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Help Stop Your Child’s Ear Pain on Planes

My family and I flew to Orlando last month to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios — my 9-year-old is obsessed with the book series. The long weekend was spectacular on all fronts except one: My husband, who had a cold, came down with severe ear pain about halfway through the flight. By the time we landed, he could barely hear anything, and it took almost 12 hours for his full hearing to return!

The whole experience freaked me out, so when we got back, I called Gordan J. Siegel, M.D., an otolaryngologist in Chicago, to ask him if what happened to my hubby was normal — or whether I should drag him into the doctor’s office. “It’s common for people who have a cold or allergies to experience ear pain during a flight because the Eustachian Tubes (which help equalize pressure changes) are inflamed,” he told me. “Even when well, children under 6 are also particularly vulnerable because their Eustachian Tubes may have not fully developed yet.”

Indeed, I remember seeing some babies and toddlers start to cry during the end of the flight.

“Is there anything a person with a cold or allergies could do to avoid the pain?” I followed up. “You may be able to ward off the problem — or at least reduce the severity — by taking a decongestant before the flight,” said Siegel. “But I only recommend this for people who don’t have high blood pressure.”

Siegel also pointed out another option: special travel ear plugs (one brand is EarPlanes) that help protect your hearing from changes in air pressure. Children and adults can pop them in their ears before takeoff, remove them when the plane reaches maximum altitude, and then put back in an hour before landing. Siegel also noted, of course, that if a cold is severe you just might want to postpone your trip.

Since my conversation with Siegel, I picked up the EarPlanes at my local drugstore; they were only $10 for a three-pack. I tucked them into my luggage carry-on, where I stash my trip essentials like travel-size toothpaste and instant stain remover (because my daughter always spills when we’re days away from doing laundry). Now we’re one step closer to being ready for our next vacation!

Top 5 Holiday Tips for Children with Special Needs

All kids can get overstimulated from time to time. The holidays, with its bright lights, loud sounds and crowds can be particularly tough on kids. Children with special needs may have even more difficulty during the celebratory season. Dawn Grosvenor, mom to a special needs teen and founder of Hopelights Media, has written a wonderful article to help families with special needs children manage the holidays with minimal upset and hopefully, maximum joy:

HOPELights™ Holiday Top Five Tips for Children With Special Needs

Studies show there are over 10 million families in the U.S. that have children with special needs who experience some form sensory processing dysfunction, making all children special this holiday season

Holidays are a busy time of year, full of activity from people to places that can easily over stimulate Holidays can be fun...not scarychildren, especially those with special needs. A 2022 report by the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found 14 million U.S. children in the have special healthcare needs, or nearly twenty percent of all U.S. children. More than one-fifth of U.S. households with children have at least one child with special needs. HOPELights holiday tips are designed to aid the families that love and support special needs children—having guidance on high-sensory events like the upcoming holidays are critical.

“This means millions of children in the United States have some sort of challenge with things like loud noises, environmental or event transitions, crowds, sensitivities to taste or touch just to name a few,” said Dawn Grosvenor, founder of HOPELight Media. “Which is why putting special emphasis on how to help children and their families through the holiday hustle and bustle is critical in ensuring they have a positive, healthy and loving interaction with friends and family. Holidays should be cherished and foster positive memories that last a lifetime. ”

HopeLights Holiday Top Five Tips for Children With Special Needs:

 

  1. Make a Visual Schedule – Many children are used to routine, structure and consistency, but much of this is lost during the holidays. If your child can see it coming for days, hours and minutes before it happens, transitions from place to place or even events in your own home will be more welcoming to your child.
  2. Identify “Anchor” or Transition Items – Most children have an attachment to a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, toy or other item. Make sure your child has his or her favorites nearby especially if you are traveling. Let them carry a special bag of their favorite goodies. It is a little piece of home and helps them feel grounded and secure.
  3. Establish Warm Up Times and Personal Space Parameters – Holidays bring in visitors or not-so-familiar faces that your child only sees once or twice a year. It is important these visitors give your child time to warm up and re-establish a connection. Great Aunt Betty may not be familiar right away, but she will be rewarded with a warm interaction 20 minutes or so into her visit if Aunt Betty and your child are prepared for the event.
  4. Create and Communicate Code Words – Special needs or not, every child hits a melting point. Too many people, too many presents, skipping or moving a nap time can lead to the uncomfortable fit. As a parent, we can sometimes see these coming or at the very least we can intervene at the beginning. Talk with your family members before everyone gets together and establish a “Code Word” and ask them to help when you say this word or phrase. It can be as simple as “Houston, we have a problem.” By establishing code words with friends and relatives, this lets them know when you and your child need a private moment. You will be amazed how well they understand and cooperate without hurt feelings and it takes the pressure off of you.
  5. Set Your Own Expectations in Advance – As parents we sometimes expect too much of ourselves, and put even more expectations on the “perfect” holiday. Remember you are only one person with only one goal, to love your children and ensure they are safe and happy this holiday season. Create your own To-Do lists and schedule plenty of time between events and preparation of visitors so you are not rushing through the holiday, but savoring each moment.

How to Spot Anxiety and Depression in Your Child

Managing kid stressHow can you determine if your child is experiencing depression or anxiety? To begin with, you as parents have the most intimate knowledge of your child; so to define “normal behavior” according to some external “objective“ standard is not only foolish but does not tell you about your own child. The hallmark of any emotional or psychological issues in children is a significant, long term change in your child’s behavior, which cannot be assigned to any particular recent event. These changes might involve a change in appetite, sleep patterns, social behavior, and school work or attendance. One might also notice onset of risky behaviors or a lack of interest in the world around him/her.

In those occasions that are clearly visible but also clearly anticipated, such as the loss of a family member or pet, unusual behavior can be expected but for what length of time? This is indeed the major question and sometimes can only be answered by comparing similar situations in the past that affected your child. My own feeling is that any such radical behavior might in fact last up to one month or so but really should be expected to diminish after that time.

While some of the observable differences might include lack of interest in things ordinarily enjoyed by your child, sudden intense interest in repetitive movements or “hobbies” or change in temperament may also act as an alert signal.

Your first line of defense should always begin with a visit to your family doctor or Pediatrician who might also have important knowledge about your child. A total evaluation should be performed to be sure that the changes you see in your child are not caused by physical events. If your Pediatrician also agrees that this is unusual behavior, or if you feel that even though he/she had a normal medical evaluation, he/she is still showing you signs of emotional distress, your next step might very well be finding a pediatric psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluation. You might in fact have difficulty locating a pediatric mental health care provider because there is a nationwide shortage of such people.

If you are not having any luck finding such a person I would suggest you get in touch with your closest children’s hospital and inquire. Remember you are your child’s best historian, ombudsman and support- don’t sell yourself short.

Code Adam: Because You Don’t Have Eyes in the Back of Your Head

Sometimes, as a parent, you have to give yourself a break. Even mothers have to heed the call of nature. But with a headstrong and mischievous three-year old in tow, a parental potty break in a public building can become an exercise in surprisingly emotional fear and guilt.

I mean, we are supposed to be able to keep our children safe. We aren’t supposed to lose them! But what can any reasonable parent do wedged in a tight bathroom cubicle with a toddler and sitting in a very compromising position when the wiggle worm decides it would be the height of fun to crawl out under the stall door and run out of the bathroom? I can still feel the brush of his jeans across my fingers as I just failed to grab hold….

Thankfully, with Code Adam, a nation-wide program administered by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), my anxiety in our local children’s museum was contained by a very orderly and confident process. Code Adam, created and named in memory of 6-year old Adam Walsh who went missing while shopping with his mother and was later found murdered, is a simple but powerful search process focused on marshaling employees of public buildings, such as stores, libraries and museums, in a systematic search for lost children in the crucial moments immediately following their disappearance.

My Code Adam Experience:

  • As soon as I could make myself decent and get out of the bathroom I approached nearby museum staff who were manning the entrance to the exhibit space we had just visited, and learned that my wayward son had not decided to return to the water or sand tables
  • The staff then asked me very specific questions to compile a detailed description of my child – including his clothing and shoe color/style (I remember he was wearing those shoes with a light that flashes when he walked)
  • A “Code Adam” page including this description was then given within the venue and designated staff immediately began a systematic search
  • All potential exits other than the front doors were either closed or closely monitored and a member of the security staff escorted me to the front entrance to ensure my son, Elliott, did not leave the premises. I spent what felt like a wretched eternity desperately scanning the sea of kids, choking back tears, and constantly affirming to my security pal that I’d never lost my kid before…honest!

If my son wasn’t found within 10minutes, the next step would have been for security to call law enforcement. If he had been found in the company of someone other than a parent or legal guardian, the procedure would call for reasonable attempts to delay their departure until the arrival of police, without putting anyone in danger.

Thankfully, I was reunited with my wiggle worm within that timeframe, a staff member having found him obliviously and happily playing on a computer screen in another area of the museum. When he was back within arms’ reach I didn’t know what I wanted to do to him (or what would be considered the politically correct behavior)…wrap him in my arms and say “Thank God”…or berate him for running off from Mommy? So I fudged and did a little of both!

Making Use of the Code Adam Program

Code Adam originated in Walmart stores in 1994 but is now one of the largest child-safety programs in the U.S., used in around a hundred thousand establishments around the country and, since the Code Adam Act was made law in 2003, in all federal public facilities (click here for list of participants). Use of the program in a venue is proclaimed by a Code Adam decal at the building entrances. Thanks to NCMEC and its sponsors, the program is free to participants, who can apply online for a Code Adam kit, including:

  • A training video for employees
  • A break-room poster explaining the program steps
  • Two decals to put on entrances announcing participation in Code Adam

So what can parents and safety advocates do?

  • Check building entrances for the Code Adam decal. Know whether Code Adam is used in that venue before you and your children enter.
  • Know the Code Adam procedures. I’d like to say my story above is the only example of our use of Code Adam in the past eight years, but my son has triggered 2 other experiences in large retail stores. In one of these venues, the staff I located did not know the Code Adam process. Thankfully I did…and suggested they call security and institute a Code Adam page….missing child quickly found. Lesson: Don’t rely on the quality of any given store’s staff training.
  • Make sure caregivers know. Even if you are very familiar with Code Adam and its procedures, what about babysitters or grandparents? How often are they out with your children in a public venue? Be sure that they also know about Code Adam and how to ensure it is appropriately implemented.
  • Suggest Code Adam to local venues. If a local store or establishment with a focus on families or children does not display the Code Adam decal, consider finding the manager and suggest that they participate. They can find everything they need at www.missingkids.org (search “code adam”). Additional information can be obtained by calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or emailing codeadam@ncmec.org.

Send Your Kids Off to School Without the Morning Chaos

family morning chaosWe’ve all been there, maybe you were even there this morning. Kids won’t get out of bed, your boss called, he wants the project plan today and you forgot to get groceries last night.

“It’s all gonna be fine”, you tell yourself. That’s right, use those positive self-talk sentences. Research shows that speaking kindly to yourself actually increases helpful neurochemicals. They’ll boost your mood.

Now for those kids… you’re in a state of mild emergency so your main goal is to remain calm, get them up and out the door and off to school with lunches, water, back-packs and homework in-tact. Tonight you can reflect on what needs to change to make things go better tomorrow.

THIS MORNING: think about creating a smooth-entry into the day by gently waking the kids up. If you stress, they’ll stress. AND that means an avalanche of cortisol, a hormone you don’t want a lot of for mornings to go well.

1. Start any task your kids might be able to simply complete so that they have a head start. Like their out-the-door readiness tasks. Grab those back-packs, shoes and socks, put them right by the kitchen table so now they can eat breakfast, pack em and putt em on.

2. Stave off those mid-morning “Mom I forgot telephone calls,” by going through your morning checklist with them.

  • Calm-Mindset“Jason!” “Yes, mom he says through a mouthful of Cheerios.” “Morning Check-off READY …dirty clothes in hamper, meds, lunch, homework, lacrosse equipment.” “Yup all done.”
  • “Okay, Sarah! Morning Check-off READY.” “Yea, mom,” she says half-way to the door cause she’s your task completer, in fact, she probably should be your family manager. But we’ll think about that another day. “Lunch, homework, field trip slip, reading book.” “Yup, got it mom, now let’s go.”

3. For you, put a few drops of aroma therapy on your wrists take a deep breath and drive your kids to school. Work can wait at least until you replenish your relationships with your kids. Remember family first.

4. Grab a Bloom mantra from your mantra case, hold on tight and say it over and over, “Even when we are late, I’m loving and kind.” You did it! AND You can do it again.

With more planning from the Morning Mayhem chapter in Bloom, you’ll get out of damage control a little day by day. In the meantime pat yourself on the back cause you’re a mom, and you’re human.

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bloom cover - 140x208Written for real parents with anxious, angry and over-the-top kids, Bloom is a brain-based approach to parenting all children. Taking its lead from neuroscience and best practices in early childhood mental health, it offers parents, teachers and care providers the words, thoughts and actions to raise calm, confident children, while reducing the need for consequences and punishment. The first book of its kind, it provides pages full of printable mantras you can carry with you, hang on your fridge or use in your classroom to raise emotionally competent kids. Stop second-guessing the way you handle misbehaviors, and learn why they occur in the first place. Bloom is available at amazon.com

How Concerned Should Parents Be About Reddit?

Let me start off by saying that Reddit is not one of the most well-known apps used by kids. For that reason, many parents may not have investigated the risks involved with their children using Reddit. As far as apps go, it has some terrific opportunities for people to learn on the app. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is plenty on Reddit that many parents would not like their children to see.

Officially, Reddit’s a site designed around the concept of free speech. Unofficially, what I’ve seen on the app would make many parents cringe. I use it myself to find out things happening near where I live, about some of my hobbies (boardgames, flyfishing, gardening, etc.)

What most people would call chat rooms or groups are called communities on Reddit and there are lots of communities on every topic you might consider. People post questions and others can reply to answer them, either publicly or privately. Users are free to post just about anything that they like. The feedback from other users comes in the form of comments and voting a post up or down.

Take a look at the graph below to see how I rate Reddit on several key areas of concern for parents. In my article for Pediatric Safety on Instagram, I explain in much more detail what the values on the graph mean and how using an app might endanger a child, but here it is in short form:

What the Numbers Mean:

The numbers / ratings represent the likelihood that you will see the risky behavior occur within this app.

  • Rating < 5 is minimal risk and is highly unlikely to occur on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.
  • A rating of 5-6 is average risk – it should concern parents, but not overly so.
  • A rating of 7 or 8 is problematic and should concern parents quite a bit.
  • A 9 or 10 rating is very troubling as that behavior is almost a certainty within this app, and involves issues that are likely of extreme concern to parents, such as sextortion and child pornography.

Catfishing (6 out of 10)

The potential is clearly here, but I have to say that the posts that I’ve seen which are most likely catfishing are often those that include adult content. Users can easily see the same pictures and videos of what are supposed to be users on multiple accounts.

In fact, I considered giving this a higher score, but only chose not to because the majority of what I’ve seen on the app is obviously people trying to help other people, so it’s not as bad as Kik or Whisper, which are meant to be use anonymously and often result in extremely insensitive or hurtful comments.

Cyberbullying (7 out of 10)

To qualify as cyberbullying, the Cyberbullying Research Center requires that the behavior meets four criteria. One of them is that it must be repeated – a single incident may not be nice, but it’s not cyberbullying.

Many of the comments I have seen on Reddit are single comments by one user, but when multiplied by the sheer number of people who jump on the bandwagon so to speak, the results are the same. It’s what’s known as a “roast” – when multiple people attack a person where they are sure to see it.

Language (7 out of 10)

Overall, most people mind their manners on Reddit, but that’s not always the case, especially in some of the more adult-appropriate communities. I’ve seen comments to posts that would get people arrested if they actually committed the acts they mentioned in their comment. The same is true about some of the original posts and what they’re asking for/about.

Nudity (10 out of 10)

Reddit is filled with nudity, including images and videos. Hard core nudity. It’s that simple. What surprised me the most is how quickly I was recommended to see posts or communities that included such content. I’m not saying that nudity and pornography is everywhere on Reddit, but it definitely exists and it’s not hard to find. The images below, however, were posted in a Reddit Community where explicit images may not have been expected.

And while these images still have the people wearing at least some clothes, there are plenty of cases where the images and videos are far more graphic in nature.

For what it’s worth, communities that are known for adult content typically, but not always, have a warning pop-up so that users can’t enter them without a chance to prevent it from being seen.

Privacy (7 out of 10)

Users don’t need to even sign into Reddit or even have an account to view what’s posted on it. That’s probably the best way to maintain a person’s privacy, but of course, that also means that they can’t engage in the discussions and that’s a shame, because there is a lot of good content on Reddit.

Sexting (7 out of 10)

Plenty of the communities that contain adult content generate extremely crude and inappropriate comments by users – statements that would most definitely get children in trouble for saying such things at home or at school. This often results in long threads (reply after reply) about sexual activity. That’s just what’s publicly available from the posts themselves. Direct messaging between users is not available to see but most likely continues this type of behavior.

Sextortion (7 out of 10)

Any place where kids can meet strangers and engage in sexting has the potential to lead to sextortion – blackmailing others to perform sexual acts. This typically begins after the victim sends a single inappropriate picture to force them to continue doing it. Considering that the FBI estimates that at any given moment, there are 750,000 child predators online, parents need to treat even the potential for this happening very seriously.

Stalking (7 out of 10)

The best way to prevent stalking on Reddit is the proper use of privacy settings. Reddit has the ability to establish “friends” on the app, as well as block users that people no longer wish to be in contact with. This also helps with privacy concerns.

That’s not to say that if your child blocks someone that the other person won’t create a new account and try to contact them again, often catfishing them as another person so that your child doesn’t know their true identity. For this reason, it’s so important that we all use privacy settings to prevent even one bad person from getting into our inner circle.

Viruses (8 out of 10)

It’s very common for people to include links in posts or as a reply to a post. Many of those that I have seen, even in what should be a “safe” community such as a gardening community, use URL shorteners like TinyURL or Bitly to make long URLs less intimidating, but they can also be used to disguise where a link is going. My advice is that nobody should ever follow a link that they can’t say with 100% confidence where it’s going. That usually means trusting the source of who posted it. For more information on this, please read my previous article for Pediatric Safety.

The Bottom Line

Reddit can be a very helpful site. Of all the social media apps that I’ve used, I can say that I find Reddit to be the most useful when it comes to learning things from other people. It can let them engage with others to get different points of view and share knowledge. But that’s a double-edged sword. It also opens us up to the worst parts of social media. To help keep safe on Reddit, we and our kids need to do the following:

  1. Remind your kids to be very careful about what they do on Reddit – and any other apps as well. Have frequent and honest discussions with your children about their online actions. Let them know that it’s not because you don’t trust them, but because you can’t trust everyone else out there.
  2. As parents, it’s always a good idea to know what apps your children have installed onto their devices. As it’s pretty easy to hide them from being seen on the desktop, the best way is to try and download the app onto the device. If it allows you to download it, then it’s not already there. If it offers you the option to open the app, then it’s already there, even if you can’t find it on a list of apps on the device.

Overall, Reddit can be a good platform for people of all ages to use. Just keep in mind that although you’re less likely to encounter cyberbullying and several other issues, it has far more nudity/pornography than most parents want their children to see.

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