Category Archives: Parenting

Food that gets kids required vitamin D

Molly Martyn, MD, is a pediatric hospitalist at Children’s.

Molly Martyn, MD

Getting enough vitamin D is an important part of staying healthy. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption, and thus is a critical part of how our bodies make and maintain strong bones. Research shows that it also plays a role in keeping our immune systems healthy and may help to prevent certain chronic diseases.

Many of us get our vitamin D from the sun and drinking milk, but families often wonder how to help their children get enough vitamin D to meet daily requirements.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants receive 400 international units (IU) per day of vitamin D. For children older than 1 year, the recommended amount is 600 IUs per day.

Vitamin D is found in a number of foods, some naturally and some through fortification. Foods that are naturally high in vitamin D include oily fish (such as salmon, sardines and mackerel), beef liver, egg yolks, mushrooms and cheese. Below are some estimates of vitamin D levels (per serving) of a variety of foods.

Salmon, 3.5 ounces 360 IUs
Tuna (canned), 1.75 ounces 200 IUs
Shrimp, 4 ounces 162 IUs
Orange juice (vitamin D fortified), 1 cup 137 IUs
Milk (vitamin D fortified), 1 cup 100 IUs
Egg, 1 large 41 IUs
Cereal (vitamin D fortified), ¾ cup 40 IUs
Shiitake mushrooms, 1 cup 29 IUs

subscribe_blogAll infants who are breast fed (and even many who are formula fed) should receive a daily vitamin D supplement.

In addition, the majority of children do not eat diets high in foods containing vitamin D, so a vitamin D supplement or multivitamin may be an important part of helping them meet their daily requirements. Talk to your child’s health care provider about recommendations.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) has more information on vitamin D, including vitamin D recommendations for all age groups.

Molly Martyn, MD, is a pediatric hospitalist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Life jackets greatly reduce risk of drowning

A life jacket will provide significant protection for your little ones in and around water. (iStock photo)

A life jacket will provide significant protection for your little ones in and around water. (iStock photo)

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_blogStill, 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.
  • Before you know it, football season will be 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.

“Children’s Pedcast”: Car seat safety with Dex Tuttle

subscribe_blogDex Tuttle, Children’s injury prevention program coordinator, answers questions about car seat safety and provides information about rear-, front-facing and booster seats; the factors that go into choosing the proper car seat for your child and vehicle, as well as how to properly install a child safety seat.

Children’s is sponsoring a car seat checkup at the Roseville Fire Station (2701 Lexington Ave. N.) from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday (June 20). The event is free, but you must schedule an appointment. To schedule a car seat check, please contact Esther DeLaCruz at (651) 207-2008 or [email protected]

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

12 tips to keep kids safe around dogs

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

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.

subscribe_blogOne instance was when 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.

“Children’s Pedcast”: Missy Berggren on food allergies

Missy Berggren the Marketing Mama

Missy Berggren, aka “Marketing Mama,” with kids ages 9 and 7

On Episode 7 of “Children’s Pedcast” and in recognition of National Food Allergy Awareness Week, we get a parent’s perspective on food allergies. Mother, blogger, marketing pro and food-allergy advocate Missy Berggren, also known as “Marketing Mama,” joins the show to share her experiences raising a child with severe food allergies.

Whether or not you’re a parent of a child with a food allergy, Missy provides answers related to school, restaurants, play dates and parties that others may find helpful. We also learn the eight most common food allergies in the U.S.

Food-allergy resources:

Follow Missy Berggren on Twitter @MarketingMamaFacebook and “Children’s Pedcast” can be heard on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, YouTube and Vimeo.

Tanning turmoil: Why getting ‘bronzed’ is hazardous to teen health

For teens, one visit to a tanning bed increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent. (iStock photo)

Gigi Chawla, MD

Every spring, many of us weary from a long winter head south to warmer climes; teens across the country attend prom with their sweethearts. And what do kids tend to do before events like these?

Hit the tanning salon.

Looking “pasty white” in a swimsuit or a new dress just won’t do, right? Think again.

Gigi Chawla, MD

Gigi Chawla, MD

Here’s a brief warning to help dispel the myth of “getting a base tan” before these events. Or ever.

Currently, 35 percent of 17-year-old girls in the U.S. are using tanning beds and 55 percent of college-aged kids have used one at least once.

In 2014, the Star Tribune reported “a third of white 11th-grade Minnesota girls have tanned indoors in the past year, according to a state survey … and more than half of them used sun beds, sunlamps or tanning booths at least 10 times in a recent 12-month period.”

What isn’t immediately clear to our kids is that during a tanning-bed session they may receive up to 12 times the ultraviolet (UV) exposure as they receive being outside in the natural sunlight. This UV radiation exposure from tanning beds is dangerous and linked to three types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Here’s the potential damage that one tanning-bed session can cause a teen:

  • The risk of developing melanoma increases by 20 percent.
  • The risk of developing basal cell carcinoma increases by 29 percent.
  • The risk of squamous cell carcinoma increases by 67 percent

subscribe_blogFor people younger than 35 using a tanning bed, the lifetime risk of developing skin cancer of any type increases by 74 percent.

Specifically, it increases the lifetime risk of:

  • Melanoma by 75 percent
  • Basal cell carcinoma by 150 percent
  • Squamous cell carcinoma by a whopping 250 percent

Moreover, skin cancer now is the leading form of cancer in 25- to 29-year-olds.

Another startling fact: More skin cancer cases arise from tanning-bed use than lung cancer cases do from smoking; yet, in our culture, bronzed skin is seen as a form of beauty.

Some advice to parents: Remember to reinforce to your teens that they are beautiful or handsome no matter the shade of their skin. What’s important is what’s inside. I like to think that we live in an era in which we can look past skin color, where we are not judged by skin color and we should not see beauty based on skin color.

It’s time to remind your kids to “go with your own natural glow.”

Gigi Chawla, MD, is a pediatrician, hospitalist and the Senior Medical Director of Primary Care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Her areas of interest are the care of complex special needs patients, premature infants, ventilator dependent children and care of hospitalized patients.

Sources: The Skin Cancer Foundation, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


4 ways to monitor your kids’ social media use

Use social media to help your kids develop self-control habits. (iStock photo)

Maggie Sonnek

If Jennifer Soucheray had a Twitter handle, it probably would be something clever like @JentheMamaHen or @MrsSouchRocks. But this third-grade teacher and mom of three teens doesn’t have a Twitter account.

Or Instagram.

Or Snapchat.

But her three kids do. So, she and her husband, Paul, have had to find ways to monitor their social media use without being, “like, totes uncool.”

I asked Soucheray, along with a few others, to share a few of their tips and best practices when it comes to kids and social media. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Use social media to help your kids develop self-control habits

Whether it’s texting, tweeting or using Facebook, these parents tout the benefits of putting limits in place early. According to the Soucheray household, texting and Twitter are the most common ways their kids communicate digitally.

“We know their phones are lifelines to their friends,” Soucheray said. “They need these tools otherwise they’ll be ostracized. But as parents you have to develop parameters for what’s acceptable use.”

One way these parents have put boundaries in place? All devices are turned in to Mom and Dad before bedtime.

2. Validate kids every day, offline

Soucheray, who taught middle school for 12 years, says it’s extremely important to validate your kids every day. She said that’s one reason why Facebook and other social media tools are so popular — because we’re all looking to be validated. (Author’s note: Not going to lie; there have been times that I’ve fallen into this trap and checked in on a status update or picture I posted to see how many “likes” it has received. And when the number is higher or the comments are positive, for some reason, I feel a little better.)

“If a kid doesn’t hear she’s pretty or smart by someone who cares about her, she’s going to look for that somewhere else,” Soucheray said.

Dr. Robyn Silverman, a child-teen-development specialist and body-image expert, agrees.

“Teens are defining themselves during adolescence,” she wrote on her blog. “They are figuring out where they fit into their social world and hoping that others look at them favorably.”

Soucheray and Silverman say it’s important to talk about your kids’ true gifts.

“Make sure your children understand that their strengths — such as their kind heart, conscious nature or musical ability — are recognized,” Silverman said, “and really make a difference.”

subscribe_blog3. Use the tools for good

One thing that surprised me as I chatted with parents and teachers is: Kids are using social media more than just a platform to post “selfies.” They’re also using it as a homework-helper.

Dan Willaert, a geometry and AP statistics teacher and Cretin-Derham Hall wrestling coach, tweets out reminders and practice problems to his followers on a regular basis.

“I’ll write out a problem, snap a picture and then tweet it,” Willaert said. He has a Twitter account for wrestling, too, and often sends updates about tournaments, schedule changes and snow days.

4. Be present

Soucheray admits she doesn’t have the right answer or the perfect balance for monitoring tweets and texts, but her one piece of advice is something all parents can take with them. And that’s simply to be present.

“Dig in and be there with them… be in the moment,” she said.

Maybe someday @JentheMamaHen will tweet out that advice to her followers. But for now, she has papers to grade and dinner to make. Her Twitter days will have to wait.

Maggie Sonnek is a writer, blogger, lover-of-outdoors and mama 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.

‘I’m a cancer survivor’

Ted Sibley's work as a doctor has taken him to Central and South America. (Photos courtesy of Ted Sibley)

Ted Sibley’s work as a doctor has taken him to Central and South America. (Photos courtesy of Ted Sibley)

This is part four of a four-part series written by Ted Sibley, MD, a former Children’s cancer patient from Plymouth, Minn., who used to work as a nursing assistant and pharmacy technician at Children’s while attending medical school, about how cancer drastically impacted all aspects of his life from youth to adulthood.

Part 1: Cancer patient reflects on diagnosis — 20 years later

Part 2: Cancer delivers another blow

Part 3: Cancer-patient-turned-doctor adds new title: Dad

Ted Sibley, MD, is a doctor at Truman Medical Centers Emergency Services in Kansas City, Mo. (Photos courtesy of Ted Sibley)

Ted Sibley, MD, is a doctor at Truman Medical Centers Emergency Services in Kansas City, Mo.

Ted Sibley, MD

Childhood cancer survival rates are on the rise. Current estimates are that there are more than 325,000 children, teens and adults living in the United States who are survivors of childhood cancer, and each of us has a story to tell.

If we were too young to understand what was happening, our parents could tell you about the struggles they went through — their worries and tears they cried for us when we were too young and weak. Some of us have made it into adulthood, and we can tell you how cancer is something we carry with us. We are part of a collective group who faced death at a young age and now are living life in a newfound light. And we are the lucky ones. For every story like mine, there are countless children who lost their fights with cancer:

  • Children who had bright futures, energizing smiles and did nothing wrong to have lost their lives so soon
  • Children who should have grown up, graduated high school, attended college and changed the world
  • Families who are left with memories of these children
  • Parents and siblings who can tell you the brave fight their child or sibling fought and how they feel about their vacancy in the world

Much like me, they can tell you exactly when and where they were when they discovered that their young loved one had cancer. And they can tell you about their life before and after cancer crept its way into their world and changed them forever.

A younger Ted with Children's Bruce Bostrom, MD

A younger Ted with Children’s Bruce Bostrom, MD

During my time as a nursing assistant, I had the pleasure of sharing my story with patients and their families, but I also got to see firsthand the loss of a child taken from the world too soon.  Late one December, a young boy undergoing chemotherapy spent Christmas in the hospital because his blood counts were too low to go home. I spent time in his room, talking with his mother about how my roommates and I had had a very small Charlie Brown-esque tree on our table years before, but we did not have a star to place on the top. The young boy made arts and crafts to pass the time that evening, and the next day I came to work, his mother handed me a gift. He had made a star for the top of our tree. I thanked him and promised that this would be on my tree for years to come. This little boy lost his fight with cancer within a couple of months, but his small balsa wood star with yellow paint and gold trim sits atop our tree every year. It is one of the most precious things I own and reminds me of those who have lost their fight with a terrible disease.

The impact of being a cancer survivor has changed my life since I was diagnosed. The life I lead now is correlated to the experiences and person that I had become after undergoing treatment. Since my wife and I adopted our first son, I have finished medical school and residency, and I am now a practicing emergency medicine physician. I have had the opportunity to become a father two more times since our first adoption. My wife and I are parents to an Ethiopian boy along with another Colombian child, making an incredibly busy (but wonderful) family. I have become heavily involved in international medical work and am the medical director for a team that provides medical care to the indigenous people of the Amazon River. I have been able to travel extensively throughout Central and South America to work in various hospitals and clinics. I also have been allowed the opportunity to extend my medical services to countries throughout Africa and use the medical knowledge I’ve received through my training to help others on an international scale. My cancer history led me to the life I have now.

The Sibley family

The Sibley family

My wife also has been affected deeply by cancer. Though she was not directly involved in the initial effects of my therapy, she has experienced the ripple effects of my treatment. She changed the way she saw our marriage after my diagnosis of infertility. She has now become a mother who has embraced our adopted children and focused her heart and mind to be a champion for international and domestic orphan rights. She has led numerous teams to work throughout Haiti in orphanages and works endlessly for homeless children in our current city. She has volunteered our home a designated “Safe Families” house for homeless children. We provide temporary placement for various children from our area while their parents secure housing and job opportunities. We now have three sets of bunk beds in our home, countless extra sets of shoes and clothing for boys and girls, and we are just a phone call away from getting additional children who need a temporary place to stay.

Sometimes I worry that my past will strike again when I least expect it. Do you ever have a stomach ache or feel short of breath and wonder if you have a tumor in your abdomen that has now spread to your chest? Probably not. I try not to dwell on such things. But, on more than one occasion, I have taken myself in for a CT scan — just to make sure. Because germ cell cancer secretes the same hormone as a pregnant female, I will occasionally purchase a pregnancy test at the store and test my own urine. (No, not pregnant; I actually just had gastric reflux.) But with every mundane cough, body ache or pain that I experience, the thought that cancer could recur remains in the back of my mind.

This year, I turned 33 and reflected on what 20 years of cancer survivorship has meant to me. I wonder what type of person I would have been without cancer. For better or worse, my experience had substantial effects on my loved ones and me. I’m a different person today because of May 18, 1995. To my wife, I am a husband. To my parents, I am their son. To my kids, I’m their dad. I’m also a friend, brother and physician. But to those who know my history, I’m also proud to be called a cancer survivor.

Ted Sibley, MD, is a doctor in emergency services at Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo., and a clinical assistant professor for the emergency medicine department and adjunct clinical assistant professor for the master of medical science physician assistant program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“Children’s Pedcast”: Dr. Gigi Chawla on well-child visits

On Episode 5 of “Children’s Pedcast,” Dr. Gigi Chawla, senior medical director of primary care at Children’s, joins the show to discuss all things well-child visits and the importance of finding the right pediatrician for your child from birth to adulthood. She answers a lot of questions and provides helpful information for parents with kids of all ages.

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

Raising kids with the Internet as a co-parent

Every generation faces unique challenges in life, this generation is no exception. The main difference for new parents in 2015 is the Internet — offering a mixed bag of benefits and burdens to the ancient art of parenting. (Pimonova / iStock illustration)

Every generation faces unique challenges in life, this generation is no exception. The main difference for new parents in 2015 is the Internet — offering a mixed bag of benefits and burdens to the ancient art of parenting. (Pimonova / iStock illustration)

Jeri Kayser

While visiting my marvelous niece and her exceptionally marvelous newborn baby, she mentioned that women who have already raised their children don’t know what it’s like to be a parent in today’s world. This struck me as interesting on many different levels.

I remember having that same exact thought after having my first child; it’s only after that baby has grown a bit or you’ve had your second or third child that you can look back on this phase of your parental evolution and see that the change is less about the world and more about you. You have changed. Your priorities, your worries, your decreased expectation that sleep is something you get to choose. The world is now more demanding but infinitely more fascinating and filled with an indescribable love. Plus, you get to learn some awesome multitasking skills!

subscribe_blogSo, is it different to raise a child now?

Every generation faces unique challenges in life, this generation is no exception. I would argue that the main difference for new parents in 2015 is the Internet — offering a mixed bag of benefits and burdens to the ancient art of parenting. It’s a great place to find bargains for the stroller you want or show you how to install the car seat. But it’s equally a never-ending source of unsolicited advice and distorted parent bragging that can make any rock-solid parent feel insecure, questioning if it’s true: “Should I really only feed my child blue foods?”

When I was raising kids and standing in the checkout lane at the grocery store, the magazines would shout from their rack all of the things I could be doing to be a better parent: “How to create the perfect birthday party!” “Fun and easy Halloween costumes you can make at home!” “Teach your child 12 languages before they enter kindergarten.” Every title offering a suggestion came with the subliminal message that failure to follow the advice was evidence that you weren’t up to this whole parenting thing. It’s hard not to feel insecure when you’re so motivated to be perfect for your obviously perfect child while residing in the imperfect package of a human being.

I could step away from the parenting magazines in the checkout line, maybe read up on what alien has married what celebrity, but you can’t really avoid the Internet. Those photos of your friends and relatives in gorgeously orchestrated family bliss are still going to pop up in your feed.


Mining the Internet for truly helpful information that empowers your parenting mojo instead of inviting in trolls who create chaos with your self- esteem requires some thoughtful navigation.  The Internet is great for advice about things that have easily verifiable facts, like “where can I find an indoor playground?” Questions that have long-term consequences like “how do I get my kids to get along with each other?” are best answered by the posse of people closest to you — your friends and family as well as professionals educated in the field of question.

Important parenting advice should be gathered from people important to you, people who are invested in you for the foreseeable future who will be around to be held accountable for their advice. Sift through that advice and take from it what seems right to you. Trust yourself. Yes, others have sailed the parenting seas, but this is your journey and you are the captain. Respecting yourself and recognizing there is no perfect parent smoothes the waters and makes the trip so much more fun!

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