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

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

 

Self Worth is determined by YOU

December 4, 2018

The only person that can decide your self worth is YOU. It begins in infancy. You are born into a family and if you are lucky you are surrounded by people that love you and dote over you. Your family gives you praise, loves you unconditionally and encourages you to go out into the world as you walk into your first pre-k classroom. Parents worry that the world will hurt you or change you but they do it anyway. They know that with love comes risk and that the true job of a parent is to raise a child to be independent and to find a life that is meaningful to them. It is difficult sometimes since you never know the teacher your child will meet or the classmates they will encounter and it is scary.  There will be days that your child comes home crying because something wasn’t fair or someone said something that hurt their feelings. When these moments arise (and they will) remember that this is your opportunity to teach your child the greatest lesson of all. The importance of self-worth.

The truth is you can not change others behaviors. You cannot make people do or say what you want them to say. You can not control what they think of you. You only have control over your response to the situation and what you believe about yourself. The sooner you teach this to your kids the happier they will be. Do not give this power to someone else. Ask your kids what they believe about themselves and help them to find examples to back up their beliefs. Remind them of their behaviors and moments where they were kind to others and perhaps helped a friend. It seems that we are very good at remembering when we failed someone but not so good at recalling when we got it just right. It is important to forgive yourself when you make a mistake and understand that we all do.

Under the same circumstances, people have the option to decide how they want to respond and how they would like to show up in the world. Help your child to see those options. Imagine if you lived your life understanding that their are an infinite number of ways to respond to a situation and it all begins in your mind. When we give others the power to change your mind and how you see yourself you can be left feeling undeserving and not-enough. Instead, choose wisely the words and descriptions of yourself from those around you. Be selective about what you decide makes you who you are and show the world that you are important and you have something to contribute.

 

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

It’s the holidays! What do you get your kids?

November 26, 2018

-“Time is always moving forward, it is never looking back. Make sure that you make every minute count.” -DrVCares

It is almost December and that means holidays, school breaks, shopping, travel and family time. It is also a time when many feel stressed or sad. It is a time where you remember the past and the people who have passed. Perhaps you are away and are unable to be with those that you love. Whatever it is, the most important thing to remember is that if you keep your mind healthy and your traditions simple, you too can enjoy the holidays and focus on what matters the most.

If you are a new parent, the holidays are a time when you and your partner begin talking about traditions and deciding how and what you  will celebrate. I urge new parents to put thought into this. Children love traditions and usually what you begin to do in the early years of childhood will be what they are looking forward to year after year. It is easy as a parent to get carried away. Perhaps you longed for something as a child and you want to make sure your child has what you were unable to have. Maybe you have memories of your family being stressed or sad during the holidays and you want to focus your efforts on bringing people together instead of apart. Regardless of what you are thinking, I hope that all of us will take the time to reflect on what is most important to US.

What I have learned as a parent and in practice is that children are simple. When you ask a child what their favorite birthday gift was or what they got for Christmas I often get a blank stare. When I ask them what they did for their birthday or for Christmas I get an elaborate answer filled with details about who was there and what they did. Sometimes its simple things like taking the dog for a walk, playing cards, riding bike, baking for the holidays or trimming the tree. The true gift is the gift of TIME.

Think about this as we begin the month of December and try to simplify your gift giving to a few meaningful and special gifts rather than hundreds of insignificant things that will gather dust in a closet. Teach the beauty of giving during the holidays and showing appreciation for the people in your child’s life that make a difference day to day. Include your children in the wrapping of that special gift for grandma or that wonderful teacher that really cares. Consider giving the gift of time in the form of lunch,  dinner or perhaps watching a favorite show or concert together. These are the memories that will last a lifetime and your children will hold dear. More importantly have fun with your kids. Enjoy the laughter and joy that the holidays bring. Focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have and remind yourself that time will always move forward, it never goes back. Give yourselves and others the gift of your time. Happy Holidays.

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

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

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