5 Secrets to a Smarter Baby: School Readiness Can Start Now

As parents, we all want happy, healthy babies. Not only that, we want them to be smart.

Growing research in early brain development shows there are some basic things you can do right now to start raising a child who is curious about the world and ready to learn. These early education activities we’re talking about are simple―and screen free!

Use the “5 Rs of Early Education” in your daily activities right from birth:

1. READ together as a daily, fun, family activity.

  • The AAP recommends this to build language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that last a lifetime. It’s never too young to start reading with your baby. Reading to your child, research suggests, boosts activity in parts of the brain that form the building blocks of language, literacy skills and imagination.

2. RHYME, play, talk, sing, and cuddle together often throughout the day.

  • The AAP encourages parents to use play to help meet their child’s health and developmental milestones, beginning from birth. Need ideas? Here are some great ways to do this based on your child’s age. Talk with them about things they see around them, at home, at the store, or while traveling. Enroll in quality early education programs and activities, take time to visit a children’s museum or local library, and enjoy story time.

3. Build ROUTINES for meals, play, and sleep.

  • This helps children know what to expect and what is expected of them. Brush, Book, Bed, for example, is a great way to structure your child’s nighttime routine. Eating at least three family meals together each week is associated with healthier kids, according to a study published in Pediatrics.

4. REWARD everyday successes (especially for effort toward goals like helping others).

  • Catch your child doing something good and praise them for it! Praise from those closest to a child is a very powerful reward. Talk with your pediatrician about how to shape and manage your child’s behavior, model the good behavior, and reinforce it by using positive discipline techniques that build a child’s self-regulation skills. Your child’s social, emotional, and behavior skills are equally critical to school success.

5. Develop RELATIONSHIPS that are nurturing, respectful, and consistent.

  • A strong parent-child relationship helps protect against the lasting effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), traumatic situations that can lower a child’s chance of doing well in school. As you strive to teach your child about healthy relationships and choosing friends wisely, don’t forget to model them in your own life. Demonstrating good relationships skills with your spouse or partner, and taking time to nurture close friendships with others, is as important as simply talking about these skills–if not more so.

You are your baby’s best teacher.

A certain toy is not necessary for your child to reach his or her next developmental milestone. There is no one app that will teach your child to read. While it’s easy to fall victim to the marketing, YOU are what your child needs to start on the path toward school readiness with daily reading, rhyming, routines, rewards, and relationship building.


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.

How to Prepare Your Older Children for a New Baby

A new baby brings joys and challenges to a family. You’re excited, but you may also be nervous about how your older children will react to the newborn.

All sorts of questions come up: How should we tell our older children that they are going to have a baby brother or sister? Will they be jealous of the new baby? How can we help them get along? 

Children of different ages will react differently to a new baby.

Knowing what to expect from each age group will make it easier to handle the changes in your family.

Toddlers – Ages 1 To 2 Years

Children of this age will not understand much about what it means to have a new brother or sister. However, let your child hear you talk about the “new baby” and feel your excitement. She may not understand why you are excited, but your attitude will rub off on her and she will feel excited too.

Keep in mind, you may not be able to satisfy the needs of both children all the time—especially not by yourself. If you feel overwhelmed, look to your partner, other relatives, and friends for support and an extra set of arms.

  • Look at picture books about a new baby. At the very least, your child will become familiar with words like “sister,” “brother,” and “new baby.”
  • When the new baby arrives, try to do something special for your older child. Reassure her that she is still loved. Some ideas include giving her a special gift, letting her spend some time alone with dad, grandma, or another special adult, or taking her someplace special.

Preschoolers – Ages 2 To 4 Years

At this age, your child is still very attached to you and does not yet understand how to share you with others. Your child also may be very sensitive to change and may feel threatened by the idea of a new family member. Here are some suggestions that may help ease your preschooler into being a big brother or big sister.

  • Wait a while before telling your preschooler about the baby. Explain it to your child when you start buying nursery furniture or baby clothes or if he starts asking about mom’s growing “stomach.” Picture books for preschoolers can be very helpful. So can sibling classes (ask your hospital if it offers them). Try to tell your child before he hears about the new baby from someone else.
  • Be honest. Explain that the baby will be cute and cuddly but will also cry and take a lot of your time and attention. Also, make sure that your older child knows that it may be a while before he can play with the new baby. Reassure your child that you will love him just as much after the baby is born as you do now.
  • Involve your preschooler in planning for the baby. This will make him less jealous. Let him shop with you for baby items. Show him his own baby pictures. If you are going to use some of his old baby things, let him play with them a bit before you get them ready for the new baby. Buy your child (boy or girl) a doll so he can take care of “his” baby.
  • Time major changes in your child’s routine. If you can, finish toilet training or switching from a crib to a bed before the baby arrives. If that is not possible, put them off until after the baby is settled in at home. Otherwise, your child may feel overwhelmed by trying to learn new things on top of all the changes caused by the new baby.
  • Expect your child to regress a little. For example, your toilet-trained child might suddenly start having “accidents,” or he might want to take a bottle. This is normal and is your older child’s way of making sure he still has your love and attention. Instead of telling him to act his age, let him have the attention he needs. Praise him when he acts more grown-up.
  • Prepare your child for when you are in the hospital. He may be confused when you leave for the hospital. Explain that you will be back with the new baby in a few days.
  • Set aside special time for your older child. Read, play games, listen to music, or simply talk together. Show him that you love him and want to do things with him. Also, make him feel a part of things by having him cuddle next to you when you feed the baby.
  • Ask family and friends to spend a little time with your older child when they come to see the new baby. This will help him feel special and not left out of all the excitement. They might also give him a small gift when they bring gifts for the baby.
  • Have your older child spend time with dad. A new baby presents a great opportunity for fathers to spend time alone with older children.

School-Aged Children – Ages 5 and above

Children older than 5 years are usually not as threatened by a new baby as younger children are. However, they may resent the attention the new baby gets. To prepare your school-aged child for a new baby,

  • Tell your child what is happening in language she can understand. Explain what having a new baby means and what changes may affect her—both the good and the not so good.
  • Have your older child help get things ready for the new baby by fixing up the baby’s room, picking out clothes, or buying diapers.
  • If possible, have your older child come to the hospital soon after the baby is born so she feels part of the growing family.
  • When you bring the new baby home, make your older child feel that she has a role to play in caring for the baby. Tell her she can hold the baby, although she must ask you first. Praise her when she is gentle and loving toward the baby.
  • Do not overlook your older child’s needs and activities. Let her know how much you love her. Make an effort to spend some time alone with her each day; use that as a chance to remind her how special she is.

Source: Adapted from Sibling Relationships (Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics, updated 3/2007). 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.

Is it safe for families to travel yet?

​​​​​After more than a year of “pandemic ​life,” we are all eager to return to some sense of normalcy. For many families, this includes traveling. ​But for families with young children who aren’t able to get COVID-19 vaccines yet, it’s still complicated. Here’s why.

Vaccines are key

Federal experts who warned about the dangers of travel earlier in the pandemic now say fully vaccinated​ people can safely travel, with some common-sense precautions. However, they still advise against any nonessential travel for unvaccinated​ individuals. And, the problem is, vaccines aren’t yet available for children under age 12. This means that while parents who are vaccinated are protected, traveling now may still put their younger children at risk. 

While most cases of COVID-19 infections in children are mild, some do become severely ill.  Thousands of children have been hospitalized for COVID-19, and hundreds have died. In addition, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children is a condition that has been unique to children during this pandemic and can be quite serious.  

If you decide to travel

Not all vacations or trips carry the same risk. For example, traveling by car to a vacation rental home is much safer than flying to a busy hotel to spend the week at a crowded beach. The key is to think about number of close contacts you’ll likely have during the course of your travel plans.  The more contacts, the higher the risk. 

There are steps you can take to lower travel risks:

  • ​Have everyone in your family who is eligible (12 years and older) and those whom you plan on visiting, get their COVD-19 vaccine. Many COVID infections come from household contacts. By ensuring everyone is vaccinated, you’ll limit the number of suspectable contacts. 
  • Check the COVID-19 spread rates where you plan to visit. Locations with high rates of community spread means higher risk of someone in your family being exposed to COVID-19.  If the intended destination has a high rate of spread, be extra cautious when in public. Keep in mind that outdoor activities are safer than indoor ones.   ​
  • On a plane, bus, train, or other form of public transportation, make sure everyone in the family wears a mask, even those who are fully vaccinated.Keep them on at the airport or station, too. The masks should cover the nose and mouth, and fit snugly with no gaps at the sides.
  • Try to travel by car if possible. While the airline industry has taken amazing steps in helping to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission (HEPA air filters, air exchange, electrostatic spraying), traveling by car will limit your contact with the public. In addition, the road trip experience can be a great way for older children to see new places. During any rest stops, remember to wear masks and wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Also, consider packing your own food and snacks.
  • If you must fly: Try to look for direct flights when possible. That will limit the need to change planes and walk through busy airports. Plus, the shorter the flight the better, since longer flights raise the chance of infection. Keep your masks on for the entire flight; consider opting out of meals so you don’t have to remove them. Don’t forget to bring disinfectant wipes to sanitize all the high-touch areas.
  • Pack extra masks and hand sanitizers. Along with toothbrushes, diapers, and the portable crib, be sure to tote along those important pandemic essentials. Pack at least two masks per child in case one is lost or being washed after use. When packing hand sanitizer, include a travel-size dispenser that can be stored in a purse or backpack as well as a larger container for refills. Ensure that the hand sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol.

Remember

COVID-19 has affected everyone and the past year has been stressful for families. The urge to travel might be tempting, but the pandemic is not over yet and it’s important to consider the risks.  As the vaccine rollout proceeds, your family will be able to enjoy a relaxing trip soon. ​


​American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright ©2021). By Gary Kirkilas, DO, FAAP, a general pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. 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 2021

Reading can be one of the many fun activities children choose to fill their summer time. And research has shown it is also much more!

Children who participate in public library summer reading programs make achievement leaps during the summer.

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)  reading lists below are created by children’s librarians as a resource to share with patrons, and may also be available in ebook, audio book, braille, and large print formats. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to explore this list to find resources that may match or spark their child’s interest. Connect with your local library to find out what’s happening this summer.

The 2021 Summer Reading Book List was created by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). Titles on this list were selected by members of ALSC’s Quicklists Consulting Committee. For more booklists, please visit www.ala.org/alsc/booklists.

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) is the world’s largest organization dedicated to the support and enhancement of library service to children. From creative programming and best practices to continuing education and professional connections—ALSC members are innovators in the field of children’s library service.

Summer Tips: Pool Safety

Swimming is a fantastic form of exercise and a major component of many spring break trips and summer break fun. But parents should remember that swimming also comes with risk. Follow these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics to protecting children from drowning.

POOL SAFETY

  • Never leave children alone in or near the pool or spa, even for a moment; close supervision by a responsible adult is the best way to prevent drowning in children.
  • Whenever children under age 5 are in or around water, an adult – preferably one who knows how to swim and perform CPR – should be within arm’s length, providing “touch supervision.”
  • Install a fence at least 4 feet high around all four sides of the pool. The fence should not have openings or protrusions that a young child could use to get over, under, or through.
  • Make sure pool gates open out from the pool, and self-close and self-latch at a height children can’t reach. Consider alarms on the gate to alert you when someone opens the gate. Consider surface wave or underwater alarms as an added layer of protection.
  • The safest fence is one that surrounds all 4 sides of the pool and completely separates the pool from the house and yard. If the house serves as the fourth side of the fence, install an alarm on the exit door to the yard and the pool. For additional protection, install window guards on windows facing the pool. Drowning victims have also used pet doors to gain access to pools. Keep all of your barriers and alarms in good repair with fresh batteries.
  • Keep rescue equipment (a shepherd’s hook ­– a long pole with a hook on the end — and life preserver) and a portable telephone near the pool. Choose a shepherd’s hook and other rescue equipment made of fiberglass or other materials that do not conduct electricity.
  • Avoid inflatable swimming aids such as “floaties.” They are not a substitute for approved life jackets and can give children and parents a false sense of security.
  • Children over age 1 may be at a lower risk of drowning if they have had some formal swimming instruction. However, there is no evidence that swimming lessons or water survival skills courses can prevent drowning in babies younger than 1 year of age.
  • The decision to enroll a child over age one in swimming lessons should be made by the parent based on the child’s developmental readiness and exposure to water, but swim programs should never be seen as “drown proofing” a child of any age.
  • Avoid entrapment: Suction from pool and spa drains can trap a swimmer underwater. Do not use a pool or spa if there are broken or missing drain covers. Ask your pool operator if your pool or spa’s drains are compliant with the Pool and Spa Safety Act. If you have a swimming pool or spa, ask your pool service representative to update your drains and other suction fitting with anti-entrapment drain covers and other devices or systems. See PoolSafely.gov for more information on the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
  • Large, inflatable, above-ground pools have become increasingly popular for backyard use. Children may fall in if they lean against the soft side of an inflatable pool. Although such pools are often exempt from local pool fencing requirements, it is essential that they be surrounded by an appropriate fence just as a permanent pool would be so that children cannot gain unsupervised access.
  • If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa first.
  • Share safety instructions with family, friends and neighbors.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2018). 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.


Just Breathe: The Importance of Meditation Breaks for Kids

Our kids’ brains are tired, and children of all ages really need opportunities where they can take time out each day “unplugged” to relax and focus. Meditation offers this break and helps kids function more effectively and clearly.

Children today also have reportedly high stress levels. To help them take a break, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to share meditation with their children—and teachers to incorporate mindfulness training into their lesson plans.

The simple act of teaching children how to stop, focus, and just breathe could be one of the greatest gifts you give them.

Meditation Options for Children

Meditative practices have been used since ancient times to improve health and well-being. But, just as an athlete may do different exercises, people who practice meditation often use different types.

The most common types of meditation practice are concentration, mindfulness, movement based, cultivating positive emotions, and emptying. There are specific examples and ways to practice each type.

 

Many meditation practices use breathing techniques to promote a state of calm. Mindfulness meditation on breath, perhaps the most well-known type, involves sitting quietly, resting or closing your eyes and bringing your attention to your breath. When your attention drifts away, which it is likely to do, simply usher your attention back to your breath without judgment.  You don’t need years of meditative practice to benefit from this technique, nor do your children.

There’s no doubt, however, that sitting still for any length of time can be difficult for some kids. For this reason, a movement-based meditation, such as yoga, may serve as a good introduction.

Research on the Benefits of Meditation in Children

Meditation is used to rest the mind, body and spirit. This, in turn, has many mental, physical, and spiritual benefits. Mindfulness meditation, specifically, is gaining a foothold in disease prevention and treatment.

A number of studies in school settings also show improved attention and behavior. Some research has shown benefits for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, school performance, sleep, behavior problems, and eating disorders. For example, a trial of 300 low-income, minority urban middle-schoolers using school-based mindfulness instruction led to improved psychological functioning and lower levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

There are also physical benefits as it calms the nervous system and decreases stress hormones. Studies have shown benefits for gastrointestinal symptoms, obesity, headaches, high blood pressure, pain sensitivity, and immune function. For example, a trial looking at the effect of mindful breathing meditation at a summer camp of 166 teens at risk for cardiovascular disease found that breathing awareness produced a reduction in blood pressure and heart rate.

Meditation Tips

Meditation does not have a set of rules, but there are some tips that can help.

  • The length of time and frequency of meditating can vary for different people and different practices. But, pediatricians typically recommend the following time frames:
    • Preschool children: A few minutes per day.
    • Gradeschool children: 3-10 minutes twice a day.
    • Teens and adults: 5-45 minutes per day or more based on preference.
  • Try incorporating deep breathing into your children’s daily bedtime routine—it can help them wind down for the night and make meditation easier to do when other situations arise.
  • Remind gradeschoolers and teens to take a few deep breaths before answering a difficult question at school, taking a test, or before an athletic performance.
  • As young children learn to manage strong emotions, deep breathing can be part of the process—especially before and after time outs.
  • While meditation can be done on your own, it can also be done with the help of a trained professional. Some counselors and individuals with training in meditation can help others learn and practice meditation.
  • Meditation is not currently covered by most insurance plans unless given by a licensed counselor. It is always best to check with your individual plan. Flexible medical spending programs may count meditation training as a medical expense.
  • There are multiple ways to learn different practices of meditation. There are books, audio recordings, videos, online training, websites, and even smartphone apps to help children meditate. Choose and practice the one that works the best for you and your child, and enjoy a calmer body, mind and spirit.

Talk to Your Pediatrician

Since meditation practices are generally safe and have many possible benefits, they can be used without much risk. As with any lifestyle change, however, it is best to discuss it with your child’s pediatrician before adding meditative practices to your child’s wellness routine.


Source: Section on Integrative Medicine (Copyright © 2016 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.

Permission to Unplug: The Health Benefits of Yoga for Kids

Yoga offers a release from today’s fast-paced and tech-heavy world. It only demands that your child “unplug” and leave his or her phone (and shoes) behind—focusing solely on the action of connecting breath and movement. Yoga can help kids learn to live in the moment, focus on the task at hand, and handle problems peacefully. The more often your child practices yoga, the greater the benefits.

Yoga: More Than Exercise, More Than Sport

While any sport played well activates the mind in addition to the body, the practice of yoga is meant to bring the two together. Yoga is much more profound than merely the yoga postures we are familiar with from classes, videos, or movies. It involves a combination of certain postures (asanas), regulated breathing techniques (pranayamas), hand poses (mudras), and meditation (dhyanas).

Each particular body posture has been cultivated and fine-tuned over thousands of years to bring about specific effects in the mind and body. Whether a pose is done standing, sitting, or lying down, each one can challenge various muscle groups. At the same time, a child becomes more aware of his or her body and how it functions. Some yoga poses are harder than others, and even flexible kids in good shape should start slowly.

Yoga for cross-training

Many student-athletes, for example, practice yoga as a way to cross-train and prevent overuse injuries. Runners strengthen and stretch the hips, legs, and Achilles tendons. Baseball players strengthen the arms and upper body muscles. Gymnasts increase flexibility, balance, and concentration.

Health Benefits of Yoga

Children and teens are an ideal population to benefit from the therapeutic and health benefits of yoga.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends yoga as a safe and potentially effective therapy for children coping with emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral health conditions.

Children with special needs, for example, often have tension and rigid muscle tone—yoga can help with this. Stretching the body can relieve tension and holding yoga poses increases strength when practiced regularly. Yoga also has many bending and stretching poses that can help move and stimulate the digestive system and relieve constipation. Additional physical benefits from yoga include:

  • Regulated blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Regulated hormone levels
  • Decreased abdominal pain in children with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Improved balance​

A study in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that daily yoga helps children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remain calm and lowered their levels of aggression, social withdrawal, and anxiety. Further, a study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that yoga during PE classes reduced teen mood problems and anxiety and also led to higher test scores. In numerous other studies, yoga has repeatedly been shown to improve:

  • Self-confidence
  • Mood
  • Stress reduction
  • Anxiety
  • Concentration
  • Hyperactivity
  • Classroom behaviors
  • Emotional balance

Parents: Calm Breathing Can Be Contagious!

It’s good for parents to put down their phones, too! Tantrums, sleepless nights, and morning rushing, for example, test our limits. In times like these, it can be very effective to take a few deep breaths instead of losing control of your own temper.

Basic yoga breathing and a simple pose or two can be important tools for managing a range of stresses and pain as well as everyday challenges. Lead by example. Get your child involved in yoga—or better yet—try a class yourself! Namaste.


Source Section on Integrative Medicine (Copyright © 2016 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.

Helping Children Handle Stress

​​​​As children reach their school-age years, they may experience pressure from a number of sources. These may be from within children themselves, as well as from parents, teachers, peers and the larger society.

This pressure can take many forms, to which children must respond and adapt. Whether these are events are lasting, 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 lives.

There is a silver lining is that when children get the chance to practice setbacks at younger ages. They develop resilience and the tools needed to be an independent adult and handle future challenges.

​Dealing with stress in daily life

Children welcome some events and are able to adapt to them with relative ease. Other events may feel to them like threats to their own or the family’s daily routines or general sense of well-being. These stresses can be more troublesome.​ Most stress faced by children is somewhere in the middle: neither welcomed nor seriously harmful, but rather a part of accomplishing the tasks of childhood and learning about themselves.

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 rack toward the “right” college. Children may also worry about making friends, dealing with peer pressure, or overcoming a physical injury or disability.

Children are sensitive not only to the changes around them, but also to the feelings and reactions of their parents. This is true 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.

Good and bad stress

Not all stress is a bad thing. Moderate amounts of pressure from 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.

Children are future adults, and through these experiences, they develop resilience and learn how to deal with life’s inevitable bumps and hurdles. However, when the stress is continuous or particularly intense, it can take a toll on both the psyche and the body.

Major events, especially those that forever change a child’s family, such as the death of a parent, can have lasting effects on children’s psychological health and well-being. Minor daily stresses can also have consequences.

Sudden stressful events will accelerate your child’s breathing and heartbeat, constrict blood vessels, increase blood pressure and muscle tension, and perhaps cause stomach upset and headaches. As stress persists, it can make a child more susceptible to illness and experience fatigue, loss of sleep,  nightmares, teeth-grinding, poor appetite, tantrums, or depression. Children may become irritable or their school grades​ may suffer. Their behavior and their willingness to cooperate may change.

How stress can affect children

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. 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.

How different children cope with stress

Children’s temperaments vary, and so can 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 succeeded in managing challenges and feel able to do so
  • have a strong sense of self-esteem.
  • have emotional support from family and friends.

Children who have a clear sense of personal competence, and who feel loved and supported, generally do well. Talk with your pediatrician about ways to help your child manage stress.


Source: Adapted from Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12, 3rd edition (Copyright © 2018 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.

Taking a Mental Health Day Off from School

Taking a Mental Health Day Off from School: A Pediatrician-Mom’s Perspective by Hansa Bhargava, MD, FAAP

“I’m exhausted. Can I please have a day off from school?” My first instinct when one of my kids asks a question like this is to push them to get out of bed and get going. But when my daughter woke up last Friday and asked this question, I hesitated. My daughter has had a crazy month. Along with her usual load of 6th grade quizzes, tests, and homework, she’s had to stay at school until 7pm almost every day for rehearsals for the school play. After that, it’s a long drive home through traffic, and then dinner. She’s not able to sit down and start her load of homework until 8:30pm.

As a working mom and pediatrician, I’ve had weeks like these. The only difference is that I don’t have homework, studying, and projects to do when I get home after a very long day. And even without all of that, I will honestly admit, I have felt the need for a “mental health day.”

Kids and Stress

What I’m seeing as a pediatrician is that more and more kids are incredibly stressed. Not only have their academics been ramped up, but they are expected to do higher-level sports, high-level arts, and be on the go constantly. For many children, the lazy, after school, neighborhood playtime is long gone―as are the long summers of being bored.

What Parents Can Do

All kids are different and some can handle more than others. But as parents, we need to listen to our kids and know their limits. Studies have actually shown that boredom and long periods of unscheduled time can actually spur creativity and out of the box thinking, as well as reset the emotional needle. We ALL need this―and the kids do, too.

So, let’s all take time regularly to have that break. Reset and recharge by staying home, by being with family, or by just simply taking a walk and looking at the trees and the spring flowers. It will calm our soul and give us the “mental break” we need to recharge ourselves.

That day, I gave my daughter what she asked for. I did let her stay home and just be. And the next day, she was ready to go full force again.


Source: Copyright © 2018 Hansa Bhargava, MD, FAAP. 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.

Cell Phones: What’s the Right Age to Start?

There really is no “right” age to allow our kids to dip a toe into the digital pond, but if we pay attention to the issues, we’ll be able to decide what makes sense for our kids without getting in the way of a process that will occur whether we like it or not.

At the same time, there is no rush. We can keep the pace reasonable and developmentally appropriate and allow our kids to use technologies that make sense without granting them access to technologies that don’t make sense for their age.

Cell Phones for Safety

For example, cell phone use seems to be trickling to younger ages. Studies and reports show that middle school is the time that adoption for cell phones and technology really takes off. Before then, kids who have cell phones don’t use them as expected. Why do they have them? Families I know who give their elementary school kids cell phones do so mostly for safety issues.

  • Medical: Some children have emergency issues for which every second counts. For these kids, having access to a cell phone matters because landlines are not as easy to find as when we were kids, even in afterschool programs (although the adults supervising those programs usually carry cell phones, or should). Some families whose children have medical issues feel more secure knowing their child can reach them if symptoms start to flare. Assuming these kids are supervised, this may not be needed but does give families peace of mind.
  • Emergencies: With both parents often working out of the home, many feel more secure if kids of all ages have a way to reach them and vice versa. This is an issue every family needs to sort out independently, but if elementary schoolkids are supervised after school, a personal cell phone for the child may not be needed.

The New Normal Kids “Need”

For better or worse, we do have a new norm being established today which studies and reports are confirming. YouthBeat: The Syndicated Report by C&R Research reports on the use of digital devices by today’s kids and teens, YouthBeat confirms that today’s kids are starting very young, as young as first grade, and gravitate to:

  • TV
  • DVD
  • video
  • Computer
  • Cameras
  • Music
  • Cell phones

Use increases with age and parents provide the majority of purchasing power.

Despite views that kids “need” cell phones when they are young, cell phones use among younger kids is markedly lower than tweens and teens—22% of kids reported using cell phones, compared with 60% of tweens and 84% of teens. The percentages of use were not as wide for other digital technologies.

The Social Role of the Cell Phone

The reasons for this are likely developmental. Cell phones play a huge social role that doesn’t become interesting in a child’s life until the tween and teen years. Before that, show watching and gaming are the prominent interests and are reflected in the digital activities the younger kids gravitate toward.


Author: Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, FAAP. Source: CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming, and Social Media (Copyright © 2011 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.