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.

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.

 

 

Living with intention

January 8, 2020

The end of a year always brings with it mixed emotions. It often makes you pause and reflect on the year that passed. It is interesting how certain moments or specific events seem to stand out. I’ve always wondered why some things are given more meaning in my mind than others. I can experience something with someone and they may focus on completely different emotions and remember entirelyย  different things. So the reality is that a moment in time and the memories of the year that passed are created by the thoughts in our minds. It plays like a movie in your mind, but who is the director of that movie? Are you living your life or are you just going through the motions?

Sometimes, the thoughts are there and we barely take notice, and other times the ideas are all consuming. One thing I know for certain is that once you become a parent, the thoughts and ideas you play over and over in your head are almost replaced or overpowered by thoughts of your children.

This comingย  year, I challenge you to pause and try to live your life with intention.

1. Identify the moments in 2019 that made you happy.

2. Focus on the people that loved you and were there forย  you and seem to always be.

3. Think about what brings you a feeling of fulfillment and consider spending some time on whatever that may be.

4. Glance at your screen time (that your phone just loves to remind you of) and think of that the next time you say you don’t have time to do something.

5. Find 3 things you want to work on in the coming year and make a commitment to yourself to honor those promises you make to yourself.

Parenting can be overwhelming and all-consuming. It’s easy to get lost in the world of diaper changes, sick kids, feeding kids the perfect foods, school, homework, projects, setting up playdates and sleepless nights. I am encouraging you to dedicate 5 min, 10 min, 30 min, an hour every day…whatever you can to spend time nurturing YOU.

Your baby and your kids will benefit much more from a happy parent than a perfect one, so do things that make you happy and try to take life a little less seriously in 2020.

Try to repeat more of the moments that made you happy in 2019. Appreciate the people that love you and care for you (send a simple text – it’s better than nothing). Find things that bring you a sense of fulfillment outside of parenting and make the time to do this several times a week. You always show up when your kids need you.ย  Start showing up for yourself and begin living your life with intention.

Happy New Year!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

 

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,ย  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

 

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