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Dear Santa…Please Keep My Family Safe

Every year children all across the country and the world make lists to Santa. Wishes for new bikes and dolls and don’t forget the very latest toy. Childhood wishes and childhood dreams. Every year though children are poisoned by holiday plants; are electrocuted by holiday decorations. Parents die in drunk-driving collisions.

Dear Santa letter2As a paramedic my partner and I responded one Christmas morning to an unknown medical. When we arrived we walked past a Christmas tree completely surrounded by presents as well as two young children eagerly awaiting both parents arrival so the day’s festivities could begin. The husband met us and led us to the master bedroom. Mom was dead- had died several hours earlier. The holidays are hard times for many people even people with love, and family and friends. Some people make choices during the holiday they might not make during other times of the year. There was nothing we could do and not a more helpless feeling we could feel.

What’s amazing to me is that this call was over 20 years ago. I had no other involvement that what I stated yet I still remember it- every Christmas season. The children would be grown by now. I bet that they too still remember. I bet they still feel different about Christmas than do many of their friends.

I bet if those kids could go back in time their wishes would simply be to have Mom with them for many more years to come. So please place safety at the very top of your Santa list. As adults we need to assure the health and safety of our kids and we can’t afford a break over the holiday season.

The lyrics of one of my favorite holiday songs perhaps say it best.

My Grown Up Christmas List

….”As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something shiny
Wrapped beneath the tree

But heaven only knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end

Oh, This is my grown up Christmas list”

Mindful Meditation for Families – Calm the Chaos

One path toward shifting your thoughts, particularly your judgmental or negative thoughts is through sustained non-judgmental attention or meditation. Meditation is the experience of sustaining one’s focus on a thought, word, sensation or sound in order to calm the mind. Mindful meditation is the act of calming your mind and body through non-judgmental sustained attention.

If you are prone to rumination, negative thinking or catastrophizing, mindful meditation is a skill you may wish to explore. If you find that you are overwhelmed with work, life, people, finances, holidays or parenting cultivating a sense of peace and calm, developing more neutral thoughts, and appreciating what you have in the moment will likely help decrease your experience of stress. Health benefits abound for families.

Let’s say you are ready to feel better, to think more positively and to feel less distressed. Begin by simply adding ten minutes of mindful meditation to your day. You can do it in the morning right when you wake up, in the evening before you go to sleep or anytime you feel fidgety, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, angry or depressed. Meditation can take place anywhere, in the mall, in the swimming pool, or in your car. You need not “go somewhere” to meditate. Meditate where ever you are.

Start with your “Beginner’s Mind” allowing yourself to relax into the experience as though you have never been in this moment before.

  1. Sit in an upright position with your ribs aligned over your hips and your shoulders aligned over your ribs. (I prefer to lie down, you can as well, if you wish)
  2. Close your eyes to reduce distraction and breath.
  3. 1-2-3 in, 1-2-3 out, in through your nose out through your nose or mouth.
  4. Bring your focus into your breath, feel your breath moving in and out, see your breath, color your breath, feel your breath oxygenate your blood and feed the cells of your body.
  5. When your mind wanders in a relaxed manner, bring your focus back to your breath.
  6. Feel your body relax, experience your minds reflections.

For children who are restless, consider having them lay with a warm blanket or a heating pad. Often the warmth and containment in space help them relax. Music from Stressfreekids.com is also a great help. In fact, I use their stories and sounds in my office regularly.

After about fifteen minutes you may slowly open your eyes and note how you feel calm, refreshed and ready for what life has in store for you. Over time you may choose to extend your mindful moments. You may choose to meditate up to 45 minutes a day. You may choose to meditate or pay mindful attention when you grocery shop, pump gas, or talk with your neighbor. Feel the intimacy in your relationships grow as you give your conversational experiences with friends, your undivided mindful attention.

You may bring mindfulness into your parenting by increasing your undistracted, sustained attention with your children. Through mindfulness, you will naturally experience being more “present” with your children. You may lose your keys less often and even yell less, as your mindful experiences allow you to live more peacefully and non-judgmentally in the moment.

Peaceful moments to you.

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For books and resources you may choose to visit The UCLA Semel Institute and The UCSD Center for Mindfulness.

How to Get Your Kids to “Hear” You

Getting our kids to listenIt’s a basic premise for successful parenting: You tell your kids what you want them to do, and they do it. But how often do you resort to yelling or pestering to get that result?

The problem may be you, not your kids, according to parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries and 22 other books. “We blame the kids for not listening; we tune in to them instead of ourselves,” says Borba. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What could I be doing?’ It’s not just what you say; it’s what you do.”

Getting kids to listen takes a time commitment on your part, both in terms of changing your behavior and getting your message across. These 9 steps will help you gain your children’s respect and compliance.

  1. Don’t ask; tell.
    Your kids shouldn’t be doing you a favor; they should be respecting what you say. So don’t turn your statements into questions. “Make sure your comment has a period after it,” says Borba. Watch out for that throwaway ending: “OK?”
  2. Lower your voice.
    It will catch their attention. “ They’re not used to you talking quietly; they’re used to you using the opposite tone,” says Borba.
  3. Be brief and clear.
    Keep it to 10 seconds. If you spend more time than that, they’ll tune you out.
  4. Make sure they’ve heard you.
    Have your kids parrot back what you’ve just said. You’ll know for sure they understand, and it will reinforce the message that you mean business. (Note: This step requires an additional 10-second time commitment on your part.)
  5. Look them in the eye.
    “Get eyeball-to-eyeball instead of talking across the room,” advises Borba. Squat or bend over to make direct contact if need be.
  6. Be realistic.
    If your child is engrossed in something — a game, a book, a TV show — don’t expect him to drop it instantly and swing around to listen to you. (Would you be able, or willing, to do the same if you were in the middle of something?)
  7. Stand your ground.
    Literally. If you don’t get timely compliance, go to your kids and plant your feet in front of them. You don’t have to say anything more. They’ll get the message and know you mean business. “Your expectation is that they stop what they’re doing and listen,” says Borba. “And you’re going to stand there until they do it.”
  8. Take action.
    If they still don’t budge, walk over and turn off the TV or take away the book. “You’re now retraining your kids: “You don’t listen, you don’t watch. This is how we behave,” says Borba.
  9. Model respectful behavior.
    Say “please” the first time you call for their attention or tell them what you want them to do. Say “thanks” when they do it. Think of what you’re showing your kids and ask yourself if you would want them to copy it.

It may take awhile for your kids to change their behavior, especially if they’ve been tuning you out for a long time. But it may also take you awhile to change yours. The good news is, according to Borba: It’s never too late to get your kids to listen to you and follow through. In the process, you just may teach them a thing or two about asking for, and expecting to be treated respectfully by others – and that would make this an invaluable lesson for both of you.

Mom is Sick. How to Avoid Kids & Dog Taking Charge

Professional dog trainers talk a lot about being the ‘pack leader’ and setting solid rules, boundaries and guidelines for our animals as well as our kids. We discuss the importance of being consistent so that our kids and animals know what to expect and what is expected of them. But what happens when we are not at our best due to illness or injury? What sort of dangers or difficulties may we encounter during these times? Especially when we are the primary rule makers and enforcers?

The number one ‘reaction’ I have repeatedly encountered with both children and animals is Insecurity. The ‘unknown’ can be scary for all of us and can make us worried, fearful, apprehensive, and a host of other feelings we might go through. And as parents, it’s instinctual to want to shield your children from these unpleasant feelings. We try to smile and act like everything is okay, and for a little while, it may work. But no one can hide these feelings forever. You suddenly find yourself short tempered, frustrated, weepy, etc. And often, it is over silly insignificant little things. So, you started out trying to ‘protect’ your kids, and now you are snapping at them and everyone is walking on eggshells.

Now let’s look at the family dog: You can ‘paste’ that smile on your face and tell them that everything is okay, but they can see right through the facade. Or more accurately, they can see, hear, smell and feel right through it. Words have little to no value to dogs. If you said to your dog, “Rex, I’ll let you out in a few minutes, then we’ll go to the park and practice “SIT” and “STAY”, what they heard was…“REX, blah blah OUT blah blah PARK blah blah SIT blah STAY.

Why? Because they don’t understand words like we do (except for the ones they have heard repeatedly.) They communicate through scent, body language, voice inflections, and gestures. A good example is the sentence “What did you do?” If you smile and say it in a happy excited voice, the tail will wag furiously, and they will circle you for pats and love. However, those same four words said with your arms across your chest, a scowl on your face, and in an angry tone will have them running to hide! When your entire demeanor shifts involuntarily, they feel it!! They know when something is wrong.

So, how can this inconsistency affect your household?

I can best answer this question by sharing with you a recent experience I encountered:

I got my dog Reilley at 3.5 months old. He had a few negative behaviors even as a puppy, such as resource guarding his toys and food around other dogs (see my article Recognizing a dog’s body language before your child gets bitten’ to understand what resource guarding is.) I had to work hard to help him overcome this. I run a dog boarding and training business… it simply would NOT do if MY dog had issues that could potentially put a client’s dogs at risk! So we worked on socializing Reilley with kids and with other dogs.

All was going well and according to my plan, until I needed surgery on my leg. And although I did my best to act like the surgery was no big deal, I was scared and nervous. I saw a few subtle changes in my dog’s behavior, but nothing that overly concerned me. When I came home from surgery, I was lying in bed recuperating and I enjoyed having Reilley lying on the bed next to me keeping me company and cuddling with me. My mom had come to town to help and Reilley’s care was taken over by her and my husband. Everything seemed relaxed and my recovery was going well.

It did not take me long to realize that something big had changed for my dog. This dog who had been social and outgoing with every dog and person who arrived here was suddenly standing back, guarded, and growling at dogs and people! I had seen dogs react negatively to change before, but it had always seemed to affect their behaviors (actions)… a previously housebroken dog starts having accidents, or they are not listening to commands they know very well…. But this was a huge change in his personality, and I did not understand it. So I asked for help. I described what I was seeing to my dog trainer friends through the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and sought their guidance. Although their advice made total sense to me after the fact, I must admit I was a bit surprised at first with what they all had to say.

  • Prior to my surgery I was the primary rule maker as well as the rule enforcer. Not that Reilley grew up in a prison, but there were a number of rules we had set that we lived by every day, and they worked for us (e.g. I poured his food and he sat and waited for permission to eat). My husband on the other hand, was a “dump the food in the bowl and walk away” kind of guy. And Reilley, like a lot of kids who hate rules but in reality, NEED them, didn’t do well when the rules actually went away. My inability to enforce the rules he was used to living by had left my dog feeling insecure and unsure
  • Because I was the ‘pack leader’ in my house, I was the person in charge of welcoming guests into our home – I maintained order. With others caring for me, I was no longer the “leader” enforcing calm and overseeing who had permission to be there. I was no longer the protector. In the absence of my leadership, he became confused and began to question our roles…I was the sick and injured member of the ‘pack’, maybe it was HIS job to protect me and not the other way around.
  • Finally, because dogs can be so child-like in their actions and reactions, seeing his leader so scared and vulnerable made him very nervous and insecure. (Not so dissimilar to a child realizing for the first time that a parent is fallible or does not always have the answers.)

You may be thinking, ‘what’s the big deal, your dog growled at some other dogs.’ But consider this… what if there were children that he was growling at? An insecure or fearful dog can be an unpredictable one.

So what if you, as the primary care-giver suddenly became ill or injured?

How do you help your family (including the family dog) acclimate to this time of crisis? How do you help them through it when you are in pain or feeling miserable and are temporarily unable to be the ‘enforcer’?

The two most important answers I can give you are preparation and communication.

I. Preparation: Obviously this applies more so when you have to go for surgery or something similar that you know about in advance. But even though injuries and illness are often unexpected events, there is still some planning you can do ahead of time, so you are ready if the need should arise.

  • Spend time talking with your significant other, or, if you are a single parent, chose one or two family members or friends you trust with the health and well being of your kids and pets.
  • Make a full list of schedules and routines that include……
    • what time the kids get up, head out for school or the bus, get home from school, and when homework is typically done,
    • what time and day each child has an extracurricular activity, what time they eat supper, approved and not-approved snacks, and what time they need to be in bed. You can also include how much screen time they can have, and approved ‘viewing’ items.
    • Make sure you include things in your list like how you personally reward your child for a job well done or correct or discipline your child for not doing what they are supposed to. (e.g. do they earn stickers on a wall chart or cookies with milk?)
  • While it is a child’s job to push boundaries and try to get away with stuff, even though they think they want these ‘perks’, in the end, it can be quite unsettling for them to suddenly get their way because it varies from the normal routine which can again make them insecure and fearful.
  • Remember to update this list frequently, as schedules and routines may change or vary.

Now, as for the dog:

  • Do not assume just because the family pet is like another child to you, that everyone else will feel the same way. Make sure the person who agreed to stay and help with the kids is also okay with taking care of the dog.
  • Create a similar list for the dogs that you did for the kids, with the dog’s regular routine.
  • Include in the list behaviors that you approve of and do not approve of so that they can follow through (ie: allowed on furniture, allowed to jump up on people when greeting people, etc)
  • Do some research on local boarding facilities just in case it is too much for the person caring for the children to care for the dog as well. This way it is a comfortable choice and not a last-minute decision that keeps you up worried.

II. Communication is vital for all parties involved… whether it is being honest with your kids about what is going on (within reason and age appropriate of course) or talking very openly with the person you have entrusted your kids care to. This reduces so much stress for everyone involved…. Including you! The last thing you want if you become sick or injured is to worry about your household becoming an unruly chaotic place. This can cause the kids to act out, and this is especially important if you happen to have a special needs child whose life is all about the schedules and routines they have come to depend on. And since the family dog tends to feed off the emotions of the family, why risk him being on edge and nervous or fearful…. Which can lead to behavior changes ranging from accidents in the house, to all out aggression.

So I will wrap this up with one last piece of advice: If you are on the other end of this, meaning you did not see this list prior to this scenario happening, and you find yourself now dealing with a chaotic household, heed the advice of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music when she says, “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start”…

Don’t be afraid to go back to basics with both the kids and the dog.

For the dog, it might be going back to some crate training and basic commands to remind them you are in charge; for the kids, same thing. 😛 Just kidding…for the kids, it may be being very strict about routines. Whatever you did when they were young to have your house chaos-free and running smooth, repeat until you are back there again. It will not be a lengthy process to back-track a bit, but it may be very useful to help get everyone back on track. The ‘basics’ bring with it a familiarity that everyone may need for now.

The Happy Visit: A Child’s First Trip to the Dentist

You want your child’s first experience at the dentist to be a positive one no matter what age they are. A child going to the dentist for the first time is often a handful of anxieties. Any dentist or hygienist using the right techniques can transform the most terrified child into a cooperative patient who is no longer afraid – a child who will leave the office with a smile on his face.

The American Dental Association or (ADA) recommends that you schedule your child’s first appointment with the dentist after their first Make it Funbaby tooth erupts. These early visits are encouraged between 12-18 months of age for several reasons. Educating mom and dad on proper nutrition and dental hygiene for their kids is a big part of that. All children should be socialized into the dental setting with what we call “happy visits” beginning by age two. This no-stress visit would be tailored to the child’s level of maturity and self-confidence. A ride in the “cool dentist chair”, playing with the air-water hand piece, and seeing a big sister do all this are all steps to successful rapport building even with the tiniest of patients.

Some tips for a good first dental visit:

  • First and foremost, pick a dentist that has a good reputation for working with kids. Some dentists specialize in pediatric dentistry but many family dentists will also be able to meet both you and your child’s needs.
  • Secondly, if you decide to bring your child to the dentist at the age of one, try not to make a big deal about the visit. They can sit on your lap and you can comfort them as you would at any doctor’s appointment.
  • Thirdly, your child may not remember their first visit to the dentist if they were a baby or toddler. We find a great way to help kids adjust is to bring them with you while you have your teeth cleaned and examined. They will be able to observe what the hygienist and the dentist does in your mouth. Allow them the opportunity to ask questions during your appointment.
  • Another way you can help your child adjust is to talk about what a dentist does. Using things such as a small mirror at home to look in their mouth and count their teeth helps make them feel more comfortable when the dentist does it.
  • Leading up to their first appointment, encourage your child to brush their teeth letting them know that their dentist will be excited to see nice clean teeth at their appointment. Tell your child how great their smile is and how their dentist wants to see them smile.
  • Stay away from using phrases such as “Don’t worry, they won’t hurt you”. This places the idea in your child’s mind that it could hurt. Keep things low key and easy going. Kids also tend to do better with morning appointments rather then afternoon.

In the end, your goal is to create a non threatening environment for your child’s first experience at the dentist. You want to help them be excited about taking good care of their teeth which will in turn help them take better care of their whole body.

Are You or a Family Member Ditching Dairy? CAUTION!

I once attended a Dairy Forum in Alexandria, Virginia that was all about lactose intolerance. It amazed me to learn how many people avoid dairy products because they think they are lactose intolerant! Before ditching the dairy, consider my caution for you and/or your family, as it can have major nutritional consequences.

When people think of milk and other dairy foods, they think of calcium. But the truth is that milk contains 9 essential nutrients that our bodies need in order to function normally. Of those nine essential nutrients, milk meets at least 20% of your daily value for not only calcium, but vitamin D, riboflavin and phosphorus. That is why the 2015-2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans strongly recommends including servings of fat free or low-fat dairy each day in order to meet your minimum nutrition needs*. Did you know that dairy foods are most Americans primary food source of vitamin D? Much in thanks to the great work by Dr. Michael Holick, we have been learning more and more about the epidemic of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency that is having serious health consequences.

The lack of nutrient information regarding dairy really hit home with me the other day. An amazing, well-respected doctor I work closely with in my practice shared with me that when a patient comes to him with lactose intolerance, he simply tells them to avoid milk and start a calcium supplement. I had to remind him that dairy not only provides so many more nutrients than just calcium, as mentioned above, it also contains naturally occurring ACE inhibitors similar to the same components given in prescriptive form that help regulate blood pressure. That is why the government-backed blood pressure diet, called the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), has encouraged 3 servings of dairy, because it has all 3 of the nutrients of the DASH diet that help regulate blood pressure – calcium, potassium and magnesium. Milk also contains melatonin that helps decrease stress and promotes sleep. (Ever drink a warm glass of milk before bedtime? There’s a reason behind that!) And as if that was not enough, over the last several years there has been a slew of research coming out on the impact of dairy foods in weight management. Hmm…a link between a decrease in dairy foods and obesity? Many say, yes.

Use caution when avoiding entire food groups,
including dairy. You may be setting yourself up
for nutrition deficiencies that may manifest
in health problems.

Growing up, our favorite mealtime beverage was milk. I grew up in a combined family of 6 children (think Brady Bunch, and I was “Cindy” — the youngest) and my mother reports that we went through 5-7 gallons of milk every week! I drank milk with every meal and so did all my siblings. But I remember very well that when I was around 17 or 18 years of age, milk and I started having problems. Within 2-3 hours of drinking milk, I would have bad stomach pain, bloating and eventually gas that was very characteristic of lactose intolerance. Oh, the shame as a teenage female! The very easy thing to do was just eliminate dairy to avoid the very embarrassing consequences. But as I fell in love with nutrition in the 90’s, I learned that this move was costing me dearly and as a result, negatively impacted my nutrition status. Now, I am enjoying dairy again and that has helped me be a positive role model for my young children.

So, the question for you is – have you or a loved one ditched dairy for the same reason I did as a teenager? If so:

1. Get Diagnosed. Don’t self-diagnose like I did because it could be something other than lactose intolerance. All that rumbles is not lactose intolerance! A proper diagnosis is done via a hydrogen breath test and it is covered under most insurance plans. Keep in mind that lactose intolerance is very different than a milk allergy. Lactose intolerance involves the lack of an enzyme that helps digest the milk carbohydrate, lactose. Milk allergy, or milk-protein intolerance, is mostly found in young children, and involves an immune reaction to the milk protein. If you or your child has a milk allergy, it is highly recommended that you see a Registered Dietitian for nutrition guidance. In this case, complete elimination of dairy components is necessary due to possible dangerous allergic reactions. The good news is that most children outgrow milk allergy by the time they are 3 years of age. It is rare that a person continues the allergy into adulthood. If they do, there are actually immunologists that can do milk challenges that will decrease or even eliminate the milk allergy altogether.

2. Work it in. Most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate small amounts of milk at a time and most can eat yogurt and cheese without the negative side effects. At your local grocery store, there are lactose-free milk products of varying brands – Lactaid®, Dairy Ease® and even store brands now. Lactaid® even has an organic version of lactose-free milk for those that prefer organic varieties. There are even over the counter oral lactase enzyme pills that a person can take prior to the ingestion of dairy. The National Dairy Council has great educational resources to help you find ways to get dairy in even when you have lactose intolerance.

3. Seek a Registered Dietitian (RD). Anytime you are thinking of eliminating an entire food group, it is highly recommended that you meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in your area to develop a plan for you. You may not realize what key nutrients you are eliminating from your diet that may be compromising your health. As an RD myself, I am very sensitive to the food desires of my patients. If eliminating dairy or other foods are simply a personal preference, we will honor that and can ultimately work within your desires to put together an alternate nutrition plan that will meet all your needs.

Get the facts when it comes to nutrition. Even if it’s written, it doesn’t always make it factual. And we all come with our own nutrition biases, so ask questions about those biases that may have been handed down from generation to generation. Are they really true? As in lactose intolerance for instance, many African American families avoid milk altogether because they already assume it will be a problem. Lactose intolerance in African Americans is grossly overstated, and teaching your children to avoid dairy can have lasting consequences for for them and you. Proper diagnosis and learning ways to get dairy foods in can be the best move for your family. What is your nutrition bias? Dairy or otherwise, ask the questions and get accurate answers. You owe it to yourself and you also owe it to your family.

Editor’s Note: all links have been updated to reflect the most current information available.

  • According to the 2015-2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended amounts of dairy in the Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern are based on age rather than calorie level and are:
    • 2 cup-equivalents per day for children ages 2 to 3 years,
    • 2½ cup-equivalents per day for children ages 4 to 8 years, and
    • 3 cup-equivalents per day for adolescents ages 9 to 18 years and for adults.

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