The Link Between School Attendance and Good Health

In a recent edition of PEDIATRICS, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on School Health members Mandy Allison and Elliott Attisha discussed The Link Between School Attendance and Good Health, explaining that:

“More than 6.5 million children in the United States, approximately 13% of all students, miss 15 or more days of school each year. The rates of chronic absenteeism vary between states, communities, and schools, with significant disparities based on income, race, and ethnicity. Chronic school absenteeism, starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, puts students at risk for poor school performance and school dropout, which in turn, put them at risk for unhealthy behaviors as adolescents and young adults as well as poor long-term health outcomes.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about chronic absenteeism, why it matters, what causes it, and what parents, teachers and pediatricians can do to help.


Allison MA, Attisha E, AAP COUNCIL ON SCHOOL HEALTH. The Link Between School Attendance and Good Health.Pediatrics. 2019;143(2):e20183648


Helping Children Handle Stress

How can we help our children handle the stresses of everyday life?

In middle childhood, pressures may come from a number of sources-from within the child herself, as well as from parents, teachers, peers and the larger society in which the child lives. Pressure can take many forms that challenge children and to which they must respond and, often, adapt. Whether these are events of lasting consequence like the divorce of their parents, or merely a minor hassle like losing their homework, these demands or stresses are a part of children’s daily existence.

Children welcome some events and are able to adapt to them with relative ease. They perceive other events as threats to their own or the family’s daily routines or general sense of well-being, and these stresses are more troublesome. Most stress faced by children is in the middle, neither welcomed nor seriously harmful, but rather a part of accomplishing the tasks of childhood and learning about themselves.

Youngsters may also worry about making friends, succeeding in school, combating peer pressure or overcoming a physical impairment. Whatever its form, if stress is too intense or long-lasting, it can sometimes take a toll on children. Clusters of stressful events seem to predispose children to illness. Major events, especially those that forever change a child’s family, like the death of a parent, can have lasting effects on children’s psychological health and well-being. Minor daily stresses can also have consequences. They can contribute to loss of sleep or appetite. Children may become angry or irritable or their school grades may suffer. Their behavior and their willingness to cooperate may change.

How different children cope with stress

Children’s temperaments vary and thus they are quite different in their ability to cope with stress and daily hassles. Some are easygoing by nature and adjust easily to events and new situations. Others are thrown off balance by changes in their lives. All children improve in their ability to handle stress if they previously have succeeded in managing challenges and if they feel they have the ability and the emotional support of family and friends. Children who have a clear sense of personal competence, and who feel loved and supported, generally do well.

Certainly, a child’s age and development will help determine how stressful a given situation may be. Changing teachers at midyear may be a major event for a child in the first grade and merely an annoyance for a sixth-grader. Being short may be a minor issue for a 5- or 6-year-old boy but a source of daily embarrassment for an adolescent. How a child perceives and responds to stress depends in part on development, in part on experience, and in part on a child’s individual temperament.

Ironically, many parents believe that their school-age children are unaware of the stresses around them and are somehow immune to them. After all, their children not only have all their basic needs met, but perhaps they also have a roomful of toys, friends to share them with, plenty of playtime, and a full schedule of extracurricular activities.

Yet children are very sensitive to the changes around them, especially to the feelings and reactions of their parents, even if those feelings are not communicated directly in words. If a parent loses a job, children will have to adjust to their family’s financial crisis; they must deal not only with the obvious family budgetary changes but also with the changes in their parents’ emotional states. Children may have to cope with a bully on the playground, a move to a new neighborhood, a parent’s serious illness or the disappointment of a poor sports performance. They might feel a constant, nagging pressure to dress the “right” way, or to achieve the high grades that can put them on the fast track toward the “right” college.

Stress and today’s middle-years child

Some psychologists believe that today’s middle-years youngsters actually are faced with more stress than the children of previous generations were and have fewer social supports available. The change in family structure from the large, supportive, extended families (including both parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents) of previous generations, to the present high incidence of divorced families, single-parent families and stepfamilies has drastically altered the experience of childhood. Millions of youngsters must adjust to such changes.

Even in intact and stable families, the growing number of households with two working parents often forces children to spend more time in after-school programs or at home alone. For some children this loss of time with their parents is quite stressful. So, too, is the responsibility for caring for themselves and the family home and sometimes for overseeing a younger sibling after school.

Many children and their families are stressed by the multiple activities that fill children’s “free time.” Overscheduled children with inadequate “down time” can become exhausted.

Today’s children are also being raised in an era in which they are exposed to violence and peer pressure about sexual activity and drug use and are warned to be cautious about kidnapping, sexual abuse and other crimes. This sense that they are living in an unsafe world is a constant source of stress for some children. In short, today’s youngsters are regularly confronted with challenges to their coping skills and often are expected to grow up too fast.

Good and bad stress

Not all stress is bad. Moderate amounts of pressure imposed by a teacher or a coach, for example, can motivate a child to keep her grades up in school or to participate more fully in athletic activities. Successfully managing stressful situations or events enhances a child’s ability to cope in the future.

When the stress is continuous or particularly intense, it takes a toll on both the psyche and the body. Sudden stressful events will accelerate your child’s breathing and heartbeat, constrict her blood vessels, increase her blood pressure and muscle tension and perhaps cause stomach upset and headaches. As stress persists, she might be more susceptible to illness and experience fatigue, nightmares, teeth-grinding, insomnia, tantrums, depression and school failure.


The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Organized Sports – For the Fun of It

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages organized sports – for the fun of it. Experts recommend finding ways to include all kids in organized sports, no matter the skill level, in an updated clinical report.

When children have fun playing sports, they are more likely to remain involved in athletic programs and stay physically active throughout childhood, realizing lifelong health benefits for the developing body, brain and self-worth.

That is the message from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which has updated recommendations for families and communities that urge an emphasis on enjoyment of sports — instead of winning — as the ultimate goal.

The clinical report, “Organized Sports for Children, Preadolescents, and Adolescents,” published in the June 2019 issue of Pediatrics, details ways to include more children and teens in sports and suggests how pediatricians can help through their conversations with families.

“If we offer children a variety of sports for all skill levels, they are more likely to try new activities and stick with the ones they enjoy,” said Kelsey Logan, MD, FAAP, an author of the clinical report by the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. “The interest should start with the child, not the parent.”

Most children are ready to play organized sports at about age 6, according to AAP. Before that, young children should spend an ample amount of time daily in free play. Running, leaping and climbing are examples of free play that help children develop motor skills needed for organized sports participation.
AAP also recommends:

  • Preschools and elementary schools can positively influence long-term participation in organized sports, physical activity and cardiovascular health.
  • Junior high and high schools should offer multiple levels of sports play, which will help retain athletes who cannot or do not want to compete at very high levels.
  • Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may face obstacles such as a lack of transportation to participate in activities. Community groups can help by identifying those needs and finding ways to support families and provide sports opportunities.
  • Parent support should be general and positive. Forcing sports participation is not likely to help the child achieve long-term benefits.
  • Parents are encouraged to ask questions about sports programs to ensure a safe environment, including questions about hiring procedures, codes of conduct and communication between coach and athlete.
  • Coaches who view organized sports with a respectful, development- and fun-focused approach are more likely to have athletes who enjoy and stay in sports.

“Young athletes typically learn skills and values that they can use in everyday life,” said Steven Cuff, MD, FAAP, co-author of the report. “The camaraderie and teamwork needed on a playing field offers lasting lessons on personal responsibility, sportsmanship, goal-setting and emotional control.”

Sports participation can improve well-being in some youth who are medically at risk, and it also has been associated with improved mental health.

“Families can help by encouraging children to ‘sample’ sports, so they can figure out what they find enjoyable,” Dr. Logan said. “Ideally, there is an activity for everyone, with the focus on having fun.”


From the American Academy of Pediatrics


Physical Activity = Better Health

Pediatricians continue to be disturbed by the trends they’re seeing in the levels of physical activity of children, which appear to be headed in the wrong direction. One survey concluded that less than 25% of children in grades 4 through 12 participate in 20 minutes of vigorous activity or 30 minutes of any physical activity per day. Particularly with weight management as a goal, those numbers aren’t good enough.

Not only will regular physical activity help your child lose weight and maintain that weight loss, but it has many other benefits. For example, if your child exercises regularly, he’ll have

  • Stronger bones and joints
  • Greater muscle strength
  • A decrease in body fat
  • Improved flexibility
  • A healthier cardiovascular system (thus reducing his risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure)
  • A reduced likelihood of developing diabetes
  • More energy
  • A greater ability to handle stress
  • Improvements in self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Greater social acceptance by physically active peers
  • Opportunities to make new friends
  • Better concentration at school

Getting Started

You should have a clear picture of your child’s activity level—and whether he needs to change course. Is he watching too much TV? Is he spending too little time playing outdoors after school or on weekends?

As a parent, you need to help your overweight child get moving. To repeat, he should be doing some physical activity every day. In fact, it should become as routine a part of his life as brushing his teeth and sleeping.

So where should you begin? How much time does your child need to spend being active and how intense does this activity need to be?

The answers to these questions may be different for your child than it is for another boy or girl. If your overweight youngster has been completely sedentary, with no PE classes at school, no outdoor play, no extracurricular physical activities, and hours of TV watching every day, his starting point should be different than that of a fairly active youngster. There are plenty of activities that he can choose from, and he should begin to slowly and gradually pick up the pace.

Let’s say that your child decides to try getting his physical activity by taking walks or hikes with an older sibling through a nearby park. If he is really out of shape or if he has trouble imagining doing any walking at all, encourage him to set a goal of walking for only 1 minute at a time (“Can you walk for just 60 seconds?”). Once he realizes that 1 minute is an attainable target, have him increase his walking sessions progressively, to 2 minutes each time, then 3 minutes, and so on, until he’s walking for 30 minutes or more. If your youngster is already in better shape, he may want to start with a 15-minute walk and then increase it in 5-minute increments to 20 minutes, 25 minutes, and beyond. The ultimate goal is to have him spend an hour being active each day.

To most of us, a minute or two of walking doesn’t sound like much. In fact, many adolescents and adults think that exercise doesn’t really count unless it’s intense and even hurts (as the cliché goes, “No pain, no gain”). But for a child trying to lose weight, every little bit of activity helps, whether it’s a short walk to the school bus stop or a climb up a flight of stairs at school. Ultimately, once your child gets into better shape, you can encourage him to increase the duration and intensity of his activity, but the most important thing is that he just get moving and do it regularly.


Source: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


How to Get Your Child to Eat More Fruits & Veggies


We all know that eating fruits and vegetables is important. But how do you get kids to eat more of these foods?

Tips for Parents:

  • Provide fruits and vegetables as snacks. Keep fruit washed, cut up and in plain sight in the refrigerator.
  • Serve salads more often. Get prewashed, bagged salad at the grocery store. Teach your child what an appropriate amount of salad dressing is and how it can be ordered on the side at restaurants.
  • Try out vegetarian recipes for spaghetti, lasagna, chili, or other foods using vegetables instead of meat.
  • Include at least one leafy green or yellow vegetable for vitamin A such as spinach, broccoli, winter squash, greens, or carrots each day.
  • Include at least one vitamin C–rich fruit or vegetable, such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, melon, tomato, and broccoli each day.
  • Add a fruit or vegetable as part of every meal or snack. For example, you could put fruit on cereal, add a piece of fruit or small salad to your child’s lunch, use vegetables and dip for an after-school snack, or add a vegetable or two you want to try to the family’s dinner.
  • Be a role model — eat more fruits and vegetables yourself.

​More Things You Can Do:

  • Be sure your child is getting the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day. Visit choosemyplate.gov​ to find out how much of each food group your child should be getting.
  • When shopping for food, start in the area of the store where they keep fresh fruits and vegetables. Stock up. That way you know you always have some on hand to serve your child.
  • Avoid buying high-calorie foods such as chips, cookies, and candy bars. Your child may not ask for these treats if they are not in sight.
  • Limit or eliminate how much fruit juice you give your child and make sure it is 100% juice, not juice “drinks.”
  • Eat a​s a family whenever possible. Research shows that kids eat more vegetables and fruits and less fried foods and sugary drinks when they eat with the entire family.

Remember…By choosing health-promoting foods, you can establish good nutritional habits in your child that will last for the rest of his or her life.


Adapted from Pediatric Obesity: Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment Strategies for Primary Care (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Pesticides, Herbicides and Children

Pesticides represent a large group of chemical products (including herbicides) designed to kill or harm unwanted insects, plants, molds, and rodents.

Pesticides are used in a variety of settings, including homes, schools, parks, lawns, gardens, and farms. While they may kill insects, rodents, and weeds, some are toxic to people when consumed in food and water.

More research is needed to determine the short- and long-term effects of pesticides on humans. Although some studies have found connections between some childhood cancers and an exposure to pesticides, other studies have not reached the same conclusions. Many pesticides disrupt the nervous system of insects, and research has shown that they have the potential to damage the neurological system of children.

Prevention

Try to limit your child’s unnecessary exposure to pesticides. To reduce such exposure:

  • Minimize using foods in which chemical pesticides were used by farmers.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables with water before your child consumes them.
  • For your own lawn and garden, use nonchemical pest control methods whenever possible. If you keep bottles of pesticides in your home or garage, make sure they’re out of the reach of children to avoid any accidental poisoning.
  • Avoid routinely spraying homes or schools to prevent insect infestations.

For more information see Pesticide Exposure in Children (AAP Policy Statement) and Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs)​


Source: Adapted from Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


LISTEN: Summer Planning for Your Kids

What are your kids doing this summer? Sitting around playing video games all day? Or do you have something healthier and more fun in mind?

Have you planned out some summer fun for your kids?

Summer can be a real break for you from the busy days of the school year. However, watching your kids just sit around and waste the days can also be frustrating.

Coming up with activities that will stretch their minds and work their bodies can be a productive challenge for you both.

CLICK HERE to listen to RADIO-MD’s Dr. Cori Cross and Melanie Cole, MS, help you plan your summer so your kids get something out of it and still have a great time. You just might too!

Stay Safe this 4th of July

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continues to urge families NOT to buy fireworks for their own or their children’s use, as thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured each year while using consumer fireworks.

Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks — devastating burns, other injuries, fires and even death. The AAP is part of the Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks, a group of health and safety organizations that urges the public to avoid the use of consumer fireworks and to only enjoy displays of fireworks conducted by trained professionals.

Fireworks Safety Tips for Families:

  • Fireworks can result in severe burns​, blindness, scars and even death.
  • Fireworks that are often thought to be safe, such as sparklers, can reach temperatures above 1000°Fahrenheit, and can burn users and bystanders.
  • Attend community fireworks displays run by professionals rather than using fireworks at home.
  • The AAP recommends prohibiting public sale of all fireworks, including those by mail or the Internet.​​
  • Keep the 4th of July fun and leave the fireworks to the professionals.

  • Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2019). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Summer Reading Programs for All Ages

LOCAL LIBRARIES’ SUMMER READING PROGRAMS

Branford
Blackstone Memorial Library
A Universe of Stories

Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library
A Universe of Stories

Cheshire
Cheshire Public Library
Summer Adventure

East Haven
Hagman Memorial Library

Hamden
Hamden Public Library
A Universe of Stories

New Haven
New Haven Free Public Library
A Universe of Stories

North Haven
North Haven Memorial Library
“Laugh Out Loud Library!”

Wallingford
Wallingford Public Library
Summer Reading