Monthly Archives: April 2014

Stress test: Helping kids lessen testing anxiety


To combat testing anxiety, students should have some go-to solutions such as engaging in a brief relaxing activity, outlining notes or playing a memory game. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Guest post by Maggie Sonnek

Mae Hyser is one smart cookie. At 12 years old, she already has her career planned out: become a writer and an illustrator. And mom Beth couldn’t be prouder.

“She’s kind of a Type-A personality,” Beth Hyser laughs. But, as end-of-the-year finals and projects approach, sixth-grader Mae is aware of the extra pressure. And so is her mom.

Are your kids stressed over tests? Here are some tips to help kids like Mae – and their parents – decrease stress and improve results.

Set up good study habits at an early age

It sounds obvious, right? Michelle Goldwin, MA, doctoral psychology intern at Children’s, says developing effective study habits earlier is a way for kids to feel more confident about their abilities to study and take tests.

“We’re noticing kids are becoming nervous about tests earlier and earlier,” she explains. “There are more standardized tests sooner; kids are learning that they have to do well in order to get good grades…to get into a good college…to get a good job.”

To combat that anxiety, students should have some go-to solutions at the ready, such as engaging in a brief relaxing activity, outlining notes or playing a memory game.

Create a positive bedtime routine

Bedtime can be the hardest time of the day for parents. But, it doesn’t have to be. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, MA, writes about practical strategies for getting a good night’s sleep in her book, Sleepless in America.

“Researchers have discovered that the sleep/wake cycle, or what researchers like to call the circadian rhythm, runs on a cycle closer to 25 hours than 24,” she writes. “In order to bring your child’s cycle into line with a 24 hour day, you have to set it with cues, like light and a regular sleep-and-wake schedule.”

Create a calming end-of-day routine, whether it’s quiet music, dim lighting or a scented candle.

Here are more ways to help your kids get a good night’s sleep.

Take breaks and use incentives

Even at the college level, students are still encouraged to take breaks. MIT supports several scheduled breaks throughout the day, saying, “Our minds need an occasional rest in order to stay alert and productive, and you can look forward to a reward as you study.”

For 12-year-old Mae that reward is a few coveted minutes on the iPad, which mom will gladly hand over after she practices her spelling words.

Value your child’s self-worth

Both Goldwin and Beth Hyser expound on the importance of valuing kids beyond the report card.

Goldwin says, “Parents can remind their kids, ‘I like that you’re working hard on this and giving it your all.’ But, be sure to remind them that they’re also a great artist or bowler. There are lots of special things about each child.”

Beth Hyser agrees. “If a C is your best, then that’s great.”

Change the way you think

Goldwin and the rest of the team in Psychological Services at Children’s utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a way to help patients with anxiety.

“We encourage students to pay attention to their negative thoughts, like ‘I’m not going to do well on this test’ and replace them with more helpful thoughts, like ‘I’ve studied and I feel confident that I know this material.’ ”

Practice self-care

This means eating a hearty breakfast the morning of a test, staying away from caffeinated beverages and paying attention to breathing.

“Before the day of the test, I encourage kids to practice deep breathing by placing a hand on their bellies,” Goldwin says. “Then, slowly breathe out and notice that their belly deflates.” She adds that sometimes she draws the analogy of the stomach being like a balloon that’s filling with air and then emptying.

Lessening testing anxiety may not always be easy for kids, but these strategies can get them started on the path to a less stressful testing season.

In what ways do you work with your kids to lessen anxiety before tests or other stressful times? Share in the comments.

More information: Psychological Services at Children’s

Maggie Sonnek is a writer, blogger, lover-of-outdoors and momma to two young kiddos. When she’s not kissing boo-boos or cutting up someone’s food, she likes to beat her husband at Scrabble.

Music therapy profile: Kim Arter

Kim Arter memorizes songs quickly.

We continue to celebrate Music Therapy Week by focusing on music therapist Kim Arter.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

2½ years

Why did you decide to go into music therapy?

I started as a nursing major in college, but I was still involved in choir and voice lessons, as music is such a big part of my life. I wanted to find a music profession combined with a helping profession. After discovering music therapy, I took an orientation class and was hooked. I knew it was the right fit for me.

What’s your favorite instrument?

Voice. I love to sing and hear others sing!

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I enjoy spending time with family and friends, especially outside when the weather is nice. I also enjoy baking and catching up on scrapbooking.

What’s one interesting fact about you?

I memorize songs quickly, and they stay in my memory for a long time. I can still sing most songs from my elementary school music programs.

Music therapy profile: Erinn Frees

Erinn Frees has worked at Children's for four years.

We’re celebrating Music Therapy Week, and today the spotlight shines on music therapist Erinn Frees.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

I’ve worked at Children’s for four years, almost to the day!

What is a typical day like for you?

Usually, I start off my day by organizing the referrals we get (typically 40-50 per week) and trying to plan which floors I should go to at what time. Then I set sail with our wonderful new music therapy cart, which is filled with guitars, keyboards, drums, a harp and other percussion instruments. I then spend the rest of the day trying to see as many kids as I can get to, and work with them on physical, cognitive and emotional goals through music.

Do you have a favorite memory from working at Children’s?

I have many favorite memories, but this one sticks out in my head: I was working with a young school-aged boy. We were singing, playing instruments and laughing when he suddenly looked up at me and asked, “So where do you work?” When I explained to him that what we were doing was my job, he said “No, that can’t be right! At work you’re supposed to be, like, really crabby and have lots of papers and stuff!” I’m very grateful to have a job I absolutely love!

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I love spending time with my new husband, trying to learn to golf, spending time with friends and family, playing flute with various concert bands and pit orchestras and trying new restaurants. Oh, and I really like cleaning – it’s such a huge stress release!

What’s one interesting fact about you?

The first “big” concert I ever went to was on my 6th birthday. My dad took me to see Bruce Springsteen, and our tickets were in the very last row. We started chatting with a guy who asked us, “Since it’s her birthday, would you guys like some better seats?” He then led us up to the front row, center stage and we watched the concert from the best seats in the house. Bruce even gave me his guitar pick!

Watch Erinn sing with a patient:

Music Therapy from Children’s of Minnesota on Vimeo.

A peek inside a music therapist’s cart: What do you do with all that stuff?

This music therapy cart contains instruments, not ice cream.

By Erinn Frees and Kim Arter

Some people have a bag of tricks, but the music therapists at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota are lucky enough to have a whole cart. Since music therapists use music to accomplish nonmusical goals, having the right instruments available to accomplish these goals is important. If you have been to the hospital, you’ve probably seen us pushing around big, white carts or smaller, black boxes full of instruments. Here’s a peek at how we might use all those instruments:

The guitar provides rhythmic energy.

Guitar

This probably is the most-versatile tool we have, and it’s rare for any of us to do a session without one. We use the guitar to accompany much of the music we produce during sessions, and it can provide rhythmic energy, motivation to move or quietly relaxing chords.

Whether we are playing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to help slow down a baby’s heart rate or “Call Me Maybe” to promote self-expression in a preteen, the guitar is a must.

 

Music therapists typically carry around quite a few kinds of drums.

Drums 

We typically carry around quite a few kinds of drums. Imagine one patient using a drum to work on reaching his arms over his head, while another patient uses a hand drum to express her frustration and anger about not being able to go home this weekend. The music therapist even can facilitate drum circles with groups of patients, which can release stress and anxiety while providing a sense of group cohesion.

 

Harmonicas can increase breath support for a patient with decreased lung function.

Harmonicas

These also have a variety of purposes. They can increase breath support for a patient with decreased lung function or calm nerves as a patient is forced to breathe in and out evenly in order to produce a good sound on the instrument. It can provide a way to improvise for someone who never has played an instrument, which can help a patient express him or herself through music.

 

A wind chime is a great instrument for a child who has a limited range of motion or a severe developmental delay.

Wind chimes

This is a great instrument for a child who has a limited range of motion or a severe developmental delay. This instrument can be placed near any part of a child’s body of which he or she can control movement (fingers, knees, feet, elbows), providing a motivating ring with even the smallest movement.

 

 

A young child may use a xylophone with different-colored bars to learn colors.

Xylophones

These again are extremely versatile instruments. A young child may use a xylophone with different-colored bars to learn colors, while another child may need practice holding onto the small mallet in order increase fine motor control. Another child may find the metallic shimmer of the xylophone’s sound helps him relax. 

Music therapists have a large variety of shakers, including maracas, egg shakers, mini-maracas and fruit/vegetable shakers.

Shakers

We have a large variety of shakers, including maracas, egg shakers, mini-maracas and fruit/vegetable shakers. Shakers are great movement motivators in which a patient can work on grasping or passing the instrument back and forth from one hand to the other. A music therapist might model specific movements for the patient to follow. This requires focus and attention to task.

These are just a few examples of why we might choose a particular instrument to use during a session. We have many more instruments inside our cart, and other reasons for using each of them. We’d love for you to ask us to take a look sometime. We’re sorry; our carts do not contain ice cream (we get asked this question often) — but we think there is something much better inside!

Erinn Frees and Kim Arter are music therapists at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Five Question Friday: Sandy Cassidy

April 20-26 is Medical Laboratory Professionals Week. At Children’s, we have more than 120 laboratory staff members who work behind the scenes to perform and interpret more than 1 million critical lab tests every year. We’re pleased to introduce one of our lab superstars, Sandy Cassidy, who works at our St. Paul hospital. 

Sandy Cassidy has worked at Children's for 19 years.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

Nineteen years.

Describe your role.

I’m the technical specialist for the transfusion and tissue service. I make sure that the transfusion service runs smoothly by writing procedures and making sure we are compliant with all the standards from the regulatory agency that the blood bank falls under. I help develop training and competency programs for transfusion staff.

What drew you to working in laboratory sciences?

When I was in the 11th grade, we had to write a paper on a career that we were interested in pursuing. I wrote my paper on a medical lab technician. At the time, I had no idea that this was an actual job. While doing the research for my paper, I found the job really interesting so I started looking for schools that had medical lab technician programs.

What do you like best about your job?

I think what I like best about my job is that it is different every day and that there is always something challenging to do. Working with children is rewarding.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I like to spend time with my husband and two boys. My boys are busy with baseball in the spring, which keeps me busy running them back and forth between practices and games. When I’m not running my boys around, I’m busy crocheting and knitting for craft fairs that my sister-in-law and I attend all year long.

Surgery before birth saves lives of preemie twins

Amina (left) and Rania Abdi were born Feb. 11, 2014, at 25 weeks. The twin sisters were diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome while in the womb. (Jimmy Bellamy / Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota)

We continue our focus on fetal care this month by honoring Siman Abdi and her twin daughters, Amina and Rania, who were born Feb. 11 at 25 weeks.

Earlier in Siman’s pregnancy, the sisters were diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), which is a rare condition that occurs when one twin donates blood to the other while in the womb and, if left untreated, potentially can be fatal for both babies.

Thanks to the work of the Midwest Fetal Care Center, a collaboration between Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Children’s, Siman’s daughters are recovering at Children’s and continue to grow stronger each day.

Learn more about twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome:

Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome from The Mother Baby Center on Vimeo.

What my toddler taught me about injury prevention: When actions have no consequences

Young children begin to understand their world by cause-and-effect experimentation. (iStock Photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

Recently, I watched my 18-month-old daughter, Quinnlyn, as she played with her favorite blocks. She picked one up, stacked it carefully on top of another, and repeated until she had a tower four or five blocks high. Without warning, she pummeled the tower while sounding her signature high-pitched battle cry, sending blocks flying in all directions. She immediately seemed to regret not having a tower and ran to pick up the blocks to start the process over.

Young children begin to understand their world by cause-and-effect experimentation. Psychologist Jean Piaget was one of the first to put this concept into organized thought.

This behavior is apparent with my daughter: “If I stick my hand in the dog’s water dish, my shirt gets wet. This pleases me and I must do this each morning, preferably after mommy helps me put on a clean shirt.”

Then, something occurred to me as I watched Quinnlyn build and destroy her tower; there is a trigger missing in her young mind that could change her behavior: She does not understand consequence, the indirect product of an effect.

I began to notice this in her other activities as well. At dinnertime, we give her a plastic fork and spoon so she can work on her motor skills. If she’s unhappy with how dinner is going, she throws her fork and spoon on the floor in a fit of toddler rage. She is then immediately puzzled by how she’ll continue her meal now that her utensils are so far away.

As frustrating as toddler tantrums can sometimes be for parents, I’d love to be in my daughter’s shoes. Who wouldn’t want the satisfaction of taking all those dirty dishes that have been in the sink for two days and chucking them against the wall? That decision, of course, would be dangerous and reckless and I have no desire to clean up such a mess. And, with no dishes in the house, I’d be forced to take a toddler to the store to shop for breakable things; not a winning combination.

There’s an important lesson here for safety-minded parents: Kids will explore their environment in whatever way they can. It’s like the feeling you get when you find a $20 bill in the pocket of a pair of pants you haven’t worn in months, or when you discover the newest tool, gadget or fashion. For toddlers (and us adults), it’s fun finding new things and learning new skills; it’s motivating and creates a feeling of accomplishment. However, the cognitive skills of a toddler haven’t developed beyond that cause-effect understanding.

This is why we need to consider the environment in which our young children play. I recommend giving them plenty of space and opportunity to experiment without worry of the consequence:

  • Make sure stairs are blocked off securely and unsafe climbing hazards are eliminated; encourage kids to explore the space you define.
  • Create a space to explore free of choking hazards, potential poisons and breakable or valuable items; leave plenty of new objects for children to discover, and change the objects out when the kids seem to grow tired of them.
  • Allow children to fail at certain tasks; be encouraging and positive without intervening as they try again.
  • If possible, discuss their actions and consequences with them to help them understand the reason for your rules.

Encouraging the learning and exploration process will increase your child’s confidence and creativity, and defining safe boundaries and rules will keep you both happy.

Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and the father of a curious and mobile toddler. He has a Master of Education degree from Penn State University.

Honoring patient- and family-centered care

If there is a Children’s staff member who has made a difference to your family, nominate him or her for the Excellence in Patient- and Family-Centered Care Award.

When Deb’s daughter was born prematurely at 28 weeks, Kathy Wharton, RN, in Children’s neonatal intensive care unit, was there to comfort her, teach her and laugh with her.

“Kathy was calming, funny and professional,” Deb said. “She was our decoder for this confusing, unplanned madness we got thrown into. I can’t imagine getting through the first few weeks without her kind words, explanations and hugs.”

Deb honored Kathy by nominating her for the Excellence in Patient- and Family-Centered Care Award, which is organized by Children’s Family Advisory Council. The award, which is given out twice a year, gives families an opportunity to recognize and honor care providers who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to patient- and family-centered care.

For Kathy, the award was a touching reminder of why she comes to work every day.

“I have spent over 30 years in nursing and have done it all – from bedside nursing to supervising, from hospital to clinic, NICU to dialysis and back to bedside NICU,” Kathy said. “This award reminded me why I came back to bedside nursing. It renewed my spirit and reminded me that I can make a difference.”

If there is a Children’s staff member who has made a difference to your family, nominate him or her for the Excellence in Patient- and Family-Centered Care Award. Families can nominate any Children’s staff member from whom they have received services in the past 12 months. The next awards will be presented in May and October.

Questions? Please email familyadvisorycouncil@childrensmn.org.

Preemies to princesses: Thank you, Children’s

Rebecca (left) and Emily Pierce, 2 months old, receive care in Children's neonatal intensive care unit in this March 23, 2011, photo. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Gillquist)

Rebecca (left) and Emily Pierce, dressed as princesses, are 3 years old and live in Rapid City, S.D. They visit Minnesota often to see family and for followup appointments at Children's. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Gillquist)

By Debbie Gillquist

Hardly a day passes that we aren’t grateful for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota’s quality work, care, compassion and expertise. My twin granddaughters, Emily Rose and Rebecca Elizabeth, were born Jan. 28, 2011, at 1 pound, 4 ounces and 1 pound, 10 ounces, respectively, at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and transferred to Children’s. Fittingly, Dr. Ronald Hoekstra, who was present for the twins’ mother’s (my daughter, who weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces) birth at the same hospital 33 years ago, led the team.

First of all, wow, have things changed in 33 years! What hasn’t changed, though, is how incredibly passionate all the providers at Children’s are, how much they care for the family and how much they make the experience “home away from home.” (We even met up with some of the nurses from all those years ago.)

We were so impressed with every aspect of our stay and wish we could personally thank every one of the staff members who cared for my family. Children’s cares, makes a difference and saves lives. Thank you from an incredibly grateful family.

Miracles – you create miracles.

5 tips for home and neighborhood safety

Summer is around the corner, we promise. No matter how much it snows in the next few days, the warm weather isn’t far away.

The season brings neighbors together for all kinds of outdoor activities. While your local barbecue or block party is a great time to reconnect with neighbors and enjoy a potluck, it’s also a great chance to review home and neighborhood safety tips with your children.

Here are five tips to bring up with your kids ahead of summer:

1. Post important personal and contact information in a central place in your home.

  • Include parents’ names, street address, mobile, home and work phone numbers, 911, poison control, fire department, police department, and helpful neighbors.
  • Use a neighborhood party to help children to familiarize themselves with their neighbors and identify whom they can go to for help.

2. Teach your child how and when to call 911.

  • Discuss specifics of what an emergency is and when 911 should be used.
  • Role play different scenarios and make sure kids know what information to give to the 911 operator.
  • For younger kids, discuss the different roles of emergency workers and what they do.

3. Discuss “stranger danger.”

  • Talk with your kids about who is allowed to pick them up from school or activities.
  • Talk to your kids about the importance of walking in pairs.
  • Ensure they always take the same route home from school and do not take shortcuts.

4. Practice proper street safety.

  • Have kids practice looking both ways before stepping into the street, using the crosswalk and obeying the walk-don’t walk signals.
  • Teach kids what different road signs mean, such as a stop sign.
  • Remind children about the importance of biking with a helmet and reflective light.

5. Talk to your children about fire safety.

  • If fire trucks are present at the neighborhood party, use their presence as an opportunity to discuss what to do if there were a fire.
  • Plan and practice escape routes in your home and designate a meeting spot in case you get separated.

It’s never too early to talk to your children and family about ways to stay safe.