The simple way to find out what your child is worried about.

April 1, 2020

β€œCan you read me one more story?” β€œI’m thirsty”, β€œCan I go to the bathroom?”

Parents all around the world have heard these same questions right around the time that their kids should really be going to sleep! It can seem frustrating as you struggle to get your little one down and they get that second wind. 

The idea of having a few minutes to yourself seems so appealing yet your little one keeps on talking and asking for more. 

Tonight I’m encouraging you to stay a little longer and listen. 

There is something magical about that time just before bedtime. Kids will talk about so many things jumping from one topic to another. But – if you really listen closely, you will catch a glimpse into what their little minds are actually thinking about. 

Over the last few weeks, life has changed in ways that many of us could never have imagined. It has changed for our kids too and they feel it. Everything is different. No one is going to school, they can’t see their friends, school is perhaps on a computer now and there are no more playdates or get-togethers with friends. It is hard. Change is hard. 

Kids are not very good at expressing what they are feeling. (some adults aren’t either!)

They will complain of physical symptoms when they feel anxious or afraid. Other times they will misbehave or have tantrums. Pay attention to all of it. 

Kids are very good at eavesdropping on adult conversations and listening to the media. They make their own interpretations of what they hear. This can bring about feelings of worry or overwhelm. Sometimes they create ideas in their head that are not even real. Pay attention to what you say in front of your kids. They are listening. 

So tonight, when it’s time for your little one to go to bed, snuggle with them a little longer and lay down to listen. Listen with an open heart and validate their concerns and feelings. You don’t need to have all of the answers. Help them to understand what they are feeling and what they have seen and heard. You will learn a lot about your child in these few minutes before they fall asleep and they will know that you cared. You cared enough to listen. That is the greatest gift of all.

Have a wonderful Wednesday and stay safe and healthy

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D. 

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.

Moms need friends too

March 4, 2020

Happy Wednesday!

I was recently reading that according to a study done in 2018 by the Global Health Service Company Cigna, 46% of adults in the United States reported feeling lonely and 47 % reported feeling left out. I don’t know about you but these numbers are not only sad but they are alarming. Here we are 2 years later and I wonder if these numbers are even higher than they were then!

I have definitely seen an increase in sadness, depression and anxiety in my patients and their parents. While we do not specifically ask patients if they are feeling lonely, I suspect that many would answer yes to that question.

We are living in a time where we are fooling ourselves into feeling connected via social media and chats but is it makes you wonder if it is really fulfilling our innate human need for relationships. Humans are social. We thrive when we feel included, loved and worthwhile. This is not just children, its adults too.

New moms often feel isolated as they find themselves for the first time home alone with one or more kids that depend on them for everything they need leaving little time to do anything for themselves. Feeling alone and with feelings of guilt for being sad when the world expects them to feel grateful all of the time for being moms. The problem is that along with those feelings of gratitude in parenting there are days that are just hard, and that doesn’t make you a bad mom.

When a mom is feeling sad or overwhelmed this affects her ability to show up as her best self day after day. This affects her relationship with her kids and sometimes results in yelling, frustration and impatience. The worst part is that usually when we lose our temper we feel terrible about it.

So try to put yourself out there. Join a mommy and me class if you can. Try to find another new mom that maybe you can walk with or meet up with once a week. You need to make it a priority in the same way that you make it a priority to take a shower. Relationships are what help our minds healthy and we need to prioritize this. Do not let motherhood isolate you from your friends or the rest of the world.

Even if you feel like the friends that don’t have kids just don’t get it, keep the friendships that mean something to you. You are still the same person you were before you had kids just with a lot more responsibilities. Don’t shut people out because they aren’t going through what you’re going through. Grow together and forgive each other when you make a mistake.

I know you know how important it is for your kids to have friends, so make sure you remember that you do too.

Have a wonderful week!

4 Ways to Encourage and Develop Creativity in Your Child

February 26, 2020

Happy Wednesday!

Today I wanted to share with you an article that I read from the American Psychology Association about creativity and I wanted to share it with you.

In schools all around the country the rapidly changing world around us is leaving many educators worried about how to teach children and eventually adults to prepare them for the future. Innovation is at the core of this new way of thinking when it comes to teaching.

Did you know that according to a NASA study done, 98% of 4-5 year olds scored in the “creative genius” level? Yes! Did you also know that five years later, only 30 percent of the same group of children scored at the same level? Then again, five years after that only 12 percent? I don’t know about you but those statistics are frightening!

It seems that education itself causes us to change our thinking from divergent to convergent thinking. What this means that instead of thinking outside of the box, we learn that some things are just a certain way and questioning the facts are discouraged.

Sure, you may argue that some things are of course facts, but the truth is that not everything we learn are just facts.

A psychologist by the name of Robert Epstein, Ph.D. has conducted research for ways to strengthen creativity. These are the 4 ways that you can apply them to your children!

  1. Capture new ideas– Encourage your kids to keep a notebook by their bed to write down ideas that come to their head. If they prefer to use their phone or computer they can write and save ideas there too. Even as a parent you can carry with you a notebook to encourage and show your child that you value their ideas.
  2. Seek out challenging tasks – It’s human nature to want to do things that come easily to us. Let’s face it, it is hard to struggle when you are first learning something. However, remember that even professionals and experts were once novices. No one is born knowing everything. Try encouraging your child to imagine crazy solutions to life’s problems. Just the exercise of trying to come up with solutions to problems that seem unsolvable will encourage your brain to come up with new ideas and innovative concepts. When their brains try to tell them that something is impossible, or worse…we as parents tell them that something is impossible we quiet the creative genius inside them.
  3. Broaden your knowledge – Encourage your child to read or look up information about a wide array of subjects. Even if their passion is sports or cooking or history, etc. spending time learning about different things will create new thoughts and this is how some of the most innovative ideas are born! As a parent, try reading about something you know nothing about. It’s never too late to learn about something new. This can begin in early childhood and can be your child’s mantra through college and life.
  4. Surround yourself with interesting things and people – Again, we are most comfortable with people that think like we do or act like we do. Try going out of your comfort zone. Encourage kids to speak to a new child at school or maybe try studying in a different area of the house to bring a change of scenery. Look up local events near you and try something different.

Other ways mentioned in the article were about staying happy, rested and bright. I know that you have heard me mention the importance of sleep.

Sleep- It turns out that according to a study done in 1993 at Harvard Medical School by psychologist Deidre Barrett, PhD., she asked her students to imagine a problem they were trying to solve right before they went to sleep. It turns out that half of the students reported having dreams that addressed their problem and a quarter came up with solutions to their problems. (I think us parents can use this skill too!!). (published in Dreaming (Vol.3No.2 1993).

Happiness- Another study published in Creativity Research (Vol. 16, No.2, 2004, found that sadness inhibits new ideas. When someone is sad they are afraid of making decisions and making mistakes so they stop coming up with solutions and sometimes stay stuck in their thought patterns.

Bright– This last one is a simple one. Research shows that our creativity is boosted when we are in natural environments. Spend time outside, go for walks, and be creative when choosing a study area for your child to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

So it turns out that most of us are born as creative geniuses! Let’s try to encourage that creativity in our children. They will be the ones coming up with solutions and inventions for the future. Definitely something to think about!

Have a wonderful week!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

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

February 19, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can we do???

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

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

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

I hope you’re having a wonderful week!

Happy zzzzzzz’s πŸ™‚

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

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

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

3 C’s To Help Your Anxious Child

February 12, 2020

Good morning and Happy Wednesday!!

It seems that everywhere you read, you see that rates of anxiety are increasing in both adults and children.

Did you know that children with anxious parents have a greater chance of suffering from anxiety? It’s hard to control our emotions sometimes but it’s important to watch what we say when faced with difficult situations. Children learn more from how we act than how we tell them to act (adults too!!)

So here are three tips to help your anxious child :

1. Communication- Sometimes children overhear conversations or see something on television and interpret what they are seeing with the limited knowledge they have about the world. It’s hard as adults to remember what it’s like to be 7 years old, 13 years old, 18 years old…you get the idea. So we tend to think they are interpreting situations the same way we are! Don’t assume! (We all know what happens when we assume!:)) Instead try open ended questions or ask your child about what they are thinking about when they feel scared or anxious. Their answers may surprise you and you will feel better equipped to help them understand.

2. Consistency – Kids thrive when they know or understand what to expect. Having routines and a schedule that they understand and can follow can do wonders for an anxious child. Consistency gives comfort. Follow through on your promises (don’t promise things that you may not be able to do!). Give consistent responses to your child’s questions. Always be honest. It is important to be honest with your kids. They need to know they can trust you.

3. Care- Sounds obvious right? We always need to show that we care. Try not to say things like “oh it’s nothing” “just forget about it” “try not to think about it”. These kind of responses belittle a child’s fear or anxiety. Instead try to listen to what your child is saying and validate their concerns. Saying things like, “it’s normal to feel scared in new situations but let’s give it a try” is more supportive and more comforting. Walking your child through what to expect can also help. You take away the fear of the unknown.

As always, being present, communicating, being consistent and always showing that you care will always steer you in the right direction.

I hope you’re having a wonderful week!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.