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flu vaccine update

“What? The flu vaccine again? We JUST got it,” our kids groaned when we told them it was time to get their flu vaccines. In fact, they “just got it” a year ago, which we pointed out to them. Read on to see updates on this year’s flu vaccine and why it  should be on your child’s back to school to do list. 

This year’s flu vaccine is slightly different from last year’s– it’s been changed to cover a different strain of circulating H1N1 influenza. Several flu vaccines have been FDA approved for this year’s flu season and all of them will give similar protection for your child. Make sure your child receives a flu shot and NOT the FluMist/spray-in-the-nose kind of vaccine. Unfortunately for those who are needle phobic, the FluMist has not been shown to be effective and therefore, while still licensed, is NOT recommended for use this year.

The flu vaccine is recommended for all kids six months of age and older, with very few exceptions. Even pregnant moms safely can receive the flu vaccine.

Too early for flu vaccine? Nope! Older adults might lose some immunity if vaccinated “too soon” in the season, but this observation is not born out in kids. The threat of incomplete or forgotten vaccine outweighs theoretical risk of delaying flu vaccine (even for older adults), so best to get it now.

In case you forgot, the flu is a week of misery, consisting of high fevers, cough and other respiratory symptoms, body aches, and headaches. Younger kids are prone to some diarrhea or vomiting or both along with these bad cold symptoms. The flu can cause dehydration and pneumonia, and sometimes death, even in previously healthy kids. Simply limiting your child’s exposure to people showing flu symptoms is not an effective way of preventing illness because people are the most contagious right before they show any symptoms.

Booster dose As in previous years, children under nine years of age need a booster dose the first year they receive the vaccine. If your young child should have received a booster dose last year, but missed it, they will receive two doses of this year’s vaccine spaced one month apart (the primary dose plus a booster dose).

This prior post teaches you how to tell if your kid has flu vs “just” a cold. We invite you to read more about this year’s flu vaccine on the Centers for Disease Control website here.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai MD
©2017 Two Peds in a Pod®

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Whether your child is about to start kindergarten or college, we invite you to read Dr. Lai’s letter she wrote to her first born the night before she started kindergarten. Spoiler: You might want to grab a tissue.

My Child,

As we sit, the night before kindergarten, your toes peeking out from under the comforter, I notice that your toes are not so little anymore.

Tomorrow those toes will step up onto to the bus and carry you away from me. Another step towards independence. Another step to a place where I can protect you less. But I do notice that those toes have feet and legs which are getting stronger. You’re not as wobbly as you used to be. Each time you take a step you seem to go farther and farther.

I trust that you will remember what I’ve taught you. Look both ways before you cross the street, chose friends who are nice to you, and whatever happens don’t eat yellow snow. I also trust that there are other eyes and hearts who will watch and guide you.

But that won’t stop me from worrying about each step you take.

Won’t stop me from holding my breath­.

Just like when you first started to walk, I’ll always worry when you falter.

I smile because I know you’ll hop up onto the bus tomorrow, proud as punch, laughing and disappearing in a sea of waving hands. I just hope that at some point, those independent feet will proudly walk back and stand beside me. Maybe it will be when you first gaze into your newborn’s eyes, or maybe it will be when your child climbs onto the bus for the first time.

Until then, I hold my breath each time you take a step.

Love,
Mommy

Naline Lai, MD

©2017 Two Peds in a Pod®, reposted from original 2009

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Great-horned owl, NPS Photo, Big Bend National Park

Okay, we admit it: our kids are still in their summertime sleep mode of stay up late/sleep late. With school starting soon, many of us now have to shift our children from summer to school year sleep schedules. Because school start times are constant (and early), the kids will have an easier time if you help them shift their bedtimes gradually over the period of a week or two toward the desired earlier bedtime. Remember, the average school-aged child needs 10-11 hours of sleep at night and even teenagers function optimally with  9-10 hours of slumber per night.

Here are some straight forward ways to help ensure good quality sleep for your child:

  1. Keep sleep onset and wake up times as consistent as possible 7 days a week. If you allow your child to “sleep in” during the weekends, she will have difficulty falling asleep earlier on Sunday night, have difficulty waking up Monday morning, and start off her week over-tired, more cranky, and less able to process new information—not good for learning. That said, you can allow your teens, who generally have a much earlier school start time than their biological clocks desire, to sleep in an hour or so on weekends to catch up on sleep.
  2. Limit or eliminate caffeine intake. Often teens who feel too sleepy from lack of sleep drink tea, coffee, “energy drinks” or other caffeine laden beverage in attempt to self-medicate in order to concentrate better. What many people don’t realize is that caffeine stays in your body for 24 hours so it is entirely possible that the caffeine ingested in the morning can be the reason your child can’t fall asleep later that night. Know also that kids who drink “pre-work out” drinks may not realize that caffeine is one of the ingredients. Better to pre-hydrate with water. Caffeine can have side effects of jitteriness, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, and gastro-esophageal reflux (heartburn). If your child already has a daily ice-tea, coffee, or other caffeine containing drink, let her wean down gradually- abrupt caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches.
  3. Keep a good bedtime routine. Just as a soothing, predictable bedtime ritual can help babies and toddlers settle down for the night, so too can a bedtime routine help prepare older kids for sleep. Prevent your child from doing homework on his bed- better to associate work with a desk or the kitchen table and his bed with sleep.
  4. Avoid TV/computer/ screen time/smart phones just before bed. Although your child may claim the contrary, watching TV is known to delay sleep onset. We highly recommend no TV in a child’s bedroom, and suggest that parents confiscate all cell phones and electronic toys, which kids may otherwise hide and use without parent knowledge, by one hour prior to bedtime. Quiet activities such as taking a bath, reading for pleasure, and listening to music are all known to promote falling asleep. Just be sure your kids put down the book, turn off the music, and turn off the light to allow time to relax in their beds and fall asleep. Many use this time for prayer or meditation.
  5. Encourage regular exercise. Kids who exercise daily have an easier time falling asleep at night than kids who don’t exercise. Gym class counts. So does playing outside, dancing, walking, and taking a bike ride. Participating in a team sport with daily practices not only helps insure better sleep but also has the added benefit of promoting social interactions

Getting enough sleep is important for your child’s academic success as well as for their mental health. We pediatricians have had parents ask about evaluating their children for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder because of an inability to pay attention, only to find  that their youngster’s focusing issues stem from tiredness. Teens are often so over-involved in activities that they average 6 hours of sleep or less per night. Increasing the amount of sleep in these kids can alleviate their attention problems and resolve their hyperactivity.

Additionally, sleep deprivation can cause symptoms of depression. Just recall the first few weeks of having a newborn:  maybe you didn’t think you were depressed but didn’t you cry from sheer exhaustion at least once? A cranky kid or sullen teen may become much more upbeat and pleasant if they get an extra hour of sleep each night.

Unfortunately for children, the older they get, their natural circadian rhythm shifts them toward the “night owl” mode of staying up later and sleeping later, and yet the higher-up years in school start earlier so that teens in high school start school earliest at a time their bodies crave sleeping late. A few school districts in the country have experimented with starting high school later and grade school earlier and have met with good success. Unless you live in one of these districts, however, your teens need to conform until they either go to college and when they can  choose classes that start later in the day or choose a job that allows them to stay up later and sleep later in the day.

For kids of all ages, a night time ritual of “tell me about your day” can help kids decompress, help them fall asleep, and keep you connected with your child.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
©2017 Two Peds in a Pod®, updated from 2009, 2016

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helicopter parents

photo by Lexi Logan www.LexiLogan.com

 

Dr. Lai was shocked when she saw her first child, at age 2 ½ years, pour water out of a small pitcher into her own cup at daycare.  At home it never occurred to Dr. Lai to let her try.

When can you start letting your kids do things for themselves? While there is not a lot of hard data on this, developmentally your kids may be more capable than you think.

Eating/self feeding:
-with hands: 9 months
-with spoon/fork: 18 months
–with chopsticks: 4 years

Pour own cereal and milk: 5 years but expect some spills

Cook a meal or at least start to cook a meal on their own: around age 12 +/- 2.5 years per 2007 survey of American pediatricians. In fact, kids are allowed to participate in the TV show Chopped Junior at age nine.

Brush teeth:
Toddlers: kids take a turn, then parents take turn.
Preschool/early school aged kids: parents continue to inspect and may continue to take a turn
Again, according to the 2007 pediatrician survey, around age 8 years is when kids can do complete oral care on their own.

Pee/Poop:
5 years-Kindergarteners should be able to independently go to the bathroom. That includes undressing, using toilet/wiping, redressing, and washing hands. Unfortunately, they may still not be great at wiping- this is one reason for daily baths/showers at this age.

Completely dress/undress including zippers and buttons: 5 years. But don’t necessarily expect matching colors – some adults never even learn this skill!

Tie shoes: 4-6 years.

Medical and emergency care

Self-injectable epinephrine (brand names Epi-pen, AuviQ): 12-14 years – per survey of 88 allergists.

Diabetes self care: kids around age 7 have the fine motor coordination needed to inject insulin and check blood sugar under supervision of an adult.

Come home to an empty house:
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 11-12 year olds can come home to an empty house after school if:
-Daytime
-Not alone for longer than 2-3 hours
-Depends on safety of neighborhood
-Depends on other neighbors nearby who could help in an emergency
-Child should know how to answer phone, what to do in the event of fire, knows how to access the home’s water shut-off, can handle a medical emergency, knows where first aid kit is, and knows the name of pediatrician, preferred hospital, insurance, and how to contact parent

Babysit:
Recommendations vary and while there are no specific laws, there are plenty of state guidelines and recommendations. Ultimately, parents are responsible for who cares for their kids when the parents are not present. The American Red Cross offers an on-line babysitting course for kids starting at age 11 years.

So teach your children how to take care of themselves well, for their own sake and for yours. Remember, they will be the ones caring for you in your old age.

Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD
Ⓒ2017 Two Peds in a PodⓇ

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Teach your child to recognize poison ivy: “leaves of three, let’em be!”

Recently we’ve had a parade of itchy children troop through our office.  The culprit: poison ivy.

Myth buster: Fortunately, poison ivy is NOT contagious. You can catch poison ivy ONLY from the plant, not from another person.

Another myth buster: You can not spread poison ivy on yourself through scratching.  However, where  the poison (oil) has touched  your skin, your skin can show a delayed reaction- sometimes up to two weeks later.  Different  areas of skin can react at different times, thus giving the illusion of a spreading rash.

Some home remedies for the itch:

Hopping into the shower and rinsing off within fifteen minutes of exposure can curtail the reaction.  Warning, a bath immediately after exposure may cause the oils to simply swirl around the bathtub and touch new places on your child.

Hydrocortisone 1%-  This is a mild topical steroid which decreases inflammation.  We suggest the ointment- more staying power and unlike the cream will not sting on open areas, use up to four times a day

Calamine lotion – a.k.a. the pink stuff- This is an active ingredient in many of the combination creams.  Apply as many times as you like.

Diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl)- take orally up to every six hours. If this makes your child too sleepy, once a day Cetirizine (brand name Zyrtec) also has very good anti-itch properties.

Oatmeal baths – Crush oatmeal, place in old hosiery, tie it off and float in the bathtub- this will prevent oat meal from clogging up your bath tub. Alternatively buy the commercial ones (e.g. Aveeno)

Do not use alcohol or bleach– these items will irritate the rash more than help

The biggest worry with poison ivy rashes is the chance of infection.  Just like with an itchy insect bite, with each scratch, your child is possibly introducing  infection into an open wound.  Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between an allergic reaction to poison ivy and an infection.  Both are red, both can be warm, both can be swollen.

However, infections cause pain – if there is pain associated with a poison ivy rash, think infection.  Allergic reactions cause itchiness- if there is itchiness associated with a rash, think allergic reaction.  Because it usually takes time for an infection to “settle in,” an infection will not occur immediately after an exposure to poison ivy.  Infection usually occurs on the 2nd or 3rd day of scratching.  If you have any concerns take your child to her doctor.

Generally, any poison ivy rash which is in the area of the eye or genitals (difficult to apply topical remedies), appears infected, or is just plain making your child miserable needs medical attention.

When all else fails, comfort yourself with this statistic: up to 85% of people are allergic to poison ivy.  If misery loves company, your child certainly has company.

Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD
©2017, 2016, 2015 Two Peds in a Pod®, updated from 2012

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eight year old development

Photo by Lexi Logan

Happy 8th Birthday Two Peds in a Pod!

If our blog had a “face” we would put a party hat on a smiling head with disproportionately large emerging adult teeth and a body with gangly legs and arms.  In honor of our blog’s eighth birthday  (read our very first post here) today’s post celebrates your eight-year-old.

Typical eight-year-olds are no longer squishy-faced babies and no longer adoring young elementary school students who still think of their parents as heroes. Now you have an emerging friend-seeking, active child.

Eight-year-olds understand logic and are less apt to believe in “real” magic but are interested in spotting the “trick.” Parents may find that eight is the year that their child stops believing in Santa or the tooth fairy. If they do believe in Santa, expect them to question how Santa reaches all the children in one night, or how he can fit down a chimney.

This is an academic leap year. There is less hand holding in school. The switch-over from “learning how to read” to “reading in order to learn”  begins. Instead of rote memorization of individual words, reading comprehension increases and children now gain knowledge from books. Some eight-year-olds may prefer to read to themselves before bedtime because they can read to themselves faster than you can read to them. Even if they are reading on their own, continue to share books together at bedtime.  For many kids, this is the age when they begin to struggle academically if they have a previously unrecognized learning disability.

Eight-year-olds begin to notice kids who stand out, especially kids who act or look different from the other kids, and can be cruel with their observations and exclusions. Teach your child about differences and the importance of tolerance. As Dr. Lai tells her kids, “You don’t have to be friends with everyone, you just have to be nice.”

The long march through adolescence starts now. Some girls start to show the initial  sign of puberty called breast-budding (chest development). Teach your daughters about periods at this age because some girls begin to menstruate in the next couple of years, and girls who are caught unawares can become quite frightened by unexpected blood coming out of them. You can refresh your memories and check your facts about periods from our prior post on this subject.

Many eight-year-olds, even those who seem years away from puberty, become stinky. Trust us, you will notice, and so will others, so encourage them to wash their entire body, INCLUDING ARMPITS, every day WITH SOAP and to use deodorant daily. We do not have a favorite brand but you could look initially for a deodorant alone rather a deodorant/antiperspirant combination product as they may irritate young skin. Note that even though they may smell like adults, their brains are only eight years old, so you will have to remind your eight-year-olds to use the deodorant. One trick is to keep the deodorant next to the toothbrush so when they brush their teeth every morning, they will remember to incorporate deodorant into their morning routine.

Other self-care tasks also will need reminders. After years of tracking your child’s pee and poop pattern, you now probably don’t know when the last time your child moved her bowels. No need to follow your child into the bathroom, but every once in a while ask about their bowel and bladder habits. During the school year, be aware that eight-year-olds may avoid school bathrooms and don’t urinate all day, which can lead to problems with leaking urine (accidents) and urinary tract infections.

Eight-year-olds continue to  improve their concentration spans and have a greater interest in learning new skills. For many, this is the age of active sport participation (playing “real” sports games), the start of learning a musical instrument or foreign language, and club participation such as 4H or scouts. Some eight-year-olds begin to spend many hours a week in a chosen activity such as gymnastics (however, please note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against home trampolines for all kids). Eight years is when they can handle the toys and art equipment that are labeled “for eight and above.” You will be impressed at the attention to detail that an eight-year-old can display in art projects.

Children this age often prefer to spend time with a friend rather than a younger sibling or parents. It is fun and also good for self-esteem for your child to host a friend at your home and to spend time with friends at their homes. While eight-year-olds are fully capable of entertaining themselves, they still require adult supervision, even if that supervision is from another room or floor of the house. Eight-year-olds do not yet need their own phones: an adult should always be present in case trouble arises. However, it is appropriate to teach your eight-year-old to use a phone and to arrange a get-together or a car pool after first checking with parents. Screen-addiction (to television, computers, and hand-held devices) starts early; set screen time rules now so that you won’t be frustrated later.

Speaking of self-reliance, by all means teach your eight-year-old to cook a simple meal, use the microwave and toaster oven, set and clear the table, do dishes, load and unload a dishwasher and washing machine, and take out the trash. Again, parents should supervise, but the goal is to create an independent adult. Eight-year-old egos enjoy a good boost when you acknowledge their increased sense of responsibility and contributions to running the household.

Last tip: if you are driving your child and an eight-year-old friend, be sure to have enough booster seats in the car for everyone (US law requires booster seats through age 8 years-see our post on car safety).

Yes, eight is great, and Two Peds is thrilled to celebrate this birthday.  Your eight-year-old celebrates this birthday smack dab in the middle of the “golden years” of parenting. During these years, they are too young to drive and too old to take a nap. The typical blog lasts less than 6 months, so keep us going by reading, sharing, sending us your post ideas, and inviting us to speak (twopedsinapod@gmail.com). Our information is only good if others read it and share it! Please “follow” us on Facebook, tweet about us, email subscribe, and continue to get the word out. Pediatric colleagues: we welcome guest bloggers, so if you have something to share that we haven’t already said, please contribute.

Cheers,
Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
Ⓒ2017 Two Peds in a PodⓇ

 

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This photo above is a horrific yet terrific reminder of why we strap our kids into car seats. This child was buckled into a car seat when the unthinkable happened— a potentially lethal car accident. As you can see, the child’s bruises directly line up with properly-applied car seat restraints. Thankfully, the injuries to this child are only skin-deep. On the other hand, the photo below shows what happened to the car.

Please remember always to travel with your children properly restrained.

For maximum safety in cars:

  • Keep children in rear facing car seats until age two years. Usually they will outgrow the baby car seat that you brought them home in and you will need to install a new rear facing car seat before they reach two years.  Check the weight/height limits for the seat.
  • Keep them in the car seat until age five years, or until they outgrow the weight or height limits set forth by the car seat manufacturer.
  • Use a booster until your children are 4 feet 9 inches or until the car’s shoulder seatbelt falls naturally across the chest (not the neck) and the lap belt lies low across their hip bones (some kids are in boosters to age 10 years and beyond).
  • Keep infants and children in the back seat until at least age 13 years.
  • Don’t drive while distracted or sleep deprived. Children learn from watching their parents. Emulate now the way you want your 16-year- old to drive.

Your can read more details on car seats and seat belts on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website here.

Read about guidelines for child safety restraints on airplanes here.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

© 2017 Two Peds in a Pod®, photos used with permission

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These lucky fish don't have to worry about swimmer's ear... they don't have any ears!

These lucky fish don’t have to worry about swimmer’s ear… they don’t have any ears! –Photo by Dirk Peterson, MD

It’s the type of ear pain that usually creeps up on a school-aged summer camper. One night he may notice discomfort when his ear is against his  pillow. The next night, the pain gets worse. Eventually, even touching the ear is painful. The ear is probably infected, but infected with “the other kind” of ear infection—swimmer’s ear.

Ear infections are divided into two main types: swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) and middle ear infections (otitis media). An understanding of the anatomy of the ear is important to understanding the differences between the two types of infection.  Imagine you are walking into someone’s ear. When you first enter, you will be in a long tunnel. Keep walking and you will be faced with a closed door. The tunnel is called the external ear canal and the door is called the ear drum.

Swimmer’s ear occurs in the ear canal. Dampness from water, and it can be water from any source- not just the pool, sits in the ear canal and promotes bacterial infection.  

Next, open the door. You will find yourself in a room with a set of three bones. Another closed door lies at the far end.  Look down.  In the floor of the room there is an opening to a drainage pipe. This room is called the middle ear. This is where middle ear infections occur.

During a middle ear infection, fluid, such as during a cold, can collect in the room and promote bacterial infection.  Think of the sensation of clogged ears when you have a cold. Usually the drainage pipe, called the eustachian tube,  drains the fluid.  But, if the drain is not working well, or is overwhelmed, fluid gets stuck in the middle ear and become infected. 

Because a swimmer’s ear infection occurs in the external canal, the hallmark symptom of swimmer’s ear is pain produced by pulling the outside of the ear.  Since middle ear infections occur farther down in the ear, pain is not reproduced by pulling on the outer ear.

Swimmer’s ear is treated topically by your doctor with antibiotic drops.  To avoid dizziness and discomfort when putting drops in, first bring the ear drop medicine up to body temp by holding the bottle in your hand.

Home remedies to prevent swimmer’s ear:

  • After immersion in the water, tilt your child’s head to the side and towel dry what leaks out.
  • Mix rubbing alcohol and vinegar in equal parts. After swimming, place a couple drops in the ear.  Do not put these drops in if there is a hole in your child’s eardrum. 
  • Prior to swimming put a drop of mineral oil or olive oil in each ear. This serves as a barrier protection against the water as well an ear wax softener. Do not put in if there is a hole in your child’s eardrum.

Although it’s tough to remind children to dry their ears well, take heart.  Dr. Lai once spent two hours trying to get a cockroach out of a child’s ear canal.   We  suspect those parents would have been happier if instead, water had gotten into their child’s ear.

Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD

©2017 Two Peds in a Pod® 
updated from 2016

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father's day cartoonA few years ago, we asked our dad readers to help us write our Father’s Day post.  We thought you would enjoy hearing from them again. The dads completed this thought: “Before I became a dad, I never thought I’d…”

…Learn to curl hair for cheerleading competitions

 

…BE RESPONSIBLE

 

…Become a stay at home dad AND love it so much after everything I’ve been through!!

 

…Learn all of the names of Thomas The Tank Engine’s friends and the many songs associated with them.

 

…Have a toys r us in my house.

 

…Go food shopping at midnight.

…Make so many pancakes on Sunday mornings.

…Volunteer in a dunk tank and have pie thrown at me.

 

One of our readers summed up his thoughts on becoming a dad:

Since I’ve become a father, nearly seven years and two beautiful daughters later, my life has become a series of jobs that I never thought I would have to tackle. These include:

Beautician: I never thought in a million years that I would be learning how to do pony tails, side pony’s, braids (not that I can braid yet), and painting little finger and toe nails.

Disney Princess Aficionado: At one point in my life I thought I was cool because I knew a lot about beer, how it was made, where it was from, where the best IPA’s were being poured. Now I am “cool” because I know where Mulan lived, and because I know the story about Ariel falling in love with Prince Eric.

Doctor: I am well versed here and can cover almost everything from the simple band-aid application and boo-boo kissing, to the complex answering of why daddy is different and why he gets to go to the bathroom standing up.

Cheerleader: Both of my daughters enjoy participating in sports. It’s been such a great experience to cheer them both on from the side line. I enjoy watching them grow with the sport and gain confidence game after game.

Becoming a father was one of the best choices I have made with my life. I love being a dad, and I look forward to the future dad challenges, good and bad, and being the best mentor I can be.

Thank you to our readers for contributing to this post.

Happy Father’s Day!

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

©2014, 2017 Two Peds in a Pod®

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how to breech the topic of suicide

“Hi, it’s me, Hannah.  Hannah Baker.” So begins the first episode of 13 Reasons Why, a thirteen installment Netflix series that focuses on the aftermath of the suicide of a 17-year-old high school student.  Based on the novel by Jay Asher, the series has sparked quite a bit of debate and concern among parents and mental health professionals.  At its best, the series has served as a conversation starter; at its worst, it has glamorized suicide and the fantasy of revenge.  At the end of the day, however, an important question remains:  How do we talk with our kids about suicide?  While many difficult topics have become increasingly safer to discuss, suicide is one that is still shrouded in secrecy and shame. In fact, it is so difficult to talk about that I had a hard time writing this post.  Finding the right words about something that often remains unspoken is not an easy task.  So if circumstances require it, how are we to explain suicide to our children?

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, research has shown that over 90% of people who died by suicide had a diagnosable, though not always identified, brain illness at the time of their death.  Most often this illness was depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, and was complicated by substance use and abuse.  Just as people die from physical illnesses, they can die as the result of emotional ones.  If we can change the narrative about suicide from talking about it as a weakness or character flaw to the unfortunate outcome of a serious, diagnosable, and treatable illness, then it will become easier for us to speak with honesty and compassion.

Telling the truth about any death is important. While it is natural for us adults to want to protect our children from pain, shielding them from the truth or outright lying will undermine their trust and can create a culture of secrecy and shame that can transcend generations.  We can protect our children best by offering comfort, reassurance, and simple, honest answers to their questions. It is important to recognize that we adults typically offer more information than our children require.  We should start by offering basic information, then let them take the lead on how much they actually want to know.

For young children, your statements may look something like this: “You have seen me crying, that is because I am sad because Uncle Joe has died.”  They may not even ask how the death occurred, but if they do, you can say “He died by suicide. That means he killed himself.”  The rest of the conversation will depend on the child’s response.  With older children, the narrative can follow a similar theme yet use more sophisticated language.  The older the child, the more likely they are to ask direct questions.  Some examples of honest answers are “Do you know how people have illness in their bodies, like when Grandma had a heart attack and our neighbor had cancer?  People can get illness in their brains too, and when that happens, they feel confused, hopeless, and make bad decisions. Uncle Joe didn’t know how to get himself help to stop the pain.”  If they ask how the suicide occurred, you can say “With a gun” or “She cut herself.”  Sometimes you will have to say “I don’t know. I wish I knew the answer.”  Whatever the age of your child, do your best to use simple, truthful language.

Regardless of age, children converse about and process death differently than adults.  If you tell your child about a suicide, it is likely that he/she will want to talk about multiple times over the course of days, weeks, or even years.  Keep the dialogue open, and check in with them periodically if they have questions.  If you find that you or your family is in need of the support of a professional, you might want to consider a bereavement group or a trained professional who specializes in grief.  These resources are available through online directories, local hospitals, and the Psychology Today therapist finder.  Overall, be aware that providing truthful information, encouraging questions, and offering loving reassurance to your children can allow your family to find the strength to cope with terrible loss.

(Excerpts taken from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s “Talking to Children about Suicide”, www.afsp.org.)

Links:

Sesame Sreet Workshop’s When Families Grieve
The Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Hands Holding Hearts (Bucks County, PA)
The Jed Foundation

Dina Ricciardi, LSW, ACSW

©2017 Two Peds in a Pod®

Guest blogger 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.

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