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  1. As a parent of a special needs child, I look forward to the periods of platitude. Every developmental stage is an uphill climb that seems to take forever. So when my child hits a plateau and can thrive in an age-appropriate developmental stage, I relish in the peace that comes with it. I have learned to relax during these periods until it’s time for the next developmental growth challenge. Well, during the spring of 2021 when we had finally settled into our “new normal” and were thriving in a pandemic world, BOOM! I started to notice my usual rule-following, kind-hearted son becoming more irritable out of the blue. And when I say "out of the blue," I mean over things that were never an issue for him in the past. He seemed more tired than usual, he was more sensitive to touch, and even though he has a speech delay, he is verbal — but he really did not want to talk at all. [Related: Raising a Black autistic boy in America] My husband, his teachers, and his therapists all saw this dramatic change in him. For weeks, I chalked it up to the time change. He has always had a hard time adjusting to the bi-annual time changes, especially when we spring forward, so I just assumed this particular year was just a bit harder for him. After weeks of dealing with his attitude, I finally spoke to his pediatrician. She referred me to an endocrinologist. After blood tests and an exam, the endocrinologist looked at me and said, “Well mom, the hormone fairy has asked him to the dance, and he has accepted." He is only 11, My baby is growing up, What does this mean? and Oh no, it’s time for the sex talk, were all the thoughts running through my head. I pulled myself together enough to ask her, "What does puberty look like in a child with autism?” She told me it is different for each child; however most will be more sensory-defensive during this time. She asked me to close my eyes and imagine what it would feel like to feel every single hair growing on my body, what would it feel like to feel the lump of an adam’s apple forming in my throat, and to feel all of the aches as the muscles grow and form in my body. She explained that this is what my son is feeling on a magnified level. This completely explained his change in behavior and his new sensitivity. [Related: Tips for your next IEP meeting from a special-ed attorney] Armed with the knowledge of what was happening, my husband and I immediately put a plan of action in place. The first thing we did was communicate this information to his teachers and therapists. This allowed them to make adjustments in their support. It helped him to continue to be successful and get the most out of school and therapy. Second, we talked to him about what was going on with his body. We discussed the physical and the mental changes that were happening. What stood out to me most was that once we assured him everything he was feeling was “normal,” his irritability lessened by 50 percent. I realized the unknown of what was happening was half of the stress he was feeling. We also asked him to tell us what things he thought would help him cope. He said exercise. Lightbulb moment! My son is a swimmer, and pre-pandemic he was in the pool for three 2-hour sessions per week. This gave his body good sensory work out. Since the pandemic he had been only able to do one 45-minute session per week. His body and brain needed a workout to cope and process all the changes that were happening. Since our son had done Tae Kwon Do in the past and enjoyed it, we picked that up twice a week. It took a few weeks, but we finally started seeing our son return to his rule-following, kind-hearted, non-irritable self. Lastly, we told him to come to us with any questions or thoughts he had about what was going in with his body. We told him nothing was off limits. We also prepared ourselves to be ready and open to answer any questions and have uncomfortable conversations. This part is ongoing, and things come up day by day. However, we have built a deeper level of trust that will be helpful as we enter the teen years. What I have learned on this journey is to start researching and talking to your doctors about puberty when your child is 10 years old. Prepare yourself and be open to questions and conversations. Honestly, if puberty was on my radar, I would have had a preparatory conversation with my son at 10 years old. I would have told him in a very clinical way what changes he may see in his body, and to let me know when it starts happening. Trust what you know about your child. If they have sensory issues, prepare for them to feel body changes on a deeper level, and think of activities they enjoy that can help their bodies cope with the feelings. Be patient, give them grace, and assure them that all the strange things they are feeling are normal and okay. Lastly, as a parent of a special needs child, remember our journey is a marathon: Breathe and give yourself a break. You are doing great!
  2. I never considered myself a “Zen” person and during the pandemic I definitely let my emotions get the best of me sometimes. I didn’t always remember to practice self-care and I absolutely got overwhelmed. I don’t meditate in silence on a yoga mat in my personal movement studio. On the contrary, I run around in my sweatpants while chasing after my toddler while two French bulldogs bark in the background. But here’s the thing: If we are always waiting for the “perfect” environment and time to “get Zen,” we may be waiting forever. What is Zen? According to Merriam Webster, Zen refers to a “state of calm attentiveness in which one's actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort.” This ancient Buddhist practice doesn’t require silence. It can be about finding the quiet within especially when life gets loud, which for those of us with young children can be a daily occurrence. Zen isn’t external and doesn’t rely on only our environment. So I began to wonder what it would take to incorporate more attentiveness, how I could support my intuition, and reclaim the state of calm I so desperately needed. [Related: Ask an Expert: Mindfulness tools for parents] As if I didn’t have enough on my plate during the last two years, I decided to write a book. As a dance/movement therapist, I’ve been working with clients for years, helping them rediscover their mind-body connection in order to reclaim their lives and improve their mental health. Body Aware, which comes out this August, is all about using your movement to support your mental health. That’s when it dawned on me: This is the foundation for cultivating calm attentiveness and learning to trust your intuition. This pandemic has taught me many things, but the most important lesson I have learned is to take care of my mental health, and that begins with how I move and show up in my body. Everyone can access this ability with the right tools and a bit of practice. These may feel elusive, but I’m here to tell you that they are not only accessible, but you already have all the tools you need inside of you. Here is what I have used, what I practice with my clients, and even teach my children. Step 1: Become aware of your current movement Begin to examine how you move on a daily basis. What are your natural tendencies with regard to your posture, facial expressions, and mannerisms? These contribute greatly to your mood and influence how you are thinking. This allows you to connect to what you feel and to begin harnessing that intuition. Step 2: Challenge your current movement Allow yourself to move out of your comfort zone. Try walking at a different pace, taking a different type of movement or exercise class, maybe even trying on different postures. Change your relationship to personal space and try slowing down, especially if you are always used to moving quickly. Step 3: Expand your habitual movement When we move more, we feel more. If we can expand the range and ability of our movement we have the ability to express and feel more emotionally. We can find grounding, calm, and focus. This means we find more opportunities to "get Zen” because we can move through the challenges and overwhelm. [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to harnessing the power of your movement to improve your mental health. Awareness is the key to change, and sometimes even the smallest movement can have the largest impact. So, no need to work on “getting" Zen: simply start by noticing all the ways you can bring Zen into your current life.
  3. One night my family was standing around the kitchen island talking, and my 15-year-old daughter casually said, “I know: Mom basically has an eating disorder.” Excuse me? I do not have an eating disorder. I am an extremely healthy 49 year-old. I have done CrossFit-style workouts for the last 10 years, and as a result I’m in good shape. I went on a rigorous diet five years ago that I’ve never really stopped, and as part of that I weigh my portions, eat lots of protein and vegetables, eat very little fat and allow myself a “treat” of some sort of moderate portion of a carbohydrate at dinnertime. I never snack, I never let myself eat things that I want to eat, I never let myself eat as much as I’d like to eat, and I never eat when I’m hungry. Does that behavior constitute an eating disorder? The answer to that question doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I thought I was setting an excellent example of healthy eating, and my daughter thinks I have an eating disorder. This is not the first time as a parent that I thought I was setting a shining example but found out I was setting a sh*tty one, instead. [Related: Moms, you're the key to your daughters' positive body images] I talk a lot about “healthy eating habits” in my house, like eating lots of fruits and vegetables, eating balanced portions, and not eating too many sweets. But when I asked my daughter more about her comment, she said, “I think that all of this 'healthy food talk' is more about how you look than actually being healthy.” Ouch. As I thought about what she said, I became confused. Isn’t monitoring and limiting my food intake what I’m supposed to be doing? Doesn’t healthy behavior involve controlling your portions and limiting the amount of unhealthy food that you eat? Isn’t it our society that has a disordered relationship with food by making large portions and salty, sugary food so readily available? It’s not me; it’s society! I’m the one who’s normal! Right? [Related: The social media mom: How social media can influence the way we feel] When I took a hard look at my relationship with food, I saw what my daughter saw, which is that my approach isn’t all that “healthy.” I am obsessed with weight. I think about it — the weight I’ve gained, the weight I’d like to lose, how every morsel of food I put into my mouth will affect that battle — all the time. I thought this was just a running dialogue I was having internally, but apparently it wasn’t. It was obvious for the world to see, and especially for my four daughters — the people I wanted to see it the least. I preach body positivity in my house and I talk to them about it for their own bodies all the time. But when it comes to my own body, none of that applies. I thought I was setting an example of how to maintain a healthy weight and body image into middle age. Instead, I've been setting an example of ordering my life around looking a certain way and constantly denying myself pleasure to maintain it. That example sucks. Many times as a member of Gen X, I thought that just by telling my children a different message than the one I got growing up, that things would be different for them. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too: impose on myself all of the obsessions about weight that I’d grown up with while telling them to be different. But they see that as the hypocritical position it is. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, but letting go of my obsession with my weight? Not so fast. I’ve been in an ongoing conversation with myself about my weight for at least 30 years. Would I be able to love myself, or even like myself, if I gained weight? Not without a lot of hard work. Frankly, it’s a lot easier and very tempting to stay a hypocrite. But I don’t want to set that example for my daughters. I want to have a healthy body image and a healthy relationship with food. I don’t want them to obsess about their weight, and I don’t want them to waste the monumental time and effort that I have obsessing over staying thin. I’ve got to do better. So how will I unpack and unlearn 30 years of internalized beauty standards? I haven’t a clue. That’s a topic for another essay.
  4. Like most of us, the first month of the 2020 lockdown felt very confusing. After our family had an energy-draining cold while vacationing in Costa Rica, I recall asking myself, “Did I already have Covid-19?” Knowing how many people were losing their lives made the winter of 2020 all the more intense. One of the most heartbreaking moments I felt was when I came to the realization that my kindergartner was going to spend his first year of school on a computer. Remote learning was necessary at the time, but extremely frustrating. In retrospect, that milestone year in front of a screen (while, on occasion, our WiFi tempted our faith) was painful for all of us. My wanderlust suffered as well; canceling anticipated trips was a gut punch. Just imagine: your best girlfriends coming over, all excited about your first girlfriends’ trip together, only to be crashed by a global pandemic! [Related: Self-care during Covid: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] I wanted to scream about the lack of incentives I was used to rewarding myself throughout the year. My stress from working at home and managing the stress of my children led to my weight gain, sleepless nights, and hair loss. As a therapist, other healers like myself experienced our own pandemic trauma on top of providing care to clients and our families. I was in need of some empowerment. During the spring of 2020, I experienced a mental reset. I committed to an intermittent fast and went down to my pre-baby weight. I began to practice yoga and meditation on a daily basis; I felt reborn. A light had been turned on in me that led to a fire that could not be doused. That fire rose after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. My voice as a Black woman became more pronounced in my work and personal life. My connection with my chosen family and momma tribe was stronger than ever because of their support, allyship and authentic empathy. [Related: Help your kids capture memories of this strange year] Being with my family 24/7 has strengthened us in a way that I never could’ve imagined. I learned intimate things about my children that inspired me to start a virtual community for families of mixed backgrounds. (I currently have 2.3K subscribers on my YouTube channel!) It’s been a wonderful outlet for me as a Black mother. It’s been even more inspiring to hear the impact it has had on my viewers and interviewees, as well. I've been humbled by the willingness of estranged family members to participate in family FaceTime on Sundays and Thanksgiving. Taking nature walks with our new puppy provided the movement and vitamin D that was lacking due to quarantine. These intentional practices saved me and my family from going down the path of toxic behavioral patterns. I am so grateful for the shift that occurred when it did. It has prepared us for the return to human interactions. We now have a wide variety of coping skills to keep us grounded, and we're grateful in the acknowledgment that how we feel and think is what is in our control.
  5. You know that feeling where you've been wide awake, engaged in a task, but were completely lost in thought the whole time? It can be startling to realize you have driven from point A to point B without feeling fully aware of your actions. While mind-wandering isn’t bad, it can lead to negative thinking patterns such as catastrophic thinking (e.g., “What if my partner is late because he's been in a terrible accident?!”) or other cognitive distortions that contribute to anxiety and depression. Parenting is hard enough without our minds playing tricks on us. Especially lately, there have been far too many moments when I feel like I'm phoning it in as a parent, where a whole day has gone by and I feel like I’ve been on autopilot. My ever-insightful daughter shook me to my core last week when she demanded, “Let me see your eyes!” after I answered her “Are you listening?” plea with a fully distracted “Yes.” [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slow-down] It was a gracious wake-up call that I need to be more fully present with her. Meditation exercises can help refocus us back to the present moment and create space between our thoughts and ourselves. Meditation cultivates mindfulness, a state that helps us be fully present with our children and decreases feelings of anxiety and depression. Here are four simple strategies to use on days you need to pause your mind and settle back into the moment: Walking Meditation Connecting our body and our mind by slowing both down. How to do it: Think of a phrase or mantra (e.g., "I am at peace"). When you step with your left foot, say, "I am," and when you step with your right foot, say, "at peace." Repeat the mantra with each step. Welcome your child to join you and pick their own mantra! Visualization Exercise Leaves on a Stream How to do it: Visualize yourself sitting beside a stream with leaves floating along the surface of the water. For each thought that crosses your mind — whether pleasurable, painful, or neutral — visualize placing it onto a leaf, and let it float by. Movement & Visualization Exercise Balloon Meditation How to do it: Envision a bright red balloon with a string connected to your left leg (arms, hands, shoulders, chest, etc.). As you breathe, notice the balloon rise and see your leg rising with it. Notice that it falls as the balloon brings your leg to the ground. Now, do the same with your right leg. Invite your child to do this one with you! Gratitude Exercise The more we focus on what we're grateful for, the more our minds drift away from what we can't control. How to do it: Find time each day (maybe during a period of winding down or relaxing) to say three things that you're grateful for. Of course, your child can do the same! Consider creating a gratitude jar or other helpful way to remember the positives in life. Kamryn Hinkle and Julianne Neely teamed up on this article to combine their expertise on parenting, pediatric mental health, and counseling techniques. They work together at Individual and Family Connection where they dedicate their careers to help children, parents, and families thrive by giving them the tools and strategies they need.
  6. Through this video, you will learn how to make the most of your child’s use of technology, including: 1. How children process information via screens 2. How to minimize challenges for your child when they are learning from a screen 3. What to consider when deciding what is an appropriate and valuable use of technology for your child This webinar is presented by Erikson Institute.
  7. 2020 was truly a very difficult year with regards to the coronavirus pandemic. There is a lot we know now that we didn’t know at its start and still so much to learn. Scientists and medical researchers are working hard to develop therapeutic medications and vaccines to help protect us from the harms this virus can cause. Families everywhere have had to make sacrifices in their personal lives, work lives and the ways they enjoy sports and recreation, all the while trying to find new ways to stay healthy and active. While spectator sports are an exciting pastime in the fall and winter months, we have all heard over and over again about COVID infections and spread amongst professional athletes. These individuals have made personal decisions about participating in these sports as it is their job. Sports participation at the student level is clearly a different issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics values sports and physical fitness in their guidance of healthy living and good mental health during this pandemic. The safest sports last summer were noted to be golf, running, baseball and tennis — activities in which we’re able to maintain distance and minimize sharing equipment. Keep following the rules The underlying guidance across all activities is the ability to maintain social distancing, perform good hand hygiene, and wear a mask when you can’t maintain a 6-foot distance. For safety, masks may not be required in active elite level exercise, water sports, or where it poses a risk of getting caught on equipment, covering one’s eyes, or choking. Each athlete should have their own mask, access to hand sanitizer, and their own water bottles and towels. [Related: Free or cheap ways to entertain your kids on winter weekends] Recreational sports for young children can be challenging because mask-wearing may be difficult to enforce. Competitive or high school level sports for older children pose additional problems because the severity of coronavirus illness in children in their teen years may mimic that in adults. New information about the effects of COVID infection on the heart poses even more concern. Watch-outs: cardiac conditions The current recommendations by pediatricians and cardiologists include looking for signs of cardiac inflammation or myocarditis in athletes who had significant symptoms of COVID as part of clearing them to return to their sport. This can mean a minimum of a 2-3 week absence from their sport if they don’t have any cardiac concerns, or of course much longer if they have significant cardiac compromise. It is recommended to be in touch with your healthcare provider before making the decision to return to sports. What to avoid During sports practice or games, athletes need to avoid huddles, high fives, handshakes or fist bumps. They shouldn’t share any food or drinks with their teammates. Cheering each other on should be limited to when they are greater than 6-8 feet apart and they should always use a tissue when spitting or blowing their nose. [Related: Coat or no? Car seat safety during the cold winter months] Low-risk activities So the question remains, what can you and your children do to keep healthy and active and be as safe as possible? Here are some suggestions that allow social distancing, mask-wearing and minimal equipment sharing: Walking, hiking and running, fishing, golf, tennis, baseball, swimming and diving, dancing and yoga, and skating and cycling. Higher-risk activities The higher risk sports which involve more contact — soccer, football, basketball, gymnastics, cheerleading and hockey — should be undertaken only if you and your athletes, coaches and sports associations appreciate and follow the best guidance they can to minimize risk. There are no easy answers to the questions parents have about participation in sports. We know robust physical activity contributes to good mental and physical health. Knowing the risks may help you determine good options for your child. Of course, always consider discussing the health risks and benefits with your individual pediatrician. And while this may not be the ideal year for your athlete, we hope that there are good protective vaccines available in the near future which can help protect us all, and allow for a more active lifestyle again! Anita Chandra-Puri, MD, is a Chicago pediatrician with Northwestern Medical Group Pediatrics, as well as a mom and NPN board member. To ask Dr. Anita a question, email newsletter@npnparents.org with the subject line, “Ask a Doctor.”
  8. As a fertility consultant, I get to talk with hundreds of women on their fertility journeys. Some of the advice that these women have been given by professionals is shockingly wrong. And then there’s the advice from people that have never had fertility issues, that seem to love to know the most and share their “brilliant” advice. And yes, it usually starts with you should just relax and get drunk if you want to get pregnant. (And yes, I also want to flick them in the boob.) Here are the top three myths about IVF that, once cleared up, will allow you to move forward with your fertility journey. Myth 1: A Lab is a Lab All labs are not created equally. There are three parts to a lab: the embryologist, the equipment, and the protocols for fertilization and growth. All three of these have a huge impact on if and how your embryo will be created and survive until the embryo transfer. And the more specialized your issues are, the more specialized the embryologist and lab must be — just like any other medical issue. [Related: What I went through to become a single mother by choice] Don’t be fooled by marketing tools such as, “Women come from Russia to go to our clinic.” That clinic was good 15 years ago…which is also the last time their equipment was updated. Another one: “Our statistics are so low because we take on the most difficult cases.” No, your statistics are low because your techniques are not effective. Please don’t pick clinics based on convenience or what your friend suggests. Instead, find the one that is getting you results. And yes, it probably won’t be the one that all of the international clients know about yet. Myth 2: IVF Is A Numbers Game I think I need to breathe a couple of times before I answer this. IVF is a numbers game — a great game where one person always seems to win (and that person is not you). Think about it: When a cardiologist fails, there is a dead person, a family trying to sue the doctor, and a board reviewing the choices that the doctor made. When a fertility doctor fails, the only thing that happens is that they get paid to try again. Worst game ever. This is science, and there are many things that get in the way. So when you hear that there is nothing else to do but try again since "this is a numbers game," find someone else to play with. [Related: Dealing with infertility? Toss the holiday cards.] Myth 3: There's Nothing You Can Do To Help An Egg Retrieval or Transfer There are many, many key things that you can do to help an egg retrieval or a transfer. Are you making eggs, but not many that are mature enough to fertilize? Are your eggs fertilized, but not growing into many embryos? Are the embryos going in and never coming out as a baby? For any of these issues and more, there are changes to make, such as the types and combinations of drugs, drug doses, and timing of the drugs — and then, of course, there is the lab. On top of that, there are things that you can do to naturally balance your hormones, including energy restorative practices that will allow your cells to regenerate better and more often. So Mama, I hope that this was helpful for you to move forward with some truths to your IVF journey. Please don’t let any of these myths keep you from reaching your family goals.
  9. When our oldest son was just three years old, we found ourselves at the University of Chicago – our son groggy from anesthesia due to a necessary endoscopy and the doctor telling us, “The pathology and blood tests all confirm celiac disease.” I was relieved because we now had an answer as to why he wasn’t growing or developing. Once we removed the gluten from his diet, that all improved, but my head was also spinning because I had no idea how to deal with this diagnosis. No more birthday cakes, pizza, donut runs on Sunday mornings. Fast forward 10 years, and that all seems like a very distant memory. [Related: Help kids with food allergies enjoy the holidays] Celiac in the city with a teen Now that our oldest is 13, I no longer know where he is every moment and I’m not dictating his every meal. Luckily, we live in a city with a lot of gluten-free options. With celiac disease, one has to be very careful regarding cross-contamination. At home for example, I keep separate peanut butters, butters, and cream cheeses because we don’t all eat gluten free, and if you dip the knife in one of those and then gluten crumbs get into the product, he could get very ill. About 10 milligrams of gluten is what it takes to get sick, and that is about the size of a bread crumb. You’re probably wondering how we ever trust a restaurant or go out to eat. With age and experience has also come his level of risk tolerance for his body. For example, many restaurants don’t have a dedicated fryer for french fries, but he’s realized that this doesn’t seem to impact him, so he is OK to eat the fries, usually. This likely isn’t best practice per his doctors, but he also has to have some “food freedom” in life. Our favorite gluten-free friendly restaurants in Chicago As a family, we love to go out to eat. Below are some restaurants that my son loves – and that I trust: D’Agostino’s — He loves the pizza and the restaurant even went through a celiac certification process Jersey Mike’s – The company uses Udi’s sub rolls and will even clean off the deli slicers before making his sandwich Lettuce Entertain You – Takes celiac disease very seriously and have separate menus in most of their restaurants Wheat’s End – A dedicated gluten-free restaurant with amazing pancakes Zia’s Lakeview – Dedicated gluten-free menu and he loves their octopus appetizer Corridor on Southport – Amazing burgers that he orders without a bun and fantastic fries As my son gets older, it will be up to him to keep his body healthy. He fully understands how awful he feels if he ingests gluten, but I also know he will make mistakes either intentionally or not. Thankfully, there are many great options in Chicago, and he has a great group of friends and parents that all support him. To learn more about gluten threshold levels for teens and others, check out the National Celiac Association's helpful graphic here. Photo: gluten-free doughnut at Wheat's End Cafe
  10. For most people, this past year has caused a lot of anxiety and stress - and children are no exception. As life begins the slow process of normalizing, it’s important to address the impact of the year on your child’s mental health. To learn more about how to approach this critical, yet sensitive, subject with kids, we sat down with Sara Anderson, LCSW, Associate Director of Erikson Institute’s Center for Children and Families. After a year of remote learning, what kind of impacts are we seeing on young children’s mental health? We’re seeing several impacts. Some children have felt increased anxiety and depression because of the disruption of structure, routines and rituals, increased parental stress, worries about the pandemic and social issues, and lack of typical social-emotional experiences with peers and play. [Related: Reintroducing play dates in a post-pandemic world] How do these impacts manifest in young children’s behavior? What kind of behavior signifies that my child is anxious or stressed? Behaviors signaling stress vary, but typically, you’ll see changes in their appetite, sleep and toileting behavior. You might also see changes in a young children’s emotional outbursts, or an increase in their clinginess or separation anxiety. Another way that’s often missed is when a child becomes less emotive, more independent, and sends confusing messages to their caregivers about their needs and wants. Are there ways to mitigate some of the negative impacts this year has had on my child’s mental health? What can I do to help them at home and as they go back to school? The most effective way is for caregivers to be consistent and attuned to their child’s needs and emotions. Children need to know that you’ve got this, you are in charge and they can turn to you to get their needs met and help manage their feelings. Some strategies at home might include: ● Maintaining predictability and structure to the day ● Providing transitional warnings between tasks, or forecasting what is coming next (“We are going to play with the blocks and then get ready for lunch.”) ● Being available to help young children manage their big feelings through coregulation, helping them make sense and organize their feelings by naming them and helping them through [Related: Let go of your screen time guilt] At what point should a parent seek professional help for their child’s stress and anxiety? If there are changes in your child’s behavior (like the ones mentioned above) that persist over several weeks and don’t get better after using recommended strategies, parents should seek professional help. They should also seek help if children exhibit severe behaviors like head banging, hair pulling or biting and scratching atypical of their child’s age. Where can parents find the appropriate professional support in Chicago? What kind of mental health services are available for young children here, and in CPS? I’d first recommend parents to reach out to their pediatrician, but there are many options. For children 0 to 3 years, caregivers can access support through the Early Intervention system by locating a Child and Family Connection office in their area or calling 1-800-843-6154. For children older than 3, parents should reach out to their school district. For Chicago Public Schools, they can call the Office of Diverse Learner Support and Services (ODLSS) at 773-553-1800 to ask about support. At Erikson Institute, our Center for Children and Families works with caregivers and their children (ages 0-8) to help them understand the meaning behind their child’s behavior and how to best support them. To learn more, call 312-709-0508 for English, and 312-934-6446 for Spanish. Sara Anderson, LCSW, is the associate director of Erikson’s Center for Children and Families, where she trains, consults and counsels families and students on a wide range of child development issues. Sara holds a Master’s in clinical social work from the University of Chicago, and a certificate in infant mental health from Erikson Institute.
  11. This webinar is about the ups and downs of parenting a baby during a pandemic. You will walk away from this webinar with an understanding of your baby’s emotional states, how to connect with your baby, and what to do when things feel hard.
  12. COVID and PTSD. Both of these words are in all-caps because they are words that mean more than the one word itself. COVID is our generation’s first and only pandemic that has been so charged that we often find ourselves saying phrases like, “I have PTSD,” or “I am OCD.” However, it is important to define the words we are using. In narrative therapy, we focus a lot on wording as a way to validate and change our negatives to more positive biographies of our life. My goals for this piece are to define PTSD and provide ways to increase self-care. My hope is that after you read this, you will be able to help those who are struggling, and validate your own trauma if the terms resonate with you. In the end, I want everyone to know that therapy and self-regulation can have successful and lasting results. PTSD defined According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD has several qualifiers. I have condensed the criteria to the most common symptoms related to one’s experience in relation to COVID. Please keep in mind that only a licensed professional can diagnose PTSD and that symptoms must last more than one month and create distress and impairment with your daily activities at work, home, school, etc.: The person was exposed to: death (watch the virus take hold of a loved one) or threatened by death (having the virus and fearing death). After such an event the person re-experiences the trauma through upsetting memories, nightmares, or flash-backs. A person then avoids trauma-related stimuli such as thoughts or feelings or external reminders (hospitals, masks, etc.). Followed by negative thoughts or feelings for example, the inability to recall key features of the trauma, decreased interest in activities, feelings of isolation, negative affect. All of these symptoms then create alterations in arousal and reactivity such as: irritability or aggression, risky or destructive behavior, hypervigilance, heightened startle reaction, difficulty concentrating, and/or difficulty sleeping. [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] PTSD and COVID In the context of COVID, here are a few ways that PTSD can come about: If you witnessed your loved one suffer, panic, or gasp for breath. If you have seen you love being taken in an ambulance to the hospital not knowing if they are going to survive. If you are a first responder who has been treating COVID patients for several months and inevitably losing patients along the way. If you didn’t know if you would make it through after getting COVID. Medical trauma is being talked about more and more with COVID. PTSD can be caused by birthing trauma, strokes, heart attacks, or any operation/illness in which one is fearing death. It is important to note that feeling afraid to go into crowds is not a symptom of PTSD in and of itself. There is a lot of anxiety that has increased as a result of the virus, but unless you have witnessed or been threatened by death, it is not PTSD. Once you have identified symptoms of PTSD and been diagnosed, you will be able to start the path of healing. These are real experiences and the way that the body tends to process trauma is to RELIVE it until you can REPROCESS it and allow your body to RELEASE it. How to start healing Therapy, therapy, therapy. I am a therapist so you won’t be surprised to hear me say that everyone should try therapy at some point in their life. For individuals with trauma, therapy becomes even more important. Talking it through with someone who is trained in working with trauma will allow you to have a space to share your biggest fears and to release that fear in order to heal and find peace. There are other modalities that we are finding to have awesome results as well, such as: biofeedback, EMDR, and Stellate ganglion block (SGB). Whatever process you choose, I can guarantee you won’t regret it. [Related: What it's like to be a parent with COVID] Mercy and grace Offer this to yourself and others whenever possible. Let yourself off the hook for not doing the dishes, take a self-care day with Netflix, ask for an extension on a work project, go for a long drive to clear your mind. No one can take better care of you than you. Care kit My recommendation for all of my clients right now is to make yourself a care kit. Take a big basket or box and fill it with items that you love and that bring you joy. My box has a cozy blanket, my favorite raspberry herbal tea, lemon and rose oils, fancy hand cream, crochet needles and yarn, embroidery kits, sudoku books, magazines that I haven’t read but have wanted to, snacks, a list of movies I want to watch, etc. What will yours include? Once you’ve put on your metaphorical oxygen mask, make a box for everyone else in your house. Think of the fun your kids will have on a rainy/snowy/boring day. For couples, this could be a fun activity! In making boxes for each other you will both be truly showing each other you care and giving items that will help increase one another’s mood and joy. Above all, please remember to be safe, check on your strong friends, and ask for help!
  13. The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to mount as parents, caregivers, and families across the country navigate unprecedented challenges. Anxiety and uncertainty have become the norm, and as pandemic fatigue sets in, parents are grappling with ways to support their children’s healthy development and help them cope. At Erikson Institute, a graduate school specializing in child development, our mantra is “relationships, relationships, relationships.” In the challenging circumstances we’re all facing, supportive relationships with each other are what can sustain us the most. Think about what you want your child to remember most from this unusual time, and try to create as much connectedness and joy as possible for all of you. Here are 7 tips for parents of young children navigating COVID-19. 1. Take care of yourself first. Children look to the adults in their life for cues about how safe they are. Having solid self-care routines and their own healthy ways to cope can help parents be as steady a role model as they can for their child. When children see you coping, it helps them to cope, too. [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] 2. Speak honestly and openly with children about the pandemic, but keep it simple and brief. Young children don’t understand everything going on during difficult times, but they feel better if they know&nbspsomething. Reassure them about how people can stay safe, using examples they can see like wearing masks or washing hands, and talk with them about any fears they might have. Point out the people who are responding to the crisis. In the words of Fred Rogers, “look for the helpers.”  3. Try to keep a routine at home. Young children thrive on routine—it helps them know what to expect so they can have a sense of control. A simple visual schedule for breakfast, playtime, nap, etc. is one strategy parents can use. Let your kids come up with items to put on a calendar, and don’t forget to include special events they can look forward to, like virtual playdates or a pillow fight night. If you’re working from home, creating your own simple visual schedule can help your children know when you’re available to them.   4. Let them play! Encourage your child to follow their own interests for play and (safe) exploration. It may look like “just play,” but there is a lot of learning going on. Pretend play is an especially important way for children to work out fears and stresses. Invest time in finding high-quality children’s tech content. If you can’t watch or use the technology with them, find content they can engage with on their own. [Related: Help your kids capture memories of this strange year] 5. Make a game of social distancing and hygiene, or do a project together. This can give children fun ways to retain important information and can help them feel more in control during this scary time. Help them create masks or handwashing signs to put around your home as reminders, or give them turns to be the “reminder boss.” Consider doing a project together to help other people, like thank you emails or drawings that can be sent to hospitals or grocery store workers.  6. If you or someone in your family gets sick with COVID-19, try to help children anticipate what will happen. Illness during this time can create even more worry and stress for you and your children. Talk about what’s going on in words children can understand. Explain clearly what is going to happen, especially if they have to be separated from you or a loved one, and emphasize what you and others are doing to make things better.   [Related: What it's like to be a parent with COVID] 7. Don’t hesitate to seek help from an outside source. Erikson’s Center for Children and Families offers therapy sessions with parents remotely (by video or phone). They can be reached at 312-709-0508. 
  14. NPN and Dr. Dave Drelicharz recorded a 30-minute Zoom discussion on delivery protocol, pediatric visits and telemedicine practice during the pandemic. Dr. Dave also fielded questions from the audience, specific to COVID-19, school and children as well as a bit on the current climate with the pending vaccination rollout. Please note the video starts 2 minutes into the segment as there was a glitch in recording in the beginning.
  15. We sure know how to bundle up in the Midwest. We don’t let winter stop us from living life and enjoying the parks, zoos and fun outdoor activities. But it’s a lot of work to get all that winter gear on, and then there's that “no coats in car seats” rule. Madness! As a child passenger safety instructor at Lurie Children's Hospital (and a mom), I have some practical tips on how you can buckle in your kids safely and quickly during our never-ending winters. Why can’t my kid wear a coat in their car seat? Let’s start out with a refresher of how to buckle up safely. Kids should always be buckled into their car seat snugly. To check this, use the pinch test—once your child is buckled up, try to pinch some harness webbing between your finger and thumb near your child’s shoulder. If you can pinch some slack, the harness needs to be tightened until your fingers slide right off and you can’t pinch any extra webbing. Once kids are snug enough, pull the chest clip up to armpit level. Kids need to be snug because the harness will stretch during a crash. This stretching keeps our bodies from stopping too quickly. When a child wears anything bulky in the car, it creates too much space between their body and the car seat harness. If a crash happens, a child who is wearing a coat or snowsuit isn’t buckled in snugly enough to begin with, so when the harness stretches, that child can pop out of the car seat harness. Even if they don’t come out completely, their little body is subjected to too much movement and they are more likely to have head contact with the interior of the car or with another passenger. Sometimes parents try to solve this coat problem by pulling the car seat harness even tighter and squishing the coat material down. This doesn’t totally compress all the bulk though, and it can create a few other problems, too. We don’t want to overheat our babies and increase their risk of SIDS. Pulling the harness tighter when a child has a coat can also squish the coat material closer to their face, creating a suffocation risk for babies and young kids. Then how can I keep my kids from freezing during a polar vortex? There are lots of ways to keep kids warm in the car, but only one way to keep them safe in the car. And kids don’t freeze to death in the short time it takes to get out to the car, buckle up and start driving. The warm air will be blowing through those vents in a matter of minutes. Here’s what my family does on those bone-chilling days: Start the car to warm it up, but not in a garage (carbon monoxide!) Actually, I’m lying. I’m always running late, so I don’t have time to warm the car up. I totally skip this step. Put on coats and hats, then run out to the car. Get in and start the car. Yank those coats off and get buckled up. Now here’s the best part—you can put those coats back on! Toddlers and older kids can put their coats on backward, over the car seat harness or seat belt.* The hood will end up on the front of their body when you do this. Now the bulky material isn’t between your child’s body and their harness or seat belt. If they start to overheat, it’s easier to remove. But this isn’t safe for babies, because the coat and hood could create a suffocation hazard. So… Dress baby in thin layers. Once baby is buckled in, tuck a blanket around baby’s torso and under their arms so they can’t accidentally flip it up on their face and create a suffocation risk. Thin layers and blankets are okay for big kids, too. If you have an infant seat, bring the seat in overnight so it’s not cold when you go out to the car. Once you switch to a convertible seat, it isn’t practical to bring it inside, obviously. * This is advice for toddlers and big kids who have good head and neck control and who don’t have any special needs that could compromise their airway safety. Always listen to your pediatrician about your child’s individual needs and safety.
  16. Every patient encounter I have these days ends with the question, “So, doc, what should I do about my child going to daycare or school?” The question is general, and yet very personal. Each family has to weigh the risks and benefits, the costs both financial and emotional, and the balance of work and child safety that affect them. While this is an individual decision, each family is part of a community; at this time, more than ever, each family has to share in the communal responsibility to keep all of our children safe. Social distancing, wearing a mask, hand washing — you’ve heard these measures multiple times. But what else can you do? Be mindful of the following suggestions to keep your family and others healthy. [Related: What to expect when you're expecting during Covid] Sniffles Certainly, not every sniffle in your child is going to be due to coronavirus, but you have to act as if it could be. This means keeping your child home from daycare or school if they have the sniffles to see what else, if anything, develops over the next few days. If nothing else develops, you will need to have a discussion with your pediatrician about when it is safe to resume normal activity. Fevers Fevers have always been a reason to stay home and take good care of yourself. Not every fever is due to coronavirus, but you have to consider that it could be. This means potentially seeking care from your pediatrician earlier than you might have before. We will be there to evaluate and treat for all of the other causes of fever, cough and pain, too. Please: No treating your child with Tylenol or Motrin to “cover the fever” just to send them to school that day. Flu vaccine Pediatricians have long recommended yearly flu vaccines to help protect your child and your whole family from getting influenza. This year, more than ever, getting the flu shot could help decrease the potential for two similar illnesses (i.e., influenza and coronavirus) to be circulating at the same time. The flu shot is safe, and while it isn’t always a perfect match, it gives you more fighting power against the flu than not getting the shot. [Related: Supporting your gifted child during Covid] Emotional health Know that you aren’t alone. Children of all ages show different signs of stress — stuttering, poor sleep, poor appetite, tummy aches, acid reflux, recurrent bedwetting, poor grades, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, etc. You may feel more alone this year without your network of class parents or friends to discuss your child’s behavior. Your pediatrician is there to help and should be your resource to discuss your concerns. This year may pose many challenges, but we all have the same goal: a healthy educational environment for your child.
  17. Presenters Pamela Epley, PhD, and Jena Valdez, MS, Adjunct Professor, both of the Erikson Institute, offer practical guidance and strategies you can use to support social interactions, learning and development for young children with developmental differences during Covid-19. They will also cover the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs in supporting students with IEPs during remote and hybrid learning.
  18. As the new school year approaches amid the Covid pandemic, we all find ourselves approaching it with a heightened sense of apprehension with a new normal of social interaction. The previous school year concluded with distance learning and parents temporarily thrust into educator roles and many are anxiously wondering what will happen this fall. It’s impossible to know what the future holds, and with no clear roadmap, parents who have been managing anxiety are now struggling. The coronavirus has caused significant disruptions to everyone’s daily life, and children are particularly feeling all of these changes as the new “normal” continues to shift. These changes come with a mix of new emotions as the new school year quickly approaches. Some may be hopeful with the excitement of in-person while others may be fearful of returning to the social stressors. Regardless, it is our job as caregivers to support our children in exploring their many feelings while providing a sense of calm to ease anxiety. But how can we do that in a time like this? [Related: 4 tips for managing your kids' coronavirus anxiety] We often try to soothe our children’s anxieties by having “all” the answers, and you may feel exhausted by trying to force things to be certain. In this situation, it is important to let go of control as nobody is sure of what the future of school looks like. Become a safe space for your child by bringing awareness to the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty that we are all experiencing. This will be tough but worth it, as figuring out how to manage anxiety and tolerate the uneasy feeling are essential skills for everyone these days. Here are some tips on how to navigate conversations about the upcoming school year with your child. Empathize and validate. Encourage your child to express any fear or anxiety while letting them know that what they are feeling is normal. Use curiosity. Children may have fears revolving around bullying, e-learning, conflicts with friends, or being separated from you. Ask open questions and actively listen while talking through strategies to help your child improve problem-solving skills and feel empowered. Emphasize what is predictable. With the uncertainties of the method of schooling these days, focus on what a child can expect—learning new things, interacting with a teacher, etc. Continue practicing. Have the family wear a face mask at home in a variety of situations. This can be playing a board game, coloring, or watching a family movie. Doing this will help with not only the potential to return to classrooms but going to places like the grocery store. Shift back into a routine. Routines promote feelings of safety and can give a child a sense of control. Create an expected school routine by following bedtimes, getting ready in the morning, etc. [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?] Provide reassurance. Revisit the safety measures in place to help keep children and teachers safe. This can ease anxiety about their safety in public spaces. Be honest. It’s okay not to have all the answers! We cannot solve all of our children’s problems, but sometimes they don’t need solutions—just to feel understood and supported. Admit that you wish you knew what the future of school looked like, but the reality is that you don’t. You are unable to make all the decisions now, but you will when you have the information you need. With honesty, you are sure not to make promises you can’t keep. Acknowledge the uneasiness. It is difficult to sit in the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety as we tend to avoid or resist it. Begin to notice and gently observe what is happening in your body to increase your ability to handle it. By doing this with your children, it will model that it is okay to feel this way—even grownups do! Focus on what you can control. It’s easy to get caught up in the unknown and “what ifs?” Notice when this is happening and gently shift to focusing on what is within your control to stay in the present moment. Be kind to yourself. Being a parent in the best of times is already the hardest job in the world. It is impossible to avoid anxiety right now but doing the best you can is all you can do!.
  19. Looking back at the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, as much as I was telling myself that everything was OK, I was dealing with my own internal panic: I can’t go to Trader Joe’s anymore because they don’t do Instacart. Eek. I am going to have to live with Instacart never getting my grocery order right. Eek! I am not going to get any work done because I will have to share my workday schedule’s blocks of free time to homeschool. Eek. My kids won’t have their normal Saturday activities and are going to become brain-dead from too much screen time and no social interaction. Eek. I will never have any space or time for ME. EEK! I am going to have to spend Mother’s Day with my family and not at the spa. Eek, eek, eek! I am not going to be able to hang out with my girlfriends because we really should be just hanging out outside (this was early in March/April). Eek. I like to work out online, and if I don’t work out I am not going to fit into my summer clothes. Eek, eek, eek. Summer camp is canceled and I still have to work full-time so they are probably going to have one of the worst summers ever (major mommy guilt). EEK. I internalized my personal freak-out as to not add to the anxiety my friends were already experiencing (but definitely let my husband hear it a couple of times). In the absence of a full-on panic attack, these were the thoughts going through my head the first 45-60 days. There was no silver lining—just me holding on as tight as I could to “normal,” all while trying to help keep my family safe and healthy. [Related: Help your kids capture memories of this strange year] After a while, I unintentionally fell into a new groove—and one not marked by rushing home from school pick-up to do dinner and homework; one free from spending Saturdays running ragged trying to fit in grocery store shopping between kid activities. (Because yes, I am the mom who tries to fit in too much in an unreasonably small amount of time.) I slowly started to experience what I am calling my “pandemic slowdown”: Sleep: I was not waking up for 5am workouts after too little sleep, and I was allowing myself to wind down and actually get in the bed at a decent hour. Cleanliness: Something about a house out of sorts increases my stress level, so I became more consistent at doing a little every day to keep the house clean and neat, versus saving it all for Sunday afternoons and burning myself out. Not only did it bring my stress level down, but it actually allowed me to enjoy my home. Hobbies: Typically, I used vacations as an excuse to dive into books. But with nowhere to go, I fell back in love with reading light, fun fiction. I also discovered adult coloring books (great for mindless relaxing!). Exercise: Live Zoom classes are not that bad; they give me a sense of normalcy and something to look forward to in the absence of not yet being ready to go to the gym. I have actually grown to enjoy this new normal. While I have never been a fan of working from home, I appreciate the absence of fussing with the kids to wake up and get dressed, and then rushing home from work and doing homework and cooking. I choose not to think about the brain cells that my children are annihilating every day with the exorbitant amount of screen time they are getting because, at the end of the day, they are not going to die from it. I have physically felt myself slowing down. And although my 7- and 9-year-old can’t articulate it, I know that they have felt the slowdown, too (in the absence of Mommy and Daddy fussing at them to move faster and hurry up). [Related: A pediatrician's guide to keeping your kids—and your community—safe from flu and Covid] Now, don’t get me wrong. While the slowdown has been awesome for my physical and mental health, I still grapple with my fair share of mommy guilt. My kids are literally screen zombies for a ridiculous amount of time each day. I still give my husband the occasional side-eye when I feel like he is not doing his fair share. Homeschooling while working is still like oil and water. But at the end of the day, I feel blessed because when we do get back to normal (whatever that new normal will be), I know I am going to PAUSE and make sure that I am not just throwing my family back into the crazy tempo we once had. If there are any blessings from this pandemic, it will be me and my family slowing down and focusing a little bit more on what matters most. I hope that you are encouraged to do the same.
  20. My husband brought it in. At least, that’s what we think. We still have no idea where exactly he picked up the coronavirus, but it came into our house around mid-to-late March and upended our newly sheltered-in-place world. He first went down with extreme fatigue. He would occasionally shiver, and he had a cough, though not an entirely dry one, so we played multiple rounds of “allergies, flu, or COVID?” Tests were still in very rare supply at this point, reserved for only the sickest, most at-risk, and – apparently – famous. His doctor informed him to isolate in our house and call them if he got worse. Isolating in a condo in the city without a spare bedroom proved challenging. And by “challenging,” I do, of course, mean “impossible.” [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?] His sickness lasted about three days before he recovered. I was responsible for getting supplies, entertaining/feeding our 5- and 3-year old kids, trying to keep them away from my husband, and monitoring how my husband was doing. During this time the kids were just...off. They were cranky, displayed some behavior regressions, and were generally lackadaisical, but they never had fevers, nor did they complain of sore throats or aches. We attributed it to adjusting to the new “shelter-in-place-no-school-no-friends-more-screens” life they were suddenly living. We watched a lot of Frozen 2. (This behavior, it might be worth noting, has yet to change.) In hindsight, they most likely had (generally) milder, kid versions of the virus. As my husband recovered, I went down. I first got a sore throat, a headache that made my brain feel like it was about to explode out of my skull, and felt extremely achy. The fatigue then set in. I started coughing a dry, from-the-lungs, deep cough that got progressively worse. The second day I felt...better. A lot better. I was up and about, energized and convinced I had just contracted a gross spring bug, and nothing to worry about at all. Anecdotally, this one-day early recovery is common early on with the coronavirus, and some people even recover fully from this point. I wasn’t so lucky. I went down again on my third day of symptoms and didn’t get back up for another five days. I was so tired I could barely sit up. I would cough so hard I would almost throw up. The chills and aches were so bad I would lie in bed physically shaking, even though my fever never went above mild at most. I started to get out of breath going 10 feet from my bed to the bathroom. If I happened to do something that required a lot of exertion – say, going 15 feet to the kitchen for water – I would be out of breath for a few minutes. My lungs started feeling like they were burning if I did anything more than lie down, or if I had just had a bad coughing fit. I slept a lot. And when I couldn’t sleep anymore, I would just lie in bed and stream episode after episode of Love Island: Australia, an activity that required fewer brain cells than sleep. [Related: 4 tips for managing your kids' coronavirus anxiety] We ordered a lot of delivery foods during this time, since our whole house was under strict quarantine. My husband carried Lysol with him when he took the dog out, so as to try not to infect our upstairs neighbors using shared doorknobs. I burst into tears with feelings of guilt wondering if I had infected anyone when I had made an essential run to the grocery store in the week prior to any of us being sick (masks at this point were not available, let alone common). We had always been very clear with the kids about the virus, and why they were home from school and why things like their soccer class was suddenly being held via video. While they wanted me to hang out, or watch Frozen 2 with them, they seemed to understand I couldn’t. I wanted nothing more than to squeeze them. Both my husband and I were supposed to be self-isolating. Unfortunately, there is no guide on self-isolation when both parents are still both sick and presumably infectious and you have two preschoolers in the house who need to eat, play, and be put to bed. Because my husband was functional and I was not, we had to make the choice for him to continue caring for them. Around day five my doctor told me I had a presumed case of COVID-19. At this point, she said, most people recover. Some people – and there was no telling who, or why – would not, and would take a nosedive. If that nosedive happened I was to go straight to the hospital because I would need oxygen. My husband and I had a distinct talk about what my wishes were if I were to go into the hospital and need to be put on a ventilator. We talked calmly about end-of-life decisions. Luckily, I started to recover. The isolation period our doctor suggested was 10 days from the start of symptoms, though we all isolated for longer. I started to have periods of feeling semi-functional, only to crash later. Those times of feeling better started to get longer and longer, and my husband resumed working from home again as I “watched the kids,” which mostly consisted of – you guessed it – watching them watch Frozen 2 or Star Wars. After about two weeks, I felt like myself again. I started exercising, even. It’s been several months since we went through this. We’ve learned a lot about the virus, but also about how fallible the testing is, even when you do get a test. (There are almost no false-positive tests, but worryingly up to 30% false negatives.) The antibody tests seem just as fallible, only with the opposite problem of over-predicting positives. We continue to follow the protocols: we wear our masks, socially distance, and bake an absurd amount of banana bread. My family came through this relatively unscathed and I realize just how lucky we are. I’ve let a lot of things I thought were important go. My house is a mess, but my kids are happy, healthy, and able to play. I will never again take for granted this time when my kids are playing happily and I’m able to watch them.
  21. The coronavirus can be scary for kids. Kids pick up on information and emotions from the adults around them, and some kids may become worried or anxious about this information. Here are some tips for how to best support your child when presented with worrisome information. Focus on what you can control In a society overwhelmed with news and information, worry around COVID-19 can make us feel helpless and out of control. It is hard to believe or find a way to gain some sense of action and control. What we can focus on is what we can control: ourselves and those we care for. You can be an active participant in stopping the spread of illness and germs by washing your hands regularly and well and avoiding touching your face. Thorough hand washing is proven to reduce the spread of illness and germs. Read more science behind handwashing. Read evidenced-based material In a time of pandemic, we are quick to absorb all the information we can find. Unfortunately, not all information we find is rooted in factual and/or evidence-based information. To ease anxiety, it can be helpful to refer to sources that are objective and evidenced-based. Some sources include but are not limited to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Chicago Department of Health These sources are frequently updated and reviewed by individuals whose roles are to ensure this information is accurate and updated. The CDC’s responsibility is to keep the public healthy and safe. Outlining the CDC’s role in health and safety for children will help your kids understand that there are professionals who are monitoring what is best for the public. Practice self-care Self-care is not only beneficial for getting our minds off of worry-provoking ideas or situations, but it also helps our overall well-being. Self-care looks different for each child; teaching your child to understand what they enjoy and seek out these activities is the first step to consistently practicing self-care. Self-care can be physical, mental or emotional. Ideas for physical self-care: Eating healthy Going for a walk, bike ride or scooter ride Drinking lots of water Sleep! Stretching or yoga Getting a hug Taking an extra long bath Playing with your pets Dancing Playing a fun sport Ideas for mental self-care: Being silly with a friend over video chat Coloring or making art projects Alone time Playing a board game Reading a book Singing Helping others Being in nature Ideas for emotional self-care: Make a list of things you’re thankful for Telling a joke Cuddling with your family and pets Writing thank-you notes Practice positive self-talk Saying "I love you" Talking about feelings and emotions Stock up on fun activities Since large activities are being canceled, having a stock-pile of fun home activities will help keep you and your child occupied. Some ideas to stock up on: Save scraps of newspaper and paper for crafts Save your boxes, strings, and other materials to make musical instruments Create homemade Playdough using flour and water Make a playlist of your family’s favorite songs for a dance marathon Take pictures of your family treasures and create a virtual scrapbook Gather dish soap and bubble wands to make homemade bubbles Create a dress-up box Write a story, or play to perform, or play charades Guest authored by Annie McGunagle, MSW, LCSW, and Leah Dunleavy, M.A., BCBA, OTR/L, OTD. If you’re noticing your child continues to express worry more than other children, reach out to a health care professional for further support. Eyas Landing offers social work services for children with worry. Check us out at eyaslanding.com.
  22. If I possessed one superpower, I would disregard flying, teleporting or telekinesis. I would simply want to stretch our 24-hour days to have more time. That was one of the most surprising transitions for me as a new parent: clocks no longer mattered because you can’t finish all the things that are on your list — and there’s even less time to unwind. But I’m a firm believer that we were each a person before we were a parent, and maintaining some semblance of your interests is core to avoiding burnout. Remembering the activities that gave you energy before you had kids is an important first step. The harder next step is carving out time to do those activities. But I think both things are possible: making time for yourself and being a good parent. [Related: Working mom hacks: Tips and tricks to make your life better] How can we be a light to others if we’re burned out? From one parent to another, here are my five tips* to beat off burnout before it happens: Be honest with yourself. Do you feel on the brink of flipping out about something tiny? Not being your best self with your kids? This is typically a good sign that you need a break. Even a short one can make a difference. Parenting can feel as if you’re on a hamster wheel. Stop running. Understand that self-care isn't selfish. Caring for yourself is necessary, not indulgent. Reading for 15 minutes in bed or enjoying a cup of coffee you didn’t have to re-warm 9 times can be self-care. While a trip to the spa is wonderful, self-care doesn’t have to be luxurious, expensive, or time-consuming. It just has to be for you. Take the pressure off of social media. When you see on Instagram that another mom baked homemade cookies or DIYed all their kid’s birthday decorations, remind yourself they may enjoy baking or crafting. Or they may hate it and are just doing it for likes. In either case, don’t compare yourself. [Related: To the moms running on fumes, here's how to refill the tank] Don’t commit to things you don’t care about. You have the right to say no to activities you don’t want to do, and I encourage you to try it. If you dread that party you said you’d go to, kindly bow out. Be honest with others. The most rewarding conversations I’ve had with friends and family are the real ones. The ones where you talk openly about your lives and are vulnerable. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to support a parent. Be that village for others and you’ll find the favor is returned. Hats off to the moms and dads who magically make it happen every day — minus sleep and superpowers to pull it off. *I am an amateur parent, and only marginally and intermittently qualified to offer advice.
  23. My 4-year-old and I had a date with our pediatrician yesterday. Though kids can get their second MMR vaccine any time between 4 and 6 years old, he received his second MMR vaccine exactly a week after his 4th birthday. After the visit, we got cinnamon rolls (and a large coffee for me) and I told him how proud and excited I was that he was protected against measles and a bunch of other nasty diseases much better now. It sounds pretty cheesy, but I said this out loud to him and I woke up this morning breathing a sigh of relief. As many of you have heard, there have been multiple outbreaks of measles in the U.S. so far this year and we are up to 662 cases in 22 states as of April 19, 2019. We are on pace to exceed the 2014 record for highest number of cases since measles “elimination” in 2000. Illinois has had some of these cases. I know this not only because I am a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist, but also because I do disease surveillance for measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases at the Chicago Department of Public Health. Measles keeps me up at night, when my two kids are not waking up with wet beds or nightmares. Many children are suffering in our country and will continue to suffer if these outbreaks spread. Even after recovery from measles, children are more likely to get bacterial infections for a certain period of time and there is a rare complication of delayed swelling of the brain lining (encephalitis) that can occur ten years or more after infection. Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes and it’s so contagious that if one person has it, up to 9 of 10 people around them will also become infected if they are not protected. Measles starts with a fever that can get very high, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and a rash of tiny, red spots that start at the head and spread to the rest of the body. The virus can cause serious health complications, such as pneumonia or encephalitis, and even death. Though all this sounds scary, we should feel good that most parents in Chicago and Illinois vaccinate their families. We all need to do our part to protect children under the age of 12 months or those with weakened immune systems who may not be able to receive the vaccine. They could be your neighbor, classmate or friend and you may not even know it. Travelers returning to Chicago from areas both internationally and within the United States experiencing ongoing measles outbreaks may pose a risk of spread of the illness within the city. The majority of measles cases in the U.S. currently are in New York City and New York state, which are primarily among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities and associated with travelers who brought measles back from Israel. With the current Passover holiday that ends the evening of Saturday, April 27, there may be more opportunities for measles to spread. The best way to protect against measles is to get the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine on time. We recommend that most children get the first dose of the MMR vaccine at the age of 12 months and a second dose after the 4th birthday. If you are not sure if they have had the vaccine or if they had a prior measles infection, talk to your doctor. If you travel internationally, anyone in your family older than 6 months should receive the MMR vaccine. Talk with your health care provider about protecting your baby at least 4 weeks prior to departure. A lot of my friends and colleagues ask me if they should bring their newborns and infants on planes to some of these U.S. locations with measles outbreaks. In general, infants who are too young to be vaccinated should avoid contact with sick people or situations where they may be exposed to sick people. Adults who are traveling internationally may need one or two doses of MMR vaccine depending on their vaccination history. Check out the following links for more information: Learn more about measles and prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/features/measles/ Measles fact sheet: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/diseases/child/measles-basics-color.pdf
  24. As parents, we are sometimes just as excited as our kids when school is out for summer. For us, that means no helping with homework, no rushing around in the morning, and no packing of lunches. But as the summer nears the end, we realize the tasks ahead of us as the school year begins. Packing lunches does not need to be one of those dreaded tasks. Here are some helpful tips for putting together a delicious lunch in advance: No “surprise” lunches Try out new recipes on your kids at home first, rather than surprising them with a new lunch. As a food blogger, I do this all the time. Use Sunday to prep When I find something they like, I’ll make that dish on a Sunday night. I make enough so I can pack individual lunches for a few days during the week. My kids’ lunch favorites are Banana Muffins, Hidden Zucchini Muffins, Bourbon Chicken and Crispy Corn Flake Chicken (see below for recipe). Also on Sundays, my boys and I will bake S’mores Brownies. Then we’ll wrap them individually so they’re ready for the lunch box for dessert throughout the week. Eat in season My go-to fruit is the small individual bag of organic apple slices from Costco or Trader Joe’s. Of course, a fabulous autumn activity is apple picking. If you have picked them fresh, make sure to cut them up in the morning so they don’t turn brown before lunch. If stored properly, freshly picked apples will last up to two months in the refrigerator. Keep it cold Freeze a box of yogurt squeezers (my favorite is Stoneyfield Organic Strawberry), and include one in the lunch box. By the time lunch rolls around, the yogurt will be defrosted but still cold. And it will keep the other lunch items cold, too. You can find dozens of quick and easy kid-friendly recipes on my blog at www.mommachef.com. All use no more than six ingredients and are under six minutes of prep time. Momma Chef’s Cornflake Coated Chicken (makes 6 servings) 6 boneless chicken breasts 4 cups cornflakes 2 large eggs 2 tbsp. water 1 tbsp. salt 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 2. In a large bowl, mix together eggs and water. Set aside. 3. In a large Ziploc bag, add the cornflakes and salt. Then crush the cornflakes. 4. Dip each chicken breast in the egg/water mixture and put them in the Ziploc bag. Shake to coat all sides of the chicken. 5. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes.
  25. Are you or someone you love struggling with feelings of anxiety, extreme sadness or feeling very overwhelmed following childbirth? Nancy Segall of Beyond the Baby Blues and Claire Zawa of Birthways Inc. share information and resources for expectant and new parents about the causes, symptoms and treatments for postpartum depression. Postpartum depression occurs in approximately 20 percent of all new mothers. It’s considered the number one postpartum childbirth complication. After this webinar, you will have a better understanding of how perinatal mental health extends beyond depression, impacts the entire family, and can be identified before the family is in crisis. Topics covered: Perinatal mental health diagnoses and presentations Risks factors, special populations, and situations that require referral Tips for how to engage a new or expecting parent in a dialogue about perinatal mental health and how to best offer support Cultural considerations Assessment/screening Resources

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