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flu cartoon

“Now what kind of soup did the doctor recommend? Was that tomato soup? Mushroom barley?”

Happy New Year and welcome to Flu Season 2017! Parents ask us every day how they can tell if their child has the flu or just a common cold. Here’s how:

Colds, even really yucky ones, start out gradually. Think back to your last cold: first your throat felt scratchy or sore, then the next day your nose got stuffy or then started running profusely, then you developed a cough. Sometimes during a cold you get a fever for a few days. Sometimes you get hoarse and lose your voice. Kids are the same way. In addition, they often feel tired because of interrupted sleep from cough or nasal congestion. This tiredness leads to extra crankiness.

Usually kids still feel well enough to play and attend school with colds, as long as they well enough to participate. The average length of a cold is 7-10 days although sometimes it takes two weeks or more for all coughing and nasal congestion to resolve.

Important news flash about mucus: the mucus from a cold can be thick, thin, clear, yellow, green, or white, and can change from one to the other, all in the same cold. The color of mucus does NOT tell you if your child needs an antibiotic and will not help you differentiate between a cold and the flu.

The flu, caused by influenza virus, comes on suddenly and makes you feel as if you’ve been hit by a truck. Flu always causes fever of 101°F or higher and some respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, cough, or sore throat (many times, all three). Children, more often than adults, sometimes will vomit and have diarrhea along with their respiratory symptoms, but contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as “stomach flu.” In addition to the usual respiratory symptoms, the flu causes body aches, headaches, and often the sensation of your eyes burning. The fever usually lasts 5-7 days. All symptoms come on at once; there is nothing gradual about coming down with the flu.

So, if your child has a runny nose and cough, but is drinking well, playing well, sleeping well and does not have a fever and the symptoms have been around for a few days, the illness is unlikely to “turn into the flu.”

Remember: colds = gradual and annoying. Flu = sudden and miserable.

Fortunately, a vaccine against the flu is available for all kids over 6 months old (unfortunately, the vaccine isn’t effective in younger babies) that can prevent the misery of the flu. In addition, vaccines against influenza save lives by preventing flu-related complications that can be fatal such as pneumonia, encephalitis (brain infection), and severe dehydration.  Even though we are starting to see a lot of flu, it is not too late to get the flu vaccine for your child, so please schedule a flu vaccine ASAP if your child has not yet received one for this season. Parents and caregivers should also immunize themselves- we all know how well a household functions when Mom or Dad have the flu… not very well!

Be sure to read our guest article on ways to prevent colds and flu and our thoughts on over the counter cold medicines.  Now excuse us while we go out to buy yummy-smelling hand soap to entice our kids to wash germs off their hands. After that you’ll find us cooking up a pot of good old-fashioned chicken soup, just in case…

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
revised from our 2009 and 2015 posts

©2017 Two Peds in a Pod®

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As we think about how to keep our parenting New Year’s resolutions, we find interesting advice from a fellow board member of Happy Healthy Kids. In her new book, WHAT GREAT PARENTS DO: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive, Dr. Erica Reischer, a California based psychologist and parent educator cautions against motivating kids solely through reward economies such as sticker charts. — Drs. Lai and Kardos

Here’s an excerpt:

“REWARD ECONOMY” IS a term I coined for the arrangements that many parents make with their children to motivate “good” behavior, such as paying for chores or routinely using sticker charts that trade good behavior for prizes or rewards (even if the reward is something wholesome like books). I call them reward economies because they can create a transactional system in which children learn to trade their desirable behavior for a reward.

The problem with reward economies is not that they don’t usually work to produce the desired behavior-if you have the right reward, these systems often appear to work well. As research has shown, the problem is that, over time, reward economies may negatively affect children’s motivation and may also create an expectation in children that they should be compensated for activities that are part of being a responsible and helpful member of the family.

One telltale sign that you’ve inadvertently created a reward economy in your family: When you ask you kids to do something outside of their regular tasks and to-dos, such as “Please go fold the laundry,” and they reply, “What will you give me?” Another sign: You tell them you’ll give them a reward/prize/sticker if they do something like helping to clean the kitchen, and they respond, “No, thanks,” and don’t feel obliged to help since they aren’t accepting the “compensation” you are offering.

Although sticker charts and similar systems seem like a good solution in the short term—we get helpful and cooperative behavior—in the long term we may be inadvertently creating a bigger problem: children who see their role in the family as a job for which they receive compensation. Moreover, reward economies often don’t give children many opportunities to develop self-discipline and self-mastery, which are critical life skills.

You might be wondering what could possibly be motivating about many of the things we ask our kids to do: homework, chores, etc. My response is this: Kids who learn how to do what needs to be done—even if they don’t feel like doing it—develop a strong sense of autonomy, competence, and self-mastery. There are similar benefits for kids who learn how to stop themselves from doing something desirable in the here and now in order to achieve an even more desirable future outcome (e.g. delayed gratification, as with the well- known marshmallow study).

……

TRY THIS:

If you currently use sticker charts or similar reward systems, and you decide to stop, start by letting your kids know that you are going to make that change. (Sticker charts, however, can be used to good effect as a simple tracking chart, to help kids visualize their to-dos and track their progress. The key difference between a reward chart and a tracking chart is that the latter does not involve earning rewards. So kids might put a sticker on their chart to show that they finished cleaning their room, with the sticker being just a satisfying visual symbol of completion. ) If they are in the middle of earning something important to them, let them finish and get their prize (that is, follow through on the commitment you made to them when you offered the incentive).

Your primary tools for rewarding good behavior going forward will be your acknowledgment and praise. For tasks your kids don’t like or don’t want to do, use empathy, reason, and especially rehearsals.

If your kids seem to ignore you when you make a request, first be sure they have actually heard you. Give them a reason to go with your request and, if you have to ask a second time, add fair warning of consequences. Other useful tools are scaffolding and rehearsals. In scaffolding, parents provide support and assistance in many different areas of their children’s lives (scaffolding), while avoiding doing the work itself (building). You may also have to be more involved in following up.

For example: “Sweetie, in five minutes, it will be time to clean up your toys in the living room.” “Noooo… I don’t want to.” “I know you don’t want to, honey. You wish you could just keep playing (empathy). At the same time, we all share the house, so you need to do your part to keep it clean (request/reason).” “Nooo…” (Or silence/ignoring)

Now go over to your child and try to involve her in cleaning up. Try reframing to make the activity more appealing (e.g., sing a cleanup song or have a cleaning contest). If she still refuses to help, matter-of-factly restate your request, and then give fair warning of consequences.

“Honey, it’s time to clean up now. I know you would rather leave your toys on the floor. If you don’t help clean up, then I will keep the toys that I find in the living room for [insert appropriate time frame for your child’s age] since you aren’t being responsible for them (fair warning).”

If necessary, follow through on your consequence of keeping the toys for the time you specified.

To avoid a repeat of this situation in the future, stage a rehearsal with your child in which she will practice cleaning up in a “pretend” scenario.

If she does help, be enthusiastic and specific in your praise: “Look we did it and the living room looks so organized! Even though you didn’t want to clean up, I’m really proud of you for being a helper and putting all your cars in the box.” Remember to praise your child for any part that she did well, even if she didn’t meet all your expectations. Praise reinforces good behavior.

…………..
Rewards can, however, be useful occasionally for helping children reach milestones (such as toilet training) or for motivating them to participate in unpleasant activities (such as getting shots at the doctor’s office). The key is to avoid using rewards frequently or systematically as a way of managing the regular activities of family life, unless you are getting specific guidance from a professional to do so.

Erica Reischer, Ph.D.

Adapted from WHAT GREAT PARENTS DO: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive by Erica Reischer, Ph.D. © 2016 by Erica Reischer. TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Erica Reischer, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and parent educator who leads popular parenting classes and workshops at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Habitot Children’s Museum, and the University of California. Her writing about children and families appears in Psychology Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic.

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cold remedies

For kids over one year of age, the Honey Bear offers grrr-eat relief

So many children (and their parents) have colds now. Really yucky colds, often accompanied by fever. Take heart that it’s not quite flu season- the yearly flu epidemic has not yet fully hit the United States. Are you staring at the medicine display in the pharmacy, wondering which of the many cold medicines on the shelf will best help your ill child? How we wish we had a terrific medication recommendation for  treatment of a kid’s cold. Unfortunately, we do not. And antibiotics-as powerful as they can be at killing bacteria- do not cure colds, which are caused by viruses.

Watching your child suffer from a cold is tough. But why give something that doesn’t help her get better and has potential side effects?

Don’t despair, even if you can’t kill a cold virus, there are plenty of things you can do to make your child feel better:

  • -If she has a sore throat, sore nose, headache, or body aches, consider giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat the discomfort.
  • -Give honey for her cough and also to soothe her throat if she is over one year of age.
  • -Run a cool mist humidifier in her bedroom, use saline nose spray or washes, have her take a soothing, steamy shower, and teach her how to blow her nose.
  • -Break up that mucus by hydrating her well — give her a bit more than she normally drinks.
  • -For infants, help them blow their noses by using a bulb suction. However, be careful, over-zealous suctioning can lead to a torn-up nose and an overlying bacterial infection. Use a bulb suction only a few times a day.

The safety and effectiveness of cough and cold medicine has never been fully demonstrated in children.  In fact, in 2007 an advisory panel including American Academy of Pediatrics physicians, Poison Control representatives, and Baltimore Department of Public Health representatives recommended to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop use of cold and cough medications under six years of age.

Thousands of  children under twelve years of age go to emergency rooms each year after over dosing on cough and cold medicines according to a 2008 study in Pediatrics . Having these medicines around the house increases the chances of accidental overdosing. Cold medications do not kill germs and will not help your child get better faster. Between 1985 and 2007, six studies showed cold medications didn’t have significant effect over placebo.  

nasal bulb suction

The self billed “snot sucker” Nose Frida

So you can ignore the shelf of children’s cough and cold medicine. Instead,  buy saline nose drops or spray to help suffy noses, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), to treat discomfort, and fluids-  and yes, milk is ok during a cold– to prevent dehydration.

Fortunately, when your kids have a cold, unlike you, they can take as many naps as they want.

Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD

© 2016, modified from 2015, Two Peds in a Pod®

updated from our  2011 post

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Photo by Lexi Logan

Photo by Lexi Logan

Parents ask us about fever more than any other topic, so here is what every parent needs to know:

Fever is a sign of illness. Your body makes a fever in effort to heat up and kill germs without harming your body.

Here is what fever is NOT:

· Fever is NOT an illness or disease.

· Fever does NOT cause brain damage.

· Fever does NOT cause your blood to boil.

· Unlike in the movies and popular media, fever is NOT a cause for hysteria or ice baths.

· Fever is NOT a sign of teething.

Here is what fever IS:

· In many medical books, fever is a body temperature equal to or higher than 100.4 degrees Farenheit.

· Many pediatricians,  consider 101 degrees Farenheit or higher as the definition of fever once your child is over 2 months of age.

· Fever is a great defense against disease, and thus is a SIGN, or symptom, of an illness.

To understand fever, you need to understand how the immune system works.

Your body encounters a germ, usually in the form of a virus or bacteria, that it perceives to be harmful. Your brain sends a message to your body to HEAT UP, that is, make a fever, to kill the germs. Your body will never let the fever get high enough to harm itself or to cause brain damage. Only if your child is experiencing Heat Stroke (locked in a hot car in July, for example), or if your child already a specific kind of brain damage or nervous system damage (rare) can your child get hot enough to cause death.

When your body has succeeded in fighting the germ, the fever will go away. A fever reducing agent such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g. Motrin) will decrease temperature temporarily but fever WILL COME BACK if your body still needs to kill off more germs.

Symptoms of fever include: feeling very cold, feeling very hot, suffering from muscle aches, headaches, and/or shaking/shivering. Fever often suppresses appetite, but thirst should remain intact: drinking is very important with a fever.

Fever may be a sign of any illness. Your child may develop fever with cold viruses, the flu, stomach viruses, pneumonia, sinusitis, meningitis, appendicitis, measles, and countless other illnesses. The trick is knowing how to tell if your child is VERY ill or just having a simple illness with fever.

Here is how to tell if your child is VERY ill with fever vs not very ill:

Any temperature in your infant younger than 8 weeks old that is 100.4 (rectal temp) degrees or higher is a fever that needs immediate attention by a health care provider, even if your infant appears relatively well.

Any fever that is accompanied by moderate or severe pain, change in mental state (thinking), dehydration (not drinking enough, not urinating because of not drinking enough), increased work of breathing/shortness of breath, or new rash is a fever that NEEDS TO BE EVALUATED by your child’s doctor. In addition, a fever that lasts more than three to five days in a row, even if your child appears well, should prompt you to call your child’s health care provider. Recurring fevers should also be evaluated.

Should you treat fever? As we explained, fever is an important part of fighting germs. Therefore, we do NOT advocate treating fever UNLESS the side effects of the fever are causing harm. Reduce fever if it prevents your child from drinking or sleeping, or if body aches or headaches from fever are causing discomfort. If your child is drinking well, resting comfortably or playing, or sleeping soundly, then he is handling his fever just fine and does not need a fever reducing agent just for the sake of lowering the fever.

A note about febrile seizures (seizures with fever): Some unlucky children are prone to seizures with sudden temperature elevations. These are called febrile seizures. This tendency often runs in families and usually occurs between the ages of 6 months to 6 years. Febrile seizures last fewer than two minutes. They usually occur with the first temperature spike of an illness (before parents even realize a fever is present) and while scary to witness, do not cause brain damage. No study has shown that giving preventative fever reducer medicine decreases the risk of having a febrile seizure. As with any first time seizure, your child should be examined by a health care provider, even if you think your child had a simple febrile seizure.

Please see our “How sick is sick?” blog post for further information about how to tell when to call your child’s health care provider for illness.

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

© 2016, updated from 2013 Two Peds in a Pod®

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waxy earsBabies are gooey. Spew tends to dribble out of every orifice and the ear is no exception.

Devin’s mother tipped her four month old baby’s head sideways in the office the other day and asked me what to do about the oily, yellow wax smeared around the opening of his ear canal. Despite the copious amount of wax on the outside, Devin’s ear canals were clear. “But the wax is simply disgusting,” said Devin’s mom, “Can I clean his ears? “

If you can get the wax with a wash cloth, it’s fair game. Otherwise, leave it alone. It doesn’t matter if you use a wash cloth or cotton swab.  The special shaped cotton swabs with the safety tips are unnecessary. Rest assured, you will not go too deeply into the ear canal if you only scrape off what is visible.

Now suppose your pediatrician does say the wax should be removed. Place an over-the-counter solution such as Debrox in the ears (children and adults can use the same formulation) – three to four drops one or two times a day (during sleep is easiest for babies and toddlers) for a few days. The solution softens wax.  For maintenance, mineral oil and olive oil are favorite remedies. Place one drop daily in ears. In the office some pediatricians can use a water irrigation system (like a water squirter in your ear) to wash out the wax. The worst side effect is that the child’s shirt sometimes gets wet. Irrigation is a very effective for removing wax  in a school-aged or teenaged child who complains of difficulty hearing.

Some say wax evolved to help keep bugs and other debris from reaching deep into our ear canals. Case in point: one of my least favorite memories during residency is of picking out pieces of a cockroach entrapped in a child’s earwax!

Keep in mind the amount of wax you see on the outside of the ear is not indicative of the actual amount inside the ear canal. Chances are, the wax is not hard and does not block the ear drum. Even if there is a large amount of wax, it is unlikely to greatly affect a baby’s hearing unless the wax is stuck against the ear drum. Equally normal is that some babies and children don’t seem to produce any ear wax. If you are concerned about your child’s ear wax or about her hearing, have your pediatrician take a peek with a light.

If you find you are constantly cleaning your kid’s waxy ears, take heart. At least there won’t be any roaches “bugging” them.

Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD

©2011, 2016 Two Peds in a Pod®

PS: Medical vocabulary FYI: light used to look into ears= otoscope. Medical term for ear wax= cerumen.

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Nearly seven years ago, on the swimming pool bleachers at the local Y, I happened to sit next to Lexi Logan. Above the echoing din of kids splashing, I discovered that although she was trained as a painter, Lexi was interested in branching out into photography. Coincidentally, Dr Kardos and I were interested in branching medicine out into a new media called the internet and were dismayed at the lack of publicly available photos to accompany our blog posts. Lexi and I intersected in the right place at the right time. Since that chance meeting, Lexi has generosity shared dozens of photos with Two Peds in a Pod.

The woman in the photo below, between your Two Peds (Dr. Kardos with the curly hair, Dr. Lai with the straight hair), is our photographer extraordinaire, Lexi Logan. Her work, which you can check out at www.lexilogan.com,  speaks for itself.  Local peeps may want to contact her to take their own family photos.

This Thanksgiving we say thanks to all those parents we’ve ever sat next to on bleachers. All the kid-related information we have learned, from navigating chorus uniforms, bus stop times, best teachers, fun summer camps, and even starting up blogs, has been invaluable.

In particular- thank you, Lexi!

We wish all of our readers a very healthy and happy Thanksgiving,

Dr. Naline  Lai with Dr. Julie Kardos

©2016 Two Peds in a Pod®

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13-1When I was in first and second grade, I took “special gym.”

I attended a public school in a small New Jersey town. The school building was about 100 years old, and the “special services” that my school offered were speech, reading help, and special gym.

I remember being THRILLED that I was selected to take special gym, because instead of just one day a week of bouncing balls and running races and turning somersaults during the school day, I got to go twice a week. I remember how upbeat and energetic the gym teacher was, and how much fun she made these exercises. I do not recall such words as “physical therapy” or “occupational therapy.” In fact, I did not realize the true point of the extra gym days until many years later, when I was in college and reminiscing about elementary school and caught myself mid-sentence:

“Well, when I was in first grade, I took special gym… hey… WAIT a MINUTE….!”

That’s when I realized that I had been flagged with a coordination challenge. Unbeknownst to me, in school I went to physical therapy weekly.

Now that first-quarter parent teacher conferences are over, you may be surprised that your child has been offered special services by the school. Teachers spend hours a day with our kids and are experts in the age group that they teach. Not all kids are good at learning all subjects and not all are equally sociable or equally physically adept. When teachers ask a parent’s permission to supply extra help, parents should not take this request as an affront or attack on their parenting. Rather, it is an opportunity to help kids  succeed.

I was never suspicious about my inclusion in special gym. No one made fun of me for being in the class, and in fact many were jealous. Kids in early grades may be aware that some of their classmates come and go during the day, but they do not distinguish between kids pulled out for a gifted program from kids pulled out for remedial education. As an adult, I appreciate that my teachers made me feel good about being included in the special gym club.

I have a magnet on my car now that says, simply, “13.1,” which is the number of miles that I ran to complete the Trenton Half-Marathon this past October. Special gym did not hold me back—it propelled me forward. I had no idea that my participation in special gym was emotionally charged for my mom until after I called my dad to tell him my race time (2 hours, 11.5 minutes). Only then did he tell me how crushed my mom had been about my inclusion in special gym. I am grateful that she hid that from me.

My message: Let your kids get extra help in school, allow them to be pulled out of a class they are failing and placed into an environment where they can learn and overcome challenges. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of the child you may have pictured. But know this: young children do not have enough life experience to independently think of themselves as failures in the early school years. They look to adults who are important to them for how to respond to challenges and frustration. Encourage them with the positive message that they will receive extra attention and extra time to work at reading or math or physical skills or speech skills. Who knows? They may become the kid who applies to medical school or runs a marathon (or a half-marathon) someday.

Julie Kardos, MD

©2016 Two Peds in a Pod®

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sore throat

Many times parents bring their children with sore throats to our office to “check if it’s strep.” Some are disappointed to find out that their child does NOT have strep. Moms and Dads lament, “But what can I do for him if he can’t have an antibiotic? At least strep is treatable.”

Take heart. Strep or no strep, there are many ways to soothe your child’s sore throat:

  • Give  pain medication such as acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) or ibuprofen (brand names Advil or Motrin).  Do not withhold  pain medicine before you bring her in to see her pediatrician. Too many times we hear parents say, “We wanted you to see how much pain she is in.” No need for this! Pediatricians are all in favor of treating pain as quickly and effectively as possible. Pain medicine will not interfere with physical exam findings nor will it interfere with strep test results.
  • Give lots to drink. Some kids prefer very cold beverages, others like warm tea or milk. Avoid citrus juices since they sometimes sting sore throats.  Frozen Slurpies or milkshakes, on the other hand, feel great on sore throats. Tell your child that the first three sips of a very cold drink may hurt, but then the liquid will start to soothe the throat. Watch for signs of dehydration including dry lips and mouth, no tears on crying, urination less than every six hours, and lethargy.
  • Provide soft foods if your child is hungry. For example, noodles feel better than a hamburger on a sore throat. And ice-cream or sherbet therapy is effective as well.
  • Try honey (if your child is older than one year) – one to two teaspoons three times a day. Not only can it soothe a sore throat but also it might quiet the cough that often accompanies a sore throat virus. Give it alone or mix it into milk or tea.
  • Kids older than three years who don’t choke easily can suck on lozenges containing pectin or menthol for relief. Warning: kids sucking on lozenges may dupe themselves into thinking they are hydrating themselves. They still need to drink to stay hydrated.
  • Salt water gargles are an age-old remedy.  Mix 1 teaspoon of salt in 6 ounces of warm water and have your kid gargle three times a day.
  • Magic mouthwash: For those older than 2 years of age, mix 1/2 teaspoon of liquid diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl 12.5mg/5ml) with 1/2 teaspoon of Maalox Advanced Regular Strength Liquid (ingredients: aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide 200 mg, and simethicone) and give a couple time a day to coat the back fo the throat prior to meals. The Maalox coats the throat and the benedryl acts as a weak topical anesthetic (pain reliever). Do not use the Maalox formulation which contains bismuth subsalicylate because bismuth subsalicylate is an aspirin derivative, and aspirin is linked to Reye’s syndrome.
  • For kids three years and older, try throat sprays containing phenol (brand name Baker’s P&S and Chloraseptic® Spray for Kids). Use as directed.

 

Strep throat typically does not cause a bad cough,  profuse runny nose, ulcers in the throat, or laryngitis. If your child has these other symptoms in addition to her sore throat, you can be fairly sure that she does NOT have strep. For a better understanding of strep throat see our posts: “Strep throat Part 1: what is it, who gets it and why do we care about it” and “Strep throat Part 2: diagnosis, treatment, and when to worry.”

The following are each a very important sign that a child with a sore throat needs to see a doctor for further evaluation:

1-can’t swallow (kids might even spit out their own saliva)

2-can’t open his mouth fully

3- hurts so much that the pain is not alleviated with the above measures in this post

4- presence of fever 101F or higher for more than 3-4 days

5-is accompanied by a new rash

Please also see our prior post on how to tell if you need to call your child’s doctor for illness.

 Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD

©2016, 2015, 2012 Two Peds in a Pod®t

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photo by Lexi Logan

photo by Lexi Logan

Can you identify your child in any of these scenarios?

-Your second grader comes off the school bus crying because another student was teasing him the entire ride home about his new glasses.
-Your fifth grader was punched on the school yard by a sixth grader and none of the playground teachers saw it happen. Your child’s friend shoved the older child off your child before more damage was done.
-Your ninth grader keeps missing the school bus so you have to drive her to school.  When she comes home from school she uses the bathroom immediately. You find out she avoids the bus and the school bathroom because kids make fun of her in both places.

Whatever your child’s age, when you realize he or she is being bullied you will be outraged. In fact you might be tempted to retaliate against the bully yourself. However, here are more appropriate ways to help your child.

Bullying should never be tolerated. Teach your child how to directly deal with a bully, but be quick to talk also to the adult supervising your child when the bullying occurs. Your child should always feel safe in school, day camp, on a sports team, or any other adult-supervised activity.

Bullies are always in a position of power over their victims; either they are physically larger, older, or more socially popular. Teach your child first to try a strong verbal response (talk) such as “STOP talking to me that way!” or “Don’t DO that to me!” Speaking strongly and looking the bully in the eye may take away some of the bully’s power as well as attract attention of nearby peers or adults who can help your child.

Teach your child to walk away from a fight. Tell him to keep on walking toward a teacher, a classroom, a peer, or anyone else who can offer safety from a bully. Train him to breathe deeply/ignore/de-escalate situations to diffuse a bully’s anger.

Have your child tell a teacher, camp counselor, coach, or other supervising adult about the abuse (squawk) as soon as it occurs. Always encourage your children to talk to you as well. Remember at home to ask your child questions such as “How is school,” “How are your friends,” “Do you know any kids who are being bullied?,” and “Are YOU being bullied?” Dr. Lai always advises her patients to tell as many different adults as possible if he is not feeling safe. Even if one adult is unsure of how to help, sooner or later some one will.

If your child says he is angry at a friend or a classmate, be sure to ask questions that encourage your child to elaborate, such as “Oh, what happened?” or “Did something happen between you?” Listen carefully to his response. He may be taking out his anger at a bully on his own friends. This response is in retaliation for his friend’s failure to protect him from a bully. Also, is your child becoming more reluctant to attend school, “missing” the bus more often and thus requiring a ride, or acting angry or sad more often? Kids who are victims of bullying can act like this.

In school, once you are aware that your child is a victim, talk not only to your child about how she should handle a bully but also alert your child’s teacher and/or school principal about the situation (support). You should tell them in your child’s words what happened, what was said, and be clear that you are asking for more supervision so that the bully has less access to your child. Ask for more supervision during times when there is usually less adult presence such as in the lunchroom or on the schoolyard. Your school may already have a “no bullying” policy. Often, the aggressor gets the heavier consequence in the event of a conflict.  Again, children have a right to feel safe in school.

Restore your child’s self-confidence. Bullies pick on kids who are smaller and weaker than they are, physically as well as psychologically. So your child has more positive experiences with kids who do not bully, encourage your child to invite friends over to your home or host a fun group activity (kickball game in your backyard, show a movie/supply popcorn, etc.). Do family activities and show your child that you enjoy spending time with him. Enroll your child in activities that increase his self esteem such as karate, sports, or music lessons.  A child who feels good about himself “walks taller” and is less likely to attract a bully

As a parent, you might read this post and think, “Yes, but I’d rather just teach my child to take revenge.” Unfortunately, escalating the situation only breeds anger and in fact may get your child into trouble. Rather than “hate” the bully, help your child see that a bully deep down feels insecure. A bully resorts to making himself feel better by making others feel bad. Teach your child to pity the bully. With your guidance, your child will project self-confidence and a bully will never, ever, be able to touch him.

While the topic of cyper-bullying could occupy an entire separate post, we just want to alert you to the power that social media has over our kids as well. Ask your kids and teens directly about bullying that occurs on-line just as you would ask about bullying at school. Virtual bullying, unfortunately, is just as potentially harmful as in-person bulling, and is a known risk factor for teen suicide. Remind your children how important it is to refrain from revenge: better to disengage from social media than to respond to on-line bullying because your child will leave a permanent footprint on their on-line presence. Lay down the general rule of never posting anything negative (even a simple “dislike”) online.

Help your child talk, walk, squawk and seek support. All kids deserve to feel secure in themselves and in the world around them.

Additional resources:

The American Academy of Pediatrics

Stopbullying.gov—Bully prevention site managed by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Cyberbullying Research Center—an organization dedicating to providing up to date information on cyberbullying

Teaching tolerance— a site where parents and educators can learn ways to foster tolerance

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
© 2016, 2010  Two Peds in a Pod®

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