Category Archives: Parenting

Be smart, safe with fireworks

For many families, the Fourth of July celebration includes fireworks. It's important to take the proper safety measures when using fireworks (iStock photo / Getty Images)

For many families, the Fourth of July celebration includes fireworks. It’s important to take the proper safety measures when using fireworks (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Subscribe to MightyBy Luul Mohamed and Alicia Youssef

The Fourth of July is a day filled with fun, excitement and celebration. Across the nation, families and friends gather to celebrate our nation’s independence. Follow these tips to ensure maximum fun and prevent injuries.

Firework safety tips

Each year in the U.S., thousands of adults and children are treated in emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we care for more pediatric emergency and trauma patients than any other health care system in our region, seeing about 90,000 kids each year between our St. Paul and Minneapolis hospitals. Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis is the area’s only Level I pediatric trauma center in a hospital dedicated to only kids, which means we offer the highest level of care to critically injured kids. From the seriously sick to the critically injured, we’re ready for anything.

The safest way to enjoy fireworks and avoid a visit to the emergency room is to attend a public fireworks display. However, if you choose to light them yourself, here are a few ways to enjoy the fun while keeping you and your children safe:

  • Keep fireworks of any kind away from children, even after they have gone off. Parts of the firework can still be hot or even explosive after fireworks have been lit.
  • Older teens should only use fireworks under close adult supervision.
  • Keep fireworks far away from dense areas where there are a lot of buildings and/or people.
  • Do not light fireworks around flammable items such as dead leaves, gas-powered equipment or fabrics, and be sure they’re pointed away from people, animals and buildings.
  • Always have a fire extinguisher, water bucket and/or hose readily available in case of an accidental fire.
  • After you have enjoyed your fireworks, be sure to pick up any debris or pieces of the firework that may be left in the area. These small pieces may pose as a choking hazard for young children.

The Fourth of July weekend also is a great time for travel and spending time in the water. Please view these articles for tips on water safety and traveling:

Fireworks references: The National Council on Fireworks Safety, Parents: Fireworks Safety

Luul Mohamed and Alicia Youssef are members of Children’s injury prevention program team.

Making magic happen: The infant-toddler brain

Anna Youngerman is the director of advocacy and health policy at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and a proud parent of her 2-year-old son.

Anna Youngerman is the director of advocacy and health policy at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and a proud parent of her 2-year-old son.

By Anna Youngerman

For many parents, sleep-deprived might be how we choose to describe the first three years of a child’s life — at least it has been for me. But as I look through the haze of too few hours of sleep, there’s also magic to these early years. I frequently find myself in a state of awe and wonder at my growing child. The first time your baby catches your eye and holds your gaze, the first time he says “mommy,” the cobbling together of phrases to describe his day and even the frustration-driven tantrums — those are all magical moments.

It turns out there’s a reason the awe-inspiring moments come fast and furious during these earliest years. The brain wiring is on hyper-drive:

  • 80 percent of brain development happens by the time a child is 3 years old.
  • 700 new neural connections are made every second in the first few years of life.

This naturally occurring development can serve as a springboard for a productive, healthy life. Yet, just as a magician must carefully prepare for a trick so it appears both astonishing and seamless, helping every child realize the powerful potential of these years also requires intentional support.

Inspiring action

Though our paper, “Foundation for Life: The Significance of Birth to Three,” we want to inspire more robust discussion and action around the value of investments in and attention to our youngest children. We want to invite the tough questions and – more importantly – be part of answering them:

  • What can we do, collectively, to reach the most vulnerable children?
  • How do we mitigate toxic stress factors that tear away at a child’s potential?
  • What’s the community’s role in ensuring that no child lacks the positive relationships so crucial to healthy development?
  • How do we build a coordinated system that focuses on what a child needs and not what the system needs?
  • Subscribe to MightyHow do we reach children at an age (0-3) when they often are cared for by family, friends and neighbors and not always tied to existing systems?

These aren’t easy questions, but just because they’re tough doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them on and figure out how to work together toward getting answers. The stakes are just too high and the opportunity too great.

Like most parents, I’ll gladly navigate my sleep deprivation in exchange for giving my kiddo every opportunity he deserves. That’s the hope and dedication we want to inspire. I hope you’ll join us.

Anna Youngerman is the director of advocacy and health policy at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and a proud parent of her 2-year-old son.

Animals are great family members, except when they’re not

Teach kids to respect your animal’s space. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

Even before the pitter-patter of toddler feet, our house was plenty busy. My wife and I jokingly referred to our dog, Sprocket, and cat, Harvey, as training for parenthood. By the time our daughter, Quinnlyn, came around, we already had learned to keep valuables out of reach and close the doors to the rooms where we didn’t want roaming paws. And we quickly learned the value of eating our meals after distracting the animals to avoid begging eyes.

In addition to providing safety challenges, animals have an uncanny way of creating rules for your house, with or without your approval. Regardless of your expectations of them, they almost always get their way. (Those with toddlers will recognize the similarity here.) In our case, for example, we insisted that Sprocket not be allowed on the furniture – and he most definitely would not be allowed to sleep in our bed. He had different plans, though, and now I’m regularly curled up in the only free corner of our king-sized bed and rarely leave the house without fur-covered pants.

After we introduced the pets to Quinnlyn, Harvey disappeared for what seemed like the better part of a year while Sprocket was quite concerned about losing out on time with us. What remained to be seen was how these interspecies siblings would get along once Quinn became more mobile. We had two animals who thought they owned the house and a new queen who demanded nearly all of our attention. Naturally, there was some ruffled fur.

Recently, Sprocket was lying comfortably on the couch while I was typing away in the recliner near him. Quinn recognized the quiet, relaxing vibe and felt it needed a little chaos. She grabbed her step stool, crawled up on the couch and tried to climb up on Sprocket’s back, hoping to get a free doggie ride. Sprocket alerted me with the warning signs – he first tried to move away then let out a little growl before licking Quinn’s face. Thankfully, I was able to intervene before he got increasingly upset, but his behavior understandably is confusing to Quinn, so she continued to try to climb aboard.

Therein lays the challenge: No matter how well trained, animals are instinctual beings that are territorial, protective and usually inflexible on changing the rules they created. Young children are curious beings who discover their world by poking, prodding, throwing, climbing and chasing. Pairing children and pets can be simultaneously developmentally rewarding and potentially dangerous.

Here are some tips to help keep your kids safe around dogs:

Household pets

  • Dogs typically don’t like hugs and kisses, particularly when it’s not on their own terms. Teach kids to respect your animal’s space.
  • Don’t stare at a dog in close proximity to its face as this can be interpreted as an act of aggression.
  • Dogs that are tied up, cooped in or curled up (sleeping or relaxing) may be more agitated if approached – they either want to get out or be left alone.
  • Know that dogs don’t only attack when they’re angry (growling, barking, hair standing up); they can attack because they’re scared; a dog with its mouth closed, eyes wide and ears forward may indicate that it’s scared or worried.
  • Recognize these behaviors in your family dog to know it’s time to stop playing and give your pet some space:
    • Avoidance – hiding behind something or someone or turning its head away
    • Submission – rolling on its back, licking, or leaving the room; even though the dog is giving up now, it may not some day
    • Body language – tail between legs or low with only the end wagging, ears in a non-neutral position, rapid panting, licking its chops, or shaking out its fur
    • Acting out – tearing up or destroying personal possessions such as toys or other items your family uses frequently, or urinating or defecating in the house; these may be signs that your dog should be seen by a behavioral professional – don’t delay!

Pets outside of your family (tips courtesy of Children’s Hospital of Michigan)

  • Always ask an adult’s permission before approaching or petting a dog. Start by letting the dog sniff you, then gently pet under its chin or on top of its head, but never its tail, back or legs.
    • Never run or scream if a dog comes up to you
    • Never try to ride a bike away from a dog; they can run faster than you can bike
    • Always be calm around dogs and don’t look them in the eye; they may see this as an act of aggression
    • Stand still like a tree or rock and let the dog sniff you. If a dog starts biting, put whatever you have (backpack, stick, toy, etc.) in its mouth.
      • Avoid dogs that are eating, playing with toys, tied up in a yard, or behind a fence; also avoid dogs who look ill or angry
      • Never tease a dog by throwing things at it, barking at it, etc.

Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Trustworthy: Vaccines have earned that title

Two doses of measles-mumps-rubella vaccine will prevent measles in 99 percent of those vaccinated.

By Patsy Stinchfield, PNP

The confirmation of 83 cases of measles in Ohio this month and the recent quick diagnosis of a 19-month-old with measles in Minneapolis, Minnesota’s first case of measles this year, brought a timely reminder that the potentially deadly virus has not been eradicated and of the importance of vaccination. Having just wrapped World Immunization Week and National Infant Immunization Week, the importance of immunization is as great as ever.

In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today that the 288 cases of measles in the country so far this year are the highest since 2000. The number of cases reported this year is the highest for the first five months of a year since 1994.

I worry that the numbers are a sign of growing credibility for a small band of celebrities and others who have thrown up an online smoke screen of fear of vaccines against measles, whooping cough and other common childhood diseases.

If even a relatively small percentage of Americans buy into this criticism, it would be disastrous. Measles, one of the most contagious airborne diseases, can be extremely serious, leading in rare cases to pneumonia and fatal brain infections. Infants too young to be vaccinated particularly are at risk.

We’re fortunate that the child in Minnesota, who actually had one of two measles shots and apparently contracted the disease during a visit to India, was diagnosed within minutes at Children’s – Minneapolis. Because the alert medical team picked up the symptoms so quickly, only 16 potentially exposed people had to be notified after the child was quarantined.

Three years ago, as many as 700 contacts had to be reached for some patients during an outbreak at Children’s.

What’s most frustrating is that it’s all so unnecessary.

The virus hasn’t changed all that much. It’s not like the HIV virus, constantly mutating. No; with measles the culprit purely is social – a breakdown in trust of medical experts whose longtime vaccine advocacy made measles and other common childhood infections a footnote.

Fear-mongering online vaccine critics are not winning, in a classical political sense. Thankfully, more than 90 percent of parents still trust their health care providers and nationally recommended vaccines. If they didn’t, we would see frequent headlines about deaths from measles, whooping cough and other diseases.

However, the remaining 10 percent of parents are hesitant, have vague fears and wonder who to trust. They routinely hear or read vehement vaccine bashing in social media circles, which feeds fear and denial – and new outbreaks. New York City and Orange County, Calif., currently are dealing with measles outbreaks.

Measles is so highly contagious that just passing through a clinic waiting room two hours after someone with measles has been there can expose an unvaccinated newborn, which may be devastating.

We all must protect the vulnerable in our community by forming a protective barrier of our own vaccination. That’s a simple point seemingly lost on the peddlers of myth and pseudoscience who have infected too many parents with baseless fear of vaccines that protect their own children and the community at large.

Parents should trust health care professionals who urge vaccination on schedule. At Children’s, we speak from experience. We have seen children die or become permanently impaired from vaccine-preventable disease. Ask our specialists how many unvaccinated, critically ill children they have cared for, and they would answer “too many to count.” And how many they’ve seen with severe vaccine side effect? You’ll get a blank stare, or “I don’t recall any; maybe one at most.”

We have seen children with measles on a ventilator, fighting for their lives. That’s a bitter sight when you recognize that two doses of measles-mumps-rubella vaccine will prevent measles in 99 percent of those vaccinated. There’s no contest between the benefits of vaccines and their extremely rare risks.

Before the measles vaccine was developed in the 1960s, there were 2.6 million measles-related deaths per year worldwide. In 2012, that number was down to 122,000, mostly in children younger than 5 in parts of the world where vaccines are scarce or their parents refuse to allow vaccination. The point is that we can’t afford to let our guard down in the U.S. or elsewhere. In a global society measles is a mere plane ride away for the unprotected.

The safe, effective and trustworthy action for infants, children, adolescents and adults is to get vaccinated on time for all recommended vaccine-preventable diseases.

Aside from sanitary drinking water, vaccines remain the safest, most-life-saving medical intervention we have to protect our children.

Patsy Stinchfield, PNP, is the director of Infection Prevention and Control and the Children’s Immunization Project at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

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.

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

 

Five Question Friday: Dex Tuttle

We love kids here at Children’s, but we’d rather see them safe at home. Dex Tuttle, our injury prevention program coordinator, tells us more about his role and gives some tips on how to prevent common household injuries in this week’s Five Question Friday.

Dex Tuttle has been the injury prevention program coordinator at Children's since August 2013.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

I started in August of 2013.

Describe your role.

As injury prevention program coordinator, my job is to keep kids out of the emergency room. I plan events and prepare resources in partnership with hospital and community organizations to educate children and families about common types of injury and give them tips on what they can do to stay safe.

What do you love most about your job?

On any given day, I can be in a workshop creating a new display or activity, out in the metro area talking to community members, or at my desk planning, creating and organizing for the future. I love the flexibility and unpredictability of the job, but the most rewarding part of my work is when people who stop by and chat with me have that “a-ha” moment: when I know that the message sunk in and changed behavior. In addition, as a father of an 18-month-old, injury prevention is always on my mind in a very real way. It is great making connections with families where the conversation starts with the commonality of caring for a curious and mobile child and progresses to sharing some advice that can help them keep their own kids safe.

We’re anxiously waiting for warmer weather so we can get outside. What are some simple tips that you give parents to keep their kids safe around their neighborhoods?

A tricky part of parenting is encouraging your kids to learn through exploration and curiosity while maintaining safe behaviors. The tip sheet on this topic is about three miles long, but here is some general advice:

  • If they’re on wheels, make sure they wear a proper-fitting helmet and pads.
  • The same goes for any activity or sport; make sure their equipment is right for their size.
  • Role-play emergency scenarios as a family – severe weather, stranger danger, fire escape, etc.
  • When traveling by vehicle, ensure your child’s car seat or seat belt fits right and is installed/worn properly. ALWAYS wear a seat belt (role model good behavior) and keep kids in a proper car seat or booster until they’re 4-foot-9 or taller to ensure their seat belt fits right.
  • STAY HYDRATED. With the winter we’ve had, it’s hard to think about the weather being warm enough to be dangerous, but developing good habits around drinking plenty of water now will help create safe behavior in the future. Be sure kids understand the importance of sunscreen, too.

For more tips, visit Children’s Making Safe Simple page, but the best advice I can give as a father and educator is to involve your kids in decisions and planning for safety. Encouraging them to provide their input and incorporating their suggestions into your plan and actions helps solidify safe behavior into the future.

What’s your favorite meal?

PIZZA. If my wife would let me, I could eat pizza for every meal, every day … with a few regular breaks for hot wings, anyway.

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.

Video: Minnesota Senate debate over anti-bullying bill

Minnesota state capitol, Senate chamber

The Minnesota Senate will debate an anti-bullying bill Thursday, April 3, 2014.

Children’s at the Capitol: Minnesota Senate brings Safe Schools Act to a floor vote

Today the Minnesota State Senate will consider and vote on the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, a bill that would redefine Minnesota’s current 37-word law on bullying, one of the weakest in the country.

Last year, Children’s explored the many ways in which bullying affects kids. We found that:

  • Bullying is common in Minnesota: About one in seven Minnesota children are bullied regularly.
  • Bullying is bad for health: Children who are bullied are more likely than their peers to suffer from anxiety, depression, loneliness and post-traumatic stress.
  • Kids with special needs are bullied at high rates: In a recent study, 94 percent of students with disabilities reported experiencing some form of victimization.

That’s why Children’s supports passage of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. We hope you’ll tune in to the live floor debate and watch as our state senators discuss, amend and vote on this bill. Don’t know who represents you? Find out now!

You also can learn more about our work on bullying and find helpful resources at childrensmn.org/bullying.

Watch live streaming video from uptakemnsenate at livestream.com

The importance of play – for kids and adults

Hands-on play, where a child uses his or her imagination and ideas to self-discover, creates the best learning environment. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Jeri Kayser

When people try and remember the name of my profession, child life specialist, they often shorten it to “play lady.” That used to bug me when I was a young professional and ready to solve all of the world’s problems, but now I recognize the compliment. We breathe, drink and eat to stay alive – we play to bring forth a reason for all of that effort. Play is how we learn about our world, practice that knowledge and foster our sense of well-being and personal joy; it’s an honor to promote play in the world of health care, but it’s not without its challenges.

One current challenge is tied to the hot topic in popular culture about the value of gaming devices. Is playing a game on a smartphone when you’re 2 years old considered quality play? Short answer: No. The Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids 2 and younger and only one to two hours a day for older children. The core aspect of the definition of “play” is that it’s self-directive. You’re deciding what you’re going to do with whatever you’re interacting with. One of the problems with electronic games is that game designers have done most of that for you.

Your toddler recognizes the status that phone holds, and it works for a bit to keep a child distracted from the fact that he or she is in the hospital or in a long checkout line at the grocery store.

So what can we use to help guide our decisions to promote healthy play? A great way to look at this is similar to how we all work to promote healthy choices for our diet. Potato chips are fine for an occasional treat, but we wouldn’t want to eat them all the time. If we did, we’d feel awful. Video games kind of are the junk food of play. The more the play requires from the child, the better the value and healthier the choice.

I notice this in the hospital when I come into a room to meet with a family about what to expect with surgery. People often are busy with an electronic device, but as soon as we start to talk, the interest is there to engage and the devices get turned off. When I bring a toy or some arts and crafts activities, kids always gravitate towards that; they want what they need.

I used to work in a summer daycare program for school-aged kids. We would spend the morning on a field trip and the afternoon at a beach. The director wanted us to provide structured activities for the kids in the afternoon, but we quickly learned that the combination of water, sand and friends led to a more-creative, imaginative and enriched play than anything with which we could have come up. Hands-on play, where a child uses his or her imagination and ideas to self-discover, creates the best learning environment.

I heard an interesting story on public radio on my long commute home. At the electronic show in Austin, Texas, at the South by Southwest conference, the big news at the conference was the “Maker Movement,” stressing the importance of hands-on play to promote understanding of how our world works. They interviewed an inventor, Ayah Bdeir, who created a toy of electronic bits that fit together with magnets, creating circuits. With this process, you can make all kinds of fun things. He explained the value of this explorative play by stating, “We need to remember that we are all makers and touching things with our hands is powerful and inspiring.”

In another century, another scientist noted the same thing. Albert Einstein declared, “Play is the highest form of research.”

Self-directed play offers the healthiest value for our play “diet,” and this extends throughout our lives. We all need to play. As I wrote this, I overheard a conversation between two anesthesiologists talking about how they used play to help them cope with life stressors. One likes his guitar, while the other enjoys making remote-control helicopters.

This important fact, one of the highest forms of self-care, needs to be part of the planning of how we provide health care. Play is important for all age groups, not just those adorable preschoolers. We need to incorporate this in everything we do, for teens, parents and staff.

Late Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said it best: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Jeri Kayser is a child life specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.