Just when you thought your child graduated from potty training ...there's more

Just when you thought your child graduated from potty training …there’s more


Believe it or not, this post is for parents of kids who are already potty trained.

Changes and transitions, such as the start of a new school year, can trigger regression in kids who have been potty trained for years. Now that your children have been back to school for a few weeks take the quiz:

-Does your child come home from school and make a mad dash for the bathroom before he even gets his shoes off or asks you for a snack?

-Does your child stop eating and complain of belly pain after two bites of dinner?

-Does your child’s poop routinely clog your toilet?

-Is your child’s underwear sometimes damp?

-Have you noticed skid marks (small streaks or smears of poop) on your child’s underwear?

If you answer “yes” to ANY of these questions, then read on.

Advanced Potty Training

The main problem many kids encounter is that once school starts, they have a lot of new distractions and can’t be bothered to pee or poop. First, the morning routine might be more rushed. In school, the teacher is teaching. Your kid is interacting with other kids. The school’s bathroom is foreign, and may even have an auto-flush toilet: scary for the newly-trained. And unlike your newly potty-trained toddler who often finds it thrilling to try out every public restroom he sees, kids in school may feel more self-conscious, and not as adventurous, about visiting new bathrooms.

School bathrooms can be smelly, loud, and even places where kids bully each other. Some kids develop an aversion to using the school bathroom. These kids hold their pee and poop all day long until they get home, then run into the house and make a mad dash for the bathroom.

A child’s internal debate

For a kid who becomes overstimulated at school or who develops an aversion to the school bathroom, his bladder and brain have a conversation that goes like this:

Bladder: I am full.

Brain: Hold it, I don’t want to use the bathroom right now.

Bladder: But I REALLY have to pee.

Brain: Tough luck, Bladder, just wait till we get home.

Bladder: But I have no more room for pee!

Brain: Deal with it, Bladder!

So, the bladder has two choices:

1-Bladder overflows, at least enough to relieve a bit of pressure. This causes damp underwear. (For other reasons click here to review our post on damp underwear.)


2-Bladder distends to accommodate more urine and confuses the nerves that supply sensation to the bladder. Kids lose the ability to tell if they have to urinate, which leads to full bladder-emptying accidents, and can lead to urinary tract infections.

A similar discussion can occur between your kid’s brain and his rectum:

Rectum: I am full of poop, Brain. Take us to the bathroom.

Brain: In school? Are you kidding? I am enjoying this game the class is playing/I am embarrassed to poop in school/I am afraid of the school bathroom. HOLD IT!

Rectum: OK, but you’re not going to like how this comes out in the end.

The rectum also has two choices: release just a bit of stool so it doesn’t feel so full and uncomfortable – these are skid marks. OR it will just hold onto the stool, making it larger and harder all the while, so it becomes painful and scary to pass and ultimately clogs the toilet.

This cycle leads to more problems – over time, the distended rectum develops decreased sensation (sound familiar?) and ultimately the child loses the ability to feel when he has to poop. Large poop masses in distended intestines can lead to pain while eating (the kid who eats two bites of dinner, then stops because of belly pain). Poop can leak out without your child knowing because he is unaware of the sensation of the chronically-ignored-full-rectum. In addition, a full rectum will also press on the bladder changing the way the brain is sensing whether or not to void.

How can we parents prevent these problems?

Remind your child to use the bathroom upon waking up in the morning and again before leaving the house for school. Even if he says he does not have to go, tell him to “Just check- sit for 2 minutes.”

Ask your child if he uses the bathroom in school. Preschool and early elementary school teachers often have scheduled bathroom breaks, but then it’s entirely up to your child to remember to use the bathroom. Encourage him to stop in the bathroom around lunch time in school.

Once home from school, remind your child to use the bathroom or “just check” if he hasn’t already done so.

If you leave the house again for an after-school activity, insist that he “just check” again to decrease your chances of having to use another “foreign” toilet.

Incorporate a potty check into your child’s bedtime routine, even if he went relatively recently. Ideally the healthy bladder empties four to six times a day and the healthy bowel easily passes a stool  at least once a day or every other day.

Because boys usually stand to urinate, remind them to sit at least once or twice a day, even if they don’t feel the urge to poop. As a mom of three boys, trust me: they often surprise themselves.

Even middle school and high school kids can have these problems. Suggest to your older child who, for whatever reason, avoids school bathrooms, that she can stop by the school nurse’s office to use the bathroom. She could also get up in the middle of class, if needed, and use the bathroom when it is most likely to be empty of other students, unlike during change-of-class time.

School cafeteria food and snacks provided at sports or other after school activities are not always healthy and can contribute to making stools too hard, so make sure to provide healthy choices at home with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Teach your kids to avoid too many cookies and other high fat foods – these are constipating foods. Encourage water-drinking. Caffeine-containing drinks (ice tea, soda) cause excess urine production and thus more stress on the bladder that your child might already be forcing to “hold it” for too long.

As for the children who frequently run to the bathroom in the daytime, but only pee a tiny bit, beware of something called urinary frequency syndrome.

Final exam

1-Does your child use the bathroom regularly, without stress or pain?

2-Can your child “go with the flow” in school as well as home, without any toilet clogging?

3-At the end of the day, is your child’s underwear without urine or skid marks?

If you can answer YES to all of the above, then you and your child have passed advanced potty training!

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

© 2016 Two Peds in a Pod®


teddy-bear-potty-trainingA shout out to Trinity Day School in Solebury, PA where we spoke with a group of parents yesterday about the pearls and pitfalls of potty training. Today we share some of what we discussed.

At Trinity day School

At Trinity day School

“Will it ever end?” many parents ask. Time moves in slow motion for parents teaching their kids to use the potty. For those trapped in a potty training time warp, take heart. It’s been seven years since we first released out podcast on potty training and we’re proud to report that the  parents who first listened to that podcast have moved onto new parenting challenges like helping with homework. For those in the midst of training, and those who are contemplating training, this post is for you.

Children master potty training typically between the ages of two and four years. Be patient, not everyone is “typical.”  More important than your child’s age is whether she shows she is developmentally ready to train. These signs include:

– is generally agreeable/ can follow directions.

– gets a funny expression before passing urine or poop, or runs and hides, then produces a wet or soiled diaper.

-asks to be changed/ pulls on her diaper when it becomes wet or soiled- remains dry during the day time for at least two hours (look for a dry diaper after nap time.)

-NOT because grandparents are pressuring you to start training their grandchild.

– NOT if the child is  constipated—the last thing you want to do is to teach withholding to a kid who already withholds.

-NOT if a newborn sibling has just joined the family. A new baby in the house is often a time of REGRESSION, not progression. However, if your toddler  begs to use the potty at this time, then by all means, allow him to try. 

Make the potty a friendly place. Have a supply of books to occupy your child while she sits. Make sure her feet are secure on the floor if using a potty chair or on a stool if using the actual toilet. If using the real toilet for training, consider placing a potty training rim on the toilet seat to prevent your child from jack-knifing into the toilet. If your child is afraid of the bathroom, put the potty chair in the hall just OUTSIDE of the bathroom.

Have reasonable expectations based on age. A two year old’s attention span is two minutes. Never force your child to sit on the potty. If he doesn’t want to sit, then he isn’t ready to train.

Your can lead a horse to water… Reward your child for sitting on the potty, even if she does not “produce.” Reward by giving a high-five, verbal praise, or a small, cheap trinket such as a sticker. Do NOT promise your child a trip to Disney for potty training—otherwise, what will you do when she learns to ride a bike or tie her shoes? Plus, unless you are prepared to leave right away, the toddler/preschooler does not developmentally understand the concept of long term reward. Accept that she may simply enjoy sitting fully clothing on the potty while singing at the top of her lungs for a few weeks.

Let your child learn by imitation  At home, have an open door bathroom policy so she can imitate you and her older siblings. At school, she will imitate her potty-trained classmates.

Initially, kids rarely tell their parents  they “have to use the potty.” For these kids, schedule potty visits every 2-3 hours throughout the day. Do potty checks at key times such as first waking up, right before nap, and before bedtime. Be sure to spend extra time a half an hour after meals or after a warm bath. Both meals and warmth stimulate poop!

A child is potty trained when she can do the whole deal: use the potty, help wipe, help un-dress and re-dress, and wash hands.

If the child refuses to wash hands after using the potty, she is not trained. Ultimately, the goal is for her to gain independent  toileting skills.  However, she will need your supervision for a while.

Important note for parents of BOYS: First potty train your son to sit for ALL business. Teach him to gently press his penis downward so pee lands in the toilet and not all over the room. Once your son stands up to urinate, he may become so excited that he may never sit down again. Better to wait until he uses the potty consistently with few accidents before teaching him to stand up. Even after he begins to stands to pee, have him sit on the potty daily to allow him time to poop.

Don‘t be surprised if your child trains for pee before poop. In fact, many kids go through a phase when they ask for a diaper to poop in. After all, it’s frightening to see/feel a chunk of your body fall into an abyss.  Dump the poop from the diaper into the potty and practice waving bye-bye.

A note about night time and naps: Potty train for when your child is awake. Your child will spontaneously, without any training, stay dry at night and during naps. Some kids sleep more soundly than others and some kids are not genetically programmed to stay dry overnight until they are elementary school aged. For more information about bed-wetting please see our post on this topic.  No amount of daytime training will affect what happens during sleep. Moderate fluids right before bed and  continue putting on the diapers at night until you notice that the diapers are dry when your child wakes up. After a week of dry mornings, try your child in underwear overnight. Occasional accidents are normal for years after potty training, so you might want to put a water proof liner under your child’s sheets when first graduating to sleep underwear.

Disposable training pants: We like sticking to underwear while potty trainers are awake and diapers while asleep.  A reluctant trainer tends to find training pants just absorbent enough that he does not care if he is wet. However, the pants are not absorbent enough to prevent rashes from stool or urine. Plus they are more expensive than underwear AND diapers. Explain to your child  “sleep diapers” are perfectly acceptable until their “pee pee learns to wake them up.” Use the training pants when your child is older and is  mortified by the idea of a diaper or if your family is going on a long car ride and you don’t want to risk urine on a car seat.

Above all: avoid power struggles. If potty training causes tears, tantrums, or confusion then STOP TRAINING, put those diapers back on, and try again a few weeks later. 

After the training, keep an eye on how often he pees and poops. Older kids get “too busy” to go to the potty. Make sure he is in the habit of  emptying his bladder four to six times a day and having a soft bowel movement every day or every other day.

Ultimately… you just have to go with the flow. And remember, everything eventually comes out right in the end.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2016, 2013 Two Peds in a Pod®


potty-trainingWe invite you to come out on Thursday, October 20, from 9:30 to 10:30am when we will lead a discussion for parents about a topic near and dear to all toddler parents’ hearts. Join us for Potty Training: Pearls and Pitfalls at Trinity Day School in Solebury, PA, 6587 York Rd, Upper Solebury, PA. This talk is FREE & open to the community. Attendees from outside the school must pre-register by emailing dayschool@trinitysolebury.org with “Potty Training Talk” in the subject. There’s even a potty training basket that they will raffle off at this event.

We are excited about the talk. And we are thrilled to be the inspiration for a potty training basket!

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

©2016 Two Peds in a Pod®






At this time of the Jewish High Holy Days, Dr. Kardos offers us a glimpse into lessons learned as a doctor in training. This is a true story she wrote years after meeting Beth and, until recently, had only shared with a few close friends.

Tonight starts Yom Kippur and my two youngest children are asleep in their beds. As my oldest sits in the rocker next to my desk reading the last book in the Lord of the Rings series, my husband relaxes playing a computer adventure game. The Jewish High Holy Days are a time for reflection about the past year. But my mind goes back to a Yom Kippur Eve when I was working as a resident in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) as part of my pediatric training.

Residents work through most holidays, even ones they consider important. This night, I wished I had off, but I consoled myself with knowing that I would be off on Thanksgiving. Luckily I was partnered with Amy, the lead physician in the PICU.

The sickest patient that night was twelve-year-old Beth. She had leukemia and had just started chemotherapy. Because her immune system was weak, Beth was very ill with a bacterial infection in her blood. Despite powerful antibiotics, the infection raised havoc in her body. She developed such difficulty breathing that a tube from a mechanical ventilator was placed down her throat to force air into her lungs. Even the comfort of sleep escaped her. Beth was afraid of what was happening to her body. She refused to accept medicine that could help her sleep because she was so afraid that she would never wake up.

That night, despite her incredibly ill state, she got her period. Usually when a girl’s body is stressed, the body preserves all blood and the periods stop. But hers came, and because her blood cells were so abnormal from a toxic combination of infection, chemotherapy, and leukemia, she began bleeding to death. We transfused her with bag after bag of blood to keep her alive.

In the middle of the night, Beth’s blood pressure suddenly plummeted so we added even more medication. Because my mentor Amy was not certain that Beth would survive the night, we called her family at the hotel near the hospital where they were staying and told them come to Beth’s side. And through it all, Beth refused to sleep. Her eyes always opened in terror whenever we approached her bed. Her face was gray. Her chest rose and fell to the rhythm of the mechanical ventilator, and you could smell the fear all around her.

I stood with Amy just outside Beth’s room as Amy reviewed a checklist for Beth’s care. It went something like: “Ok, we just called blood bank for more blood; we called her family; we called the lab; we called the pharmacy. We are currently attending to all of her problems, we now just have to wait for her body to respond.” She paused,” But you know what?”

“What?” I asked her.

“We need to address her spiritual needs as well. Do we know what religion her family is? They may want a clergy member with them.”

I was startled. In the midst of all the tubes and wires of technology, Amy remembered to summon the human factor in medicine. We looked in her medical chart under “religious preference” and there it was: Jewish.

“Amy,” I said, “of all nights. Tonight is Yom Kippur…the holiest night of the Jewish year.”

I knew that the hospital had a Rabbi “on call” just like they had priests, nuns, ministers, and other spiritual leaders. But that night I was sure that every rabbi in Philadelphia would be at synagogue for Kol Nidre, the declaration chanted at the beginning of the Yom Kippur evening service. We were unlikely to track down a Rabbi.

Despite this, we asked her mother if they wanted us to call a Rabbi for them. She shook her head no. I remember feeling relieved, then guilty that I felt relieved. Amy left to check on another patient. Beth’s mom, dad, and older sister stood together watching Beth. Her sister’s hand lay on her mother’s arm. Her mother’s eyes darted from me to Beth to the mechanical ventilator next to the bed. Beth’s eyes were closed and it was difficult to know if she even knew we were there.

Her family walked out into the hall to talk. Beth at that moment opened her eyes and started tapping on the bed with her foot to get my attention. She couldn’t talk because of the tube down her throat and her hands were taped down with IVs. Yet she reached out with one hand as best she could.

I walked close to her bed so she could touch me and I asked, what is it, Beth?

Her lips formed the words around the breathing tube very deliberately, her body tensing. “Am I going to die?”

All in a split second I am thinking to myself: How do I know/it could very well happen/how can I lie to her/how can I tell her the truth of what I fear could very well happen/how am I going to answer this child?

What I answered was, “Not tonight, Beth.”

She relaxed into her pillow but kept her eyes on mine. I waited to see if she would say anything else, but the effort to ask that one question had exhausted her. I stood, holding her hand, until her family came back into the room. Her eyes followed them to her bed and I left so they could be together.

Beth did survive the night and in fact survived a month in the PICU. She became well enough to be transferred to a regular hospital floor. By this time I was working in a different part of the hospital, but one of the oncologists pointed her out to me.

I don’t know what happened to her in the long term.

So now I tell my oldest child it’s time for him to stop reading and go to sleep, and I walk him to his room to say goodnight. My husband and I decide what time we’ll attend Yom Kippur services tomorrow. Part of me feels joined with Jews everywhere who will also be spending the next day reflecting, praying and celebrating a new year. But mostly, like every year at this time, I remember the sounds and the smells and the fear in the PICU where sickness doesn’t care who your God is or what your intentions are. I remember Amy caring enough to think about a dying child’s family religion, and always, I remember Beth.

Originally posted in fall, 2010

Julie Kardos, MD
© 2016 Two Peds in a Pod ®


photo by Lexi Logan

photo by Lexi Logan

While “drinks from a cup” is often listed as a developmental milestone for one-year-olds, it is a good idea to start teaching this skill BEFORE your child’s first birthday. Go ahead and introduce a cup when you baby is around six months old.

Here’s why six months is a great time to start a cup:

  • Six-month-olds are starting to sit propped and even unsupported
  • Six-month-olds can bring their hands together and pull most objects into their mouths (this is why baby proofing is so important starting at this age as well!
  • Six-months-olds are usually not afraid or wary of new things, new experiences, or new people. As an example, when I walk into the exam room and start examining a 6-month-old baby, he usually smiles and “talks” to me. When I hand him 2 wooden tongue depressors to play with, he reaches for them eagerly and puts them into his mouth as soon as he grabs them. In contrast, a 9-month-old or one-year-old will often look back at his dad  when I enter the room,  he might cry when I go to examine him, and may eyeball the wooden tongue depressors suspiciously.
  • One-year-olds are much more willful and oppositional than 6-month-olds and so may balk at a new way of drinking.

“You mean a “sippy cup, right?”

We have an entire post devoted to sippy cups but the short of it is that even babies as young as 6 months can start learning to drink out of open cups. Parents have told me that their 6-month-old will pull their mom’s water bottle to his mouth and drink from it.

The origin of the non-spill sippy cup:

According to this article in the New York Times , mechanical engineer and dad Richard Belanger first developed his own non-spillable cup because he was tired of always cleaning up his toddler’s spills.  In other words, he developed the cups for parents with an aversion to mess, not as a “stepping stone” for kids learning to drink out of a cup. His non-spill cups were specifically for kids who already drank out of open cups but often spilled them. He eventually pitched his prototype to Playtex, and the rest is history: non-spillable sippy cups are now ingrained into toddler culture.

So, when parents of my patients lament, “My child throws the sippy cup away! He won’t suck from it!” I smile and answer, ok, take the vacuum seal or valve out or skip the sippy cup and  just give a regular open cup.

WHAT should you put in the cup?

Water is a great choice. It is healthy and does not stain so is easy to clean when your new cup-user spills it.

You can put formula or breastmilk in the cup if you want, but don’t worry if your baby won’t drink it. Remember, you are not replacing bottles or nursing yet, you are simply adding a cup.

After your child turns one year, you can put whole or two-percent cow’s milk (reduced- fat milk) in the cup. No need for toddler formulas. Your pediatrician will guide you as whether to start with whole or the two-percent.

How much milk do kids need in their cups?

Remember that once your child weans from breast milk or formula, she no longer receives a lot of iron through cow’s milk. In fact, the calcium in milk hinders iron absorption from food, so be sure to cap your child at 24 ounces of milk per day and give  iron rich foods.

Most juice, even 100% juice, has the same sugar content as soda (such as Coke or Sprite), so juice is not a great choice of beverage for kids. Children should eat fruit but most do not need to drink juice.

Do I have to mix cow’s milk in with the formula or breast milk to “get my child used to it?”

Not at all! Think about how you fed your baby solid foods.  You didn’t  have to, for example, start with cereal and then mix every other food into the cereal. Just start cow’s milk in a cup alongside your last supply of formula in a bottle or at the same time you are still giving breast milk. For social reasons and to make it easier for yourself later, offer “big kid milk” in cups and “baby milk” in bottles. Then when you stop giving formula, you won’t need to continue to give (and wash- ugh!) bottles anymore!

One trendy question we hear these days is: Can I give raw milk in the cup?

The answer is: NO.

Raw milk contains many bacteria, such as salmonella, Listeria, and E.coli.  The reason we pasteurize milk is to get the bacterial count down. Out of 121 dairy-related outbreaks in the US reported between 1993 and 2006, 73 (60 percent) were linked to raw dairy, despite the fact that only about 3 percent of the dairy products consumed in the U.S. was unpasteurized. These statistics prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue a statement in 2013 recommending against raw milk.

If your  child won’t drink cow’s milk, that’s ok too. Cow’s milk is a convenient, but not a necessary, source of protein, fat, vitamin D, and calcium, all of which are found in other foods.

If your child is allergic to dairy or is lactose intolerant, you can offer almond milk, soy milk (although, or again, no milk.

After one year of age, it’s fine if water is the only fluid your child drinks. He can get all of his nutrition from food. Liquid intake is more for hydration than for sustenance.

A word about vitamin D: Even though cow’s milk is fortified with vitamin D, continue to provide a vitamin D supplement. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D intake starting at one years old is 600 IU a day. Since most toddler/child vitamins contain 400 IU per tablet/gummy, most kids will take in the recommended daily allowance of 600 IU a day if they drink some milk and take any of the over the counter chewable vitamins. If your child does not drink any milk or you prefer not to give a supplement, 600 IU a day can be achieved through yogurt or cheese that is vitamin D fortified as well as vitamin D containing foods such as salmon and shiitake mushrooms ( I know, I know… shiitake mushrooms are not usually a toddler favorite). 

Beware of Grazing: Just as a “dieter’s trick” is to drink eight ounces of water prior to meals to curb the appetite, too much fluid = less appetite for solids. Grazing in the day or at night  hinders picky eaters from eating. Additionally, grazing milk promotes dental caries (cavities) because milk sugar constantly bathes the teeth. Even if your child initially drinks a bedtime cup of milk, remember to always brush his teeth afterwards and to eventually stop offering milk before bed. Your goal is to offer the cup with meals or snacks. Your child does not need a cup in between.

We hope this post quenched your thirst for knowledge about transitioning to a cup!

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

2016 Two Peds in a Pod


teen boy

photo by Lexi Logan, www.lexilogan.com

We welcome back guest blogger Dina Ricciardo LSW, ACSW who addresses how to support the emotional health of a boy — Drs. Kardos and Lai

Your son is crying.  A mad dash across the playground has led to a spectacular trip and fall, complete with a bloody knee and hands full of dirt.  Part of you wants to hold him on your lap and console him until he stops crying.  The other part of you wants to firmly wipe away his tears and tell him to be brave.  Which part of you is right?

In a world where there is a great deal of emphasis placed on the emotional health of girls, our boys are frequently overlooked.  While girls are typically encouraged to develop and express a broad range of emotions, boys are socialized from a young age to suppress their feelings. As a result, many boys and men struggle to express fear or sadness and are unable to ask for help.  It is time for us adults to stop perpetuating stereotypes and myths about manhood, and help each other raise emotionally healthy boys. Here are five ways for us to do so:

Make his living environment a safe space to express emotions. Give your son permission to express all of his feelings. Boys typically do not have the freedom to show the full range of their emotions in school and out in the world, so it is essential that they have that freedom at home.  Nothing should be off limits, as long as feelings are expressed in a manner that is not destructive.

Expose him to positive male role models. Boys need to be exposed to positive male figures who can to indoctrinate them into their culture and teach them how to be men. It is an important rite of passage in a boy’s development.  Take a look around your social ecosystem and ask yourself, “Who would be good for my son?”  Other parents, coaches, teachers, and pastors are examples of individuals who can play a positive role in his life.

Understand your unique role.  Each parent plays a unique role in the development of a son, and that role changes over time. A mother is a son’s first teacher about love and what it looks like, and this dynamic can breed a particular kind of closeness.  As a boy grows and begins to develop his sexuality, however, it is natural for him to pull away a bit from his mother and turn more towards his father for guidance. While this distance can be unsettling for mom, it marks a new phase in a son’s relationship with his father, who typically provides a sense of security and authority in a family as well as support for a boy’s developing identity. Mothers still play an important role, but that role may look different. As parents, it is important to re-evaluate what our sons need from us at each stage of their development.

Look at the world with a critical eye. Our culture not only glorifies violence, it equates vulnerability in males with weakness and attempts to crush it. That does not mean we have to accept this paradigm.  Talk honestly with your son about how and when to be gentle and compassionate, educate him on how the world view softness in men, and never tolerate anyone shaming him when he exhibits these traits. There is no shame in showing vulnerability, it is actually an act of courage.

Take a look in the mirror. Whether you are a mother or a father (or both), be honest with yourself: what are your beliefs about manhood? Do you feel safe expressing all of your feelings, or are some of them off-limits? If you are perpetuating negative stereotypes about men or are not comfortable with a full range of emotions, then your son will follow in your footsteps. Regardless of our own gender, we cannot expect our children to be comfortable with their feelings if we are not comfortable with our own.

There are times when insuring the emotional health of your son will feel like an uphill battle.  Keep the conversation open, and do not be afraid to talk with others about the dilemmas of boyhood and manhood.  And if you are looking for an answer to the playground dilemma, then I will tell you that both parts of you are right.  Sometimes our sons need loving compassion, and sometimes they need a firm nudge over the hump.  You know your child better than anyone else, so it is up to you to decide which approach to use and when.

Dina Ricciardi, LSW, ACSW

©2016 Two Peds in a Pod®

Dina Ricciardi is a psychotherapist in private practice treating children, adolescents, and adults in Doylestown, PA. She specializes in disordered eating and pediatric and adult anxiety, and is also trained in Sandtray Therapy. Ricciardi is a Licensed Social Worker and a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She can be reached at dina@nourishcounseling.com.


stomach-painThis week Two Peds joined Kelley on her blog Happy Health Kids as she talked about the dreaded phrase, “My belly hurts.”


If I crunched the numbers on how often my kids have uttered certain phrases, “my belly hurts,” ranks pretty darn high. So common is this refrain, and typically uneventful the outcome, that there’s a cry-wolf quality to it; I typically point my child towards the pantry or bathroom and go about my day. But sometimes, a stomachache persists, and then figuring out the cause can be like falling into a rabbit hole (and equally unpleasant)….click here to continue


photo by Lexi Logan

photo by Lexi Logan

“What will happen if your grade drops from an “A” to a “C”?” I sometimes ask during a check-up. 

Many kids shrug and say, “Try harder next time, I suppose.” Others look shocked and anxious about the possibility and are speechless. 

Still others will point at their parents and say,”THEY would kill me.” 

Observe a toddler learning a new skill. You will see him repeatedly try to fit a ball into a hole until he is either successful or wanders way. He is not anxious or afraid of failure. He is not “stressed” about trying to learn. Although all children start this way, too often toddlers become big kids who end up in my office discouraged and worried about school performance. Today’s guest writers, based on the work of Dr. Carol Dweck, discuss ways parents can influence their children so that they embrace learning. 

– Drs. Lai and Kardos


Researchers under the leadership of Dr. Carol Dweck conducted a survey of parents of school aged children. The majority of parents thought it was necessary to praise their children’s intelligence in order to give them confidence in their abilities and motivate them to succeed. Instead, this approach can lead to fixed mindsets in children. Kids with fixed mindsets believe “my abilities are what they are.”

Instead, the most motivated and resilient students demonstrate a growth mindset. They are the ones who believe their abilities can be developed through their effort and learning.  These students are resilient and persevere when tasks become challenging.

A study of students’ brain waves revealed students with a fixed mindset were interested in whether they got an answer right or wrong, but when they were wrong, they paid little attention to the correct answer. Students who were praised for their intelligence later lied about their scores. They felt the errors were so humiliating that they could not own up to them. The students failed to persevere, believing they were no longer “smart,” and therefore unable to meet academic challenges. 

Students with a fixed mindset typically think it is best if they:

  • Don’t make mistakes – “I’m too smart to make mistakes.”
  • Don’t need to work hard –”I’m smart and learning comes naturally to me.”
  • Don’t try to repair mistakes- “I was wrong, and that is the end of it.”

Students with a growth mindset generally:

  • Take on challenges
  • Work hard
  • Confront their deficiencies and correct them

How should parents talk to their children in order to develop a growth mindset?

  • Wow, you got 10 out of 10 right! What strategy did you use to get a perfect score?
  • What can you learn from this mistake that will help you do better next time?
  • I am proud of how hard you worked on this project and look at how your hard work paid off!
  • The strategies you used last time didn’t work. Let’s take a look at them so I can help you figure out better strategies to use next time.
  • You’re becoming such a good learner!
  • Smart is not something you are; it’s something you become. Let’s figure out how you can become smart at this assignment.

What is your child’s mindset?  Ask yourself, what is your own mindset?  Have a conversation with your child as you discuss your child’s report card.  Use any upcoming parent teacher conference to examine outlooks, attitudes, and strategies that are or are not supporting your child’s academic progress.

  • Where applicable, praise your child’s positive skills and attributes.  Celebrate instances you observed that contributed to positive indicators.
  • When necessary, examine areas of poor performance and strategize with your child about how he or she can turn a weakness into a strength.  Again, you may revisit situations you observed this past grading period in which your child took shortcuts, provided incomplete work products, or did not do his or her personal best.
  • Make your expectations very clear in terms of why you value attributes or traits of resiliency, and how they can and will develop into habits that will serve your child well.

Grades are a distant second to the level of effort a child invests in personal learning in any setting.

Leonard H. Schwartz and Michael R. Testani

Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Testani have been central to the Central Bucks School System in Pennsylvania. After fourty-three years as an educator in two school districts and five schools, Mr. Schwartz retired in 2012 . Most recently he served as the principal of Mill Creek Elementary School. Mr. Testani wrote this while he was the  Assistant Principal of the  Mill Creek Elementary School. Mr Testani now serves as the principal of Gayman Elementary School. This post was published in its full original form in the publication Principal’s Prose of Mill Creek Elementary School. 
©2012, rev 2016 Two Peds in a Pod®    

Dr. Lai staggers under the load of her high schooler's back pack

Dr. Lai staggers under the load of a back pack

Although we see in the news that  ebooks are replacing textbooks, our kids’ backpacks look heavier than ever. Returning is physical therapist Dr. Deborah Stack with backpack pointers. -Drs. Lai and Kardos

With the return to school, we wanted to remind you of some healthy backpack tips. I recall the first day of school one year when the “first day of school” photo showed my not-quite-100-pound child bending in half under the weight of a backpack, trombone, lunchbox and art portfolio. I quietly decreed that it would not happen again. To make sure it does not happen at your house either, consider a few suggestions to keep your children healthy:

  1. A traditional backpack with two shoulder straps distributes the weight more evenly than a pack or messenger bag with a single strap.
  2. Look for wide, padded straps. Narrow straps can dig in and limit circulation.
  3. Buckle the chest or waist strap to distribute weight more evenly.
  4. Look for a padded back to protect your child from pointy pencils etc.
  5. Look for a lightweight pack that does not add much overall weight.
  6. Multiple compartments can help distribute weight.
  7. Place heavier items close to the spine instead of in front pockets.
  8. Compression straps on the sides or bottom of the backpack can compress the contents of the backpack and stabilize the articles.
  9. Reflective material allows your child to be visible on those rainy mornings.
  10. A well fitting backpack should match the size of the child. Shoulder straps should fit comfortably on the shoulder and under the arms, so that the arms can move freely. The bottom of the pack should rest in the contour of the lower back. The pack should “sit” evenly in the middle of the back, not “sag down” toward the buttocks.

How much should that tike be toting? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 10-20 percent of body weight and the American Physical Therapy Association recommends no more than 15 percent of a child’s weight. Here’s a chart to give you an idea of the absolute maximum a child should carry in a properly worn backpack:

Child’s Weight


Maximum Backpack Weight (based on 15% of body weight)


50 7.5
60 9
70 10.5
80 12
90 13.5
100 15
110 16.5
120 18
130 19.5

Here are some ideas to help lighten the load, especially for those middle school kids who have a plethora of textbooks:

  1. Find out of your child’s textbook can be accessed on the internet. Many schools are purchasing access so the students can log on rather than lug home.
  2. Consider buying an extra set of books for home. Used textbooks are available inexpensively online.
  3. Limit the “extras” in the backpack such as one free reading book instead of five. I am not exaggerating; one day I found five free reading books in my child’s backpack!
  4. Encourage your child to use free periods to actually study, and leave the extra books in his locker.
  5. Remind your child to stop by her locker between classes to switch books rather than carrying them all at once.
  6. Consider individual folders or pockets for each class rather than a bulky 3-ring notebook that holds every subject.

You may need to limit the load even further if your child is still:

  • Struggling to get the backpack on by herself
  • Complaining of back, neck or shoulder pain
  • Leaning forward to carry the backpack

If your child complains of back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, talk to your doctor or physical therapist.

When used correctly, backpacks are supported by some of the strongest muscles in the body: the back and abdominal muscles. These muscle groups work together to stabilize the trunk and hold the body in proper postural alignment. However, backpacks that are worn incorrectly or are too heavy can lead to neck, shoulder and back pain as well as postural problems. So choose wisely and lighten the load. Happy shopping!

Deborah Stack, PT, DPT, PCS
With over 20 years of experience as a physical therapist, Dr. Stack heads The Pediatric Therapy Center of Bucks County in Pennsylvania. She holds both masters and doctoral degrees in physical therapy from Thomas Jefferson University.

2010, 2015, 2016 Two Peds in a Pod®


Junk food in disguise.

Junk food in disguise.

Need ideas on what to pack in your child’s lunch bag? Beware of junk food masquerading as healthy food. Dr. Roxanne Sukol, an internist who writes the popular nutrition blog Your Health is on Your Plate , mom of three children, and friend of Dr. Kardos’s from medical school, shares her insights.

What should we pack in our children’s lunch bags?  The key to retraining our children to eat real food is to restore historical patterns of food consumption.  My great-grandparents didn’t eat potato chips, corn chips, sun chips, or moon chips.  They ate a slice of whole-grain rye bread with a generous smear of butter or cream cheese.  They didn’t eat fruit roll-ups.  They ate apricots, peaches, plums, and grapes.  Fresh or dried.  Depending on where your family originated, you might have eaten a thick slice of Mexican white cheese (queso blanco), or a generous wedge of cheddar cheese, or brie.  Sunflower seeds, dried apples, roasted almonds.  Peanut butter or almond butter.  Small containers of yogurt.  Slices of cucumbers, pickles, or peppers.  All of these make good snacks or meals.  My mom is proud to have given me slices of Swiss cheese when I was a hungry toddler out for a stroll with my baby brother.  Maybe that’s how I ended up where I am today.

When my own children were toddlers, I gave them tiny cubes of frozen tofu to grasp and eat.  I packed school lunches with variations on the following theme:  1) a sandwich made with whole grain bread, 2) a container of fruit (usually apple slices, orange slices, kiwi slices, berries, or slices of pear), and 3) a small bag of homemade trail mix (usually peanuts + raisins).  The sandwich was usually turkey, mayo and lettuce; or sliced Jarlsberg cheese, sliced tomato, and cream cheese; or tuna; or peanut butter, sometimes with thin slices of banana.  On Fridays I often included a treat, like a few small chocolates.

Homemade trail mix is one terrific snack.  It can be made with any combination of nuts, seeds, and/or dried fruit, plus bits of dark chocolate if desired.  Remember that dark chocolate is good for you (in small amounts).  Dried apple slices, apricots, kiwi or banana chips, raisins, and currants are nutritious and delicious, and so are pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, especially of course in homes with nut allergies.  Trail mix can be simple or involved.  Fill and secure baggies with ¼ cup servings, and refrigerate them in a closed container until it’s time to make more.  I would include grains, like rolled oats, only for children who are active and slender.

What do I consider junk food?  Chips of all kinds, as well as those “100 calorie packs,” which are invariably filled with 100 calories of refined carbohydrate (white flour and sugar) in the form of crackers (®Ritz), cereal (®Chex), or cookies (®Chips Ahoy).

You can even find junk food snacks for babies and toddlers now:  The main ingredients in popular ®Gerber Puffs are refined flour and sugar.  Reviewers tout: “You just peel off the top and pour when you need some pieces of food, then replace the cap and wait for the next feeding opportunity.” [Are we at the zoo?] “He would eat them all day long if I let him.” [This is not a benefit.  It means that the product is not nutritious enough to satisfy the child’s hunger.]

Beware not only of drinks that contain minimal amounts of juice, but also of juice itself.  Even 100% fruit juice is simply a concentrated sugar-delivery system.  A much better approach is to teach children to drink water when they are thirsty, (See my post entitled One Step at a Time) and to snack on fresh fruit when they are hungry.  Milk works, too, especially if they are both hungry and thirsty!

©2016, reprinted and updated from 2010 Roxanne B. Sukol, MD, MS

TeachMed, LLC


Reprinted with permission in edited form for Two Peds in a Pod

Roxanne B. Sukol, MD is a 1995 graduate of Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.  She is board-certified in Internal Medicine and practices Preventive Medicine in the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.  With special interests in the prevention and management of diabetes and obesity, Dr. Sukol writes the blog Your Health is on Your Plate .  Because her patients (the grown-ups) are the ones packing the school lunches for our patients, we thank her for this post.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD