A healthy mind is the key to a healthy child.

October 22, 2019

It’s no secret that anxiety increases as we get older. Why is that? Why do we spend so much time dealing with anxiety and why is it so common?

If you look at a newborn or even a toddler you realize that their happiness comes from their needs being met. They are simple. If you feed them when they are hungry, respond to them when they cry, change them when they are dirty and help them to go to sleep when they are tired, they are for the most part “happy”. It is really that simple. Yet, millions of dollars are spent marketing to parents things to make their lives easier or more colorful. Marketing preys on the insecurities of the new parent as they stroll through the millions of options there are for car seats, high chairs, blankets, bottles, pacifiers, etc etc. The list is endless. Babies though, are happy with the simple. They don’t care what they are wearing or what stroller they are riding in. They really don’t. Yet parents spend a small fortune to keep up with what society has decided is cool or en-vogue. It’s fine I guess, if you can afford it and want to, but it is completely unnecessary.

Then come the childhood years when kids start going to school and begin comparing themselves to others. All of a sudden they become aware of the difference in each others appearances, homes, cars, clothes, etc. They begin to compare themselves academically, socially, and physically to their peers. It is during this time that the incidence of behavioral problems increases significantly. The reason for this could be because of these comparisons. All of a sudden, the child with the learning disability thinks they are stupid, or the child that acts silly realizes that this makes kids laugh so he/she does it more, or perhaps they feel like kids are excluding them in play groups or parties and they wonder if their is something wrong with them.

This is the window of opportunity that parents are given. This is when the window is open and all you need to do is reach in. If you think it is more than you can handle, seek help. Set up a meeting with the teacher, the principal, and gather information about your child and what they are observing in the school setting. Everything is important. Is your child going to the nurse everyday? Is your child giving you a hard time when you drop them off at school? Is your child struggling to read or having difficulty with math? Everything is important. Do not dismiss it or think that it is a phase or that your child just needs to mature. Your child’s social-emotional well being is developing during this time and just like you spend so much time worrying about what your child is eating and ways to ensure their bodies are healthy, we also need to pay attention to the health of their minds.

One of the best ways to do this is by encouraging kids to feel what they feel. Do not dismiss their feelings by saying things like, “you’re fine”, “you’re too sensitive”, “forget about it”, “get over it”, “stop crying”, etc. Instead, let your child feel what they feel. Hold them when they feel sad, explain to them that it is okay to be angry sometimes or to feel overwhelmed. There will most definitely be times in their lives when they are disappointed, upset or angry. Give them permission to feel those feelings in their entirety in their own way. Allowing a feeling helps lessen the intensity of that feeling. The opposite is also true. If you dismiss a feeling or tell them they are over-reacting, that feeling is still there, inside them, with no where to go. It needs a way out, so it presents itself with outbursts, sleep disturbances, physical symptoms,  behavioral problems, tantrums, or anxiety.

Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders affecting society today. Many adults are dealing with this on a day to day basis. Some turn to drugs, smoking or alcohol to help alleviate their feelings of anxiety. Others take it out on those they love or closest to them (even their children). It’s the worst feeling ever when you lash out at someone you love or yell at your kids. This cycle of anxiety and anger is all too familiar in our society and one that needs our attention.

What if you actually admitted to your kids that you were having a bad day and really needed their help. What if you came home from work and told your kids that something at work upset you and that you wanted to go for a walk to clear your mind or talk to a friend. Modeling coping mechanisms that are constructive instead of destructive not only will help you but it will help your child understand that a) You are not perfect b) you have days that are tough and that its okay to feel upset c) How to support those that you love when they need you (empathy).

Encouraging communication with your children by sharing a story of something that has happened to you, is a great way to start a conversation. In fact, you may be surprised how much you will benefit from the talks with your kids as well. You will remember perhaps your childhood with its ups and downs and this will help you identify with your children even more. Kids love to hear stories about their parents! The realization that you too struggled with life’s issues is comforting to your child or teen. They probably never stopped to think about you that way. They are so worried about how life is affecting them that when we shift their thinking to something they can relate to, all of a sudden, their perspective changes.

This brings me to my last point. Most people spend 99% of their day worried about themselves and their immediate world around them. Perhaps they are thinking about work, home responsibilities, their health, their friends, their family, etc. Yes, the general population is trapped in their minds replaying the same thoughts day after day. Sometimes these thought are destructive and are filled with feelings of inadequacy. This is the foundation of anxiety, our thoughts. It is our responsibility to change our way of thinking and what we focus on. If you really stop to look around, you realize that most of what you worry about never even happens. What a waste! All that worry, all those sleepless nights and all that anxiety, for nothing!

What if, instead of just allowing our thoughts to control us, we actually actively thought about positive things throughout our day. What if we tried to see the good in people instead of complaining about the bad? We all have the power to do this. This is the secret to decreasing anxiety in your life. Teach your kids the power of gratitude, the magnitude of their thoughts and the gift of appreciation and empathy. A healthy mind is the key to a healthy child.

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 two  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 person  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

 

To Light the Fire, you have to be the Flame

August 27, 2019

It is sometimes hard as a parent to find the strength to be a “good” parent. Sometimes life is difficult and gets in the way of your intentions. You know the days I’m talking about. The days when you feel as though the world is against you and you feel like crawling back into bed and having a “do-over”. Well, guess what? We all have days like that. There is not one person in the world that doesn’t have a bad day and that’s the reality and the truth. The funny thing is that how you perceive your day is all in your head and the thoughts you are telling yourself about it.

So today, I’m asking you to press on the brakes and pause when you are having one of those days. Take a step back and look around you to see if things are really as bad as they seem. Did you get enough sleep last night? (those of you with newborns most certainly didn’t!). A lack of sleep can make the smallest of situations become the biggest of problems. Make sleep a priority in your life and that of your children. Teach them from a young age that a good night’s sleep is sometimes more important than cramming all night for that test. Your mind is clear and your thoughts more positive when you feel rested. Your body needs it.

Try to take a few minutes every day to do something that you enjoy. All that time you are wasting looking through instagram or facebook, you can be learning something new, spending time with a friend or reading about something you used to enjoy before you became a parent.

Remember the person you used to be? The person you were before you became a parent? The one that liked to play the piano? the one that liked to dance or paint? the one that enjoyed the theater or the career that perhaps you put aside to raise your little ones? That person is still in there. Don’t forget about them….

When you nurture who you used to be, you keep your flame alive. Your sense of purpose remains steady and your happiness will shine through. This happiness is what your kids are looking for everyday! Do you have it? That happiness that only YOU know, is your flame. It is the flame that will allow you to light the fire in the hearts of your kids as they journey through life and try to find their way.

So feed your flame, don’t lose yourself when you become a parent. Ironically being the best parent begins when you take the time to keep YOUR flame alive in order to help your kids light theirs.

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

Parenting: “Growing with your kids”

September 4, 2018

Good Morning! Today I want to talk to you about a topic that is very important. I am a parent, wife, a pediatrician and I am also myself. What I mean by that is that before I was any of those other titles, I was a person with interests, likes and dislikes, dreams and fears. It seems that more often than not when people become parents many of these things get shoved to the side to make room for this amazing new person that has come into your life…your baby. As a new parent, it is easy to be mesmorized by the soft, perfect features you see in your baby. You spend hours analyzing their face, their hands, their feet, caressing the softest skin you have ever touched. You marvel at the reality that this baby was created by you. It is truly a miracle.

When first time parents come into the office, they are nervous and are almost in a state of bliss; albeit exhausted! They want to do everything right. They come in with lists and ask many questions (the funny thing is that parents all have the same questions regardless of culture or race). They listen intently when I recommend something for the baby and take notes. They carefully take turns holding the baby and feeding him or her. Their entire focus is now on this baby. It has become a 24/7 “job” that we are immediately immersed in. It is the most important job you will ever have….

By the second or third week of parenting, the visits are a little different. Parents come in looking for tips to get their baby to sleep the entire night. They come in with bags under their eyes and forget to bring extra diapers and wipes (and of course the baby decides to poop in the office..). I remember those days of early parenting. They are difficult. You feel exhausted. Crying sometimes just comes naturally as you repeat your day over and over again with feeding schedules and diaper changes. It is over-whelming, but you push through and you keep trying to be the “perfect parent”.

I want you to know that there is no “perfect parent”. Be kind to yourself when you parent. Take care of YOURSELF too. In the beginning the idea of ME time is elusive but it is possible. If you are lucky enough to have someone other than yourself in the home, take 10/15 minutes to take a shower without a worry or simply just go for a walk alone to clear your mind. Don’t spend all day in pajamas day after day.. and don’t feel guilty about wanting time for yourself. Make time to talk to friends and friends even if it’s just a few minutes per day. Write down ideas about things you are interested in or dream about.

Make a promise to yourself that you will not lose yourself in this parenting journey. When you take care of yourself, spend time with those that you love, cultivate your interests and continue to dream, you will be happier. Being a good parent does not mean forgetting about yourself. In fact, the happiest moms that I see in the office are the ones that have their own interests outside of parenting.

I truly believe that one of the primary reasons women are depressed as their children get older is that they have lost themselves in the world of parenting. You don’t know who you are anymore. You sometimes lose your identity all together. Your days, weeks, months and years consist of playdates, school responsibilities and day to day parenting.

Please do not lose yourself to parenting. Make a conscious effort every day to do something that is important to YOU that is independent of your parenting responsibilites. Make it a priority. Schedule it into your calendar. It can be a short walk, meditation, practicing a hobby, reading, exercising…the possibilites are endless. Taking the time to take care of yourself will in turn make you a better parent. You will feel happier. Parenting should enhance your life not stifle it. Keep dreaming and becoming the best version of yourself. It is truly the best gift you can give your children. It will teach them to keep dreaming, to take care of themselves and to nurture their freindships and relationships. Grow with your children. Life is about  becoming the best version of yourself, and this includes YOU.

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

Play-It’s more important than you think!

As pediatricians, we frequently receive updates regarding topics of interest that the Academy of Pediatrics finds important for us to be aware of. Recently, a new clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics caught my attention. They are recommending that doctors write a “PRESCRIPTION FOR PLAY!”.

Yes, a prescription to play. It sounds so simple. Yet, from 1981 to 1997, children’s playtime decreased by 25 %. Children ages 3 to 11 have lost 12  hours per week of free time due to academic pressures and organized after-school activities. The pressures felt from parents to keep up with the daily-changing electronic games and digital devices is real. Kids whose parents cannot afford the expensive digital toys may feel left out and kids whose parents CAN afford them, think that allowing their kids unlimited access to these objects is healthy and promotes learning. New games and apps come in the guise of claiming to help your child learn his or her ABC’s, math skills and or other didactic academic skills. Yet, studies show that the truth is actually that the opposite of this is true. Children’s creativity and play is actually improved with inexpensive objects that are found in any household…boxes, spoons, balls, puzzles, crayons, boxes, pots and pans, etc.

The importance of play, it seems, has been lost. Sometimes play is viewed as frivolous or a waste of time. Parents are spending a small fortune and endless hours in a child’s life in organized sports and/or activities. The competition in the academic world is real. Parent’s want their children to be the best and this sometimes comes with the loss of free play. Yet the studies show that play actually leads to changes in the brain in the molecular, cellular and behavioral levels. It is believed that play can have lasting changes in the brain that help to improve execute functioning and help in processing social interaction. Executive functioning is the process of learning rather that the actual content.  It has been shown to help children with improved self-regulation and self-control, better problem solving skills, filtering of distracting details, and mental flexibility. In fact, countries that offer more free play see greater academic success among children as they mature.  It has even been shown that children have lower levels of cortisol (which indicate lower stress levels) when involved in active play. This is especially important for children dealing with significant toxic stress and adversity in their daily lives, but is also important for decreasing anxiety as well. In fact, countries that offer more free play see greater academic success among children as they mature.

So what can we do? What can we as parents do to help change this? The recommendations are clear. Encourage free play in your day to day life with your children. You do not necessarily need extra time to play. Incorporate play in your day to day life. Engage your children in helping at home with chores, which can in turn result in role playing or fun games. Let your child lead with their creativity. If your child gets a new toy resist the temptation to show them how to use it. Let them try to figure it our for themselves. They may actually teach you something you had not even thought about! Make free play a priority instead of viewing it as a waste of time. Relax and enjoy in watching your child run around yelling “I am a pirate” or “let’s play school”…Free play, without constant supervision, helps children come together. It often brings children from diverse backgrounds together as the make up rules to a game, role-play and learn empathy. Through play,  children learn what its like to lose and  they are encouraged to come up with strategies to improve their outcomes in up-coming challenges. These interaction help to evolve independent thinking and creativity. Some of my happiest moments as a mom, was watching my kids build a fort and create their own stories and/or games. It makes me smile just to think about it.

It is up to us as parents to bring free play back into the lives of our children. Our world is changing and our children need the skills necessary to compete in the 21st Century world. We need them to be creative, innovative and problem-solvers. These are the very skills that free-play encourages through the development of executive functioning.

Stop and look around you. Take a long hard look at your child’s life and what his/her daily activities involve. Perhaps you have been feeling over scheduled and stressed with parenting and “keeping up with the jonses”. Play with your kids. Act silly sometimes and laugh. Enjoy games you played as a child and help your child discover their interpretation of the world around them, free from  your interpretation. The truth is that free play will not only help your child but you as well.

 

Below are age-specific recommendations :

  1. 2-3 months-  Respond to your infants emergence of a social smile by smiling in response. It helps an infant learn the effects of their behaviors. (making a parent smile when they smile).
  2. 4-6 months- Encourage games of peek-a-boo, laughing, and encourage your infant to discover new objects on their own. Instead of teaching an infant how to use a toy, watch them discover it!
  3. 9 months- At nine months is when babies begin to develop separation anxiety and stranger anxiety. It is a time when infants begin to learn self-regulation as they begin to use their parents for social refrencing. Your baby is looking at you for guidance. Make sure your facial expressions are encouraging instead of fearful as your baby begins exploring the world.
  4. 12 months- At this age, infants really begin to lay the foundation of the development of social skills/interactions. They love the feeling of accomplishment and true joy as they take their first steps or say a new word. Encourage your child taking those baby steps in self-discovery. Again, remember that your facial expression is what your baby is looking for.
  5. 2 year olds- Everyone talks about the “terrible twos”. I believe that the reason this is a belief is that this is a difficult time for a toddler. It is a time of emerging independence and they undertand usually a lot more than they are able to communicate. This leads to frustration and tantrums. Try to provide your child with some independence while staying close by providing words of encouragement when they fail or fall. Resist the temptation to scoop them up when they fall. Watch to see what they do and how they begin to problem solve.
  6. 3 year olds- By 3 years of age, most children have begun to communicate more effectively and can understand  cause and effect. This is when it is critically important to model behavior for your child. Help your child deal with emotionally challenging situations. Guide and lead but do not be so quick to offer solutions. Let them come up with their own ways and help them learn why some solutions may be better than others. Encourage drawing, coloring and creating. Sit back and discuss how wonderful that their elephant is purple and flies, just because… Encourage creativity and take them to the park, beach or outside with no agenda.
  7. 4-6 year olds- By 4-6 years of age, most children have started some form of formal teaching in an academic setting. If possible, try to select programs that prioritize free play and recess in these early years. If your income is limiting take the time when possible to find local parks or community centers where your child can simply just play…
  8. 7-9 year olds- By 7-9 years of age, many parents are focusing their child’s talents on one sport or another form of specific after-school activity. Many children this age spend sometimes 10-12 hours a week practicing and developing a skill. The pressures to be the best are beginning to become real and many parents with lower means begin to feel that their children are not able to keep up with their more “economically-advantaged” peers. The increase in the use of electronic devices increases significantly in this age group. Yet, studies show that active play for 1 hour per day, allowed kids in this age group to think more creatively and multi-task. These kids were also found to improved social-emotional skills that later are found to correlate with improved academic and economic success. Third grade prosocial behaviors correlated with eighth grade reading and math better than with third grade math and reading levels. So, set up play dates at the park. Set up no-electronic times in your child’s schedule and let them be “bored”. Boredom sparks creativity and taps into their imagination. Do not over-schedule them.
  9. 10 and beyond-  After the age of 10, most kids are playing electronic games and or watching more TV and videos than interacting in free play. Make a point to go outside (with no electronics) whenever possible. Find activities in your community that encourage free play. Play decreases stress, fatigue, injury and depression. In fact, adult success in later life can be related to the experience of childhood play that cultivated creativity, problem solving, teamwork, flexibility and innovations.
  10. Parents-  The benefits of play for parents are too many to  list. If your child asks you to play, do it. Enjoy the joy in your child’s face when he/she discovers the world. Go back to childhood, when life was simple, days were long and troubles were few. Create a bond with your child that will only strenghten with time, and have fun doing it!

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

 

 

 

 

Worry

May 8, 2018

I think my tendency to worry grew 100 fold when I became a parent. There are so many decisions to make as a parent and the internet provides an endless display of options from diapers, lotions, soaps, clothes, schools, shoes, etc….You understand what I mean. It is exhausting and time consuming. It literally will eat up hours in your day as you try to peruse the many options. I believe this is why so many parents join online groups…to find out what other people try so they can narrow down their choices…In the end I have learned several lessons with respect to worry.

Worry doesn’t make anything happen. Worry is exhausting…it disrupts my sleep. Worry does not make problems disappear and it is the synonym of inaction. I do believe however that worry can serve a great purpose if you reflect on the cause of the worry.

It is important to write down your thoughts on why you have a particular worry and get to the core of your concerns. Do not get caught up on thought loops taking you no where. Clear your mind and try to focus on what you want as your end result and write a plan on how to get there. When a thought enters your mind reminding you to worry, acknowledge it as a thought and move on. Do not dwell on those thoughts/worries.

It’s funny because when you write down a plan and take action (ie read, visit schools, ask other parents, etc…) suddenly the worry tends to become smaller. I encourage you to write a plan with detailed steps and check each one off along the way. Remember that finding out that you do not want something is just as helpful as finding what you truly want.

In the end, so much time is wasted on worrying about insignificant things. Many of which you will not remember even thinking about when your reflect on your journey through parenthood. Try to keep your life simple. Choose 2-3 options after doing some research and move forward. Free your mind from worry and enjoy truly living.

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

The Gift of Playing Outside

May 1, 2018

 

When I was training to be a pediatrician one of the rotations that we had to do was the Hematology/Oncology ward. I remember this as one of my most difficult rotations for many reasons. The science of the illnesses is complex and the emotional aspect is overwhelming. It is on this rotation that I learned many life lessons that I still carry with me today. I remember one day specifically that stayed with me.

I was in the playroom with some of the kids and the Child Life Specialist was entertaining them. They were seated at a table and had paper, scissors, markers and crayons. The activity of the day was to write down 3 wishes and make a picture showing those wishes. I remember imagining in my head what my 3 wishes would be. My 27 year old self had big dreams. I would become a doctor, I would get married, have children, travel the world! My thoughts wandered into that cloud of uncertainty and hope and I was for a few minutes lost in thought. Then the sound of the kids talking to each other brought me back to the small room at the end of the hall on the Hem/Onc floor. The kids were discussing their wishes and I sat there listening.

One little boy wrote: 1) To play outside 2) To not be sick 3) A new bike

Another little girl wrote: 1) To be like other kids 2) To play outside 3) To be home

As I read the wishes, I remember feeling a sense of shame. Shame that my thoughts were so grand. Shame that during this difficult time for these kids I was selfishly thinking of all of these amazing things I hoped that I would have some day. I didn’t realize it then but that day those kids taught me one of the most important lessons I have ever learned. Do not take anything for granted. Appreciate your health and that of your loved ones because it is EVERTHING. Play outside, go for a walk, walk on the sand, feel the grass on your feet, stop to listen when someone talks…really listen, enjoy the little things.

I went on to become a doctor, I got married to a wonderful man and have 3 beautiful children. I often remember that day in the playroom. I often think of those wishes and when I feel sad, mad or overwhelmed I think of them. Those kids knew more that I did what truly mattered in life. I am thankful for the gift of their wisdom and hope they are playing outside and “not sick” today.

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