Dr. Amy

Pediatrician and Mom
Parenting With Less Stress, More Kindness and More Fun

Farewell to The Buzz

The Buzz has been a big part of my life for the past 9 years. I loved connecting with Buzz readers as we navigated the ever gratifying and challenging journey of parenthood. But my career path is shifting and my children are growing and my time at The Buzz has come to an end. I will miss all of you, and I am so appreciative that we had this time together. Treasure the journey of parenthood and trust yourself, you do a great job.

xo Dr. Amy

Letting Our Kids Take Ownership

I worked so hard with my boys on homework this week. Each of them bombed a quiz that I thought we really knew. I was so upset it was a little weird. I had to catch myself and say hey, this is not my homework. I already did middle school. I had definitely gone too far. Not that school isn’t important, it is. But I need be objectively available. Not crazy enmeshed. It is such a relief to get out of the meddle mode. To let them own their school work. To let go of the agenda in the thousands of requests that we make of our children. More importantly, it lays the groundwork for our kids’ independence. It lets them know that we have confidence in the decisions that they make. Even if the decisions are not the ones we would make, we show our kids that we believe they have the fortitude to work things out. Here are a few common examples of times that you need to dig in your heels and other times when you can take a relieved breath and let your child take over.

  1. Your child does not want to wear a coat and it is 30 degrees outside. Sometimes you need to ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen here?”. A little chilly while waiting for the bus? Uncomfortable at recess? LET IT GO! It is the best lesson in dressing for the weather that your child will ever get!
  2. Your son won’t brush his teeth. Sorry, non-negotiable. This fight can get really old. Try a hygiene chart in the bathroom that your child uses. Then you can just say “Check your chart” and save yourself from the frustration of repeating yourself.
  3. Your daughter won’t eat dinner (but wants to snack all night) or your son repeatedly forgets his lunch. Hunger pulls on the parental strings in a uniquely powerful way. We are fortunate that our children are far from starvation. Let go of the fight and let hunger teach your child to take responsibility for caring for his or her body.
  4. Your daughter has a question at the library, doctor’s office, restaurant. Let her ask it! Be patient and let her find the words and work through the self-consciousness. It show her that you have faith in her abilities and let’s her practice the important life skill of negotiating.
  5. Homework. This is a tricky one that is different for every child. Your child needs to take responsibility for homework but the level where each child can do this varies. If your son struggles with a learning issue, you need to support him so he can succeed. But leave room for him to take over at the appropriate level. This may mean that you do the first 3 math problems together and he does the last 3 independently. Or that your help him brainstorm ideas for an essay then he writes it. But if your daughter is avoiding homework because she would rather be on the computer then let her show up at school with an unfinished assignment. If you fix the homework, rewrite the report and oversee each project, your child never takes ownership of his or her schoolwork.

5 Ways You Can Help With Homework

We have had our share of homework ups and downs at our house. I have seen my children definitely become more independent as they have grown. But I still feel like there is a role for me as their organization and interest level continue to develop. Depending on your child’s age, learning style and temperament, there are different kinds and levels of parental involvement needed. Remember, your role matters!! Research shows that parent involvement can have either a positive or negative impact on the value of homework. Being involved in your child’s homework (but not too involved!) shows that you value success in school and appreciate the importance of education. Be positive about homework and school. This is an important message to convey to your children early in their academic journey. Here are some tips that may be helpful for your family:

1. Get ready. Your children have had a full day by the time most of us can get to homework. They need you to be patient and positive. Try your best to refresh yourself before you start homework. I know this can be difficult between finishing up your own work, driving to activities and figuring out a dinner plan. But we all know that the subject/predicate worksheet is more tolerable when we aren’t overwhelmed and tired.  Maybe it is a yoga class, a few minutes alone or a quick walk. Find what works for you and recharge.

2.  Pick the right place and time. Most kids need some supervision but there are those rare children who can go to their rooms and work completely independently. My children would be very, very busy in their rooms but no homework would get done. Also, most children need computers for some aspect of their homework and computer work should be done in a public space. Try for a well-lit, quiet place where you will be nearby. There should be no TV on, no headphones for music (read about this study) and social media should be turned OFF. They may be master multi-taskers but these distractions impact attention and work. Pick what time your child does homework carefully and plan for breaks, if needed. Some children (especially younger ones) need to have a snack and jump right in. Others can have an activity or some down time and then tackle homework. Kids with learning differences or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) may need to take a break every 25 minutes.

3.  Only get involved as much as your child needs you to. If you are lucky enough to have a child that knows what homework needs to be done and does it carefully and completely then you get to back off. Be careful, however. Don’t back off so much that you would not be aware of a problem creeping in. On the other hand, maybe your child needs you to start at the beginning and break down the homework assignments into steps. Or perhaps you can just step in midway to check that your child is completing assignments carefully.  Maybe all your child needs if for you to be close by and available for questions. You know your child best, be there just enough but not too much.

4.  When your child does need help, offer guidance, not answers. Too much help does not let your child develop persistence which is a very important step towards independence and resiliency.  Know when to stay away from projects. Your child’s project is meant to be age appropriate, not perfected by an adult. (And BTW the teachers know when it is not the child’s work.)

5.  Check the schedule. f homework is a constant struggle, be sure your child is not over scheduled. It is very difficult to concentrate after 8 hours of school then 2 hours of activities. Scaling back the schedule can be very helpful. If your child is still struggling, talk to your pediatrician and your child’s teachers to see if there are other ways to help.

Helpful Links

Helping Your Teen With Homework from KidsHealth.org
Helping Your Gradeschooler with Homework from Kidshealth.org
Printable Homework Completion Chart

Perfectly Enough

We work so hard as parents. And every week, we talk here about ways we can do better. Get the morning routine going, don’t yell, get outside, take care of yourself, be present, read, and on and on and on. For this week, know that what you are doing is enough. You love your children enough to keep trying, to stay endlessly hopeful. And that is enough. It is humorous at times just how much pressure we put on ourselves. We have to see that and laugh. So watch this. Then you can go back to making your list for the week. xo Dr. Amy

Mom Truths, Here’s What Happens Inside a Mom’s Head

Child Passenger Safety Week

This is the week to make sure your kids are as safe as possible while riding in a car. Car seats, when correctly used, can reduce the risk of death by 71%. Motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death in U.S. children. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

Buckling children in age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats, and seat belts reduces the risk of serious and fatal injuries:
Car seat use reduces the risk for death to infants (aged <1 year) by 71%; and to toddlers (aged 1–4 years) by 54% in passenger vehicles.
Booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45% for children aged 4–8 years when compared with seat belt use alone.
For older children and adults, seat belt use reduces the risk for death and serious injury by approximately half.

So hold your ground the next time your tween refuses to use a seat belt or your 9 year old insists that he doesn’t need a booster seat. This is easy when you are on your way to somewhere the kids want to go, just sit quietly and tell them you are waiting for them to get safe. Don’t give in and they will soon get the message that this is a non-negotiable rule. And of course, buckle yourself in too! As for the jump to the front seat, there is some debate. According to the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), ALL kids under 13 years old, no matter how big should be in the back seat. But what about the tiny 13  year old or the big 12 year old? Play it safe. Wait until your child gets to the size of most 13 year olds (about 5’1″ and 100 pounds) and tell your big 12 year old to wait until age 13.

Here are the CDC recommendations for buckling up your child at every age:

Birth up to Age 2: Rear-facing car seat.
For the best possible protection, infants and children should be buckled in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat, until age 2 or when they reach the upper weight or height limits of their particular seat. Check the seat’s owner’s manual and/or labels on the seat for weight and height limits.
Age 2 up to at least Age 5: Forward-facing car seat.
When children outgrow their rear-facing seats they should be buckled in a forward-facing car seat, in the back seat, until at least age 5 or when they reach the upper weight or height limit of their particular seat. Check the seat’s owner’s manual and/or labels on the seat for weight and height limits.
Age 5 up until seat belts fit properly: Booster seat. 
Once children outgrow their forward-facing seat, (by reaching the upper height or weight limit of their seat), they should be buckled in a belt positioning booster seat until seat belts fit properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). Remember to keep children properly buckled in the back seat for the best possible protection.
Once Seat Belts Fit Properly without a Booster Seat: Seat Belt
Children no longer need to use a booster seat once seat belts fit them properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). For the best possible protection keep children properly buckled in the back seat.

Types_of_Car_Seats_Grid-2

More info from Healthychildren.org

5 Ways to Defuse Disrespect

All kids are disrespectful and bratty sometimes. It may be unintentional or perfectly planned to press our buttons. It is one of my personal challenges to keep emotions from taking these interchanges down the wrong path. We do so much for our kids and it is easy to feel unappreciated when they talk to us in a way that is rude or unkind. So what does work? I know from many failed real time experiments that lecturing does not. Nor does withdrawing my attention and disconnecting from my child. However, it is not hopeless, here are some tips than can help to defuse disrespect:

1.  Empathize if possible. Disrespect often has its roots in fear, frustration or anger.  Each child has his or her trigger. Understand what your child is really saying during homework when he shouts, “You are not helping me at all!!” It is likely that the emotions are too much and your child does not know how else to handle them. It is so tempting to respond with anger, “Fine, do it yourself.” But dig deep for your compassion and offer empathy instead, “I hear that you are frustrated but it is not ok to talk to me that way. Would a quick walk around the block (or a hug, piece of gum, etc) help?” This is not easy to do but you will be amazed at the transformation.

2.  Know which behaviors you can overlook.  Maybe the occasional eye rolling or sarcastic “Seriously, Mom!?!” can be ignored in the kid that generally follows the family rules. Keep your standards but don’t take it too personally in an otherwise pleasant and respectful kid.

3.  Notice good behaviors. Give specific praise. For example, “I am so proud of the way that you helped your brother clean up without me asking twice” instead of “Good job.” Fill up your kids’ buckets so that they don’t feel the need to lash out as much. Constant correction and criticisms lead to resentment and disrespect.

4.  Try not to generalize. They are searching for your weak spot and a reaction. Stay focused on the current behavior and don’t drag every other concern about your child into this conversation. The mind chatter can sounds something like, “omg this kid is so rude, he is never going to find a job or someone that loves him.” With these fears barking at us, it is difficult to stay positive. Force yourself to see the current behavior and address the issue at hand and STOP FUTURIZING!

5.  Model the behavior you are encouraging in your children. Use a phrase that will become a mantra for your child. For example, “Our family treats others with respect, always.” Now, check your tone. Are you impatient and brusque? Or are you treating your little one as a valued member of the family?

Talk to your pediatrician for more ideas or if your child’s behavior seems unmanageable.

Keeping the Sports Mania in Check

If your child plays sports, it is hard to ignore the training mania that has become the norm. Travel teams, full weekends out of town for tournaments and daily training dominate the seasons for many families. Is it done for the intrinsic love of the sport? Maybe. But more often it is driven by the pressure to specialize in one sport early and the hope that the kid will play in college/get a scholarship or become a professional. Does this plan work? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), no it doesn’t. Instead it leads to early burn out and injuries. Studies show that most Division 1 NCAA athletes played multiple sports in high school. As you finalize your fall schedule, consider the latest recommendation from the AAP on sports for kids.

From the AAP:

  1. The primary focus of sports for young athletes should be to have fun and learn lifelong physical activity skills.
  2. Participating in multiple sports, at least until puberty, decreases the chances of injuries, stress, and burnout in young athletes.
  3. For most sports, specializing in a sport later (ie, late adolescence) may lead to a higher chance of the young athlete accomplishing his or her athletic goals.
  4. Early diversification and later specialization provides for a greater chance of lifetime sports involvement, lifetime physical fitness, and possibly elite participation.
  5. If a young athlete has decided to specialize in a single sport, discussing his or her goals to determine whether they are appropriate and realistic is important. This discussion may involve helping the young athlete distinguish these goals from those of the parents and/or coaches.
  6. It is important for parents to closely monitor the training and coaching environment of “elite” youth sports programs14 and be aware of best practices for their children’s sports.
  7. Having at least a total of 3 months off throughout the year, in increments of 1 month, from their particular sport of interest will allow for athletes’ physical and psychological recovery. Young athletes can still remain active in other activities to meet physical activity guidelines during the time off.
  8. Young athletes having at least 1 to 2 days off per week from their particular sport of interest can decrease the chance for injuries.
  9. Closely monitoring young athletes who pursue intensive training for physical and psychological growth and maturation as well as nutritional status is an important parameter for health and well-being.

Read more:

August 2016
From the American Academy of Pediatrics

Clinical Report

Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes

Joel S. Brenner, COUNCIL ON SPORTS MEDICINE AND FITNESS

Masturbation in Kids-10 Questions You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask

Whether it’s running around in the rain, snuggling next to you, or touching their silky blanket. kids know what feels good. And many of them find out early at their own body has a pretty magical way of feeling good.  Whether it is getting friendly with the car seat, rocking’ on the tricycle seat, or putting their hands down their pants, many kids masturbate.  Most parents find this uniquely mortifying.  It forces us to see our children as sexual beings before we are ready and it can make us really uncomfortable if done in public. It may be something your just not willing to talk about at the well child visit. So here are some questions that you may be wondering about.

10 questions about masturbation

  1. Do all kids masturbate?  No not all kids, but many do.  Some kids start as babies, some start as toddlers and some don’t explore until the teen years.
  2. Is it normal for a toddler masturbate?  It is normal for a child to explore his or her body.
  3. Is masturbation dangerous for my child?  No, unless your child is doing physical damage to their private parts, it is not unsafe.  Hopefully we all know by now that masturbation does not cause blindness or hairy palms (who made THAT up?).
  4. If my child masturbates does that mean that he or she is going to be a hyper-sexual adolescent? There is no known correlation between a child masturbating and later sexual activity.  We are all sexual beings but masturbation in kids is about what feels good, not about sex.
  5. What do I say to my child if I find him or her masturbating at home (not in the bedroom)?  This is important.  It may be your child’s first experience with your reaction to sexuality.  Be aware of your facial expression, body language and tone of voice.  The point is not to convey disapproval or anger.  However, it is ok to tell your child from an early age “Anything to do with your private parts is private.”
  6. What do I do if my child is masturbating at nap time or bedtime?  Nothing.  Say good-night and walk out of the room.
  7. What if my child is masturbating in public?  If you are in a situation where your child is masturbating in public, pick him or her up and go somewhere private to have a conversation.  Tell your child in a calm voice that “Anything to do with your private parts is private.”  You are not going to turn your child into a masturbating machine by telling him or her, “It’s ok to touch yourself when you are alone but not when you are with others.”
  8. Are young kids able to have orgasms?  The answer is yes.  However, not all kids masturbate until they have an orgasm.
  9. When should I worry?  If a child seems preoccupied with masturbating, it is time to talk to your pediatrician.  Or if a toddler continues to masturbate in public even though you have talked about the importance of privacy, it may be helpful for your pediatrician to have a discussion with your child too.  Finally, if your child makes sexual comments or acts out sexually, it is important to discuss this with your pediatrician.
  10. What is a parent to do?  Don’t throw away the car seat, shame your child or tell him or her to stop.  Take a deep breath, know that your child is a sexual being and that it is ok.  Take it as a teachable moment for kids to learn about their own sexuality and to learn a lesson in the difference between public and private activities.

5 Things Not to Do When You are Tired

Parenting is an exhausting job.Whether it is waking up to feed an infant or soothe a toddler, or waiting up for a teenager, it can seem like we never quite get enough sleep. But we all know some days are definitely worse than others. So on that day that you were up since 4:30 am or only got a few hours of sleep, let yourself put some things on the shelf for when you have a little more reserve.

5 Things Not to Do When You are Tired

1. Try a new plan. Remember that plan for a seamless bedtime routine that you worked out last week? Or your perfectly patient ignoring of an annoying behavior? Let it go for now and pick up where you left off when you aren’t as tired.

2. Talk to your partner about something that has been bothering you. The issue is not likely to change in the next day or so and your presentation and receptiveness will be much better when you are fresh.

3. Tweet, post or text the way you are feeling. Talk to a trusted friend but don’t put it out there for all to see. You may wake up the next day with that sinking feeling of regret.

4. Make any serious decisions. Sleeplessness brings hopelessness and that is definitely not a good basis for a serious decision.

5. Say no to help. If you have family, friends or sitters that are willing to help, SAY YES! We try to do everything ourselves and that is exhausting even after the perfect nights sleep. Accept help graciously, especially when you are tired.

The Countdown

We are in the two week countdown for my daughter leaving for college. Comforters have been bought (and returned and bought again), lists have been checked off, roommates discovered and some goodbyes already said. Last night we had dinner with her friends and their moms and I am so proud. I knew she had fabulous girlfriends. And I see where it comes from. Good, solid, accomplished, interesting, kind moms. As my daughter heads off to college, I can be sure that she makes good choices in the people she wants to surround herself with. Isn’t that one of the most important things we can teach our kids? Who will you know? Who will you love? There is so much more though, and I send my girl off with these thoughts….

1. Enjoy learning. It is one of the few times that studying is your job.

2. Be true to yourself. You will know when you’re not. But don’t be too tough on yourself if you do act like someone else sometimes. It helps you see yourself more clearly. It’s part of the process.

3. Be a good friend and a good listener. When someone tells you about a problem, usually it is a kind ear that is most appreciated, not a problem solver.

4. Reach out when you need it. You are not perfect and no one else is either. Share your humanity with others. It is what makes us closer. And if you took a chance and trusted someone and it didn’t work out, it’s ok. You showed courage.

5. Party a little but not a lot. Nothing good comes of the extremes. Always have a buddy and watch out for each other.

6. Take care of your body. Exercise and eat well. Get enough rest.

7. Remember that you become who you hang out with. Surround yourself with people you admire and aspire to be like.

8. What initially is shocking becomes mundane over time. Trust your instincts and stay true to your values.

9. Have a routine. It is so easy to float through the less structured days and nights of college. But having some predictability is good and will help you face your new responsibilities.

10. We are going to miss you. You light up our house and it will be so different without you. But we will be ok. We are happy for you and your next adventure. Live your life and excel for us, and for you.