Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fun in the Sun!

“Can we play in the sprinkler, Mommy?” asked my 4-year old daughter.  I looked up from my computer to see sweet puppy-eyes on a cute little face asking me to grant her this one simple request.  It was hot outside and the pools weren’t open yet.   It sounded like a perfectly fun and reasonable thing to do today.

Then I thought about what I had to do to set this up.  Herd four excited kids into bathing suits, sunblock each squirmy kid (perhaps one of their least favorite activities of all time), find the sprinkler toy thing (I bought it last summer on sale... where did I put it?), turn on the water feed to our backyard hose faucet (still off from the winter), and then all the cleanup that would be involved afterwards (from the wet toys to the wet kids).  So… being the slightly distracted mom that I was (focusing on something for work on the computer), I paused to figure out how I could get out of this one.

“The neighbors are playing in theirs,” she quickly added, noticing my hesitation.  “We NEVER get to play in our sprinkler… PLEEEEEEEEEEEE-ASE?!?!”  (puppy eyes again)

So I gave in.

And they had a blast!  Even I had fun as I sprayed my screaming, laughing kids (and myself) with our hose as I tried to figure out how the new sprinkler contraption worked.    All in all, it was a good couple of hours in the near-summer heat.  The kids were wonderfully exhausted afterwards, ate dinner without complaint, and went to bed early.  Happiness and contentment all around.

Summer is a great time to be outside, to be at the pool and play in the water.  It’s the time most of us go on vacations – often to the beach or other sunny places.  So, being safe in the sun is incredibly important to ensure that we are just having fun and that no harm will come from it.

With skin cancer being the most common form of cancer in the United States, it is vital to protect your kids (and yourself) from too much sun exposure.  Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.  One in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime.  Depending on the study you read, anywhere from 23-80% of a person’s lifetime exposure to the sun occurs before age 18, so it's important to limit the ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure to your child's skin.  Prolonged exposure to UV rays from the sun is thought to contribute to skin cancer and precancerous skin conditions.  

To protect your child, here are some things you can do:

1.      1.  Use sunblock (starting at any age – including your one-month old!).  Use a waterproof sunscreen of SPF 45 or higher.  Make sure that it’s rated to protect against UVA and UVB rays.  Reapply frequently, especially if your child is getting into the water.  Even on cloudy days, apply sunblock because ultraviolet rays penetrate the clouds and are still being absorbed by our skin. 
2.      2.  Wear long sleeve sunshirts and pants that protect against UV rays. 
3.      3.  Wide-brimmed sunhats are useful, especially the kind that extends down to cover the back of the neck.
4.      4.  Choose sunglasses that block 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays.
5.      5.  Avoid being outside during peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. if possible.  If your child’s shadow is shorter than your child, then the sun is very strong and it’s time to find shade or be indoors.
6.      6.  Give extra water and fluids to prevent dehydration.  Avoid caffeinated fluids which can actually cause dehydration because caffeine is a diuretic and makes your body need to urinate more.

Kids with fair skin, freckles, have light colored eyes (blue or green), or have red or blond hair are all at higher risk for developing skin cancer.  Boys are at higher risk than girls.  Your child is also at higher risk for melanoma if you have a family history of skin cancer.  

What to Do for a Sunburn? 
Despite your best efforts to protect your child from the sun,  he/she may end up with a sunburn.  Unfortunately, there is not a quick fix for this.  Sunburns can take several days to heal and the full extent of the burn is sometimes not visible until 12-24 hours after the sun exposure.

Here are some things to try:

1.       1.  Cool it down – a cool bath, placing cool towels or cool compresses to the sunburned area
2.       2.  Aloe or moisturizing creams – put the cream on a on small area of skin first to make sure that your child is not allergic to aloe or the ingredients in the cream.  Do not use benzocaine numbing sprays, especially on children under two years of age.  Rarely, benzocaine can cause a disease that prevents oxygen from being carried on red blood cells in the body correctly.
3.       3.  Do not pop blisters open – the skin on the blister protects the immature skin underneath from infection.
4.       4.  Taking Tylenol or Motrin for pain can be helpful.
5.       5.  Do not pick at the peeling skin – use a moisturizing cream.

Call your child’s doctor if there is severe sunburn that covers a large portion of the body with blisters, or if your child also has one of the following symptoms:
Confusion, paleness
Nausea or vomiting
Muscle cramps or pains
These can be signs of heat exhaustion which is more serious than just a sunburn.

Luckily, with good care, you can prevent sunburns and keep your child’s skin safe.  Pools open this weekend, so hopefully the weather will be good and everyone will have a great start to the summer swim season.  Happy Memorial Day, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What Do You Mean I Have to Share? – Teaching fairness

“Waaaahh!” came a cry from the basement.  

Uh-oh, I thought… what is it now?  I was sitting in our living room, the door to the basement nearby.

Stomp, stomp, stomp up the stairs.  The wails increased in volume as the victim got closer.  The crier was trying hard to maintain the ferocity of cry so that mommy would be dutifully impressed by the audacity of the crime.  The cry was definitely the “I’m insulted” or “I’m mad” cry, as opposed to the “I’m hurt” cry.  

“Mommy, he took my toy!” cried my four-year old daughter.  She buried her head in my lap, sobbing pitifully.

“I had it first!” proclaimed her six-year old brother, holding the prized item high above his head, trailing close behind her.  “It’s mine.  I got it for my birthday!”

“You need to share,” I said to them (for I think the thousandth time in their lives). 
“You’ve had it for a long time now,” I said to my son. “You can play with it for five more minutes, and then it’s her turn.”

Then I said to both children.  “I’m going to set the kitchen timer. When it beeps you need to switch.”

They both nodded, problem solved, and ran off happily together back to the basement as if nothing had just happened.

All was quiet on homefront for about fifteen more minutes.  Then… “waaaahh!”  It was another child.  I waited for the report of the horrible crime this time.  Stomp, stomp, stomp… “Mommy!”

Learning to share is a normal developmental process and can be a challenging concept to teach. 

It is important to realize that the sense of fairness or empathy for others changes as a child develops.  A toddler to three-year old is only aware of his/her own personal feelings.  They have not yet developed the ability to understand that what they do may hurt or negatively affect other people.  “The world revolves around ME” is the motto of a two-year old.  

As children get to age four and five, they start to realize that other people have feelings, too.  This is when sharing and fairness becomes easier for them to understand. When you are teaching, you can explain why he/she should be kind and share. At this age, they can remember what it feels like when someone doesn’t share with them.  They can start to understand that what they do can make others feel badly.

So how can you deal with arguments over sharing?

Prevention If you know that both kids are going to want something that you are going to give them, you can prevent the fight by setting guidelines early on.  Such as, “I have something fun for both of you.  John will get to use it for five minutes, and then Susie can have it for the next five minutes.”  Get them to agree on the rules of sharing beforehand.
If your young child is having a playdate, put your child’s prized possessions away so that the visiting child won’t be tempted to play with them.  Talk about sharing toys before the playdate so that your child understands that someone else will be playing with her toys.

Intervene early – When you hear arguments beginning, distract them if you can.  Steer them to another activity that is less contentious.
Give age-appropriate guidance – spending time giving a two-year old a lecture about how sharing/hitting/biting hurts others and would they like it if someone did that to them, and don’t they understand that it isn’t fair to hog a toy the whole time, and so on… It’s a little bit like Charlie Brown’s teachers saying “wah wah wah wah wah” to the children.  Your preschooler is not capable of understanding all of the nuances of being nice. 

Time them A kitchen timer is a great way to help little ones to share and avoid fights.  By saying that they can each play with a popular toy for five minutes, until the beeper goes off, is a concrete idea that they can understand. 

Be short and sweet in your teachings “You need to share.  Give Jason the red one and you can have the blue one.”  If your child cannot manage to do that, then take away the offending items and move on to another activity. 

Praise sharing behavior It is important to give praise when your child shares (either on his own or with your prompting).  This will reinforce the “good” behavior that you want.  If you focus too much on the less desirable or “bad” behavior, it will reinforce the “bad” behavior. Children want naturally crave attention from their parents.  Even it is negative attention, it is still attention.  (Think of the game that toddlers love of throwing something on the floor and you picking it up over and over again… they’ll keep doing it because you are paying attention to their behavior.)

When your child spontaneously shares or goes out of their way to help another child, it’s a great moment for any parent.  Some children are natural helpers and learn early that it feels good to make others happy.  Others need more coaching, but do not despair, for they will learn this, too.

Happy Mother’s Day next week to all the moms reading this blog!  Hope you have a wonderful, relaxing, peaceful day!  Thanks for reading!