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

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

 

 

 

 

The purple phase…

July 10, 2018

Every summer, a few weeks before school started, my mom would take me to the store to pick out some new clothes. It was always a special time for me and I looked forward to it all summer. One summer, as usual, we went to pick out my back-to-school clothes. I was 10 years old and going through a “purple” phase…I loved everything purple…I dreamt of driving around in a purple car, and living in a purple house.(thank goodness that phase passed! lol) So that day I chose all of my clothes in some shade of purple. I was beyond excited! When we got home, my grandmother was waiting to see what we had picked out. As I began pulling out purple garment after purple garment my grandmother stared in disbelief. She pulled my mother aside to ask her why she let me chose only purple clothes! My mom looked confused and responded…”because she liked it”.

It’s interesting what you remember as an adult looking back at your childhood. For some reason that day is a very vivid memory. Today I understand why. That day, I made choices and my opinion mattered. I felt respected.

As a parent, it is challenging at times to allow a child to pick and choose what they want to wear, what they want to do, etc. Often it is tempting to gently encourage something else to wear or perhaps hint that there may be a better choice. Then you see the child that walks through the halls of the grocery store in costume and you smile, because you know they dressed themselves and they are  happy! So the next time your child doesn’t match or chooses a style that is just not what you like, take a step back. Does it really matter? As long as it in not inappropriate for the occasion, then just let it be. Allow your child to express his/her individuality and enjoy watching them evolve.

Life is about finding joy and happiness in the little things. Encourage your child to make choices (even if you don’t agree with them). By making choices, their enthusiasm and confidence will grow. Even small children have opinions so take the time to listen. Help your child find who THEY want to be, not who YOU want them to be.

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

What’s your child’s super power?

June 5, 2018

The question of who am I is one that we have all struggled with and perhaps may still be struggling with….Small children look to their parents for approval and sometimes are encouraged or discouraged by the comments of their peers to act a certain way, dress a certain way, and behave a certain way.

In the tween years of course this becomes even more evident. As parents,  what can we do to help foster the development of the true self? It seems that most parents start off strong in this commitment when kids are very small. It is easy to let a small child chose their clothes, wear rain boots on a sunny day, wear plaid with stripes and pants that are too small. In fact, society encourages these behaviors as on lookers often smile and wave at your enthusiastic child as he/she runs the halls of the grocery store with a super cape on. However, once kids reach the tween years, that once confident happy go lucky child you remember can begin to feel self concious about their hair, their size, their clothes, their background, their identity…Perhaps even YOU remember those feelings of self doubt.

This is where I believe parents can play an important role in developing the true self. Encourage your child to explore new fashion, new friends, new hobbies. Give them encouragement and affirmation. Tell them the beauty that you see. Tell them the talents that you see. Even if your tweens/teen seems as though they really don’t want to hear it and you get the eye roll in response, keep doing it. We all want to feel beautiful and loved. Remind them that what truly makes someone beautiful is who they are. Tell them to trust the voice inside them telling them if something is right or wrong. Build up their confidence with true unconditional love.

As your child grows, encourage them to volunteer and give back. Help them find a cause that has a special meaning for them. Putting forth effort into giving and volunteering can feel so good. It can give your child a sense of purpose. Often when volunteering, kids become aware of the situation that others are in (perhaps even their same age). This can help kids develop empathy towards others. Volunteering can also help your child realize that you are never too small to make a difference.

Lastly, help your child set a few goals, even if they seem completely out of reach. Have them try to do something that is not in their comfort zone. If they fail, remind them that most successful people fail many times along the way. True success is not obtained over night and requires hard work and dedication. No one posts on instagram and facebook the training that they do or the hours that they put into studying to get to where they want to go. Most people just post the trophy, the graduation, and their successes. The real secret is that with failure is when we truly learn the most. It’s what you do when you fall that will determine your outcome.

Life is full of choices. Help your child make the ones that  feel true. The world needs new ideas and confident people leading the way. We all have something to offer and the journey of life is finding what that is. No one can be YOU. Real beauty is found in our differences. Help your child notice and develop those differences. The possiblities are endless.

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

photocredit:www.dreamstime.com

The Gift of Chores

May 22,2018

As a parent its easy to get caught up in the daily chores necessary to get through the day. You walk around the house doing everything that needs to be done and you sometimes don’t even stop the think about it. You are on auto-pilot. I am writing this to tell you to STOP! Stop trying to be superman/woman. Stop doing it all. Trying to do everything only leads to resentment and anger…and quite frankly exhaustion.

So I ask that you engage even your smallest of children in your day to day chores. Small children as young as 3 can help with sorting laundry and they can also put their dirty dishes in the sink, put their dirty clothes in the hamper and sort of make their beds. By four and five, children can absolutely begin to set the table, help with cleaning up after eating and make their beds. Creating good habits such as cleaning up after play should really begin very early. Encouraging them to take those extra 2-3 minutes that is needed after play to just clean up!

By 6-7 years, kids can begin helping to organize a play room, begin putting their clothes away after being washed and they can even begin helping to wash dishes! You can even start to teach kids this age some cooking basics. It’s never too early to learn to crack an egg, mix batter and prepare a salad. It can be a fun way to engage your child and allow them to feel like a contributing member of the family.  It’s wonderful to see a child’s face light up when they successfully crack that first egg!

Between 8-10 years old, children can be extremely helpful! They can absolutely begin to help with cooking, planning for trips/packing, replace toilet paper rolls, putting away groceries, making their beds, preparing their lunch/snack for school and setting aside their clothes for the following day. Give them a voice. Let them have some say in what they want to wear, eat (with guidance of course!), etc. This is the beginning of “independence”..in that children can truly do things for themselves with guidance. (and they love to learn!)

In the tween years, teaching kids some of the basics such as cooking some meals, learning to do laundry, making a bed, helping with dishes, folding clothes, sewing a button,  taking out the garbage, etc. These are just some of the many things that tweens can do!

By the time your kids reach their teens, it is important to look ahead to the future and begin thinking about the skills your child will need that are NOT taught in the classroom. The truth is that by 18 or 19 years old many kids are living on their own and sometimes find themselves lost because their parents have done everything for them! Make sure you begin teaching your child about money management. Consider getting them a bank account so they can save some of the money they may earn from doing jobs here and there. Teach them about time management. Help them write down short and long term goals and create a plan for how to get there. This will serve them well in all aspects of their life and will help them resist being “bored” and wasting hours and hours playing video games or scrolling through social media. Make sure that chores are a priority in your house. Most responsibilities do not take much time and it is really about time management and team work. For example,on the weekends you may designate one of your kids to cook or clean up after dinner. Once your children go off on their own they really should be able to:

  1. Cook some meals 2. Do laundry 3.  Self-hygiene (very important!) 4. Time management skills (writing down goals and weekly to-do lists) 5. Make a bed 6. Basic cleaning skills 7.  Sew a button 8. Iron a shirt 9. How to shop for groceries with a budget 10. Money management

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it is meant as a preliminary guide for parents to begin thinking about all of the skills needed beyond academics to live on your own. As parents we often want to do everything for our children. Many parents are afraid to teach some of these skills to their kids because they fear that their kids may get hurt in the process (ie ironing), but the truth is that children are more capable than we give them credit for and can do more than you think!

I have witnessed in my practice that many times affluent families outsource many of their household responsibilities and often there are not many (if any) chores for the kids to do. There is a housekeeper, someone to clean the pool, a landscaper, etc. Often when there are two working parents this help is sooooo necessary! I just want parents in this situation to pause and consider that making the extra effort to teach kids some of these skills is worth it! Any skills that a child can learn will help them in the future!

The opposite is also true, with poverty comes need and I have seen how in families with less wealth the children are taught early on that they need to help in the home with basic chores and household duties.

Regardless of your background or means, kids are kids and kids will grow up to be adults. As parents our job is to raise them to be contributing members of society, that are self-sufficient, hard-working, and kind. Helping around the house can teach all of these skills and also bring you closer. So parents, please stop trying to do it all! Ask for a hand and enjoy the extra time that you have to share a special experience with your child instead of spending all day cleaning up alone! Trust me!

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

 

The Why

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The Why

March 6, 2018

I am a board certified pediatrician. I decided to write this blog not as your doctor but as your friend. I am also a mom, so I know where you are coming from. I have been in practice for 17 years and have learned so much from my children and my patients. This site is a casual site to share what I have learned. This is not intended for medical advice or consultations. I have just grown and learned so much in these last few years, that I wanted to share it with all of you. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, etc. but I am also ME and I want to share with all of you the importance of not forgetting YOU. I hope you enjoy my posts. They are intended to remind you about important moments and topics that come up while parenting. Parenting is a beautiful but sometimes frustrating and frightening journey. I want to remind you that you are not alone. Many patients come in with the same concerns and worries regardless of ethnicity, culture or background. I have found this so interesting. If we really stop to listen to each other we will realize we are more similar than we think. I hope you enjoy my blog. Join me every Tuesday for a new topic!

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