Are you nurturing your child’s true self?

March 11, 2020

That genuine smile from a baby is enough to melt the toughest of hearts. You know the one…the one that always comes with that twinkle in their eyes. It’s funny because if you really pay attention to babies, you will see that each one is born with their own unique personality. It’s the nature vs nurture that we love to talk about. It’s when people say, “I wonder how those kids are so different, yet they were raised by the same parents!”

It’s funny because this is not the way it is at all! In fact I can tell the happy, smiley babies from the cautious more reserved babies from as little as 4 months. It is truly amazing to witness. I love to see a baby this little with their built in personality and watch them develop into the children and eventually adults of tomorrow. Of course parenting and the outside world influence the way these kids will grow and think, but I can tell you with complete certainty that babies are definitely born with their own programming. As parents, I challenge you and encourage you to be intentional in making sure that that innate programming is what you try to nurture from day one.

It is the little boy that wants to wear rain boots all day or the little girl that insists on dressing herself in whatever way she thinks. It’s challenging as a parent. It’s easy to get caught up in what the world thinks your child should be or how they should think or act. Instead, try to take a step back and allow your child to explore their creativity and uniqueness.

As children begin to learn to read and write, I think it is a wonderful idea to begin the idea of writing down their wildest thoughts and dreams. Even the ones about owning a zoo or world peace. Let their imaginations soar and do not put boundaries on what these dreams can be. Saying things like, “That’s ridiculous!” “That’s never going to happen!” or “Hahahah, that is not the way things are” are definite dream killers. What if parents instead created a wonderful notebook where the child could draw, write and explore these wild and amazing thoughts? Imagine the book you would have at the end of their childhood!

This book would be the perfect gift to give your child at the end of a milestone or the beginning of a new chapter in their life. It would be the gift of their true self. It would serve as a constant reminder of what makes them truly unique in this world and the innate passions that light up their souls. How awesome is that? How many adults do you know that could use one of these?

I can tell you that as parents, we hold the key to unlocking the potential that lives within our children. The world is constantly trying to encourage your child to “fit in” or live their lives based on strict guidelines. In fact, the reason most kids are suffering from anxiety and depression is because they realize that they are not like everybody else. The travesty is that they don’t appreciate that if they are not like everybody else, that is where their magic lies. If we are like everybody else, then we are not true to ourselves.

So the next time you child tells you the sky is purple, hand them some purple paint and get them a canvas. The world needs more purple skies and happy children.

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

Is it a mental health disorder, a physical disorder or simply a lack of SLEEP?

February 19, 2020

Happy Wednesday! Today I wanted to share with you an article I read inย Pediatric News written by Tara Haelle. The Title isย A Good Night’s Sleep.ย 

In the article, Tara quotes Dr. Spinks-Franklin, a pediatrician in Texas Children’s Hospital ย in Houston as explaining that “social media and electronics are not the only barriers to a good night’s sleep for teens.”

Lets review what is the recommended hours of sleep for children:

infants – 12-16 hours (Oh to be a baby!) including naps (for those ages 4-12 months). ย  ย ย Kids 1-2 years old need 11-14 hours and kids ages 3-5 years old need 10-13 hours ย including naps. By the ages of 6-12 years the amount drops to 9-12 hours/night.

Most of us can control how many hours of sleep our little ones get (there are exceptions!), however, the teen years can sometimes pose a challenge when it comes to sleep! Many parents fall asleep before their teens do! Did you know that teens actually need 8-10 hours of sleep? Yet, statistics show that 75 % of seniors get less than 8 hours of sleep!

It’s true that social media, TV and computers contribute to this lack of sleep but a rigorous academic load with extracurricular activities can also play a large role. Some teens work after school and this too feeds into their hours of homework and other responsibilities. Another factor is drinking caffeine in the afternoons. Many teens quickly learn that drinking caffeinated drinks will help keep them up to study but what they don’t realize is how it affects them the following day!

I will also note that sleep apnea can also result in the symptoms discussed below. If you notice that your teen is snoring loudly or has pauses in their breathing during sleep discuss this with your doctor and consider a referral to an ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat specialist). This is a treatable disorder than can truly change a child’s life.

I for one believe in later start times for teens. Enforcing early start times in schools leads to a decrease in sleep overall and as a result increases the levels of irritability and other problems as I will explain.

According the Dr. Spinks-Franklin, there are 2 kinds of sleep problems in teens: insomnia and delayed sleep phase syndrome. Both are very important since they can lead to short ย and long term physical and mental health issues.

In the short term, a lack of sleep leads to poor judgment, poor executive functioning and even depression.

The interesting part of the article addresses the similarity in symptoms between ADHD and a lack of sleep:

  1. Depression, feeling sad, or emotional hypersensitivity.
  2. Mood swings, crankiness (this happens to parents too!)
  3. Difficulty concentrating, fidgeting in one’s seat or daydreaming
  4. Unable to complete tasks or stay on task. Problems with memory
  5. Difficulty in social situations, such as with others in school or friends
  6. Daytime sleepiness
  7. Behavioral issues like impulsivity, aggression or hyperactivity
  8. Frequent careless mistakes
  9. Feeling lethargic or lack of motivation
  10. Easily distracted

The problem with insomnia is that once it starts it is difficult to break the cycle as anxiety and school or social stressors seem worse with the lack of sleep. What can be small hills can feel like mountains impossible to climb.

The second issue mentioned is that of delayed sleep phase syndrome. This is when someone has a delay in the secretion of melatonin and just can’t seem to fall asleep when they want to. In teens this is made worse by sleeping in on the weekends (to catch up on sleep) since this interferes with the body’s circadian rhythm (our body’s physical, mental and behavioral daily cycles) making the problem worse!

So what can we do???

  1. No screen time 1 hour before bed! I try to tell patients to leave reading or project based learning for right before bed and encourage them to do their computer work as soon as they get home from school or activities
  2. No caffeine at least 5 hours before bedtime.
  3. Consistent schedule for sleep (including weekends!)

While all of these can seem difficult to implement, if you are noticing any of the above symptoms with your teen, sit them down and have a discussion about it. If your teen is struggling they may consider your advice. It is worth a try!

Making small changes can have big impacts. Instead of treating the symptoms, let’s try to focus on the why of how we feel instead.

I hope you’re having a wonderful week!

Happy zzzzzzz’s ๐Ÿ™‚

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

“Good Night:Common Problems seen in teens are insomnia and Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.”ย Pediatric News Volume 54, No.2 February 2020., Tara Haelle, expert analysis from AAP 2019.

** If you suspect that insomnia is affecting your child’s ability to function in school or their day to day life, speak to your pediatrician. Consider cognitive behavioral therapy which can also help with insomnia.

5 Ways to Give the Gift of Reading to your Child

February 5, 2020

“Imagination is more important thanย knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imaginationย encircles the world.”-Albert Einstein

It is uncertain when babies understand language. We see two month old infants smiling in response to a smile and cooing as they try to communicate. We observe babies as young as 6 months old respond to certain words or songs that are familiar.

I do not think we will ever know when the exact moment comes when a baby understands what you are actually saying. Experts call it baby ease and it is almost instinctual that when you speak to a small baby you speak softly and with a high pitched voice. They seem to love it as they smile and coo in response. It is awesome!

To a baby, it isn’t so much what you say but how you say it. As your child grows what you say becomes more important so pay attention to your words! How lucky are we that we can share the gift of reading with our kids? Endless possibilities lie between the pages of a book. Encourage this always.

1.Read daily –ย If the idea of reading daily seems daunting, you are not alone. However, establishing routines with your baby from day one is the best way to ensure that you will continue to do so. Reading then becomes automatic and also a special time that your baby/child looks forward to. It doesn’t have to be long either. A simple book or poem can bring with it deep meaning and just the act of sitting down with your child uninterrupted speaks volumes of what you deem important.

2. Read aloud-ย It is recommended that you read higher level books to your child aloud. Listening to a story without having to focus on the words on the page can be magical. A story can transport you to a different time or place and create new and creative conversations ย between you and your child. Ask questions when you read to encourage engagement and see if your child felt the same way you did about the story (you might be surprised!)

3. Escaping into a story –ย It is no secret that books and stories can take you from your away from the routines of every day life. Those books that are hard to put down sometimes leave you confused between reality and the words in the book. It is powerful. Allow yourself and encourage your child to place themselves in the place of the main character and question the decisions that the characters made and ask if they would have done the same. This exercise is the beginning of understanding empathy and its importance.

4.ย Choose different types of books – When selecting books to share with your child do some research. Find books that you think your child would enjoy but also get their input! Ask them what they would like to learn about or maybe there is an author that they have enjoyed in the past and would like to read more of their books. If you can sign up for notifications on when your child’s favorite author is in town, do it! One of my favorite memories was taking my boys to listen to Rick Riordan. Listening to how the author created the stories and the reason behind his decision to write stories was magical. I highly recommend this experience if you can make it happen!

5. Encourage creativity and writing –ย Encourage your child to write his/her story. As we grow, our ideas about life and our perception of the world changes. Imagine if you had written a story through each of these stages. Looking back is a gift in and of itself and you do not need to be a New York Times Best Seller to write a story. ย Writing is also a form of therapy and we see in journaling. Teaching your child to express themselves in their writing will help them understand their thoughts and their mind more than anything else.

 

I am sure there are many other creative ways to encourage reading in your home and I hope that whether you are a new parent or a seasoned parent that you know that it is never too late to start. The gift of imagination is better than any money you spend on material things. The gift of your time will be remembered always.ย 

 

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

 

 

When your child is different..

October 8, 2019

It’s probably safe to say that at some point in your life you have done something to fit in. Perhaps it was a hair style, the clothing you wore, the way you spoke,…you know what I mean. It seems that this becomes especially obvious in the teenage years. The tall kids want to be shorter, the short kids want to be taller, the kids with curly hair want straight hair and those with straight hair want wavy hair. The race to average is on. Maybe your child is struggling with their weight or maybe they don’t like the music their peers are listening to, but they do it anyway, all in the name of being accepted and flying under the radar.

Sounds like a safe place to be, until the realization hits that happiness is not found in the pretending to be something your not or acting as if you like something that you don’t. In fact, trying to be someone that you aren’t will probably put you in uncomfortable situations and draw you to people that you have nothing in common with. You can feel it. When you are around people that love you and you feel comfortable, its an awesome feeling. You feel relaxed and probably laugh and are not worried that what you say will be misinterpreted or used against you. It’s the best feeling ever.

This is why it’s so hard when your child doesn’t fit into the mold that society says is normal or is born with a disability that makes him or her stand out. You feel stuck and unsure about how to parent your child.

Yet, history shows that some of the most creative geniuses and creative people that we admire, went through a phase where they too felt like an outcast or were rejected by their peers. So, today I want you to focus on the differences in your child and look at them as strengths.

Hone in on those differences and nurture them. Encourage your child to follow their hearts and pursue their passions, even if the world isn’t ready for them yet. Creating a love of learning or creating will take them much further in life that riding in the middle of the pack.

We are all born with our own unique potentials, it is up to us to find what they are. Celebrate what makes you different, don’t hide it,ย  and find your true self (and true friends as well).

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D. , F.A.A.P

Are you parenting in the GRAY zone?-maybe you should be…

September 24, 2019

Have you ever stopped to think about what you believe? I mean have you really stopped to think about it? Perhaps you believe something because your parents believed it too and taught you. Maybe you had a life experience that changed your view of the world. The truth is you are who you are because of what you believe, or have chosen to believe.

Did you know that there are approximately 7.9 Billion people in the world? Pretty amazing huh? What are the chances that each of those 7.9 Billion people believe the same things and live thier lives with the same values? ZERO.. Yes, that’s right zero.

I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t believe certain things or live your life according to what you believe, but I do want you to challenge yourself to opening up your mind to the fact that others can have different beliefs and its okay. In fact, it better than just okay, it’s what makes the world and relationships so interesting! Most wars, arguments and disagreements begin with just two people or twoย  groups of people having different beliefs.

It’s funny because one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the years I have practiced Pediatrics is how similiar we actully are. Sure we may have different traditions or ideas, and of course we look different, but we all fundamentally want very similar things. I witness this every day when families from very different backgrounds come in asking the same questions and expressing the same concerns.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this with respect to the rise in violence and intolerance in the world today, the world your children are growing up in. It’s hard to watch the news without witnessing how extreme behaviors are influencing our youth. We need to do better. There is room in the world for all kinds of beliefs and ideas and we need to help our children understand this and live it!

As kids grow up they start to look for groups that they fit into. They may try out different friend groups only to find that they really do not fit in entitely into any. It can be tough as a teen to navigate these tight friendship circles! Sometimes kids start acting like their peers just to fit in and sometimes they make stupid decisions just to be accepted! These circles are often the beginning of hurt feelings, bullying and sometimes even violence.

Encouarge your kids to be open-minded when seeking out friends. We sometimes make so many assumptions about someone from the way they look or act that we don’t really give them a chance. (Adults do this ALL the time). It’s easy to talk to people that think like you and act like you. It’s a lot more challenging to try to meet people from different backgrounds, who may disagree with you, but really you are truly missing out! Staying in this black and white mind-frame is so limiting! Instead, try to encourage your kids to talk to different kids in school or at their after school actitivities.

Of course there is a chance that they don’t really want to hang out with that personย  after school or invite them to their house, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t sit and have lunch together and enjoy each others company! Or, the exact opposite may occur and this could be the beginning of a real friendship. It doesn’t have to be black and white! Make your circle bigger and your joy in life will grow with it!

This is real life! Kids will grow up to be adults and will find themselves in the workplace surrounded by people from many walks of life. The earlier they learn about tolerance and living in the GRAY, the more well-rounded and happier they will be. Life is not a competition. Everyone has their own journey and ours can become a lot more colorful if we open up our minds to the GRAY zone.

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D., F.A.A.P

 

Are you really living or is life just passing you by?

September 17, 2019

Remember when you were little and summer vacation seemed eternal? Those long summer days that you spent bored or with nothing to do? Remember also how the school year seemed so long and it felt like you would never finish the year?

It’s funny, it seems that once you become an adult, life seems to be in fast forward mode. The way January suddenly becomes December is almost cruel. You look at your kids and you remember the day they came home from the hospital with you and now they are off to college. It’s crazy!

I started thinking about this and began to wonder why exactly this happens. Time is time right? Why does time feel so slow when you’re little and quicker than the speed of light as an adult?

I really think this has to do with living life in the present. When you’re a kid you don’t spend your time thinking much about the past or the future. When you’re building a fort and planning a sleep over that’s pretty much all you’re thinking about! When you are playing hide and seek you are focused on making sure you don’t get caught and looking for your next hiding spot. It’s living in the now to the exponential power.

Somewhere along the road, we become adults and even though we are physically present somewhere our thought are somewhere else. Did I lock the door? What am I going to make for dinner? Will my son be okay today? Did I make the doctor’s appointment?

We spend so much time worrying about the future or regretting the past that we forget about what we are doing right now. It’s scary really.

Take the time to really focus on what you’re doing at least for a little while every day. Put away the phone and be really present. It doesn’t matter if you are making dinner, taking a shower, putting away dishes or doing laundry. Being present can make the most mundane things seem interesting.

The other thing is that we often fail to recognize how our thoughts change our mood. Worrying all day is certainly not going to feel good or help you feel motivated. Instead try making an effort to stay in the present. See how it feels and learn from your kids. Experience the joy of really living today and everyday.

Don’t let your thoughts and the constant notifications coming from your phone steal your life away. It’s truly amazing how much more you can get done when you really focus and are present. This week I challenge you to try this and see how you feel.

Remember that most of the things we worry about never happen anyway! (Parents worry about EVERYTHING!!) Don’t waste your time there! Have a great week!

 

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D., F.A.A.P

Are you parenting backwards?

September 3, 2019

Most of us are focused on everything that our children are doing. Are they hanging around with the right friends, are they studying, are they sleeping enough, are they exercising enough, are they practicing ways to stay calm and manage their emotions, are they eating what they are supposed to eat…the list goes on and on…it’s never ending really.

So as a fellow parent, I thought it would be imortant to stop and ask yourself if you are doing these things for yourself. Are you hanging around with the right people (do they love you and motivate you)? Are you still hungry to learn and continuing to better yourself and feed your curiosity? Are you getting enough sleep and exercising to take care of your body? Are you taking care of your mind to help it stay calm and peaceful? Are you eating healthy foods that energizes you and helps you to feel good?

The point is that most parents (me included) are not prioritizing these things for themselves and then get frustrated when their kids aren’t either. The part that we fail to understand as parents is that our words are empty if we and sad, unsure or feel bad about ourselves. The energy you bring into your home is more important than anything you say to your kids.

Do you nurture good frienships and model the importance of taking care of friends when they need you? Are you showing your children by example the importance of giving in a take-all-the-time world? Children learn more about relationships and friendships from their families than anywhere else. This includes parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins and family friends. What happens when you disagree with someone? Do you confront them and try to explain your feelings or do you avoid or reject? Well guess what, your children are watching and they are learning.

Do you make nutrition, exercise and sleep a priority in your life or are you driving through fast food restaurants and laying on the couch staring at your phone. Are you going to bed at a decent time or saying you’re tired all the time and yet you stay up late and look for pills or something else to help you fall asleep. Your children are watching and learning.

Are you able to stay calm in difficult situations or do you let your emotions get the best of you? This is often one of the most difficult. As parents when our kids are sad or angry, we immediately go into “Mama Bear” mode. The is often when we are confronational, do not have all of the information and act irrationally. I encourage you to learn to recognize this feeling and stop for a second before you react. I would guess nine times out of ten the next day you would not react the same way; so sleep on it. Yelling, screaming and “protecting your child” without all of the information is dangerous territory. We are teaching our children that they are never wrong. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding or maybe it’s not as big of a deal as your child is making it out to be. Encourage your child to explain in detail what they feel and what happended exactly. Ask questions that encourage empathy and “putting themselves in someone else’s shoes”. Reflecting on a situation is more productive than a knee jerk reaction. It’s kind of like an adult temper tantrum. When we learn to manange our emotions, we can help our children manage theirs.

It is ironic isn’t it? If we spend more time working on showing up for ourselves the way we know is best, our children will learn that with self care, strength and confidence they too can become their best self.

Enjoy your week!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.