Category Archives: Parenting

Mother of Children’s heart patient writes book

Charlie was born in 2005 with a congenital heart defect. (Photo courtesy of Mindy Lynn)

Charlie was born in 2005 with a congenital heart defect. (Photos courtesy of Mindy Lynn)

 

Charlie and Mindy Lynn

Charlie and Mindy Lynn

Embracing Charlie, a book by Minneapolis author Mindy Lynn about her son, a young Children’s patient born with a congenital heart defect, was named a finalist in the Christian Inspirational category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.

In the book, Mindy Lynn writes about her family’s emotional journey since Charlie’s birth in 2005.

Embracing Charlie is available in paperback; for the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and at Smashwords.

 

Healthy childhood development important for all

Mike Troy, Ph.D,

Mike Troy, Ph.D, LP, is Children’s medical director of Behavioral Health Services.

By Dr. Mike Troy

I had the honor this past week of participating in a panel discussion about the importance of early childhood development to healthy communities. Hosted by Healthy States, an initiative of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, the topic of the evening was “Community Responses to Toxic Stress.” As readers may know from our recent report and community engagement work, the subject of early childhood development is near and dear to my heart and a significant focus of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

My colleague and friend, Dr. Megan Gunnar, of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development presented scientific research on the essential role of a safe and nurturing social environment for healthy brain development. She also described how high levels of environmental stress in infancy and early childhood can lead to enduring problems in learning, physical well-being and social development. We know that birth to age 3 is an incredibly formative time for a developing mind, with 700 new neural connections made every second. But if a child lives in an environment with persistent challenges (toxic stress) such as poverty, poor nutrition and inadequate housing without the buffer of positive caretaking relationships, it prevents those connections from forming in an effective and efficient manner. Experience shapes brain architecture, and a poor early foundation affects development throughout the lifetime.

Q4_mighty_buttonPanelists MayKao Hang, president and CEO of the Wilder Foundation, and Sondra Samuels, president and CEO of Northside Achievement Zone, and I discussed how our organizations are helping to mitigate toxic stress and foster healthy child development. I left this lively discussion energized to continue Children’s work with community partners to help foster healthy development in children. Some of my thoughts include:

  • One way parents and community leaders can help is to encourage consistent monitoring of child development. At each well-child appointment and over time, we screen our young patients for normal development and identify challenges. Early intervention is key and can change the trajectory of a child’s life.
  • We can motivate leaders and others to action by educating them about the science of early brain development and the unequaled opportunity for healthy development that is presented during the first few years of life. Behavioral and emotional problems often have their roots in unhealthy conditions (toxic stress) in early, foundational stages of life.
  • What babies need is essentially the same across all communities: attentive and loving relationships, safe and stable environments, healthy food and developmentally appropriate activity.

Healthy development happens in the home and in the community through relationships with families, friends and neighbors. We all can play a role in supporting a strong start. Our collective focus must be on healthy development for all children.

Mike Troy, Ph.D., LP, is medical director of Behavioral Health Services at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

New mom reflects on her premature birth

Kirsten DesMarais was born at 28 weeks in 1988, weighing 2 pounds, 14 ounces.

Kirsten DesMarais was born at 28 weeks in 1988, weighing 2 pounds, 14 ounces.

Her pregnancy  and now, motherhood  gives Kirsten DesMarais perspective on what her parents experienced when she was born prematurely.

Kirsten DesMarais and husband Phillip welcomed daughter Lena Caroline on Nov. 5, 10 days beyond her due date and after 20 hours of labor.

Kirsten DesMarais and husband Phillip welcomed daughter Lena Caroline on Nov. 5, 10 days beyond her due date and after 20 hours of labor.

DesMarais, 26, was born at 28 weeks at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Her early arrival came as a surprise. Her mom was at the hospital for testing when a nurse told her she wouldn’t be leaving until she gave birth. The next day, DesMarais arrived, weighing 2 pounds, 14 ounces.

In an interview before the recent birth of her daughter, Lena Caroline, DesMarais said, “Even though I’ve been pregnant for over eight months, it’s still unreal that there’s going to be a baby to come out of this. It gives me a greater appreciation for what my parents and other parents went through having a baby so early.”

DesMarais and her husband, Phillip, welcomed Lena Caroline on Nov. 5, 10 days beyond her due date and after 20 hours of labor. Lena weighed approximately 7 pounds and was 20 inches long.

“I felt like we had extra time to mentally and physically prepare,” DesMarais said. “I couldn’t imagine having a baby three months early and not having any of that preparation for your first child.”

She also was able to hold and feed her daughter right away  experiences for which her mom had to wait. Becoming a mom is the “coolest, most-overwhelming thing ever; overwhelming in a good way,” DesMarais said.

Q4_mighty_button“Everyone tells you to sleep when they sleep, but all you want to do is look at them. You can see them changing right in front of you,” she said. “I feel like I can see her growing every time I look at her.”

For a long time, DesMarais wanted to share her story to show others that babies who are born early still can thrive, as she has. Becoming a mom seemed like the right time.

“As young as I could understand, any time anyone talked about a baby they would talk about how I was born so little and that I was so lucky to get the care I did,” DesMarais said, adding that it was a miracle she survived being born so early 26 years ago.

Thanks to medical advances, new state-of-the-art facilities like The Mother Baby Center and philanthropy, outcomes for premature babies continue to improve since DesMarais was born.

For a long time, DesMarais wanted to share her story to show others that babies who are born early still can thrive.

For a long time, DesMarais wanted to share her story to show others that babies who are born early still can thrive.

November is Prematurity Awareness Month. Learn more.

Five Question Friday: Dr. M. Jennifer Abuzzahab

November is American Diabetes Month, so we caught up with M. Jennifer Abuzzahab, MD, to learn more about her role at Children’s and what families should know about childhood diabetes.

M. Jennifer Abuzzahab, MD, is a pediatric endocrinologist.

M. Jennifer Abuzzahab, MD, is a pediatric endocrinologist.

What is your role at Children’s and where do you work?

I am a pediatric endocrinologist. This means that I study hormones (the text messages that run around in your blood). My primary clinic is at the St. Paul campus, but I also see patients at the Woodbury location and at the Minneapolis clinic.

How did you decide to go into pediatrics?

I love the resilience of kids and the positive energy that they exude; it helps me get through the busy days. I also really like seeing kids grow up.

What are some of the conditions you treat?

I see kids with conditions such as diabetes (high blood sugar), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), thyroid problems, multiple hormone deficiencies following cancer treatment, and growth and puberty disorders. Basically anything that would fit into a Dr. Seuss book: “too much,” “too little,” “too tall” or “too small.”

November is American Diabetes Month. What’s one thing you want families to know about childhood diabetes?

Q4_mighty_buttonAlthough there is more type 2 (adult) diabetes in teenagers, the majority of kids still have type 1 diabetes. This means that they have to check their blood sugar several times a day and take a shot of insulin every time they eat – every day, even on vacation. It also means they can have cake and ice cream at birthday parties, but just like everyone else, shouldn’t have cake and ice cream every day.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A doctor… family legend is that I wanted to be a “baby doctor” when I was 3. Both my parents stand by this (and their decision to give me the first name of Mary, but never, ever use it).

Helping kids make sense of Ebola

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Jimmy Bellamy

Your young child has seen or heard news coverage about Ebola, which has led to questions or noticeable worries from your little one. What do you do?

Mike Troy, Ph.D., LP, medical director of behavioral health services at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, provides some helpful tips for parents confronted with questions from their kids.

Answer questions asked

“It’s important for parents to respond to what their child is asking rather than making assumptions about  what you think he or she needs to know,” Dr. Troy said. “Make sure you’re addressing your child’s concerns, talking in ways that match their development level.”

READ (from AAP): What parents need to know about Ebola

“Be honest and reassuring in a way that’s developmentally appropriate and consistent with how you would typically talk about other concerning issues,” Dr. Troy said. “For very young kids and preschool-age children, they can imagine a lot of things, so they need reassurance and basic information without excessive detail. For this age group, reassurance from a trusted adult is more important than a logical, fact-based explanation.

“Whereas a school-age child in second, third or fourth grade may need reassurance as to why they personally are safe. For these children, accurate facts and a simple, logical explanation may be helpful. You can say things like, ‘It’s hard to actually get the disease’ and ‘So far it hasn’t been detected in Minnesota, and it’s safe to go to school.’ ”

Here are a few other facts that you can share with your children if they have concerns:

  • Although Ebola is a real problem in some parts of the world, they remain safe.
  • Our health care system is among the best in the world for taking care of sick people.
  • Ebola is rare and does not exist everywhere. When cases are found, the person with the infection is taken to a safe place to be cared for so that they can get better and not make anyone else sick.
  • Ebola is difficult to spread and is not an airborne virus, unlike the common cold. It does not spread through air, food, water or by touching things like a keyboard, desk or money.
  • Doctors and scientists who know a lot about Ebola are working hard to find ways to prevent or cure this illness.

Monitor what the child sees, hears and reads

“It’s absolutely reasonable to monitor your child’s news and social media consumption,” Dr. Troy said. “Because the coverage has been pervasive and often sensationalized, it’s prudent, especially with younger kids, to limit how much they’re exposed to it.”

Make your child feel at ease

The goal for adults caring for children is to help them feel safe without needing frequent reassurance. If reassurance is necessary, then the most important thing to emphasize is how rare the disease is in the U.S.

READ: Minnesota Department of Health’s FAQ about Ebola

Jimmy Bellamy is social media specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Bullied kids, bullies need our help

Children who are being bullied cannot learn, and children being bullies often need our help, too. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Children who are being bullied cannot learn, and children being bullies often need our help, too. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Kelly Wolfe

October is Bullying Prevention Month: We can learn a lot from a llama.

“It’s not nice to be a bully.” Those were the words my 4-year-old said as we were sitting down for breakfast recently.

Pleasantly surprised that he was aware of this fact, I smiled and said, “That’s right. Who told you about bullies?”

“We read a book at school about the bully goat,” he said. “He was not nice.”

Those few simple words prompted a discussion about what a bully is, why it’s not nice to bully someone and what we should do if we see someone being bullied. And while a little part of me was sad that, at 4 years old, he needed to learn about bullies, a larger part of me was thrilled that education about bullies was happening in his school. The messages we try to teach at home were being reinforced by his teachers and classmates. Everyone was saying the same thing: bullying is not OK.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and this year’s campaign has focused on one basic principle: “The end of bullying begins with me,” a simple premise that if we can all just learn to treat each other with respect, dignity and the same kindness with which we want to be treated, there will be no more bullies.

The PACER (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Education Rights) Center spearheaded the campaign and coordinated efforts on bullying prevention, education and awareness nationwide. Their mission is to “expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families, based on the concept of parents helping parents,” including issues around bullying.

Subscribe to MightyWe know that 94 percent of children with disabilities report being victims of bullying, and, according to the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey, more than 70 percent of fifth-graders and 90 percent of 11th-graders report being bullied at school during a 30-day period. The Safe and Supportive Schools Act that was signed into law this year aims to address it.

It’s time that the conversation is elevated and that actions are taken to protect all of our kids. Children who are being bullied cannot learn, and children being bullies often need our help, too.

It’s never too early to start talking to your child about bullying. There are excellent books and resources out there. In addition to PACER, the Minnesota Department of Education has some tips for parents if they suspect their child is a victim of bullying.

“Teacher has some things to say: calling names is not OK.” We all can learn from Llama Llama and the Bully Goat. As parents, adults and role models to our children, we all have a responsibility to model acceptable behavior. And we need to do a better job of standing up for our kids, for all of our kids; because the end of bullying begins with all of us.

Kelly Wolfe is senior policy and advocacy specialist for Advocacy and Child Health Policy at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

What parents need to know about Ebola

Ebola

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

Parents, we know you have questions about the Ebola virus, which has dominated national and regional news coverage in recent weeks.

Ebola disease, caused by the Ebola virus, is one of a number of hemorrhagic fever diseases, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Ebola disease first was discovered in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo near the Ebola River.

To learn more about Ebola, here are two great resources:

The first 1,000 days: Brains are built, not born

Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH, speaks to an audience at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in September.

Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH, speaks to an audience at Children’s – Minneapolis in September.

Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH

Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH

By Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH

The first 1,000 days, from birth to age 3, have the most pronounced impact on a person’s life-long health and well-being. I had the privilege of discussing strategies to make the most of these first 1,000 days when I visited Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in September.

Children born today face the prospect of growing up less healthy, living shorter lives and being less equipped to compete and lead in a world economy than previous generations. For the first time, we are expecting less of our children and letting them down. We should do better, and the good news is we can if we work together.

The opportunity resides in how we impact the first 1,000 days of every child’s life. We know more now than ever about brain science, which shows that by age 3, 80 percent of our brain is developed. We also know that:

  • Brains are built (not born) over time – prenatally to young adulthood.
  • Brain development is integrated. The areas underlying social, emotional and cognitive skills are connected and rely on each other.
  • Toxic stress, in the form of poverty, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, exposure to violence and limited positive and nurturing behaviors, disrupts brain development and can have a lifelong effect on learning, behavior and health.
  • Positive parenting and creating the right conditions can buffer toxic stress and build resilience.

Subscribe to MightyFrederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  This is a motivating principle behind many states’ efforts to bolster early child development through policy and practice. In the state of Washington, this is our mission. State leaders are using a collective impact1 initiative to provide a structure for cross-sector stakeholders, including state departments, foundations, social service agencies and pediatricians, to forge a common agenda around the shared vision that all children in Washington will thrive in safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments, beginning with a focus primarily on the first 1,000 days.

It all begins with a conversation. That’s why the discussions convened by Children’s among pediatric clinicians and state leaders are so valuable. It sends a signal that pediatricians and primary care providers as well as policymakers have important roles to play in this work. By working together and focusing on our youngest at the most critical points in time, we can change the course of life and set our children on a path toward good health and academic success.

Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH, is clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Reference

1 Stanford social innovations review 2013, “How collective impact address complexity” — John Kania and Mark Kramer.

Managing your child’s sleep when the clocks ‘fall’ back in November

Bright light in the morning helps a child’s internal brain clock to maintain a good rhythm, which helps the body transition easier from wake to sleep that night. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Bright light in the morning helps a child’s internal brain clock to maintain a good rhythm, which helps the body transition easier from wake to sleep that night. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Karen K. Johnson, RN, CNP

On Nov. 2, clocks are turned back by an hour, marking the end of Daylight Saving Time. Any disruption to the sleep patterns caused by the time change will be temporary. But if you want to be proactive to minimize the disruption to your child’s sleep pattern, here are a few things to consider.

For babies

Two weeks before the time change, start to put your children to bed 10 minutes later than usual, increasing by 10 minutes every other night until they are going to sleep about an hour later than their normal bed time. It often takes a few days for a new sleep pattern to establish itself.

Toddlers and older

  • Put them to bed a little later than usual the night of the time change. There are behavioral tools available to help with these schedule changes (Good Night clock).
  • If they wake up at their usual time (an hour earlier), you should encourage them to remain in bed until a set time. This may be a digital alarm clock or the visual cue of the night light.
  • When they remain in their bed until the “sun” appears on the clocks or when you inform them it is time to get up, they should be happily praised.
  • The following day, provide a generous amount of physical activity to tire them out and then put them to bed at the new earlier bed time.
  • The next morning, set the clock for the new morning wake time.

On the whole, it is easier for children to fall asleep in the winter months because it is darker and the environment is likely cooler at bedtime. The difference in light levels between day and night encourage the production of the sleep hormone melatonin in the evening when the light is dim, as there is a rise in melatonin and sleep is invited. Bright light in the morning helps a child’s internal brain clock to maintain a good rhythm, which helps the body transition easier from wake to sleep that night. Adjusting the sleep-wake cycle in November is easier to manage than when advancing the clocks forward in springtime.

In the spring, Mighty will have tips to manage your child’s sleep schedule when we “spring” the clocks forward March 8, 2015.

Karen Johnson is a certified nurse practitioner in the Children’s Sleep Center.

Serving up strategy at meal time

Kids are born wanting to eat. And they know when they’re hungry. It’s our job as parents to provide structure, support and opportunities.

Kids are born wanting to eat. And they know when they’re hungry. It’s our job as parents to provide structure, support and opportunities.

By Maggie Sonnek

We’ve tried peas. We’ve tried broccoli. We’ve even tried Brussels sprouts. Alas, our 2-year-old continues to ignore that pile of “green stuff” on his plate and reach for the carbs instead (just like his mother).

After chatting with Janie Cooperman, MS, RD, LD, CDE, Pediatric Clinical Dietitian at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, I now can come to the table feeling a little more prepared to take on a toddler at dinnertime. (Sounds like a thrilling TV show, doesn’t it?). I feel so enthused with what I’ve learned that I just had to share. 

Keep offering

Cooperman suggests offering specific foods 12-15 times before retiring them from the household menu. That’s a lot of peas! She also touts variety when planning the weekly carte du jour. For example, instead of plain bread, try whole wheat tortillas or pita pockets.

Division of responsibility

Kids are born wanting to eat. And they know when they’re hungry. It’s our job as parents to provide structure, support and opportunities.

Cooperman sites Ellyn Satter, an expert on the topic of the division of responsibility in feeding. Basically, this means we the parents are responsible for what, when and where our kids eat. They’re responsible for how much and whether they eat.

Yep. I said “whether.”

Cooperman suggests offering three scheduled meals a day with two or three snacks in between. “Eventually the child begins to understand the schedule and expectations,” she said. “Since he is not receiving food other than at the scheduled meals and snacks, he will soon get hungry enough and realize that he has no other option but to eat what’s being offered.”

Subscribe to MightyMake it a non-issue

You know the old standby, “You can’t leave the table till your plate’s clean”? Well, turns out, forcing a clean plate prevents kids from learning to pick up on their own hungry and satiety cues. Apparently most of us unlearn the natural inclinations of when we’re full and hungry sometime between the ages of 3 and 5.

Cooperman suggests making the amount of food your child eats a non-issue. She dissuades from offering rewards for eating. “If they refuse to eat, let it go,” she said. “But keep offering it at future meals. Try not to let kids get power and control.” (Writer’s note: I’m totally guilty of bribing my son with a chocolate chip cookie for taking a bite of broccoli. Oops.) 

Eat mindfully 

Eating dinner together as a family has a lot of benefits. The Family Dinner Project, a grassroots movement driven by insights and experiences of families, says recent studies find regular family dinners can help lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression. Studies show that dinner conversation can help improve vocabulary more than reading.

But let’s focus on the obvious: eating together. Parents modeling healthy habits, like munching on fruits and veggies, provide a good example for kids. Cooperman touts the importance of eating mindfully.

“Slow down, connect and enjoy what you’re eating,” she said. “Appreciate the food and your time together; it’s a more-balanced way of eating and living.” 

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.