Author Archives: ChildrensMN

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.

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.

Children’s at the Capitol: Newborn screening comes to a vote

Update: Late Thursday night, April 10, we were disappointed to hear that the newborn screening vote scheduled for that day was unexpectedly pulled from the schedule. We fully expect that newborn screening will still be voted on this session, likely later in April. Help us make sure that legislators know how critical this program is for child health by contacting your state representatives (action link below)!


Today the Minnesota House of Representatives will be considering and voting on a bill to restore Minnesota’s newborn screening program, which is credited with saving more than 5,000 lives since its inception 50 years ago. We’ve provided the streaming video of the House floor session below, though the debate on newborn screening may not happen until later today.

Urgent action needed

Up until the House floor vote happens, you can contact your state representative and ask for his or her support on the Newborn Screening bill, H.F. 2526, authored by Representative Kim Norton. Taking action is easy, and it only takes a minute! This bill is critically important to newborn health and your legislators need to hear that you support this program today. (A couple things to note about the action page: 1. You’ll need to enter your full ZIP code (first 5 numbers + 4-digit extension) in order to connect with your state rep. 2. Use “MN” instead of “Minnesota.”)

What is newborn screening?

The program is simple: At birth, all newborns have a small blood sample collected through a heal prick. The blood spots are put onto a card and then tested for more than 50 genetic and chromosomal abnormalities. These tests are essential in detecting many serious and often hidden conditions, including some that, if diagnosed and treated early, can have a critical impact on the health of a child.

Why is this debate happening?

Over the past few years, the newborn screening program has been modified so that currently the Minnesota Department of Health can only retain blood spots for a short period of time before destroying them, possibly missing the window of diagnosis.

The problem is that there are many reasons these samples should be kept on hand, including: some conditions can take several months to diagnose; cards may be needed for reassessment at a later date; or they may be used for comparison when a younger sibling is born. Without long-term storage, we lose the ability to go back and review the samples when critical health questions arise.

Watch it live:

Watch live streaming video from uptakemnhouse at livestream.com

5 pounds, 10 ounces and 1 year of miracles

Connor Lee Miller had a neonatal arterial thrombosis, commonly known as a blood clot, in his left arm. (Photo courtesy of the Miller family)

By Becky Miller

The birth of a child is, arguably, one of the most exciting moments of any parent’s life. In our case, our son’s arrival definitely was exciting, but it was terrifying, too. On April 10, 2013, at 35 weeks’ gestation, we welcomed our son, Connor Lee, into the world. He weighed 5 pounds, 10 ounces and measured 19½ inches in length. He also happened to have an additional, unique characteristic that doctors couldn’t diagnose initially – a dark purple and extremely swollen left arm. Connor quickly was introduced to me and then whisked away by a team of doctors with Dad following closely behind.

After what seemed like an eternity, the three of us finally were reunited. Connor was peacefully sleeping in his room in Children’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). A feeding tube had been placed, and he was hooked up to IV medications – scary, but a normal, familiar sight to any parent that has had an infant in the NICU. Not so familiar, however, was Connor’s arm. The swelling had increased, and it had begun to change colors, with parts of it beginning to appear black. Doctors were able to determine that Connor had a neonatal arterial thrombosis – more commonly known as a blood clot – that had developed in an artery in his upper-left arm. Doctors said they were unsure of when it formed, but based on the damage to Connor’s arm, they hypothesized that it had been in place for anywhere from four to eight weeks prior to birth. Connor was unable to move his wrist or hand, and doctors couldn’t find a pulse below his elbow.

Connor smiles during Christmastime. (Photo courtesy of the Miller family)

The first 48 hours of Connor’s hospitalization were filled with more questions than answers. Words and phrases that terrified us became part of normal, everyday discussions: amputation, disability and skin grafting, just to name a few. We became familiar with a phrase that we quickly learned to hate: “Wait and see what will happen.” Connor’s medical team told us that his was a case unlike anything they had seen in the NICU before and they were not willing to make any drastic decisions too quickly. Connor’s unique and complex situation crossed many specialties. We like to say that his NICU room needed a revolving door – when one doctor or specialist walked out, another (or two or three) walked in. In the first weeks of his life, he was seen by hematologists, a plastic surgeon, orthopedic surgeons, a neurosurgeon, the skin integrity team, pain and palliative care, speech therapists, occupational therapists, radiologists and, of course, the neonatology team.

Finally, around day 20, Connor began showing signs of improvement. His arm slowly began to heal and his clot started to shrink. We will never forget the first time we heard the neonatologist utter the word “home” during rounds. Based on the complexity of Connor’s case, our social worker helped arrange a care conference that allowed the various medical professionals following his case to weigh in on how we could best move forward. Connor had improved to a point that he no longer needed NICU care, but he continued to need daily wound care. With the help, support and incredible selflessness of some of the integral members of Connor’s care team, we put our heads and hearts together and devised a discharge plan that would allow Connor to come home. We collaborated, shared concerns and ultimately came up with a plan that ensured Connor’s and our family’s needs could be met. On May 3, 23 days after birth, Connor was allowed to come home!

Connor (left) is seen with his family. (Photo courtesy of the Miller family)

Since leaving Children’s, Connor has exceeded the expectations of his care team. Having been a baby boy that once faced the threat of becoming an amputee, Connor has come farther than we thought possible. He has learned to crawl. He can pull himself up and move along furniture. And, most noteworthy, Connor occasionally is using his left hand to pick up objects of varying sizes. With each of these achievements, we constantly are reminded of how much Connor’s care team did for him. We are incredibly grateful for the amazing love, care, compassion and honesty that the staff at Children’s showed to Connor and our family during a completely terrifying experience. Today, as we celebrate his first birthday, we can, without a doubt, say that Connor would not be where he is today without the amazing team at Children’s!

Tanning turmoil: Why getting ‘bronzed’ is hazardous to your teen’s health

For teens, one visit to a tanning bed increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

A guest post by Gigi Chawla, MD

Every spring, many of us weary from a long winter head south to warmer climes; teens across the country attend prom with their sweethearts. And what do kids tend to do before events like these?

Hit the tanning salon.

Looking “pasty white” in a swimsuit or a new dress just won’t do, right? Think again.

Here’s a brief warning to help dispel the myth of “getting a base tan” before these events. Or ever.

Currently, 35 percent of 17-year-old girls in the U.S. are using tanning beds and 55 percent of college-aged kids have used one at least once.

In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported earlier this year that, “a third of white 11th-grade Minnesota girls have tanned indoors in the past year, according to a state survey … and more than half of them used sun beds, sunlamps or tanning booths at least 10 times in a recent 12-month period.”

What isn’t immediately clear to our kids is that during a tanning-bed session they may receive up to 12 times the ultraviolet (UV) exposure as they receive being outside in the natural sunlight. This UV radiation exposure from tanning beds is dangerous and linked to three types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Here’s the potential damage that one tanning-bed session alone can cause a teen:

  • The risk of developing melanoma increases by 20 percent
  • The risk of developing basal cell carcinoma increases by 29 percent
  • The risk of squamous cell carcinoma increases by 67 percent

For people using a tanning bed under the age of 35, the lifetime risk of developing skin cancer of any type increases by 74 percent.

Specifically, it increases the lifetime risk of:

  • melanoma by 75 percent
  • basal cell carcinoma by 150 percent, and
  • squamous cell carcinoma by a whopping 250 percent

Moreover, skin cancer now is the leading form of cancer in 25- to 29-year-olds.

Another startling fact: More skin cancer cases arise from tanning-bed use than lung cancer cases do from smoking; yet, in our culture, bronzed skin is seen as a form of beauty.

Some advice to parents: Remember to reinforce to your teens that they are beautiful or handsome no matter the shade of their skin. What’s important is what’s inside. I like to think that we live in an era in which we can look past skin color, where we are not judged by skin color and we should not see beauty based on skin color.

It’s time to remind your kids to “go with your own natural glow.”

Gigi Chawla, MD, is a pediatrician, hospitalist and the Senior Medical Director of Primary Care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Her areas of interest are the care of complex special needs patients, premature infants, ventilator dependent children and care of hospitalized patients.

Sources: The Skin Cancer Foundation, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 

Volunteer shout-out: Eric Gustafson

Eric Gustafson has been volunteering at Children’s for almost five years.

As part of National Volunteer Recognition Week, we’re profiling some of our Red-Vested Rockstars! Today, meet Eric Gustafson, who has been volunteering at Children’s for almost five years. He’s a laid-back guy with a great sense of humor. Eric often trains-in new volunteers, and serves as our orientation assistant at new-volunteer orientations. Learn more about Eric and why he gives his time to Children’s.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?

It has all been good; the staff and other volunteers have been exceptional. But if I had to boil it down, I would say being with the kids and hopefully helping.

What is a standout memory you have from your volunteer time?

I do remember an incident in the NICU where a nurse asked if I could hold a little boy so she could go to lunch. I was handed the kid and he immediately fell asleep. When the nurse came back she took him, and as I took just a couple of steps he began to cry, so I headed back. The nurse put him in my arms, and again, he fell asleep right away. We thought we were in the clear, so the nurse took over, and I headed out. Again, and after a few steps, he began to cry again! This repeated itself one more time before I ended my shift and had to let him stay with the nurse, still crying.

What advice would you give to a new volunteer?

Pay attention while you are training, use common sense and get comfortable going into rooms without being asked to. What I tell all the people I have trained is that this is not rocket science, but we cover a lot of material and, like many new scenarios, the first time you are on your own and are asked to do things on your own can cause some distress.

Besides volunteering, what is something you love to do?

Travel, spend time with my wife, hunt, drive.

Thank you, Eric, and all of our volunteers for all you do!

Children’s Star Gala raises nearly $2.1 million

More than $2 million was raised at the 23rd annual Children's Star Gala on Saturday, April 5, 2014.

The 23rd annual Children’s Star Gala was held Saturday at The Depot in Minneapolis. Nearly 1,100 guests joined us for an evening of inspiring stories, dinner, dancing and silent and live auctions.

Thanks to the support of generous sponsors, donors, attendees and volunteers, we raised nearly $2.1 million for the Midwest Fetal Care Center. Their generosity will help us expand our fetal care program – allowing us to detect, diagnose and treat babies before they are born. This sometimes results in operating on a baby while he or she still is in the mother’s womb – imagine the possibilities.

Visit our archived live blog to get a glimpse of the evening, or watch this segment on KARE 11 which showcases 9-year-old Children’s patient Cecilia performing “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen.”

Over the next couple weeks, we’ll introduce you to patients and families that shared their stories at the event. Stay tuned for some inspiring videos and stories!

Live blog: Star Gala

Children’s Star Gala is a spectacular evening of inspiring stories, dinner, dancing and silent and live auctions that raises more than $2 million annually – making it one of the five largest fundraising events in the Twin Cities. This year, funds from the 23rd annual event will support the Midwest Fetal Care Center. Thanks to advances in fetal medicine, we are able to detect, diagnose and treat potential problems before a baby is born, including, when necessary, fetal surgery. With your support, we will become one of only five advanced fetal care centers in the U.S. Imagine the possibilities.

Not on Twitter? How to stay on top of your kids’ social media use

 

Use social media to help your kids develop self-control habits. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Guest post by Maggie Sonnek

If Jennifer Soucheray had a Twitter handle, it probably would be something clever like @JentheMamaHen or @MrsSouchRocks. But this third-grade teacher and mom of three teens doesn’t have a Twitter account.

Or Instagram.

Or Snapchat.

But her three kids do. So, she and her husband, Paul, have had to find ways to monitor their social media use without being, “like, totes uncool.”

I asked Soucheray, along with a few others, to share a few of their tips and best practices when it comes to kids and social media. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Use social media to help your kids develop self-control habits

Whether it’s texting, tweeting or using Facebook these parents tout the benefits of putting limits in place early. According to the Soucheray household, texting and Twitter are where it’s at. Pew Research backs this up: teen Twitter use is at 24 percent – a significant jump from 16 percent in 2011.

“We know their phones are lifelines to their friends,” Soucheray said. “They need these tools otherwise they’ll be ostracized. But as parents you have to develop parameters for what’s acceptable use.”

One way these parents have put boundaries in place? All devices are turned in to Mom and Dad before bedtime.

2. Validate kids every day, offline

Soucheray, who taught middle school for 12 years, says it’s extremely important to validate your kids every day. She said that’s one reason why Facebook and other social media tools are so popular – because we’re all looking to be validated. (Author’s note: Not going to lie; there have been times that I’ve fallen into this trap and checked in on a status update or picture I posted to see how many “likes” it’s received. And when the number is higher or the comments are positive, for some reason, I feel a little better.)

“If a kid doesn’t hear she’s pretty or smart by someone who cares about her, she’s going to look for that somewhere else,” Soucheray said.

Dr. Robyn Silverman, a child-teen development specialist and body-image expert agrees.

“Teens are defining themselves during adolescence,” she writes on her blog. “They are figuring out where they fit into their social world and hoping that others look at them favorably.”

Soucheray and Silverman say it’s important to talk about your kids’ true gifts.

“Make sure your children understand that their strengths – such as their kind heart, conscious nature or musical ability – are recognized,” Silverman said, “and really make a difference.”

3. Use the tools for good

One thing that surprised me as I chatted with parents and teachers is that: Kids are using social media more than just a platform to post “selfies.” They’re also using it as a homework-helper.

Dan Willaert, a geometry and AP statistics teacher and Cretin-Derham Hall wrestling coach, tweets out reminders and practice problems to his followers on a regular basis.

“I’ll write out a problem, snap a picture and then tweet it,” Willaert said. He has a Twitter account for wrestling, too, and often sends updates about tournaments, schedule changes and snow days.

4. Be present

Soucheray admits she doesn’t have the right answer or the perfect balance for monitoring tweets and texts, but her one piece of advice is something all parents can take with them. And that’s simply to be present.

“Dig in and be there with them…be in the moment,” she said.

Maybe someday @JentheMamaHen will tweet out that advice to her followers. But for now, she has papers to grade and dinner to make. Her Twitter days will have to wait.

What solutions have you found to monitor your kids social media use? Share in the comments.

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.