not supposed to have, and we’ll replace it with something awesome!!

Being one step ahead of a potential disaster is always preferable to the alternative! So teaching your dog these basic manners when the kids are not present will keep everyone safe, happy and healthy!!!

Top 3 Ways to Get Your Child to Choose Healthy Foods

Teach healthy food choicesI spend a lot of time in my family nutrition practice helping parents with their “picky eaters.” That could be the primary reason for their visit, or the picky eating could be complicated by a diagnosis that requires a child to go on a special diet in which their favorite foods are no longer on the menu. This adds layers to their nutrition issues and it is my job to peel the proverbial onion.

How do we transition our kids to the right path with minimal conflicts? What are the underlying issues associated with food battles? Every child is unique, and that cannot be understated. But there are some common denominators with them and hopefully this post will provide you with some ideas to chew on.

It is not a news flash to you that kids want to make their own choices. When parents force things on their children, the natural thing they do is push back. But does that mean we should give children all the decision-making when it comes to eating? Absolutely not. Parents often take this thought too far in allowing their children to make too many choices on their own. It’s all about guiding them. With food, provide acceptable choices from which they may choose. That is the main theme, and here are three of the most important ways in which you can implement them:

  1. Expose your children repeatedly. Expose your children to a variety of foods. This should start super early in your child’s life and continue as they grow older. Do not delete a food off your child’s menu because they reject it one time or even multiple times. Avoid saying statements such as, “He/she does not like (fill in the food).” A child’s body is growing and developing – and that includes their taste buds! Parents provide the healthy meals and the child gets to choose to eat them or not. If they don’t eat dinner because they don’t like how it looks, that’s OK! But don’t provide an alternate meal of their choice, and don’t allow them to have a snack after dinner of their own food preference. This will never encourage them to try new foods! Stay strong, Mom and Dad. If they are hungry later, you can tell them that you are more than happy to heat up their dinner plate. If you stick to your guns on this one and your kids see that throwing a tantrum does NOT get their way, they will eat the dinner. If you have this in place from the beginning, it’s less of a struggle. They don’t know any different. But if you have done this wrong in the past, communicate that this is the new way and we are not going back.
  2. Assess your home’s food environment. Each new year should involve going through the kitchen and doing a food balance assessment. When you look into your pantry and/or fridge, are 90% of the available foods healthy? If not, you may need to make some changes. We must fill our home with “always” foods and if there are any “sometimes” foods that are being over consumed, remove them from your home. Make healthy foods ready-to-eat so those snacks are as easy as grabbing a bag of chips.
  3. Involve your children. Your entire family must be a part of the entire feeding process. That includes planning, shopping (or growing!), preparing, eating and cleaning. The parents are in charge (and must stay in charge), but the children should be involved as helpers in age-appropriate ways. A toddler can help set the table while a teenager can be in charge of cooking one night. Involve your children in the “why’s” behind healthy eating as well. A family is a team and teams must work together to stay healthy so they can meet all their life’s goals. Food is literally the fuel for our precious bodies! Use the MyPlate visual as a guide to help plan meals, and have your children (school-age or older) make their own school lunches that include all the items. If they buy their lunch, go over the school menu and encourage them to use the MyPlate when choosing their lunch.

How ironic is it that being a parent is THE hardest job on the planet and there is no training manual? When it comes to raising healthy eaters, constantly be thinking about the behaviors around feeding children. Empower them to make the healthy choices so they will choose them on their own. That, my friends, is the key to raising a healthy adult.

Why Your Child Should Be Using LinkedIn

Most parents may not have considered how LinkedIn could be part of their children’s social media experience. In my opinion, it has the greatest potential to help (or hinder) a teenager’s future by how it impacts their Digital Footprint – the evidence that we all leave behind when we go online. And not just by what it says about them, but about what it might not say about them.

Smart Social, used by over a million parents, educators and students each year and whose tagline is “Learn how to shine online,” recommends that every high school student should be using LinkedIn. In fact, they recommend that teens start preparing for their LinkedIn profile even before they’re actually using the service.

Why LinkedIn?

As the number one social media network across all professions, LinkedIn is in a unique position to help just about everyone who uses it, regardless of what educational and professional future lies ahead of them. There are reportedly over 180 million people in the U.S. using LinkedIn and close to a billion worldwide.

LinkedIn puts students in a position where they can reach out to people with a wide variety of backgrounds as well as the schools and companies that they may wish to engage with in the future. As far back as 2017 (further than that, really), Forbes Magazine has been recommending that parents help their children use LinkedIn.

Unlike many other social media platforms, the minimum age for using the service is 16, as long as your local laws don’t require something older. No access until age 16 means teenagers are under a tight time constraint if they want their Digital Footprint to help them achieve their immediate goals of getting a better job or into a good school. By the time your child is a sophomore or junior in high school, they need to be active on LinkedIn. The more time they get to spend on it, the bigger the impact it can have on their future.

LinkedIn As a Blogging Platform

Having an online presence where people can demonstrate their knowledge and skills is an important part of crafting their future. Unfortunately, creating a personal website where people can post their own content isn’t for everyone. That’s where LinkedIn can really help.

Unlike other platforms that might limit what a user can post in terms of topic, length or features, LinkedIn’s Articles can provide a robust platform and demonstrate that your child is a thought leader and lets them engage with others in a way that no other platform can.

Groups! Groups! Groups!

Most social media platforms have groups, but not like LinkedIn does. Students can use these groups to reach out to graduates, faculty, student groups and more from possible future institutions where they may wish to attend after graduating high school. My own alma mater has over 70 groups on LinkedIn. This can help focus attention on the schools that best fit their interests. As a parent, it can save families from making cross-country trips to visit potential schools only to find out that they aren’t a good fit for your child.

Groups can also be used to find other individuals who have similar career interests. The most important part about being in a group is to be active in it. That may sound like common sense, but the people in the group need to see that someone in the group is engaging with others and not only doing “hit and run” actions to get attention. If your child uses the articles feature mentioned above, it’s a great place to share those posts with people who are likely to be interested in what your child has to say.

Job Hunting on LinkedIn

One of the best ways to use LinkedIn is to prepare for sending in resumes and job interviews. Applicants can learn more about what the company does not only by looking at the company’s page, but by seeing what employees post about the company (you can search for people by where they work).

You can also see what groups people belong to, read their posts, etc. to help get an edge on other applicants. The more competitive the job is or the school that someone is applying to, the more that every advantage can mean the difference between getting accepted and being passed over in favor of someone else.

The Bottom Line

What it comes down to is that if schools and employers are going to be using a candidate’s Digital Footprint to help make acceptance decisions, then everyone should be making the most of their opportunities.

Most people think of LinkedIn only as a way to connect in terms of sales leads and having others contact them for job opportunities and while it certainly does that, it’s capable of so much more if used properly. LinkedIn has the potential to be of tremendous value to school and job applicants.

One word of caution: like any social media platform, there is always the risk inherent with using it. While I haven’t seen any of the issues of pornography or sexting that can happen on other platforms, I have seen what could pass for cyberbullying when people engage on hot button topics, such as politics.

That said, once someone becomes active on a social media site, including LinkedIn, the algorithms that help determine what people see online can get their profile noticed by people that otherwise might not get the opportunity to learn about your child. The key to using any experience, online or offline, is to use it to their greatest benefit.

First impressions make lasting impressions. Make it count!