Category Archives: Health tips

“Children’s Pedcast,” Episode 4: Child life specialists on taking medicine

On Episode 4 of “Children’s Pedcast,” child life specialists Jeri Kayser, Sarah Magnuson and Sam Schackman join the show to talk about the different challenges parents face with kids of all ages when it comes to taking medicine, both short and long term. The trio provide tips and strategies for help and success during the most difficult times when med taking seems impossible.

subscribe_blogIdeas for medicine taking

Developmental considerations

Infants: Birth to 18 months

  • Babies typically will react with any new flavor in their mouths; it’s important to avoid labeling the medicine as “yucky tasting” in response.
  • Be mindful of how you present the medicine, a positive attitude goes a long way.
  • Start practicing saying out loud what the medicine will be doing for your baby as you give it — it’s a good habit to start: “This medicine is going to help your ear feel better.”

Toddlers: 18 months to 2½ years

The hallmark of toddlers is to say “no” to anything and everything. If it’s not their idea, it’s probably not a good idea to them! Medicine fits neatly into something that is not their idea, so it helps to show them exactly why it should be their idea. “You told me your ear hurts and you want it to feel better, right (wait for the ‘yes’)? This medicine will make it feel better, but only if it gets down to your tummy.”

Pre-schoolers: 2½-5 years

They have had some life experience, tasted medicine and may not be excited to repeat that experience. Also, they are age-appropriately seeking control and recognize the opportunity for control when they zip their lips. Find ways to add fun as well as choices. Choices help a child regain control and still meet the goal of taking the medicine. Routine works well to help understand the time-limited nature of the experience. Sticker charts add a sense of accomplishment and measurement of progress.

School-age children: 5-12 years

Kids this age are old enough to understand how the medicine will help them but can become easily frustrated if they are struggling with the taste of medicine or difficulty swallowing a pill. Practicing with similar-sized candy is helpful if you work up in size to the size of the prescribed pill. Start with something small, like a Tic Tac, then incrementally larger candies until you get to the desired size. Finding opportunities to point out to your child how the medicine is helping them adds to their motivation.


Many teens don’t like to interrupt their lives or appear different in any way from their peers. It can be a challenge to coordinate their schedules with the requirements of taking a prescription. It’s helpful to walk through what it would be like to take the medicine and coordinate any necessary adjustments with your physician and pharmacist. The school nurse can be a great resource to make sure the medicine is taken. If your teen has a long-term medicine to take, this is a great time to teach them how to be responsible with their meds.

Behavioral support

  • Implement a routine for taking the medications: sitting in a certain chair, drinking something of their choice right after, etc.
  • Incorporate medical play with small candies and a doll or stuffed animal to practice the routine.
  • Give appropriate choices: Syringe or cup? Sitting at the table or sitting on the couch? Explain why the medicine is important. Older kids can understand if they take the medicine, their ear won’t hurt, etc.
  • Parents: Try to keep a positive attitude. Your child will be able sense your frustration, which will only make the situation more difficult. Work together toward your end goal.
  • Take the child to the store to buy a special cup and drink choice to chase after medicine.
  • Be honest. Never tell your child medicine is candy or try to hide medicine in food (it’s OK to use food/liquid to help administer the medicine — just make sure your child knows the medicine is there).
  • Use visual supports to help a child understand medicine routines. For instance, visual supports can help a child learn each important step to swallowing a pill and can even be used to help make the connection between taking the medicine and getting to enjoy that favorite activity (by showing a picture of a child taking medicine paired with a picture of the activity). You can download the ATN’s free Visual Supports toolkit.

Dealing with taste

Check with your physician and pharmacist on how medicine should be taken and what you can take it with before you try any of these suggestions.

  • Have a frozen treat (popsicle, etc.) or chew on ice prior to taking medicine. This “numbs” your taste buds to minimize taste.
  • When possible, crush it up and put it into pudding, applesauce, etc.
  • Mix crushed pills with frozen juice concentrate (numbs the taste buds and masks the taste). Grape, raspberry and lemonade are stronger flavors.
  • Mix crushed pills with maple syrup or coat the tongue with maple syrup to mask the taste.
  • Put the whole pill in a small spoonful of Jell-O.
  • Wash the tongue, scrub the taste buds if the taste is lingering, or pretend a wet wash cloth is an ice cream cone and lick it.
  • Blackberries can be used as edible medicine cups. The pill fits quite well in that little hole, and if your child is a fruit eater it makes it easier.

Other resources on the Web

“Children’s Pedcast” can be heard on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, YouTube and Vimeo.

“Children’s Pedcast,” Episode 3: Nicole Skaro and Dr. Anne Bendel on parents’ roles on care team

Episode 3 coverDr. Anne Bendel, the director of neuro oncology at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and Nicole Skaro, the mother of Victor “Valiant Vito” Skaro, discuss the importance of establishing a strong relationship between the doctor and patient family as well as parents’ roles as members of a child’s care team. Vito was diagnosed with medulloblastoma in August 2014, when he was 11 months old. Nicole and Dr. Bendel share what questions parents should ask when facing a life-changing medical diagnosis.

Listen to “Children’s Pedcast” on iTunesPodbean, Stitcher, YouTube and Vimeo.

Sleep tips from Children’s Sleep Center

Children's Sleep Center in St. Paul specializes in identifying and treating the full gamut of sleep challenges. (iStock Photo)

Children’s Sleep Center in St. Paul specializes in identifying and treating the full gamut of sleep challenges. (iStock Photo)

subscribe_blogKaren Johnson, APRN

Parents know good sleep is essential for healthy growth and functioning. Parents also know that good sleep can be hard to come by.

Families seek out the Children’s Sleep Center for our experience in treating rare and common sleep disorders in infants, children and adolescents. At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we specialize in identifying and treating the full gamut of sleep challenges, ranging from difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or with breathing during sleep, to difficulties waking up and staying awake.


Random bedtimes breed bad behaviors in kids

Many parents have learned the hard way that late bedtimes make for cranky kids the next day. In one study, children who went to bed after 9 p.m. were rated as having more behavior problems. During the day, later bedtimes affected the child’s school performance. Irregular bedtimes cause worse behaviors than short amounts of sleep. Behavioral problems improve when children have regular bedtimes.1

Sleep tips for a better bedtime routine

1. The bedtime routine should take place in the child’s bedroom where it’s quiet — a great time to read two to three books to your child, developing a love for reading, too.

2. Your child will be calmed when the routine is done in the same order each night.

3. Younger children may benefit from a visual schedule (pictures, words, or both) to remind them of the steps.

4. Determine which events are calming and which are stimulating. Calming events are required for bedtime. For example, if bathing is stimulating instead of relaxing, move the bath time earlier in the evening or to the morning.

Kids and electronics

Screen time can impact the quantity and quality of sleep. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of screen time a day for children two years and older. The light from these screens suppresses melatonin, a hormone in the brain that signals sleep. Due to the usage of multiple electronic distractions (cellphones, computers, tablets) for tweeting, texting, social networking and entertainment, kids’ evenings are “lit up.” The light from these devices is keeping many kids awake long into the night, creating sleep deprivation. Losing one hour of sleep at night can negatively affect a child’s academic performance at school.

Tips for improving sleep

1. Implement an electronic curfew at least one hour before bedtime.

2. Remove all electronic devices from the bedroom.

3. Adjust your child’s schedule to accommodate for homework to be completed earlier in the evening when homework requires using electronic devices.

4. Consider doing homework in the morning, as the light from these devices helps your child wake easier.3,4


Can I get sick from my CPAP mask?

Unwashed CPAP/BiPAP masks may have an odor and harbor germs. Because you breathe through the mask for several hours each night — particularly if you use a heated humidifier in conjunction with the CPAP machine — you create a warm, moist environment inside your mask. Fungi, bacteria and viruses can thrive in this environment. These infectious agents then have direct access to your airway and can make you sick.

  • Wipe the CPAP mask clean each day with a mild detergent and allow it to air dry.
  • If you have any questions, call your equipment vendor or the Children’s Sleep Center for help.

Important things to know about CPAP/BiPAP and sleep

1. You should start to feel better during the day soon after you consistently start using your CPAP/BiPAP at night.

2. CPAP/BiPAP improves your health and well-being in many ways.

3. Not everyone finds CPAP/BiPAP easy, but there are things that you can do to make it easier. Ask your sleep specialist for ideas.

4. To succeed with CPAP, you need to be patient and stick with it. Since it generally will make you feel better the next day, taking a night off from using it is not a good idea.

5. It is not unusual to find your mask is off when you wake at night. What matters is being aware and putting the mask back on again when you notice it is off.

Treating sleep apnea in kids improves behavior, quality of life

Kids with untreated obstructive sleep apnea often are tired during the day, have trouble paying attention and other behavioral problems; these children are not getting enough quality sleep at night.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is marked by pauses in breathing while asleep. These pauses can occur through the night and disrupt sleep. Positive airway pressure machines help keep the airway open. The main message is that this treatment — although it may be difficult to tolerate — can result in a significant improvement in the child’s behavior and quality of life. One of the issues is that children may not want to wear the bulky mask while they sleep, but the study shows that even three hours a night is enough to make a big difference by improving attention, behavior, sleepiness and quality of life.5


Pediatric parasomnia refers to movement or experiences that take place during sleep as a child transitions from sleep to wake phases. A few common parasomnias include sleepwalking, sleep terrors and confusional arousals.

Parsomnias can be common in families and may be triggered by other sleep disorders, such as OSA and restless leg syndrome (RLS). Other triggers include certain medications, sleep deprivation, irregular sleep schedules, fever, sleeping in unfamiliar places, stress and separation anxiety.6

Sleep terrors occur during the first hours after falling asleep. The child wakes abruptly from sleep with loud screams, is agitated and frightened. The child is unresponsive to a parent’s efforts to calm and does not recall the event in the morning. It’s best to stand by during the event, observe and maintain the child’s safety. The terror is not traumatic for the child, only for the observer.

Nightmares occur at the last half of the night during REM sleep. They are disturbing dreams that wake the child, usually creating fears and anxiety. The child can recall the nightmare in the morning.

Sleepwalking occurs in about 15 percent of children, peaking between 8-12 years of age. Some may exhibit inappropriate behaviors at night, even urinating in strange places. Children have injured themselves by unconsciously carrying out dangerous behaviors such as leaving the house at night. Safety is the biggest concern in managing sleepwalking events. Second-floor bedroom windows should be locked and alarms placed on outside doors to alert parent if the child attempts to leave the home during the night.

Confused arousals may occur at any time during sleep. The child may sit up in bed, cry, whimper, moan and seem agitated and confused. Usually they do not respond to your interventions to comfort.

Home management

  • Maintain a regular sleep and wake schedule seven days a week. Getting the proper amount of sleep to feel well-rested will reduce the triggers for an event.
  • Precautions for safety during sleepwalking events need to be addressed. Alarms on doors and windows are advised.
  • Night terrors and confused arousals do not require the child to be comforted, as this will intensify the event. Parent should stand by to observe and maintain child’s safety.
  • Children will outgrow parasomnias as they get older.
  • If your child is having regular parasomnia events, an evaluation by your sleep provider may be required.

Karen Johnson, APRN, is a certified nurse practitioner at the Children’s Sleep Center in St. Paul. Get more information about the Children’s Sleep Center.

1., 2003
2. Sleep for teenagers;, (2014).
3. Treating sleep apnea in kids improves behavior, quality of life;, (2012).
4. Limiting screen time improves sleep, academics, behaviors, study finds;, (2014).
5. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 2012
6. Suresh Kotogal MD (2014). Sleepwalking and other parasomnias in children.

8 tips to prevent poisoning

With one of the busiest pediatric emergency medicine programs in the nation and more than 90,000 emergency department visits annually for a variety of reasons, you can trust we’ve treated just about everything. We love kids here at Children’s, but we’d rather see them safe at home.

In recognition of Poison Prevention Awareness Week (March 15-21), we’ve gathered tips from our experts. Share these tips with your kids and print them to share at their schools or with your friends. Together, we can make safe simple.

Keep all potential poisons up high and out of the reach of children — in a locked storage container. Set up safe storage areas for medications, household cleaners, and chemicals like antifreeze. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

What is Poison Prevention Week?

National Poison Prevention Week was established by Congress in 1961 for annual, national recognition. The goal of the week is to educate the public about poisoning risks and what to do to prevent poisonings.

What you should know

Did you know that injuries are a leading cause of death in children? Each year, 5,000 kids die and another 6 million are hurt as a result of unintentional injuries. One in 4 children is hurt seriously enough to need medical attention. Most childhood injuries occur at home, and many of these injuries, including poisoning, could be prevented.

Facts about poisoning

  • More than 1 million accidental poisonings per year occur in children younger than 6 years old.
  • Approximately 1 in 10 poisonings involves cleaning products.
  • Approximately 1 in 10 poisonings involves indoor and outdoor plants.
  • Approximately 1 in 20 poisonings are caused by cosmetic and personal-care products.

Tips to prevent poisoning

  • Review the poison prevention home checklist from the Minnesota Regional Poison Center.
  • Keep all potential poisons up high and out of the reach of children — preferably in a locked storage container. Set up safe storage areas for medications, household cleaners, and chemicals like antifreeze.
  • Keep medications and vitamins out of the reach of children. Never call medicine “candy.”
  • Keep foods and household products separated.
  • Keep products in original containers. Do not use food storage containers to store poisonous substances (i.e. plant food in a drink bottle).
  • Destroy old medications.
  • Identify all household plants to determine if poisonous.
  • Post the Poison Center phone number, 1 (800) 222-1222, near each phone in the home.

subscribe_blogWhat do you do if you suspect someone has been poisoned?

  • Swallowed poison: Remove anything remaining in the mouth. If a person is able to swallow, give about 2 ounces of water to drink.
  • Poison in the eye: Gently flush the eye for 10 minutes using medium-warm water.
  • Poison on the skin: Remove any contaminated clothing and rinse skin with large amounts of water for 10 minutes.
  • Inhaled poison: Get fresh air as soon as possible.
  • Call the Poison Center, 1 (800) 222-1222, immediately.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia an option for kids with sleep trouble

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) requires regular visits with a sleep provider who will work with you and your child to help change the way he or she sleeps. (iStock photo)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) requires regular visits with a sleep provider who will work with you and your child to help change the way he or she sleeps. (iStock photo)

Terese Amble, PsyD, LP

Insomnia is broadly defined as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and/or subjective, poor-quality (“non-restorative”) sleep.

Everyone has problems sleeping at times; however, a diagnosis of insomnia is made if sleep problems persist for more than one month and result in some degree of daytime impairment. Untreated insomnia can result in chronic sleep loss that can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and impact daytime functioning, which may range from fatigue, moodiness/irritability or mild cognitive or behavioral problems (difficulties with concentration/attention, hyperactivity) to significant effects on mood, behavior or school performance. Chronic insomnia also increases the risk of physical and mental illness.

Given the negative impact of chronic poor sleep, it is important to have sleep problems evaluated and treated. Behavioral treatments are the first line treatment for insomnia and involve improving sleep without the use of medications, as there are no medications that are FDA-approved for the treatment of insomnia in youth. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia, commonly referred to as CBT-I, is a safe and effective treatment that aims to help children and adolescents identify and replace thoughts and behaviors that cause or worsen sleep problems with thoughts and behaviors that promote sound sleep.

CBT-I requires regular (usually weekly or biweekly) visits with a sleep provider who will work with you and your child to help change the way he or she sleeps. The frequency of treatment may vary from as few as two sessions to as many as eight of more sessions, depending on the specific sleep concerns and progress. At the beginning of treatment, a comprehensive sleep evaluation will be conducted to determine factors that are underlying or contributing to sleep difficulties and to help develop an effective treatment plan. As part of this initial evaluation, you will be asked to keep a sleep log of your child’s sleep patterns for one to two weeks and your child may be asked to wear an actigraph, a portable wristwatch-like device which records and stores more objective information about body movements and sleep-wake patterns.

subscribe_blogAfter this initial evaluation, treatment is individualized and each session is focused on learning specific cognitive and behavioral strategies to improve sleep. The cognitive part of CBT-I involves teaching your child techniques to quiet his or her busy mind at night to relax and fall asleep. Your child will learn strategies to recognize, modify or eliminate unhelpful/negative thoughts or worries that interfere with his or her ability to sleep, including unrealistic beliefs and attitudes about sleep and the possible daytime consequences of poor sleep (e.g. “I’ll never be able to fall asleep tonight,” “If I can’t fall asleep, I won’t be able to get up in the morning and I’ll miss my test”).

The behavioral part of CBT-I involves identifying and changing behaviors that may keep your child from sleeping well and developing good sleep habits to promote quality sleep. Treatment is tailored to each child or adolescent and may include some combination of the following techniques:

  • Sleep restriction: This strategy involves temporarily restricting the total time in bed to current amount of sleep each night to decrease the amount of time spent in bed awake. Being extra-sleepy can help your child fall asleep quickly and stay asleep. Once sleep has improved, the amount of time in bed is gradually increased until desired bedtime is reached.
  • Stimulus control: This technique involves eliminating any activities in bed that are not conducive to sleeping to disrupt the association between being in bed and wakefulness (and strengthen the association between being in bed and sleepiness). Stimulus control instructions often include only going to bed when sleepy, leaving the bed (and possibly bedroom) to engage in a quiet activity if not asleep within 15-20 minutes and only using the bed for sleeping both during the day and at night (not watching TV, doing homework, worrying, etc.).
  • Sleep hygiene: This involves learning positive sleep practices and habits that are important for getting sound sleep, such as establishing an optimal sleep environment, implementing a developmentally appropriate and consistent bedtime and wakeup time (no matter how much sleep you got the night before!), avoiding naps, establishing a calming, consistent bedtime routine, decreasing stimulation near bedtime (caffeine, physical activity, conflict/stress) and removing electronics from the bedroom.
  • Relaxation training: Increased mental activity at night (such as worrying or not being able to “switch off” an active, busy mind) or stress about not being able to fall asleep leads to increased activity and tension in the body, which further interferes with the ability to unwind and fall asleep. Relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing, visual imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenics, meditation and mindfulness can be used to help quiet the mind and calm the body at night and improve sleep.

Given the potential negative consequences of chronic sleep loss, it’s important to actively treat sleep problems. CBT-I is a safe and effective way to treat insomnia in children and adolescents without the use of medications. CBT-I is generally short term, but the skills learned during this treatment can lead to lasting, improved sleep if positive habits are maintained.

Terese Amble, PsyD, LP, is a pediatric psychologist in the sleep center at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

“Children’s Pedcast,” Episode 2: Dr. Keith Cavanaugh on sleep health

subscribe_blogDr. Keith Cavanaugh and Karen Johnson, APRN, of the Children’s Sleep Center in St. Paul talk about healthy sleep habits for kids from newborns to teens.

They cover children and schedules, sleep apnea, daylight saving time, teens and technology, and other sleep habits, both good and bad, providing information for parents and kids.

Listen to “Children’s Pedcast” on Podbean, iTunesStitcherYouTube and Vimeo.

Mindfulness a technique to relieve stress

Many teachers of mindfulness suggest visualizing thoughts as leaves floating down a stream or as clouds drifting by in the sky. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

subscribe_blogLeslie Partin

Whether you’re a busy, working parent or a teen trying to balance a full social calendar and school, life can be stressful at times. Mindfulness, otherwise known as mindful meditation or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR), is a tool any one of us can use as we navigate through the demands of our days.

The basic tenet of mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment. So much of the time we’re thinking ahead to the next task or mulling over something that happened in the past. For example, have you ever driven past the exit you intended to take, only to realize you missed it because you were thinking of something else? When we are caught up in our thoughts, we miss what is happening around us like that missed freeway exit.

Our minds are powerful, and we can harness that power to help us manage difficult experiences and distressing (or afflictive) emotions. When we are in the midst of a strong emotion or physical sensation like anger, sadness, disappointment or physical pain, it can feel like things will never get better. But if we’re able to step back and observe our distress, we may notice that it changes, ebbs and flows. Noticing and recognizing that the intensity varies, whether it’s an emotion or physical sensation, offers hope and reassurance that it won’t always be so hard. And when we focus on what we’re experiencing right now, instead of what’s going to happen — “I don’t want to have a headache at the dance,” “I don’t want to be stressed out at my child’s game,” etc. — then we don’t add the additional suffering of anticipation or worry. We suffer when we focus too much attention on what may happen in the future.

Mindfulness doesn’t mean trying not to think or making one’s mind blank. Instead, mindfulness teaches us to watch our thoughts, observe them while not attaching to them. Many teachers suggest visualizing thoughts as leaves floating down a stream or as clouds drifting by in the sky. Practitioners of meditation say that having a regular “practice” — a time set aside to practice meditation — allows us to develop our capability to be mindful in times of distress. It’s like building our mental muscles in the same way we build physical muscles by lifting weights or working out. Committing to a meditation or mindfulness practice helps us develop those muscles so we have the ability to use them when we need them most.

Neuroscience studies show us that the brain develops neuro-pathways as a result of our thinking habits and patterns. Similar to the way a trail through the woods is developed by animals and people following the same path over and over, our neuro-pathways, or thought habits, are made as we repeatedly take the same path of worry, fear, joy, happiness, etc. Mindfulness is one technique we can use to help form new neuro-pathways or mental habits. When we practice mindfulness we increase awareness of all of our thoughts and emotions, the positive as well as the afflictive ones. We then can choose which thoughts, emotions and sensations we want to focus on and nurture, and of which ones we want to let go. Remembering that we have this choice can help us cope when we hit stressful times.

If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, here are few links that can help you and your family get started (the first six links are centers that are located in the Twin Cities):

The Kiran Stordalen and Horst Rechelbacher Pediatric Pain, Palliative and Integrative Medicine Clinic at Children’s – Minneapolis has medical providers that work with children to teach relaxation techniques that can include the use of mindfulness. These strategies are helpful for chronic conditions such headaches and abdominal pain or problems with sleep and anxiety.

[1] Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs in Massachusetts and has several books and CDs, which provide a good starting point. “Everyday Blessings” is his book on mindful parenting, with Myla Kabat-Zinn.

Leslie Partin is a social worker at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Preparing yourself for your child’s surgery

Visiting the hospital ahead of time gives everyone a chance to learn more about what to expect and what’s helpful to do ahead of time or bring with you when you come to the hospital. (2013 file photo)

Jeri Kayser

When a child needs surgery, the focus of preparation usually is with the child.

That makes sense.

We want our kids to understand what’s about to happen so they aren’t overwhelmed or traumatized by the event. They’re kids, after all, and we adults have to deal with it, right? Or, perhaps, wrong.

After more than 30 years as a child life specialist, 20 of those in surgery, I have observed that the first person to be well-prepared should be the parent. Children respond most directly to how their parents are reacting emotionally to the event to gauge their own response.

Imagine you are 3 years old and about to get your tonsils out. This is scary because it’s hard to understand what’s about to happen and frustrating you can’t control it. Age-appropriate information and a supportive staff are helpful, but if you notice your mom or dad is anxious, nothing else matters. You got the message: You should be anxious, too, especially if your parents are trying to suppress their emotions – that is even scarier to a child. You can tell that they are upset, but you don’t know why, so you imagine the worst. If you’re a teenager, you might pick up on the message that we don’t talk about this and it will upset your mom if you bring it up to her. It’s hard to deal with the unspoken stress of your family as well as your own fears and concerns.

When I’ve observed kids coping successfully with the challenges of a health care experience, I have noticed that their families have prepared themselves with some or all of the following techniques:

Seek information

Find out what is happening and why. What are the expected outcomes?  What types of things can you as a family plan on doing to foster your child’s healing?

Attend a pre-admission tour

On our hospital’s website there is helpful information about surgery and how to sign up for a tour. Visiting the hospital ahead of time gives everyone a chance to learn more about what to expect and what’s helpful to do ahead of time or bring with you when you come to the hospital.

Make a list

Write down a list of questions to bring to meetings with health care providers. I remember one family kept an ongoing list in their kitchen for anyone to write down questions, and they all contributed, even the siblings. Everyone had a say, and the questions helped everyone feel a part of the event. Knowledge helps you be in control and having specific tasks you can do to support your child in his or her recovery provides focus and direction.

subscribe_blogBe honest with your emotions

As a parent, our job is to love and protect our kids and guide them towards being an independent adult. It can be overwhelming to have to make decisions for your child that includes any potential discomfort since we so desperately want to keep him or her safe from life’s struggles, but learning to deal with life’s struggles is what helps kids learn to be independent. We also carry with us our own memories and experiences with health care that may help or cloud our emotional response to our child’s experience. It helps to pay attention to where your emotions about surgery differ from your child’s. You each get to own your own perspective.

Kids do best when we are honest with them. When you label your emotions and show your child what you’re doing to help yourself, your child gets to experience some phenomenal role modeling on how to cope with challenging situations.

“I am sad that your tonsils need to come out, but I am glad that the doctors can fix this and soon you will be able to breathe better at night when you’re sleeping,” a parent can say. “Let’s think of some fun things to do while you are healing!”

Take care of yourself

You know yourself best. Helping your child through the experience of surgery can be exhausting. Think about what will help you be in your best place. Whom can you call on for support? Even small favors like having someone else pick up your other kids from school can be a great stress reducer.

Plan on something nice you can do for yourself while waiting for your child’s surgery to be done or when you get home. This also can help you and your child focus forward and be reminded of the time-limiting nature of the experience. It won’t last forever, and soon you’ll be looking back on this adventure.

Cut yourself some slack. There is no perfect person, so there can be no perfect parent. Your effort is what your child will notice and appreciate.

We grow as individuals and we grow as a family when we figure out what works best for us to deal with life’s challenges. This knowledge is precious and affirming and gives us all the more strength to deal with the next adventure.

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

Taking fear out of food-allergy diagnoses

(iStock photo)

(iStock photo)

Dealing with a food allergy diagnosis can feel daunting, especially for the uninitiated, due to its serious nature. But it doesn’t have to be — no parent or child has to face the new reality alone. There are doctors who specialize in food allergies, and there are groups and programs to educate and assist with how to live with food allergies.

The Food Allergy Support Group of Minnesota, founded in 2003, provides support to more than 650 members and is committed to guiding people through the confusion and fear that can come with a food-allergy diagnosis. Its mission is to empower families affected by food allergies by providing support, education and a community to build personal connections.

For the newly diagnosed, finding a board-certified allergist and learning what medications are commonly prescribed for food allergies are at the top of the list. Other actions include: knowing how to read food-ingredient labels, organize the kitchen and recipes, eat safely at restaurants, travel with food allergies, and partner with your child’s school.

All parents should know

It’s important for all parents and teachers to know about potential dangers and how to practice food safety, too. Kids with food allergies may encounter unsafe food or treats brought to school for lunch or holidays such as Valentine’s Day. Or a child’s friend visiting as a house guest may have a food allergy that requires consideration.

Preparing and taking precautions are not as difficult as you may think. Make sure you have the child’s emergency medications nearby and ask to review their Allergy Action Plan from their doctor. Here are some important steps to take if someone is showing symptoms of a food-allergy reaction:

  • Watch for symptoms, which may include hives, coughing or a tight throat.
  • Identify their symptoms on their Allergy Action Plan and determine if they are having a minor or severe reaction.
  • Give emergency medicine as directed, such as an epinephrine autoinjector (ex. EpiPen).
  • Call 911 for medical assistance and head to the hospital in an ambulance.
  • If possible, bring a smartphone or tablet to entertain your child during the wait.
  • Bring safe snacks.

Food or foe?

subscribe_blogEight foods account for more than 90 percent of food allergies in the U.S., according to the Food Allergy Support Group of Minnesota.

  • Milk (all dairy)
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat

The Big Quack

The Food Allergy Support Group of Minnesota (FASGMN) is hosting the ninth annual Big Quack, a family-friendly, food-allergy-safe event at the Water Park of America, from 4-8 p.m. April 19. Attendees will enjoy shorter lines as the park will be closed to the general public during this event.

The Big Quack event is a fundraiser to help support families who manage food allergies by providing special support groups and programming. Admission is $15 per person (if purchased in advance), which is roughly half of the usual price at the water park. No food allergies? No problem. All are welcome! For complete details or to order tickets, please visit

Food Allergy Resource Fair

The Food Allergy Resource Fair, which takes place on Oct. 12 at the Eisenhower Community Center in Hopkins, is an event open to the public that features allergy-friendly products and services from the U.S. and Canada. There are products for adults to sample and a safe trick-or-treat experience for kids with food allergies (all candy is free of the top-eight food allergens).

Find the Food Allergy Support Group of Minnesota at,  Facebook, or email [email protected].

The scoop on a good night’s sleep

Simple steps to a good night’s sleep include: sticking to a schedule, decreasing caffeinated beverages, keeping naps to a minimum, creating a calm environment, and knowing when to unplug from electronics. (iStock photo)

Simple steps to a good night’s sleep include: sticking to a schedule, decreasing caffeinated beverages, keeping naps to a minimum, creating a calm environment, and knowing when to unplug from electronics. (iStock photo)

Erin Fritz, CNP

The significance of good sleep habits often is overlooked. It seems so simple; when the hour is late and it’s dark outside, it’s time to get some rest. Unfortunately for millions of kids and young adults, it’s not that simple. With busy school schedules, after-school and weekend activities, and maximizing time with family and friends, sleep often is one of the first things to become compromised. Not only does lack of sleep make for a tired person, but it has a critical impact on many aspects of health, daytime function and cognitive development.

Snoozing significance

The direct effect that sleep has on health has been well-studied over the years and is known to lower a person’s resistance to illnesses. Decreased amounts of sleep alter immune function, making it more likely for illness to occur. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares evidence for a higher risk of getting the common cold, pneumonia and influenza when sleep deprivation is a factor. Once illness occurs, sleep is necessary to boost the immune system and fight off illness. Sleep is the body’s time to repair and rejuvenate itself.

Daytime function also is altered with sleep deprivation. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently released recommendations for later start times in middle and high schools after noting an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance related to decreased amounts of sleep. Poor test scores, increased behavioral problems and children falling asleep in class have been highlighted as inhibited daytime functions directly related to sleep deprivation.

Sleep suggestions

Recommendations per the CDC:

Age Recommended amount of sleep
Newborns 16-18 hours a day
Preschool-aged children 11-12 hours a day
School-aged children At least 10 hours a day
Teens 9-10 hours a day
Adults (and elderly) 7-8 hours a day

Sleep solutions

subscribe_blogWhile it’s easy to perpetuate the cycle of being sleepy, it’s possible to make a conscious effort to improve this problem. Simple steps to a good night’s sleep include: sticking to a schedule, decreasing caffeinated beverages, keeping naps to a minimum, creating a calm environment, and knowing when to unplug from electronics.

It’s important to keep in mind that sleep deprivation might not seem like a big deal, but it can have serious consequences. Incorporate healthy sleep habits to promote an overall healthy lifestyle.

Sleep well!

Erin Fritz is a certified nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.