Childhood, goals, New Moms, Parenthood, parenting, Raising Amazing Adults, Special Needs Children and their parents, Teens and Young Adults, The Toddler Stage, Uncategorized

5 Ways to Give the Gift of Reading to your Child

February 5, 2020

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination 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 – 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- 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  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 – 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. 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 – 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.  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. 

 

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

 

 

anxiety, Childhood, goals, New Moms, Parenthood, parenting, Raising Amazing Adults, Teens and Young Adults, The Newborns, The Toddler Stage, Uncategorized

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 entirely  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 coming  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 for  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.  Start showing up for yourself and begin living your life with intention.

Happy New Year!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

 

anxiety, Childhood, New Moms, Parenthood, parenting, Raising Amazing Adults, Teens and Young Adults, The Newborns, The Toddler Stage, Uncategorized

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

 

Childhood, goals, New Moms, Parenthood, Raising Amazing Adults, Special Needs Children and their parents, Teens and Young Adults, The Toddler Stage, Uncategorized

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,  and find your true self (and true friends as well).

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

anxiety, Childhood, goals, Parenthood, Raising Amazing Adults, Special Needs Children and their parents, Teens and Young Adults, The Newborns, The Toddler Stage, Uncategorized

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

 

Childhood, New Moms, Parenthood, Raising Amazing Adults, Special Needs Children and their parents, Teens and Young Adults, The Toddler Stage, Uncategorized

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

anxiety, Childhood, New Moms, Nutrition-Breastfeeding, Parenthood, Raising Amazing Adults, Special Needs Children and their parents, Teens and Young Adults, The Toddler Stage, Uncategorized

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.

 

 

New Moms, Parenthood, Raising Amazing Adults, Special Needs Children and their parents, Teens and Young Adults, The Newborns, The Toddler Stage, Uncategorized

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

anxiety, Childhood, New Moms, Parenthood, Raising Amazing Adults, Special Needs Children and their parents, Teens and Young Adults, The Toddler Stage, Uncategorized

Power in confidence: Helping your child deal with “difficult” kids or circumstances

July 27, 2019

As a parent it is hard sometimes to hold back when you think your child is being treated unfairly. It’s your job right? to protect your child always…. The problem is that by stepping in for every little conflict your child faces you are sending the message to them that they are weak and can not stand up for themselves. It doesn’t matter if its the fact that someone cut them in line in the playground or that a child said something mean to them or did not treat them “fairly”. The moment your child runs to tell you what happened your inner “Momma Bear” goes into fight mode. Who does this child think he is to talk to my baby like that? Who does he think he is not to share with MY child? I’m going to run right over there and set things straight!…Sound familiar?

I hear this over and over in the office. Complaints from parents about how their child is having trouble making friendships, crying easily in the classroom when things do not go their way and becoming more and more of an introvert. In fact, the other day a child (7 years old) told me that there was a “really mean” girl in camp that was bothering her and her mom quickly reported how she had to take her out of camp because of this “mean girl”.  Yes, this 7 year old girl could no longer enjoy the fun she was having in camp with the other girls she liked because of this one mean girl!   Running away from conflict or having you come in to scoop them up to safety is not doing your child any good. If you stop to think about it, you are essentially telling your child that when a mean person comes around, unfortately you can not participate in that activity anymore even if you are enjoying it. This is how we give all of our power away. Instead, empower your kids to have a voice and help them come up with solutions on how to best manage this situation in the future. consider these moments as “teaching moments” and help your child navigate through them when they are young so they have the tools they need when they are older.

Here are some ways that you can help your child:

First, understand that you are not in control of other people’s actions. Even if sometimes we wish we could, we simply can not. The only person you are in control of is yourself and how you chose to react.

Second, usually people that are nasty or mean are unhappy people. Think about it, if you are truly happy inside you would never be so mean or horrible to others.  This changes your child’s thinking about the person that they are focused on.

Thirdly, encourage your child to seek out the other kids in the class, playground or camp that are perhaps playing alone, or nice and have them try to start conversations with them. Have your child come home to tell you something new they learned about a couple of kids in their class. It’s funny because until you really start conversations with others you may not know how much you actually have in common! Make this a goal!

Lastly, teach them to act how they want to feel. If they want to have friends and be friendly then work on imagining what a friendly person would do and how they act. Do they come into a room and sit in a corner alone? Do they spend more time looking down at the floor than at others? No! Instead of waiting for others to approach you, try smiling a little more and maybe starting a conversation with a new student every week. Another way to do this is to try to be helpful. If a child is working on a project and is looking for markers and your child has some, encourage them to offer their markers. These gestures of kindness are always welcomed and in turn this can be the beginning of a real friendship.

In the end we want our kids to have meaningful relationships with others. This has been proven time and time again to be one of the keys to living a happy and fulfilled life. Learning how to deal with conflict and difficult situations will serve them well in the future when they have to deal with this as young adults and essentially forever! Give your child the gift of confidence and help them develop the skill of making friends. For some its easier than others but it is never impossible!

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

 

Childhood, New Moms, Parenthood, Raising Amazing Adults, Teens and Young Adults, The Toddler Stage

Is my child ready for a phone? Am I?

September 17, 2018

I remember the day vividly. I was sitting in a doctors office with my then 4 year old daughter and trying desperately to keep her entertained. She loved Dora the Explorer at the time so I quickly searched You Tube for a Dora episode to keep her entertained. I sat back and began flipping the pages of a magazine while we waited our turn. Suddenly, I began to hear very explicit sexual and verbal exchanges between Dora and her friends. I grabbed my phone back and looked at the video. The video was unchanged but someone had taken the time to do a voice over on what Dora and her friends were doing. Let’s just say they were not done with good intentions and the words and sexual suggestions were horrifying. It was a lesson that I learned early on and there was so much that I wish someone had told me before I handed my kids their own device.

Sometimes divorce can be the beginning of having the conversation of whether to give a child a phone. Parents want direct communication with their children when they are with the other parent. I understand it. I just hope that you understand that phones these days are not just phones, they are smart phones. Smart phones are essentially computers that hold an uncensored and extensive amount of information that your child may not be ready for. It also has ways of connecting your child to people all over the world that, lets just say, may not have your child’s best interest at heart.

So take the time to do your research. Remember that once your child has heard or seen something you can not erase it. The more visual and explicit that it is the more it will stay in your child’s mind. Many things they are not ready to see and honestly as a parent it feels like a full time job to try to manage it.

When I grew up, if I had a question, I looked in an encyclopedia, asked older friends or family to try to find the answers. Movies were restricted and could only be seen in the Movie theater. I did not have access to sexually explicit books or movies in my home. It was a time where parents had significantly more control over what they allowed or didn’t allow their child to see. Fast forward to today and things are very different. Think about it….any question, any image, anything your child may have heard from another friend is just a You-Tube or Google search away. Just let that sink in. Your child will quickly surpass you in their knowledge of technology. Their lives are surrounded by computers and electronics making it very easy for them to outsmart the busy parent or grandparent that hasn’t kept up.

Here are some tips before you take that step:

  1. What age you should give your child a phone is a frequently asked question. I think for each family it is a little different but I believe somewhere in Middle School is when it is appropriate. This is usually the time when kids are spending more time with their peers perhaps without you there. You want to have a way for your child to communicate with you if they need you.
  2. Before you hand over the phone go into the settings and find the Restrictions setting. Here you will create a personal pin where you decide the maturity level of videos, apps, books and music. You can select based on age. It is not perfect and unfortunately there are many loop holes in these smart phones but it is a start. Here you can also decide if you allow your child to purchase apps on their own and/or inapp purchases (there have been many stories of parents finding bills in the thousands from virtual purchases their child allowed). Some companies will help parents in this situation but I wouldn’t count on it.
  3. Next, I would disable You-Tube. You-tube is uncensored and contains videos about everything and anything that you ever wanted to know about life. Sure there are educational videos and useful and interesting information there too, and you can of course allow your child to watch these videos, but be careful. There is no way that I know of to control the information your child can see in You-Tube. Personally as a mom I wish they did. They did create You-Tube-Kids but this is geared mainly towards kids 3-8 years old. So that very delicate age between 9-13 is what worries me the most.
  4. Make rules that your child must abide before you hand them a phone. I find that writing them down and maybe even having your child “sign” a copy saying they have read it and understand the rules is a great way to show that you are serious.
  5. You should always know their password
  6. Do not allow phones or electronic devices in your child’s room at night. Make this a rule from day 1. Find a designated spot in your house where all the kids leave their devices to charge. This will set the ground rules and ensure that your child is getting the necessary sleep that they need. In the virtual world, there is not sleep. There is always someone awake and the desire to “just look at one more thing” can be overwhelming. This lack of sleep can begin to affect your child’s performance in school, mood and overall health.
  7. Try your best to restrict use of electronic devices 1 hour before bed. Studies show that when people use electronic devices before bed they suffer from more nightmares and have more difficulties staying and falling asleep. This is a great time to read or do projects that do not require their computer.
  8.  Teach them that what they text someone or any image that they send to someone is permanently attached to their name in Cyber Space. Sometimes even if they think they are just being funny, someone may not think so and take it personally. Anyone can take a screen shot of your child’s text/photo and show it to a parent, friend, teacher or administrator. As a general rule, I tell my kids. If you are okay with me, your dad, your teachers, and your principal seeing what you are sending then go ahead and send it. If you think that you would be embarrassed or that someone would find what you’re sending hurtful or insulting, DO NOT SEND IT. Colleges and employers are sometimes searching up their prospective students or employees to get a better idea of their views and ideas. There have been many that have lost opportunities based on offensive or threatening behavior they have displayed on line. They are creating their “digital persona” from the day they first step into social media so make sure they take it seriously.
  9. Any naked photos of anyone under the age of 18 years found on someones phone is considered child pornography. No exceptions. The sooner they learn this the better. Sexting is a very popular thing and I am hearing about this from parents with younger and younger teens than every before. Did you know that nearly 40% of teens have sent sexually suggestive messages or photos to their boyfriend? (this is more common in boys than girls) What they don’t think about is that these photos can be shared and sent to anyone in a matter of seconds. …think about it.
  10. Make sure when your child is playing a game with friends that they not use their real name and make sure their accounts are private. There have been cases of pedophiles using this information to find and lure children either in the virtual world or even in the real world. Turn off location settings for social media and do not allow your child to post photos in their school uniform. This is giving too much information to someone that becomes interested in your child.
  11. Talk to your kids. Ask them about what they are playing. Answer their questions honestly so that they keep coming to you for answers.
  12. Limit screen time from day 1…minutes turn to hours and hours can quickly turn to days of nothing but screen time. Pay attention and encourage your child to get involved in other kinds of activities on the weekends whether it be sports, clubs, volunteering or outdoor activities.

Being a parent in this digital age is difficult. No one prepared us for what was coming and it seems everyone has just been swept away by the fancy phones and unlimited information. So before you give your child his/her electronic device remember to plan, be smart and adjust accordingly.

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

 

*These views are my own and are not that of my employer