Category Archives: Featured

What my toddler taught me about injury prevention: When actions have no consequences

Young children begin to understand their world by cause-and-effect experimentation. (iStock Photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

Recently, I watched my 18 month-old daughter, Quinnlyn, as she played with her favorite blocks. She picked one up, stacked it carefully on top of another, and repeated until she had a tower four or five blocks high. Without warning, she pummeled the tower while sounding her signature high-pitched battle cry, sending blocks flying in all directions. She immediately seemed to regret not having a tower and ran to pick up the blocks to start the process over.

Young children begin to understand their world by cause-and-effect experimentation. Psychologist Jean Piaget was one of the first to put this concept into organized thought.

This behavior is apparent with my daughter: “If I stick my hand in the dog’s water dish, my shirt gets wet. This pleases me and I must do this each morning, preferably after mommy helps me put on a clean shirt.”

Then, something occurred to me as I watched Quinnlyn build and destroy her tower; there is a trigger missing in her young mind that could change her behavior: She does not understand consequence, the indirect product of an effect.

I began to notice this in her other activities as well. At dinnertime, we give her a plastic fork and spoon so she can work on her motor skills. If she’s unhappy with how dinner is going, she throws her fork and spoon on the floor in a fit of toddler rage. She is then immediately puzzled by how she’ll continue her meal now that her utensils are so far away.

As frustrating as toddler tantrums can sometimes be for parents, I’d love to be in my daughter’s shoes. Who wouldn’t want the satisfaction of taking all those dirty dishes that have been in the sink for two days and chucking them against the wall? That decision, of course, would be dangerous and reckless and I have no desire to clean up such a mess. And, with no dishes in the house, I’d be forced to take a toddler to the store to shop for breakable things; not a winning combination.

There’s an important lesson here for safety-minded parents: Kids will explore their environment in whatever way they can. It’s like the feeling you get when you find a $20 bill in the pocket of a pair of pants you haven’t worn in months, or when you discover the newest tool, gadget or fashion. For toddlers (and us adults), it’s fun finding new things and learning new skills; it’s motivating and creates a feeling of accomplishment. However, the cognitive skills of a toddler haven’t developed beyond that cause-effect understanding.

This is why we need to consider the environment in which our young children play. I recommend giving them plenty of space and opportunity to experiment without worry of the consequence:

  • Make sure stairs are blocked off securely and unsafe climbing hazards are eliminated; encourage kids to explore the space you define.
  • Create a space to explore free of choking hazards, potential poisons and breakable or valuable items; leave plenty of new objects for children to discover, and change the objects out when the kids seem to grow tired of them.
  • Allow children to fail at certain tasks; be encouraging and positive without intervening as they try again.
  • If possible, discuss their actions and consequences with them to help them understand the reason for your rules.

Encouraging the learning and exploration process will increase your child’s confidence and creativity, and defining safe boundaries and rules will keep you both happy.

Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and the father of a curious and mobile toddler. He has a Master of Education degree from Penn State University.

Honoring patient- and family-centered care

If there is a Children’s staff member who has made a difference to your family, nominate him or her for the Excellence in Patient- and Family-Centered Care Award.

When Deb’s daughter was born prematurely at 28 weeks, Kathy Wharton, RN, in Children’s neonatal intensive care unit, was there to comfort her, teach her and laugh with her.

“Kathy was calming, funny and professional,” Deb said. “She was our decoder for this confusing, unplanned madness we got thrown into. I can’t imagine getting through the first few weeks without her kind words, explanations and hugs.”

Deb honored Kathy by nominating her for the Excellence in Patient- and Family-Centered Care Award, which is organized by Children’s Family Advisory Council. The award, which is given out twice a year, gives families an opportunity to recognize and honor care providers who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to patient- and family-centered care.

For Kathy, the award was a touching reminder of why she comes to work every day.

“I have spent over 30 years in nursing and have done it all – from bedside nursing to supervising, from hospital to clinic, NICU to dialysis and back to bedside NICU,” Kathy said. “This award reminded me why I came back to bedside nursing. It renewed my spirit and reminded me that I can make a difference.”

If there is a Children’s staff member who has made a difference to your family, nominate him or her for the Excellence in Patient- and Family-Centered Care Award. Families can nominate any Children’s staff member from whom they have received services in the past 12 months. The next awards will be presented in May and October.

Questions? Please email familyadvisorycouncil@childrensmn.org.

Preemies to princesses: Thank you, Children’s

Rebecca (left) and Emily Pierce, 2 months old, receive care in Children's neonatal intensive care unit in this March 23, 2011, photo. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Gillquist)

Rebecca (left) and Emily Pierce, dressed as princesses, are 3 years old and live in Rapid City, S.D. They visit Minnesota often to see family and for followup appointments at Children's. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Gillquist)

By Debbie Gillquist

Hardly a day passes that we aren’t grateful for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota’s quality work, care, compassion and expertise. My twin granddaughters, Emily Rose and Rebecca Elizabeth, were born Jan. 28, 2011, at 1 pound, 4 ounces and 1 pound, 10 ounces, respectively, at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and transferred to Children’s. Fittingly, Dr. Ronald Hoekstra, who was present for the twins’ mother’s (my daughter, who weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces) birth at the same hospital 33 years ago, led the team.

First of all, wow, have things changed in 33 years! What hasn’t changed, though, is how incredibly passionate all the providers at Children’s are, how much they care for the family and how much they make the experience “home away from home.” (We even met up with some of the nurses from all those years ago.)

We were so impressed with every aspect of our stay and wish we could personally thank every one of the staff members who cared for my family. Children’s cares, makes a difference and saves lives. Thank you from an incredibly grateful family.

Miracles – you create miracles.

5 tips for home and neighborhood safety

Summer is around the corner, we promise. No matter how much it snows in the next few days, the warm weather isn’t far away.

The season brings neighbors together for all kinds of outdoor activities. While your local barbecue or block party is a great time to reconnect with neighbors and enjoy a potluck, it’s also a great chance to review home and neighborhood safety tips with your children.

Here are five tips to bring up with your kids ahead of summer:

1. Post important personal and contact information in a central place in your home.

  • Include parents’ names, street address, mobile, home and work phone numbers, 911, poison control, fire department, police department, and helpful neighbors.
  • Use a neighborhood party to help children to familiarize themselves with their neighbors and identify whom they can go to for help.

2. Teach your child how and when to call 911.

  • Discuss specifics of what an emergency is and when 911 should be used.
  • Role play different scenarios and make sure kids know what information to give to the 911 operator.
  • For younger kids, discuss the different roles of emergency workers and what they do.

3. Discuss “stranger danger.”

  • Talk with your kids about who is allowed to pick them up from school or activities.
  • Talk to your kids about the importance of walking in pairs.
  • Ensure they always take the same route home from school and do not take shortcuts.

4. Practice proper street safety.

  • Have kids practice looking both ways before stepping into the street, using the crosswalk and obeying the walk-don’t walk signals.
  • Teach kids what different road signs mean, such as a stop sign.
  • Remind children about the importance of biking with a helmet and reflective light.

5. Talk to your children about fire safety.

  • If fire trucks are present at the neighborhood party, use their presence as an opportunity to discuss what to do if there were a fire.
  • Plan and practice escape routes in your home and designate a meeting spot in case you get separated.

It’s never too early to talk to your children and family about ways to stay safe.

The volunteer under Twinkle: Vince Opheim

Vince Opheim has been volunteering at Children's for six years.

Have you ever seen Twinkle, the mascot of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and wondered who is inside that smiling blue star? Chances are it’s Vince Opheim, who has volunteered as Twinkle for nearly six years. He describes his volunteer time as “some of the most-fun experiences I’ve ever had.”

Opheim is the volunteer who often plays Twinkle, the Children's mascot.

Why play Twinkle? Well, the answer was quite simple, Vince said.

“It is another way to not just make kids smile, but parents, too! Twinkle is my version of Superman… Well, “Superstar.” By day I am Vince, a full-time employee of AT&T and aspiring RN, but when it is time for an event … I transform into Twinkle, the big blue star that brings smiles and laughter. Where else can you dance in polka-dot pants, be asked to come to school for show and tell, or rock out with inflatable guitars?”

The true question is where doesn’t Vince volunteer? In addition to volunteering as Twinkle at special events, Vince volunteers every Monday evening on the inpatient units, providing laughs and comfort through the healing powers of play. He also volunteers his time at events such as Starry Night and the annual Children’s Star Gala and monthly at the Diabetes Support Group. Vince has created two fundraisers benefiting Children’s: a Zumba class (where Twinkle showed off some moves!) and his “Pasta for Peds” event: a spaghetti dinner, silent auction and karaoke contest.

What is his motivation for giving so much of his time to Children’s?

“You get the feeling that you are meant for certain things. I know I was meant to volunteer at Children’s,” Vince said. “A nurse once asked me this same question, ‘why volunteer?’ I pointed to the child’s room that I had just left and told her, ‘See the smile on that sleeping baby? That is why I volunteer.’ Words cannot explain the incredibly positive feelings I receive when I leave a child’s room. Whether I am painting fingernails, watching Elmo, telling jokes, or simply holding a hand, every moment is memorable and worthwhile. These incredible kids have taught me so much, and I am thankful that I am able to spread some cheer during their stay every week. I always leave with a huge smile on my face.”

We are thankful for Vince and all of our volunteers who help to make Children’s a very special place for families. Happy National Volunteer Recognition Week!

Volunteer shout-out: Jackie Cameron

Jackie Cameron has volunteered for six years and is a Children’s employee who works as a lead medical scribe in Health Information Management.

Happy National Volunteer Recognition Week! Meet Jackie Cameron, a volunteer for six years and a Children’s employee who works as a lead medical scribe in Health Information Management (HIM).

Tell us about your volunteer journey and how it led to a career at Children’s.

I started volunteering at Children’s during my sophomore year in college. This was a memorable time in my life as I was on my own for the first time. Having left a small town in Wisconsin for the Twin Cities, I felt like a little fish in the big ocean. Children’s welcomed me with open arms and allowed me to establish connections and observe medicine in an urban setting for the first time. With all of the opportunities Children’s has provided me, it is extremely rewarding to continue to give back to the place I work through volunteering.

What do you love most about volunteering?

My time spent rocking babies and playing with children reminds me of what is truly important, and what all of our hard work as employees of Children’s is really for. Volunteering has a way of keeping me humble and grounded. It is an incredibly special feeling to be able to make a child forget that they are sick and in the hospital.

Please join us in thanking Jackie and all of our amazing volunteers this week!

Volunteer shout-out: Eric Gustafson

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

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

What is your favorite part about volunteering?

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

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

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

What advice would you give to a new volunteer?

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

Besides volunteering, what is something you love to do?

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

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

Minneapolis among 10 best U.S. cities for health care

Minneapolis was named one of the 10 best U.S. cities for health care, according to Becker’s Hospital Review and a release from iVantage Health Analytics and its Hospital Strength INDEX, a rating system analyzing publicly available data to measure hospitals across 10 pillars of performance and 66 metrics.

Minneapolis was named one of the 10 best U.S. cities for health care. (2014 file / Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota)

List of cities in top 10 (in alphabetical order):

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Charlotte, N.C.
  • Chicago
  • Minneapolis
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • Portland, Ore.
  • St. Louis
  • Washington, D.C.

The 10 cities serve approximately 60 million people, 19 percent of the U.S. population, according to the report.

Sources: Becker’s Hospital Review and iVantage Health Analytics

Five Question Friday: Joanna Davis

It’s Child Life Week at Children’s, so we’re dedicating this week’s Five Question Friday to learning more about Joanna Davis, a child life specialist and the coordinator of the new Child Life Zone at our St. Paul campus.

Joanna Davis is a child life specialist and the coordinator of the new Child Life Zone at our St. Paul campus.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

I have worked here since July 2013. Before I came to Children’s, I worked at a children’s hospital in Alaska.

Why did you decide to become a child life specialist?

I knew I wanted to work with kids, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. At the time I had never heard of the child life profession. While I was in college, my sister was doing her nursing clinicals and she followed a child life specialist around for a day. She called me up immediately after to tell me she found the perfect job for me. I looked up all I could about child life. Ever since then, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I did everything I could to get my certification in child life, and I give all the credit to my sister, for finding me my perfect job!

We recently opened the new Child Life Zone in St. Paul. Can you tell us more about the new space?

The Child Life Zone is a state-of-the-art, therapeutic play area, located on the St. Paul campus. It’s a place that patients, siblings and families can play, hang out, have fun and just relax. Inside we have a therapeutic craft and play area, media wall and gaming area, Children’s library, Star Studio performance space and kitchen area for special events. We also offer sibling play services for kids whose brother or sister is in the hospital.

What do you love most about your job?

Working with kids and their families, and helping make their experience here at Children’s even more positive. The Child Life Zone draws kids from all over the hospital ­– we have outpatient kids that come weekly after their therapy appointments, infusion kids that come up and play from the short-stay unit while getting their meds, and inpatient kids that come down daily if they are able to. It’s really nice getting to see these kids come to a space in the hospital where they feel safe, and they really open up to you.

The theme for Child Life Week is “everyone plays in the same language.” What was your favorite childhood toy?

I loved my Easy Bake Oven! I played with it all the time until I got old enough that I started baking in the kitchen. Baking cookies is one of my favorite things to do.

Child life specialist helps patients conquer fears

Happy Child Life Week! Meet Betsy Brand, a child life specialist who has worked at Children’s for 26 years, across four different locations.

Betsy Brand, a Child Life at Children's, demonstrates an MRI to a young patient in St. Paul.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Every day is different, which is what I love about the job. I work in Sedation and Procedural Services (SPS) at Children’s — St. Paul, helping prepare and support patients for sedated and unsedated MRIs, CTs, voiding cystourethrograms (VCUGs), nitrous procedures and IV starts. On the Short Stay Unit side of SPS, I check in with families after surgery to help find developmentally supportive activities for patients and prepare patients for tests and procedures.

What’s one thing you’d like people to know about Child Life?

We all have at least a four-year degree, and many of us have master’s degrees in child development-related fields.

What do you love most about your job?

Being a part of a positive medical experience, witnessing patients conquering their fears and mastering their health care challenges.

What do you think makes kids great?

Their honesty and how their play reveals their needs and the developmental needs they are working on.

The theme for Child Life Week is “everyone plays in the same language.” What was your favorite childhood toy?

My dolls, Barbies and stuffed animals.