Category Archives: Parenting

Define safe boundaries for kids and play

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. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

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. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

Not long ago, I watched my toddler 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.

Subscribe to MightyAs 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.

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. When it’s critical, so is your choice – Children’s Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, Minneapolis.

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.

Life jackets greatly reduce risk of drowning

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

According to the Minnesota Water Safety Coalition, it’s estimated that half of all drowning events among recreational boaters could have been prevented if life jackets were worn.

As a parent, it doesn’t take much to convince me that the safety of my daughter is important, and more specifically, directly my responsibility. This statistic is alarming. Especially since drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 14 and younger.

My daughter, Quinnlyn, loves the water. It’s easy to get caught up in her excitement and joy as she splashes around and giggles that addicting toddler laugh, so much so that I often forget the dangers inherent in water for a child who is oblivious to them.

Subscribe to MightyStill, as an attentive parent, it’s hard for me to believe that drowning is an ever-present danger for my little one. That’s why it’s important to consider the staggering statistics around near-drowning incidents.

Since 2001, an average of 3,700 children sustained nonfatal near-drowning-related injuries.  To spare you the details, check out this article.

When protecting your children around water, there’s little to nothing that can supplement uninterrupted supervision. However, a life jacket will provide significant protection for your little ones and help instill a culture of safety in your family. Here’s how to know if it fits right (thanks to the United States Coast Guard):

  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard-approved on the label on the inside of the jacket.
  • Ensure that the jacket you select for your child is appropriate for his or her weight, and be sure it’s in good condition. A ripped or worn-out jacket can drastically reduce its effectiveness.
  • Football season is here again (YES!), so consider the universal signal for a touchdown – after the life jacket is on and buckled, have your child raise his or her arms straight in the air. Pull up on the arm openings and make sure the jacket doesn’t ride up to the chin; it’s best to find out that it’s too loose before getting in the water.

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.

When it’s critical, so is your choice – Children’s Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, Minneapolis.

Dex Tuttle is Children’s injury prevention program coordinator.

New Minnesota immunization requirements take effect in September

Minnesota’s new immunization requirements take effect Sept. 1, and with August serving as National Immunization Month, we urge parents to get their children’s vaccinations updated ahead of the upcoming school year.

The Minnesota Department of Health's statewide requirement changes were made to protect kids from measles, whooping cough and other preventable diseases. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

The Minnesota Department of Health’s statewide requirement changes were made to protect kids from measles, whooping cough and other preventable diseases. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

The Minnesota Department of Health’s statewide requirement changes were made to protect kids from measles, whooping cough and other preventable diseases.

Getting vaccinated before September is important.

“Vaccines take about a month or so, in general, to really be full force and working for your body effectively,” Pamela “Gigi” Chawla, MD, Children’s senior medical director for primary care, said in an interview with KARE-TV. “We want kids to be ready for their school year.”

The new requirements include:

  • Hepatitis A and B vaccinations for children enrolling in child care or school-based early childhood programs
  • Pertussis vaccine added to tetanus-diphtheria vaccine for seventh-graders
  • Meningococcal meningitis vaccine for seventh-graders

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccinations given to children in the past 20 years will prevent an estimated 732,000 deaths and save $295 billion.

Looking to schedule an appointment? Contact one of our 12 clinic locations.

Changes to state’s immunization law (KARE-TV):

Collaborative caring in eating disorders

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Pam Macdonald and Janet Treasure

Eating disorders have a profound impact on individuals, as well as the people who care for them.

Eating disorder symptoms have immense social and emotional ramifications for families and loved ones. Symptoms vary and can be frightening, intrusive, antisocial, anxiety provoking and frustrating. The behaviors involved in limiting calorie intake, increasing calorie expenditure, or uncontrolled calorie intake, take many forms. The physical consequences are alarming and distressing. All semblance of normality disappears, social life evaporates, future plans are put on hold and interactions around food increasingly dominate family relationships. It can feel akin to living within a maelstrom.

Promoting beliefs that sustain hope and empower families may be an important step in reducing caregivers’ feelings of helplessness and interrupt unhelpful interactions.

Subscribe to MightyResearchers at King’s College London are equipping caregivers with tools aimed at reducing distress and boosting care-giving efficacy to support their loved ones on the road to recovery. Headed by world eating disorder specialist Dr. Janet Treasure, who will be speaking at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota on Monday, Aug. 4, the caregiver skills training is intended as an adjunct to the individual’s treatment program. The skills training program is the result of several empirical research studies and has been designed to provide caregivers with information on treatment goals, prognosis and maintenance factors to which they are entitled, without breaching patient confidentiality.

Utilizing a “dolphin-like” approach of warmth, gentle nudging and negotiation caregivers are taught how to listen to and analyze their emotional responses while reflecting upon what they might need to change in their own situation. Dr. Treasure’s interventions incorporate basic motivational interviewing techniques. The goal is for caregivers and professionals to work in partnership to promote the following:

  • Strengthen the caregivers’ belief in their own abilities to make change possible
  • Give caregivers the opportunity to express concerns about the cause and effects of the illness
  • Discuss the basic principles of behavior change
  • Teach good communication skills (the ability to express and process emotions)
  • Promote respect, satisfaction and a unified approach within the family (and extended family) unit
  • Learn the skills of problem solving
  • Maximize caregiver skills (warmth with limits and boundaries)
  • Highlight those factors which may be aggravating the problem
  • And, above all, encourage caregivers to practice self-care.

Are you a dolphin parent?

The skills training intervention uses a series of lighthearted animal analogies to encourage the caregiver to reflect upon his or her default caring style; for example, a kangaroo does everything to protect, keeps their loved one firmly in the pouch in an effort to avoid any upset or further stress, while the rhinoceros, fueled by stress, exhaustion and frustration, or simply one’s own temperament, attempts to persuade and convince by argument and confrontation. Emotional responses are captured with the help of the ostrich, who avoids talking and thinking about the problem, frequently due to the difficulty in coping with the distress of challenging eating disorder behaviors. The jellyfish becomes engulfed in intense emotional responses. These may include high levels of self-blame or perfectionist tendencies with regards to parenting skills or expectations of what it is to be a “good parent.” As illustrated above, the goal of the intervention is to promote a dolphin-like behavioral approach to caring and a St. Bernard emotional approach, responding consistently – reliable and dependable in all circumstances.

Dolphin parenting presentation

Children’s Center for the Treatment of Eating Disorders is sponsoring a short presentation by Dr. Treasure from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 4, at the John Nasseff Conference Center, 333 Smith Ave. N., in St. Paul. No registration or fee is required to attend.

The Center for the Treatment of Eating Disorders

The Center for the Treatment of Eating Disorders delivers the leading evidence-based treatments to patients of all ages and with all types of eating disorders. After a comprehensive assessment, the team develops an individualized approach for each patient. We offer customized inpatient and outpatient treatment for children, adolescents and adults. We use the latest evidence-based treatments, including: family-based therapy (FBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Enhanced (CBT-E).

Everyone on the team — including psychiatrists, psychologists, hospitalists, dietitians and social workers — has special training in motivational strategies and the core treatments for helping children, adolescents and adults with anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders. We offer inpatient treatments for young patients through college age at Children’s – Minneapolis, and for adults at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Janet Treasure, Ulrike Schmidt and Pam Macdonald co-edited “The Clinician’s Guide to Collaborative Caring in Eating Disorders.”

Don’t forget kids in cars

Cracking a window does little to reduce the heat inside a car. Never leave your child unattended in the car. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Cracking a window does little to reduce the heat inside a car. Never leave your child unattended in the car. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

I’ve often surprised myself by how forgetful I am as a parent. It’s possible I’m the only dad who has nearly forgotten that his daughter needs to eat and, more specifically, that he’s responsible for making sure that happens. I know for a FACT, however, that I’m not the only dad who has forgotten the diaper bag in the car and been forced to speed-run the grocery shopping to get a stinky child out of the store as fast as possible. On tired days after sleepless nights, I’ve forgotten that my keys are in the ignition of the car I’m driving and seriously debated being late for work to turn around and go get them.

I’m exposing a vulnerable part of myself a little when I admit this type of fault, but I know I’m not alone. As the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s, I feel even more responsible to be mistake-free in providing a safe environment for my child, and I feel that much more silly when I fail to do so.

Subscribe to MightyWhen Quinnlyn was learning to walk, she pulled herself up on me as I sat in my “dad chair” in the living room. (I’ll admit, realizing that the recliner was a crucial part of fatherhood was a huge part of my excitement for becoming a dad, but I digress.) She grabbed my hands and smiled at her accomplishment. After a few happy moments, she started to turn and walk away, and I forgot that she wasn’t yet able to stand on her own. I let go of her hands and down she went, flat on her back. Thankfully, she was OK. She actually laughed it off (her reaction to near-injury that would soon give me anxiety) and got herself back up.

So far, my follies have been rather benign. Still, I live in eternal fear of finding myself in that vulnerable, forgetful moment when something more serious happens.

As the summer ramps into full swing, one such mistake I’m determined NOT to make is forgetting Quinn in the car. This can happen for one of two reasons: we don’t realize the danger, or we find ourselves in a moment of distraction and leave out one very important detail.

Let me first convince you that this is extraordinarily dangerous:

  • Children have lower water reserves, so their body temperatures rise three to four times faster than an adult.
  • The temperature inside a car can rise 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit every 15 minutes (on a 70-degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach 116 degrees).
  • Since 1998, more than 580 children in the United States have died from being left in vehicles.
  • In car seats, children are insulated, making it more difficult for their bodies to regulate overheating.
  • Signs of hyperthermia set in when body temperature reaches just 100.9 degrees Fahrenheit, which children will surpass in only a matter of minutes; internal organs can begin to fail at 104 degrees, and death can occur when body temp reaches 107.
  • Cracking a window does little to reduce the heat inside a car.

On most days, strapping my daughter into her car seat easily could be the final challenge on a reality game show that tests strength, patience and fortitude. Therefore, I’m admittedly hesitant to take her in and out of the car more than I need. However, you never know what will happen; on an average day, there are so many things that are out of your control and could delay a quick stop or create catastrophic failure of your car’s air conditioning. Please take control of what you can and never, ever leave your child unattended in the car.

But as I’ve already admitted, I’m forgetful. Here are some tips on making sure you don’t forget your most-precious package:

  • Place an important item in the backseat. My recommendation is to leave your phone there – thus removing a major distraction while driving – but it can be a purse, wallet, computer, jacket or any other item you know you’ll need when you arrive at your destination.
  • If you don’t carry items often and you drive a car with an automatic transmission, take the shoe off the foot you don’t use for the pedals and put it in the back seat. This can be a fun game where everyone in the family participates.
  • Leave yourself a note on the dashboard: “BABY IN BACK!”
  • Put a stuffed animal or doll in the car seat when your child isn’t in it. When you strap your kid in for a trip, put the stuffed animal in the seat next to you up front – a reminder that something is out of place.
  • If you have a GPS-enabled device, set location reminders when arriving at your favorite locations – the grocery store, work, restaurants, etc. Kars 4 Kids is developing an app that works with your car’s Bluetooth capabilities to remind you as you walk away from the vehicle.

Make arrival habits:

  • Always do a walk-around of your vehicle to ensure you’re a safe distance from other hazards and make note of items that will help you remember where you parked.
  • Always use the passenger-side doors to load and unload for trips. This will force you to walk around the car to collect your items.
  • Make a game with your child where you always sing a song, say a phrase, do an activity each time you stop at a destination. Even if your child is sleeping, the habit will keep your mind thinking about the little person in the backseat.

Other resources:

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

Five things to know about heat exhaustion

With sun and humidity a factor during summer in Minnesota, we thought it was a good time to talk about ways to keep kids safe in the heat. In addition to our quick tips for protecting your kids from dehydration, here are tips on avoiding heat exhaustion. We believe in Making Safe Simple, so take a few moments to review these tips!

  1. Subscribe to MightyChildren adjust more slowly than adults do to changes in environmental heat. They also produce more heat with activity than adults and sweat less. Sweating is one of the body’s normal cooling mechanisms. Children often don’t think to rest when having fun and may not drink enough fluids when playing or exercising.
  2. Heat exhaustion results from a loss of water and salt in the body due to excessive sweating. It occurs when the body is unable to cool itself properly and, if left untreated, can progress to heat stroke.
  3. Signs of heat exhaustion in children are: profuse sweating, pale skin that’s cool and damp to the touch, rapid and shallow breathing, headache, nausea, normal or below-normal body temperature, vomiting or diarrhea, dizziness, weakness or fainting, and muscle cramps.
  4. If your child is experiencing heat exhaustion, move him or her to a cool place right away to rest. You should remove extra clothing and apply cool cloths (towels with cold water) and fan the child’s skin. Give him or her cool sports drinks containing salt and sugar such as Gatorade (if the child doesn’t feel nauseated).
  5. Call your doctor or go to the emergency department if their condition hasn’t improved or your child is unable to take fluids within an hour.

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.

Stay safe and avoid dehydration in hot weather

Follow these quick tips to keep your kids safe from dehydration when they’re out playing in hot temperatures.

Summertime is definitely here, and what kid can’t wait to get outside and play? But staying safe in the sun, and avoiding dehydration, is important.

Subscribe to MightyWe believe in Making Safe Simple. Here are some quick tips to help your kids avoid dehydration:

  • On hot days, make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. The human body requires at least one liter of water daily.
  • Dehydration means that a child’s body doesn’t have enough fluid. Dehydration can result from not drinking, vomiting, diarrhea, or any combination of these conditions. Sweating or urinating too much rarely causes it.
  • Thirst is not a good early indicator of dehydration. By the time a child feels thirsty, he or she may already be dehydrated. And thirst can be quenched before the necessary body fluids have been replaced.
  • Signs of dehydration in children include the following: sticky or dry mouth, few or no tears when crying, eyes that look sunken into the head, lack of urine or wet diapers for six to eight hours in an infant (or only a small amount of dark yellow urine), lack of urine for 12 hours in an older child (or only a small amount of dark yellow urine); dry, cool skin; irritability, and fatigue or dizziness in an older child.
  • If you suspect your child is dehydrated, start by replenishing his or her body with fluids. Plain water is the best option for the first hour or two. The child can drink as much as he or she wants. After this, the child might need drinks containing sugar and electrolytes (salts) or regular food. Also, the child should rest in a cool, shaded environment until the lost fluid has been replaced.
  • Call your doctor immediately or take your child to the nearest emergency department if there is no improvement or condition is worsening.

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.

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.