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 inย Pediatric News written by Tara Haelle. The Title isย A Good Night’s Sleep.ย 

In the article, Tara quotes Dr. Spinks-Franklin, a pediatrician in Texas Children’s Hospital ย 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). ย  ย ย Kids 1-2 years old need 11-14 hours and kids ages 3-5 years old need 10-13 hours ย 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 ย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

“Good Night:Common Problems seen in teens are insomnia and Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.”ย 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 Cโ€™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.

5 Ways to Give the Gift of Reading to your Child

February 5, 2020

“Imagination is more important thanย knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imaginationย encircles the world.”-Albert Einstein

It is uncertain when babies understand language. We see two month old infants smiling in response to a smile and cooing as they try to communicate. We observe babies as young as 6 months old respond to certain words or songs that are familiar.

I do not think we will ever know when the exact moment comes when a baby understands what you are actually saying. Experts call it baby ease and it is almost instinctual that when you speak to a small baby you speak softly and with a high pitched voice. They seem to love it as they smile and coo in response. It is awesome!

To a baby, it isn’t so much what you say but how you say it. As your child grows what you say becomes more important so pay attention to your words! How lucky are we that we can share the gift of reading with our kids? Endless possibilities lie between the pages of a book. Encourage this always.

1.Read daily –ย If the idea of reading daily seems daunting, you are not alone. However, establishing routines with your baby from day one is the best way to ensure that you will continue to do so. Reading then becomes automatic and also a special time that your baby/child looks forward to. It doesn’t have to be long either. A simple book or poem can bring with it deep meaning and just the act of sitting down with your child uninterrupted speaks volumes of what you deem important.

2. Read aloud-ย It is recommended that you read higher level books to your child aloud. Listening to a story without having to focus on the words on the page can be magical. A story can transport you to a different time or place and create new and creative conversations ย between you and your child. Ask questions when you read to encourage engagement and see if your child felt the same way you did about the story (you might be surprised!)

3. Escaping into a story –ย It is no secret that books and stories can take you from your away from the routines of every day life. Those books that are hard to put down sometimes leave you confused between reality and the words in the book. It is powerful. Allow yourself and encourage your child to place themselves in the place of the main character and question the decisions that the characters made and ask if they would have done the same. This exercise is the beginning of understanding empathy and its importance.

4.ย Choose different types of books – When selecting books to share with your child do some research. Find books that you think your child would enjoy but also get their input! Ask them what they would like to learn about or maybe there is an author that they have enjoyed in the past and would like to read more of their books. If you can sign up for notifications on when your child’s favorite author is in town, do it! One of my favorite memories was taking my boys to listen to Rick Riordan. Listening to how the author created the stories and the reason behind his decision to write stories was magical. I highly recommend this experience if you can make it happen!

5. Encourage creativity and writing –ย Encourage your child to write his/her story. As we grow, our ideas about life and our perception of the world changes. Imagine if you had written a story through each of these stages. Looking back is a gift in and of itself and you do not need to be a New York Times Best Seller to write a story. ย Writing is also a form of therapy and we see in journaling. Teaching your child to express themselves in their writing will help them understand their thoughts and their mind more than anything else.


I am sure there are many other creative ways to encourage reading in your home and I hope that whether you are a new parent or a seasoned parent that you know that it is never too late to start. The gift of imagination is better than any money you spend on material things. The gift of your time will be remembered always.ย 


Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.



Parenting teens

January 29, 2020

It was a regular well visit for a young girl. She was 14 and there was clearly some tension in the room between mother and daughter. It is nothing unusual. The teen years often come with a lot of eye-rolling and resistance as the battle for independence is in full gear. This young girl was a little over weight and had some acne on her face. The mother pointed out that she was concerned about her acne, her weight and said her hair was brittle and thin. We proceeded with the physical exam and then I was able to speak to the young girl alone. In the office, I have the opportunity to speak to both parents and teens separately which is always something I find insightful. Usually the parents and the child are worried about very different things. It is frustrating. It is normal.

If you have a teen, you have experienced the eye-rolls, the quick short answer responses to your questions and the seemingly aloof attitude. It is as if nothing that you say really means anything or matters. I suppose over time this frustration can lead to a sort of “giving up” on talking or giving advice. These feelings can leave a parent  worried about their teen and what he/she may not be telling them. Battles for even the silliest of things ensue and the distance grows larger.

The sad thing is that most teens feel alone as they navigate what can be a new and scary world. They are trying so hard to fit in and they are not sure of who they are and what they stand for. Some seem to cruise through the teen years without a bump and others struggle. It is a time of self-doubt and self-exploration. Who am I? Who are my real friends? What is life really about? Teens live in the now. The present consumes them and they think if a certain group of kids doesn’t like them or they are not cool their world is essentially over. Some become obsessed with how they look, their weight or their “persona” on social media.

Parents on the other hand are looking at the overall picture. They have experienced life and want so desperately to protect their teens from the evils in the world. It can become all-consuming. The internet has become a quick resource for teens and they have access to much more information (with videos and images) than most parents have ever had in their lifetime. It is hard to keep up. It is also hard for some parents to remember what it is really like to be a teen. They are so focused on their role as a parent that they do not really stop to put themselves in the place of their teen. This is exactly what was happening with my patient.

When I sat in the room with the young girl, the first thing she said to me was, “my mom hates me”. I paused. She continued and explained that her mother was always telling her that she needed to lose weight, that her skin looked horrible and that her hair looked awful and thin. She told me that her mother was always yelling at her and proceeded to cry.

In the next room the mother was waiting. When I went into the room she started to cry. She explained that she was a single mom and was trying her best to work and provide for her family. She felt alone and worried and didn’t know what to do. She went on to tell me that she was worried about her daughter who was often crying and refusing to leave her room.

This scenario is not uncommon. This the perfect time to bring up the possibility of therapy. Explaining to a family that sometimes what we really need is a neutral person to talk to. Someone that will not judge you and will provide a safe place to speak your mind. I try to explain to teens that there is nothing wrong with them if they see a therapist. There are times in life when we can all use a person to really talk to without the worry of being judged or yelled at. It is also a wonderful time to learn about coping skills and how to find productive and useful ways to manage stress and difficult situations. Often these therapy sessions can also involve the parents when the teen is ready and can prove very useful in helping communication. The earlier intervention begins the better. Studies show that the earlier we provide help the better the outcome.

Do not be afraid to ask for help and do not let your teens lack of attention to your advice stop you from giving it. This is when they need it the most. Even though it seems that they are not listening, they are. Be careful of the words you use and remind your teen that the best way to get through the teen years is to stay true to themselves. Encourage them to find friends that are like them (even if it is only one) and to focus their energy on what makes them truly happy and feels genuine to them.

However, more often than not the best approach is just listening. When you feel like you just can’t find the right words to say, say nothing. When you are considering giving advice but feel that the moment just is not right, say nothing. Many times in life what we all need is just to know that someone really cares. Be that one person for your child.

Have a wonderful week!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D. 


10 Strategies for getting babies to sleep through the night


January 22, 2020

Good morning! If you just had a baby and you’re wondering how you are ever going to make it through this parenting thing on such little sleep, you are not alone! Having a baby can bring with it so much joy but as the initial stage of bliss begins to wear off, the extreme lack of sleep really starts to break you down. Before you start thinking that you will never sleep again, I am writing 10 strategies to help you get your baby sleeping through the night when he/she is ready.

I will add that newborns need to eat small amounts frequently. It is not appropriate to think that your baby will be sleeping through the night from Day 1, and if they are then something is wrong. So the strategies I am listing below are to help you approach sleep with your baby from Day 1, keeping in mind that you and your baby will change along the way and you need to be willing. Just when you think you found the best way, the baby will do something different. As baby’s grow, their needs change and as they become more and more aware of their surroundings, so do their reactions to what we do in response. This is especially important to understand as it related to sleep.

1. Less is more. When you are setting up a bedtime routine, remember less is more. I know there are many gadgets, sound machines, lullabies, etc out there to get your baby to fall asleep but you need to make it simple. You may not have that gadget when you travel or as your baby grows so remember less is more

2. Establish routines from Day 1. Babies thrive in routines and sleep is no different. Although it is difficult with a newborn it is not impossible. Try to create a pattern that the baby can recognize. For example: Bath, Story, Bed.

3.ย  Create a quiet time 1 hour before bed. Studies show that it is more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep when you use computers or electronics before going to bed. Establish this as a rule in your house from Day 1. This is the perfect time for reading and engaging your baby. (This means YOUR phone too…put it down)

4. Help your baby to fall asleep but do not put them to sleep. In other words, you can help your baby relax if he/she is upset but once they appear relaxed, just lay them down. Let them learn from the beginning how to fall asleep without you.

5. Once a baby is between 3-4 months old try to separate feeding from sleeping. You do not want your baby to associate falling asleep with breast feeding or even bottle feeding. Not only does this create a bad habit, but once a baby has teeth, you increase their risk of cavities if they fall asleep drinking milk.

ย 6. Try to create a clear difference between day and night in your home. Daytime is when we speak freely, sing, dance and our lights are on. In the middle of the night we do not sing and dance! (at least not with a newborn).

7. Do your best to not run to your baby with every little sound. Newborns make lots of sounds and even a slight cry when they are settling in or trying to fall asleep. Let them try to get to sleep without your help after you have checked all your boxes: a.full tummy b. clean diaper. (you will begin to recognize your baby’s cries as you get to know them).

ย 8. It’s never to early to introduce a “lovey” or a special blanket. While newborns can not sleep with blankets in their crib, older kids can. However, you can place a lovey or special blanket near your baby while you are helping them transition from day to night with your bedtime routine. Just don’t put it in the crib.

9. Say goodnight. Sneaking away from a baby will create anxiety. The earlier a baby learns that he/she is going to sleep alone the less anxious they will be about going to sleep. (imagine if you’re a baby and you fall asleep in your mother’s arms, thinking you are there all night, only to find yourself alone in your crib at 2 am!-ANXIETY!)

10. Setbacks will happen when a baby is sick or you travel. It is totally fine! Somedays you just have to do what you have to do to make it through. Just try to get back into your original routine as soon as you and your baby are ready!

Sleep is one of the most overlooked aspects of health that many of us take for granted. Our bodies need to sleep. Being proactive in creating healthy sleeping habits will not only help your baby but it will also help you. You will be a better parent with a good night’s sleep and it’s never too early to begin preparing for it with your new baby!

Happy zzz’s!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.





What makes a super parent?

January 17, 2020

What makes a super parent? What is a super parent?

I have had the privilege in my 20 years of practice to meet many super parents. I have seen parents at their lowest points. I have seen couples come in excited to start a family only to find that their spouse is cheating and now find themselves as a single parent. I have seen parents dealing with a cancer diagnosis in their child or themselves. I have witnessed a child being abandoned by a parent and left with only one parent to raise them unexpectedly. I have seen parents lose their jobs and find themselves with no health insurance. I have seen parents faced with extremely difficult diagnoses over these years. Some are physical health issues, others are mental health issues and many are facing social issues. I have been their ear when maybe they had no where to turn. Many of the parents I see in the office are living far away from their families and are essentially facing this parenting thing alone. I have watched and observed and I have learned many lessons.

  1. There is no stronger advocate for a child than a parent that truly loves them.
  2. Faith and hope is sometimes all you have to hang on to, so hold on tightly and never let go of it.
  3. Having a child gives your life new meaning and you will make it through anything knowing that he/she depends on you.
  4. Your child thinks you are amazing and loves you unconditionally. They do not see the extra pounds or the messy hair. They just see you and that’s enough for them.
  5. Sometimes when someone walks out of your life, they did you a favor. It may be hard to see in the beginning but I’ve seen this in many families and the one left behind always come out stronger and happier in the end.
  6. There are good people in the world. It doesn’t matter what someone looks like on the outside. On the inside we all want the same things, especially when it comes to our children. We want them to be happy and healthy.
  7. What can seem like an impossible obstacle to tackle can be taken down one brick at at time. Just ask a mom whose child has completed a cancer treatment.
  8. Internal guilt serves no one and I spend a lot of my time reminding parents of this. So many times accidents happen and parents blame themselves over and over and replay scenes in their minds of how it could have been different. This is so destructive. It serves no one. Accidents happen and all we can do is look ahead and face the results however difficult they may be.
  9. A diagnosis does not define you. In fact it may be what you need to make a life change or change your perspective.
  10. Sometimes you will feel like you don’t have the strength to make it through. Trust me, you do.
  11. Never give up on your child. No matter how hard some days may be, wake up and do it all over again.

We can all be super parents. It can happen as quickly as a change of mindset. Only you have the ability to change your perspective. Try your hardest to acknowledge feelings of self doubt and worry but never let them control you. Focus on the amazing unique child that you have and love them unconditionally. Success and achievement is not for the select few. It is for those that are open to believing they can happen.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.