News Reel

Halloween Safety Tips

With Halloween just around the corner we wanted to remind everyone of safety tips. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

ALL DRESSED UP:

  • Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.
  • Consider adding reflective tape or striping to costumes and trick-or-treat bags for greater visibility.
  • Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly so they don’t slide over eyes. Makeup should be tested ahead of time on a small patch of skin to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises on the big day.
  • When shopping for costumes, wigs and accessories, look for and purchase those with a label clearly indicating they are flame resistant.
  • If a sword, cane, or stick is a part of your child’s costume, make sure it is not sharp or long. A child may be easily hurt by these accessories if he stumbles or trips.
  • Do not use decorative contact lenses. While the packaging on decorative lenses will often make claims such as “one size fits all,” or “no need to see an eye specialist,” using decorative contact lenses without a prescription is both dangerous and illegal. This can cause pain, inflammation, and serious eye disorders and infections, which may lead to permanent vision loss.
  • Review with children how to call 9-1-1 (or their local emergency number) if they ever have an emergency or become lost.

CARVING A NICHE:

  • Small children should never carve pumpkins. Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.
  • Consider using a flashlight or glow stick instead of a candle to light your pumpkin. If you do use a candle, a votive candle is safest.
  • Candlelit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and not on a porch or any path where visitors may pass close by. They should never be left unattended.

HOME SAFE HOME:

  • To keep homes safe for visiting trick-or-treaters, parents should remove from the porch and front yard anything a child could trip over such as garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations.
  • Parents should check outdoor lights and replace burned-out bulbs.
  • Wet leaves or snow should be swept from sidewalks and steps.
  • Restrain pets so they do not inadvertently jump on or bite a trick-or-treater or run away.

ON THE TRICK-OR-TREAT TRAIL:

A parent or responsible adult should always accompany young children on their neighborhood rounds.

Have flashlights with fresh batteries for all children and their escorts.

If your older children are going alone, plan and review the route that is acceptable to you. Agree on a specific time when they should return home.

Only go to homes with a porch light on and never enter a home or car for a treat.

Because pedestrian injuries are the most common injuries to children on Halloween, remind Trick-or-Treaters:

Stay in a group and communicate where they will be going.

Remember reflective tape for costumes and trick-or-treat bags.

Carry a cellphone for quick communication.

Remain on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk.

If no sidewalk is available, walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic.

Never cut across yards or use alleys.

Only cross the street as a group in established crosswalks (as recognized by local custom). Never cross between parked cars or out of driveways.

Don’t assume the right of way. Motorists may have trouble seeing Trick-or-Treaters. Just because one car stops, doesn’t mean others will!

Law enforcement authorities should be notified immediately of any suspicious or unlawful activity.

HEALTHY HALLOWEEN:

  • A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.
  • Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your home, such as coloring books or pens and pencils.
  • Wait until children are home to sort and check treats. Though tampering is rare, a responsible adult should closely examine all treats and throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items.
  • Try to ration treats for the days and weeks following Halloween.

HALLOWEEN AND FOOD ALLERGIES:

  • Halloween can be tricky for children with food allergies. It’s important that parents closely examine Halloween candy to avoid a potentially life-threatening reaction: 
    • Always read the ingredient label on treats. Many popular Halloween candies contain some of the most common allergens, such as peanuts or tree nuts, milk, egg, soy or wheat.
    • If the ingredients aren’t listed, arrange for a treat “exchange” with classmates or friends. Or, bag up the goodies your child can’t eat because of an allergy and leave them with a note asking the “Treat Fairy” to swap them for a prize.
    • Be aware that even if they are not listed on the ingredient label, candy is at high risk of containing trace amounts of common allergy triggers, because factories often produce many different products. Also, “fun size” or miniature candies may have different ingredients or be made on different equipment than the regular size candies, meaning that brands your child previously ate without problems could cause a reaction.
    • Teach your child to politely turn down home-baked items such as cupcakes and brownies, and never to taste or share another child’s food.

Early overuse of screen technology can cause permanent damage in toddlers

Technology is used on younger and younger kids these days. But what is the long term impact? In the article below, Cris Rowan a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”, explores the effects and what we should do to as parents. If you have a loved one struggling with managing screen time, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Screen Tips for Tots is the first of a research referenced series on the impact of screen technologies on child body and brain development. Written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of the book “Virtual Child”, Screen Tips will provide parents, educators and clinicians with research evidence which supports regulated and graduated use of screen technologies with children. Foundations for optimizing body and brain development across the age span from 0-18 years are discussed to help readers best understand the impact of screen technologies at different stages in development, and a variety of home, school and community initiatives are proposed to create sustainable futures for all children. The first article in Screen Tips series called Screen Tips for Tots focuses on the 0-3 years age group and is directed toward parents, daycare and preschool educators, and early intervention clinicians.

The majority of mammalian species gestation takes place primarily in the womb, with the ‘infant’ spending very little ‘training’ time with its parents after birth prior to entering the world to fiend for itself. Not so for humans. After 9 months inside their mother, humans get an additional 18 years of parenting to prepare them for adulthood. During this long period, infants become toddlers, toddlers grow into children, followed by tweens, teens, and finally emerge competent and confident to enter the world as independent beings. The level of self-sufficiency, well being and resilience achieved during these formative years is impacted to some degree by genetic make-up, but more so by the environment in which the child was raised. Enriched environments with stable, predictable and loving parents rich with essential developmental components including freedom to move, intentional touch, human connection and exposure to nature create a child who can grow and succeed (see Building Foundations graphic below). Impoverished, screen-centric environments with unpredictable and disconnected parents, create a much different child, a child who will struggle with meeting developmental milestones feeling insecure, anxious, and depressed. Clearly, the ways in which we are raising and educating children with screen technologies are not sustainable (see Virtual Futures graphic below). Understanding child body and brain development at different stages is essential to comprehend the profound impact of sedentary, isolated, overstimulated and neglected environment caused by screen overuse.

Brain Development

When an infant is finally born at 9 months gestation, they have already formed their full complement of neurons visualized as interconnecting ‘roads’ which traverse to every region of the brain. From birth to death, two neurodevelopmental processes take place based on the environment surrounding the child; pruning and proliferation. Neuronal pruning is a ‘brain efficiency’ process where the neuronal tracks which are used are preserved, and the tracks that aren’t used are cut or pruned, making the brain more efficient. The adage “Use it or loose it” rings true in brain development theory which is accelerated in young children tapering off in adulthood. Neuronal proliferation is a ‘brain connectivity’ process where the neurons grow synaptic connections between neurons effectively connecting the whole brain in the shortest distances possible. Between the ages of 0 and 2 years, an infant’s brain triples in size with a rapidity of pruning and proliferation which is truly remarkable. If the infant is immersed in an enriched environment of movement, touch, human connection and nature, neuronal pruning and proliferation will ‘wire’ the infant’s brain for optimal growth and future success. If the infant’s world is one of being ignored and restrained while watching screens strapped into bucket seats and strollers, neuronal pruning and proliferation will look much different. Overuse of screens at an early age wires infant brains instead for impulsivity and cognitive deficits, resulting in impaired attachment, attention deficit, poor self-regulation, and global developmental delays.

While brain wiring is somewhat ‘plastic’ throughout human life, neuronal damage caused by early overexposure to screens is permanent and consequently, cannot be reversed.

Body Development

Toddlers require critical factors be met during critical time periods to achieve developmental milestones needed to for optimal growth and academic success. Four critical factors for the developing child are movement, touch, human connection and nature.

  • Movement

While most people are familiar with the cardiovascular benefits of movement regarding fitness, obesity and diabetes prevention, few think of movement and its impact on attention and learning. Movement activates two sensory systems which enable eventual coordination and literacy: proprioceptive and vestibular. The proprioceptive system located in the joints and muscles is activated by heavy work or resistance type stimulation such as pushing, pulling, lifting, or carrying. Examples of proprioceptive rich activities are crawling, pulling to a stand, climbing up onto structures, or dragging heavy toys. Parents and educators who restrain toddlers by handing them a device limit proprioceptive development thus impacting foundations for eventual gross and fine motor proficiency needed for printing, reading and sports. The vestibular system (often referenced as the ‘inner ear’) located in the brain is activated by off-centre movement such as spinning, linear rocking, jumping, and swaying side to side. Examples of vestibular rich activities are rocking while holding toddler, bouncing on lap, careful tossing in the air, merry-go-rounds, swings and slides. Parents and educators who fail to allow unrestricted movement limit vestibular development thus impacting foundations for eventual motor coordination proficiency needed for printing, reading, and sports. Safety initiatives while essential should never replace the need for unrestricted movement.

When you hand a toddler a device, they sit; when you take it away, they get up and move. Children are designed to move, not sit.

  • Touch

Tactile stimulation is a biological necessity without which, children die. Essential for activating the parasympathetic system to reduce adrenalin and cortisol, when we touch other humans, we enact a soothing mechanism resulting in a secure and calm toddler. Touch is a form of communication emanating empathy and concern and lets children know how much we care about them. Cuddling and rocking infants and toddlers to sleep or during feeding has long-term benefits of sustained sleep, less colic, and less crying while awake. Many cultures carry their infants and toddlers wrapped on their bodies allowing constant touch and human connection. Parents and educators who don’t carry infants and toddlers, instead relying on soothing devices such as tablets and TV’s, vibrational or rocking baskets, jumping harnesses, or strollers, are depriving their children of life sustaining touch resulting in long-term insecurity and anxiety.

While soothing devices provide ‘short-term gain’ they will result in ‘long-term pain’ as the child is not getting what they need, caregiver touch.

  • Connection

When an infant is born into their family their “job” is to form an attachment with their primary parent, as this attachment will provide them with essential elements to survive. The baby learns quite quickly a variety of gestures to cue the parent to their needs, primarily crying, but also smiling, imitating, and responding to parent’s facial cues. How easily a baby settles into a sleep and feeding routine is reflective of how relaxed they are with their parental attachment. A baby who has all their needs met in a loving and reciprocal relationship early on in the ‘attachment dance’, doesn’t need to work as hard or worry as much about whether or not their needs will continue to be met. A baby who is repeatedly signalling their needs to the parent but the parent either neglects them or is unpredictable in their attentions, learns they need to work harder to get their survival needs met e.g. crying louder and longer, or alternatively, withdrawal. Every time a parent or caregiver picks up their cell phone or watches TV in the presence of an infant or toddler who is expressing themselves (smiling, crying), the child feels rejected, unseen, unheard. Rejection is a profoundly disturbing feeling which creates an impenetrable wall between parent and child completely derailing attachment formation and creating the foundations for a lifetime of misery and mental illness.

Biologically speaking, humans are ‘pack animals’ who don’t survive well when isolated from their pack. Put down your phone and pick up your kid.

  • Nature

When we recall our fondest most memorable experiences, we were often playing outside. Nature is rich in sensory stimulation, whether it be the gentle touch of wind on our face or grass under our feet, beautiful images of trees and flowers, or sounds of running water or waves. Being in Mother Nature activates the parasympathetic nervous system (as does touch) to lower adrenalin and cortisol and elicit peaceful calming and relaxation. Today’s children spend 95% of their time indoors with “fear regarding safety” cited by parents and caregivers as most frequent excuse for not taking children outside to play. While an infant or toddler would much prefer looking out a window than a screen, parents routinely give them the later. I was recently in a home with a young infant which contained a large screen and small window which looked out over a beautiful back yard and suggested moving the big screen to another room and enlarging the window. I envisioned the infant (now toddler) learning to stand by pulling herself up on a window ledge (proprioception) only to discover natures most wonderful attributes right in front of her eyes. Hours and hours of developmentally rich life enhancing entertainment would be available to her just by looking out the window instead of growing up in front of a screen. If we can manage to preserve Mother Nature and make sure children get outside more to enjoy her, nature will serve to be the healer, the ‘counter effect’ to damage caused by sedentary overstimulation from screens.

What we don’t value we can’t protect, and what we can’t protect we will loose. Take your children outside (or at least, give them a room with a view)!

Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth

The following Technology Use Guidelines for children and youth were developed by Cris Rowan pediatric occupational therapist and author of Virtual Child, Dr. Andrew Doan neuroscientist and author of Hooked on Games and Dr. Hilarie Cash, Director of reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program and author of Video Games and Your Kids, with contribution from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society in an effort to ensure sustainable futures for all children.

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”. Cris is CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc., collates research for the monthly Zone’in Child Development Series Newsletter, and writes a feature article for her blog Moving to Learn

Are teens more lonely today?

With the use of technology and our connections on social media are we more connected or are we lonelier than ever? Screenagers is exploring this idea and how we can connect better with our teens:

Are our teens lonelier now more than ever? Do they feel social on social media but in reality, some deeper need is not being met? There is some evidence this might be so. But it is not inevitable. There are ways to help our kids through this.

Emotions give us information about our experience in the present moment. In the best case scenario, they are a buzzer that activates us to make a change. For instance, if we have a sense that we are missing the company of others—i.e. the sensation of loneliness–it is a signal to try to do something at that moment to lessen that unpleasant feeling.

It is important that we talk to our kids about these feelings and discuss ways they can gain skills to manage them when they inevitably arise–and also assure them the feelings will pass.

What types of loneliness do you and your kids experience?

  • No close friends loneliness.
  • I’m different loneliness.
  • Left out loneliness.

If you have a loved one struggling with loneliness, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

We Now Have Some Answers: Warning Signs and What to do if Someone You Know is Suicidal

September is Suicide Prevention Month. As part of that we want to share the article below, written by Kristen Roye, PsyD, about the warning signs of suicide and what can be done to help.

One week prior to my high school graduation I found myself sitting in the waiting room of the psychiatric wing of a local hospital. My family member had attempted suicide. I remember walking through the sterile white doors into the hospital to visit her and my world was forever changed. I recall struggling with feelings of anger, confusion and hopelessness during this time and thinking that no one should ever have to go through this process alone. I desperately thought “someone should have prepared me for this” “someone should have prepared my family for this” “why didn’t anyone teach us about this?”. I was searching for answers and no one had any. Why was it that at 18 years old no one had discussed suicide with me?

My family member was fortunate to get the help she needed and continues to lead a successful life. But I can’t help thinking that if my family was armed with knowledge she may not have reached the point of hopelessness, or the point of hospitalization. She may not have been in such unbearable pain that she thought the only way out was to end her life. 
Today we do have knowledge and we do have some answers that I would like to share. I encourage you to continue sharing this knowledge and talking to others about suicide. We now have the words and tools necessary to get help for ourselves and our loved ones. I know I only have your attention for a few short minutes and I only have a few words to get my point across. So here’s what I want you to know: you can be prepared, you can get answers and there is help. Suicide prevention is possible and there are a few things you should know. 

The most common warning sign of someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts is a change in behavior or new behaviors. This is especially true if the behavior is related to a painful event, loss or change. Warning signs typically fall into three categories: Talk, Behavior and Mood. Let’s break this down even further…

Talk Warning Signs

Pay attention if you hear anyone talk about: suicide, talk about a plan, talk about death and dying, talk about being a burden to others, talk about wanting to end it all or “for it to just be over”, talk about feeling trapped, talk about feeling hopeless or helpless or talk about unbearable pain.

Behavioral Warning Signs

Pay attention to increased engagement in risky behaviors (drug and alcohol use, risky activities- hiking, driving recklessly, etc.), changes in grades, changes in sleep or eating patterns, social withdrawal or isolation, getting access to lethal means (weapons, guns, razors, rope, pills), giving away possessions, saying goodbyes, and acting out aggressively.

Mood Warning Signs

An individual who is feeling suicidal will likely have a mood that is depressed, anxious or agitated, they may feel embarrassed, humiliated, hurt, or distraught.

What do I do?

If anyone you know has shown any of the warning signs above, it’s time to take action! Do NOT ignore the suicidal statements and think they are going to go away or are simply “for attention”. Take person seriously! Take some time to talk openly and honestly with them about their thoughts. It is extremely crucial that you ask directly if they are suicidal. And remember, this is not the time to offer advice or judgements of their thoughts. If someone is suicidal make sure to stay with the person until help arrives (i.e. mental health professional, 911 response team, etc.); do not leave them unattended. If possible, remove any potentially dangerous objects from person (i.e. razor, pills, etc.) and if the person is a minor make sure to alert parents/guardians. If you believe someone is suicidal call 911 or a crisis hotline to get immediate help. More help can be found by calling and texting below:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 Text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7

If you have a loved one struggling with suicidal thoughts or ideation, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Back-to-school: Time to set an electronic curfew

Back to school season has hit and as everyone adjusts to new activities it’s time to set schedules and boundaries for kids’ time. Screenagers posted an article about setting a curfew for electronics in particular. As your family is figuring out how to navigate this school year read the article below to get some new ideas to help make this school year successful.

“Before I put on my clinical hat and tell you lots of things I have found interesting about sleep research these days, I want to mention what some parents I have spoken with have told me. They tell me that their kids have devices in their bedrooms and their children are getting good about not using them by a certain hour. And my response is YES! AND … although this is probably true, once they hit the preteen and teen years and perhaps a boyfriend or girlfriend comes into the picture, or say another drama has really hit the road, or… – resisting devices can become impossible. (Not to mention they are tired so executive function, i.e. willpower and self-control goes down exponentially).

So if your child has any devices in their bedroom, even a teen, and sleeps fine with them—this is all about realizing that something will come up that will change that so doing the work to set up a sound sleep policy is a good idea. 

Getting back into the new school year and on to regular sleep patterns is critical.  

A major study showed that lack of sleep among our children has become a public health concern: 75% of teens do not get the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep. This can lead to higher levels of mental health problems, accidents, lower academic engagement and much more. But how to help our kids and teens get more and better sleep? 

Leslie Walker-Harding, a pediatrician and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington recently told me, “Sometimes a sleep deprived teenager will appear just like they have anxiety, clinical anxiety or clinical depression and its sleep.”

Forty percent of teens say that most school nights they get less than seven hours of sleep and there’s a strong association between more screen time and less sleep. Since 2012, when the prevalence of teens owning smartphones started to increase, the number of hours teens sleep has steeply decreased.

If there is one screen time rule I am absolute about in my house it is that personal devices stay out of all our bedrooms when we go to sleep. It has taken a lot of reminding, but many years in now, it’s a lot easier and there are very few battles with my teens around this rule. 

The social interaction, stimulation, and draw of endless entertainment are of course a big reason why keeping tech out of the bedroom is a good idea, but the blue light that emits from these devices is a factor too. This type of light has been shown that it can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin and can disrupt the REM sleep. The most recent study I saw on this said it appears to only impact it by about 10 minutes but still that is something. 

“This is an especially big problem for teens whose circadian rhythms are already shifting naturally, causing them to feel awake later at night,” the National Sleep Foundation says on its page about how blue light affects kids and sleep. “The end result: sleep-deprived or poorly rested kids who have essentially given themselves a mini case of jet lag.”

Here are the latest sleep guidelines from The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)

  • Children six to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.”

Here a few questions to get the conversation started this week:

  1. How many hours of sleep do you think is optimal for you? Then, show them what the AASM recommends. 
  2. What time do you think would be a good time to take all your personal devices out of the room? If they say they need their phone as an alarm clock, you might offer to get them a standard cheap alarm clock.
  3. Where might be a good spot in the house to deposit the devices?

If you have a loved one struggling with appropriate screen usage, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.