Category: Pediatric Corner

So, You’re going to be a new parent?

First and foremost, congratulations!  You are going to be a new parent!

As you approach your baby’s due date, it is hard to believe the time has finally come. It’s common to experience a wide range of emotions at this time, including feelings of excitement to anxiety, and from confidence to feelings of insecurity. All of these thoughts and feelings are very normal!

It is certainly a time to rejoice, but just like any new adventure in life, there are always challenges. Here are some tips to consider as you get ready for the arrival of your new infant.

Take Care of Yourself Physically

Look at taking care of your new baby as a long run rather than a sprint. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you become a new parent:

  • Eat properly, healthy and at the right times. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids. Sometimes running low on fluids can affect our stamina, which can cause fatigue.
  • Sleep whenever you have the opportunity, particularly when the baby sleeps. It’s okay to take naps during the day because you will be up in the middle of the night with feedings and diaper changes.
  • Go for walks or try to exercise. Not only will this help you with your overall stamina, but it will be a good mental break. Just be sure to follow your doctor’s orders, and maintain a level of endurance close to the level you had before giving birth.

Take Care of Yourself Mentally

Treat yourself and your partner with kindness. It’s common for both of you as new parents to have anxieties at the beginning as your baby did not come with a manual. Here are some tips on how to navigate and deal with your uncertainties at the beginning:

  • Trust your instinct and adjust your expectations. Know that you are going to make mistakes and it will be okay. I find it amazing how resilient babies are despite the mistakes we make as parents.
  • Don’t forget to improvise on plan B. I heard this saying once and it has become a good way for me to operate in life. Sometimes our best laid plans don’t work out for reasons unforeseen. I then move to plan B and something else comes up that makes me improvise on that plan before everything works out. It takes patience!
  • Expect stress and therefore, learn to build resilience. Develop a belief that you can do it and before you know it, you will be conquering mountains!
  • Acknowledge there may be some feelings of uncertainty as you start to feel tired after the first four to six weeks of your baby being home. There’s an expectation you should be “happy” all the time, as everybody seems to be happy for you. However, you may also be wondering, “I can’t believe we are doing this.” You are not the only one to feel this way at this stage, and it will pass as your baby starts to become social and interact with you.
  • As a new parent, you are going to transform personally and will leave behind a little of that care-free person you used to be. Remind yourself, it’s okay to change.
  • Find your support group and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There will be some advice that makes sense to you, and some that will not. Use your common sense and acknowledge your limits on certain types of advice to know when to take it and when to leave it.

What Kind of Milk to Use?

Trying to decide between breast milk and formula can sometimes be a challenge. For some moms, this is not an issue as they may immediately feel comfortable with breastfeeding. However, for other moms and families this can be a challenge as there may be some uncertainty towards breastfeeding. Science has shown that breast milk is superior to infant formula, but the advances made on the development of formula has brought it pretty close to breast milk.

Rest assured, babies can grow up healthy whether on breast milk or on formula. In fact, if you were to line up a bunch of five-year-old’s going to kindergarten, you will not be able to separate who was breastfed and who was formula-fed.

Baby Development

It’s a good idea to understand baby development for the first few months as you gradually get physically and emotionally tired. Here are some key points:

  • The basics of baby care the first four to six weeks is about feeding, burping the baby, changing the diaper, and then having the baby go back to sleep. It’s easy to get physically exhausted doing this 24 hour a day, seven days a week. But right around four to six weeks of age, your baby will start to smile socially at you and will begin to communicate with you by making cooing sounds. This is exciting and adds a new dimension to your bond that makes parenting worth it!
  • Look forward to bonding with your baby. Similar to dating, you can learn about the baby’s temperament early on and what soothes them. Knowing how easily they can calm down after a noise (we call this habituation) and whether there were any difficulties during the pregnancy can help determine how noisy to let the house be. Stressful pregnancies, especially if drugs were involved, can lead to a baby that may “stress out” easily. This infant may need a quiet home for some time to gradually allow them to handle noise and stresses in the household. Some infants’ temperaments are such that, despite a normal pregnancy, they become irritated easily. These infants also may need to have their “daily dose” of household energy gradually increased, allowing the infant to adjust with time.
  • To create a relaxed and quiet environment in the house, try playing classical music. Not only will this be good for the baby, but you may also find yourself relaxed too!
  • Things will get easier after the first two months as your baby becomes more social and learns how to interact with you. In addition, after approximately four months of age, you can expect your baby to clock about 6-8 hours of sleep at night as they have doubled their birth weight and built up enough baby fat to maintain their blood sugar through part of the night.

Take Care of Your Partner

When parenting with a partner, working as a team is key to providing the best care possible for your baby. This means digging deeper into getting to know each other and trying to understand how you each react under certain circumstances. It is easy to accidently exclude your partner while taking care of the baby as you may subconsciously be thinking your way is better. Or it may be easy for you to become defensive as your partner suggests another option on handling a problem. Here are some questions to consider as you try to better understand one another and how you will blend your experiences/beliefs as you take care of your baby:

  • What was your home life like when you were a child?
  • How did your parents raise you?
  • How did your parents act when they ran out of patience?
  • Did your parents ever spank?
  • Did your parents have a good technique for handling stress?
  • Were both your parents involved in raising the children or was it a single parent mission?
  • Did your parents have any problems with anxiety or depression, and how did they cope with these mental health issues?

How About Daycare?

Planning daycare can be difficult. Dealing with the pain of separation is hard to measure as you contemplate your financial and professional needs. It’s common to experience feelings of anxiety as you explore daycare options. There is no correct decision, but only the one that suits your family, as stated by Robin McClure in Very Well Family, and as you gather information from family and friends. However, having a plan in place will relieve some stress as you near that time. And don’t forget, sometimes we must improvise on plan B!

Last but not least is one of my all-time favorite tips of advice: Don’t forget to keep dating! When parenting with a partner, the two of you are most important to each other and you need to continue to be on solid ground, making each other feel special.

If you have any questions or concern, your child’s pediatrician a call! Don’t have a pediatrician yet? Find one at

This article was first published at


Development in your six-month old

At six-months-old, your baby is rapidly developing with new skills!

It’s Memorial Day weekend and your parents have decided to visit with you, your spouse, and little six-month-old Maggie. The trip from the east side of the state is two hours long but they are here, ringing the doorbell and excited to see their two favorite girls. You exclaim to Maggie that Nana and Papa are here, but she just looks at you. You pick up Maggie and upon opening the front door, you feel your heart fill with joy as you haven’t seen your parents in a couple of months. Nana flashes a huge smile, opens her arms and with a long, melodic “Hello” gives you a hug and takes Maggie. Papa relishes the moment as he sees Maggie smile, hold her neck and trunk steady while she uses her right hand to touch Nana’s face and then proceeds to bounce up and down in Nana’s arms.

The joys and wonders of a six-month-old are hard to measure. You just simply feel it in your heart and wonder how did she so quickly come to be this person that just six months ago was a bundle of joy that cried for milk and very quickly went back to sleep. Not only did she double her birth weight at four months of age and grew in length an extra six inches, but her brain has been multiplying nerve cells at a very rapid pace, also hard to measure.

The bond that you and your spouse have created with Maggie feels comfortable and secure, one that has been building since she was born. Whereas those initial days were fraught with fatigue, insecurity with not knowing what to do, and sometimes reacting in a panic, uncertain if her cry signaled a real hurt or she was just tired and ornery, you both now communicate with real purpose on how to take care of her and how to plan for the day. You both have now grown as a couple and feel more comfortable in your roles as parents. Interestingly enough, Maggie has picked up that you communicate with each other using words and facial expressions.

Speech Development

Speech development begins to manifest itself around four to six weeks of age with cooing. You probably remember how exhausted you felt that first month where all she did was wake up, cry, have her diaper changed, feed, burp and then she was back to sleep. After about two to four hours of sleeping, the cycle would repeat itself… 24 hours a day! You are giving and giving, and gradually become physically and emotionally tired from the lack of good sleep. Then, one day around four to six weeks of age, she socially smiles at you and coos. She is now giving back to you, and it feels wonderful! And so begins your mutual interaction where sometimes it felt like she was telling you of her wonderful day by rhythmically cooing in a sweet melodic tune.

Around four months of age, you might remember, she began to make “raspberry” sounds and spewing spit as she exercised her lips, her diaphragm, and her lungs to make sounds. By six months, she has now started to put two syllable words together without any special, social connotation: da-da-da-da, mum-mum-mum-mum or ba-ba-ba-ba. What’s interesting is that you have gotten excited by her calling out mum-mum-mum. She gradually will make a mental note that she gets your attention when she says that and will later, by nine months to one year of age, give a social meaning to it, and so begins the building of her vocabulary.

Cognitive Development

Another interesting aspect of her using her voice (with crying) is that she is cognitively learning how to solve problems. When crying at first was used as a means of survival (I am hungry), now she has been using it to get your attention. At this age, Maggie is beginning to expect responses from you and your spouse when she cries. In addition, she is learning that she can produce a response from either of you when she cries. Have you heard her “fake cry?” It is good to use proper language with the right tone when you respond to her, rather than talking down to her in a “baby voice.” She will learn to speak more clearly this way.

In addition to using her voice, she has been using her hands to better explore objects. She must mouth and taste them to begin to form concepts in her brain as to what these things are. She likes to touch or grab everything.

The world around her is very interesting as her vision has improved. A newborn’s vision is about 20/400 so they can perceive light, but everything is very blurry. Slowly they begin to form concepts in their brain about straight lines and round objects, to what is dark and bright, to eventually conceptualize objects in their brains. By 6 months of age, their vision is 20/20 and they can see clearly. You may have noticed how difficult it is to change her diaper as she wants to roll to grab a toy or grab your necklace. How about doing baths? Aren’t they so slippery when slathered with soap and they try to check the washcloth? Always a good idea to keep one hand on her for safety while you are trying to do something with her.

With improved vision and having had six months to form a strong bond with you, she has started to recognize you as the person who is there to save the day! In addition, with all her touching, she has been curious about your face, eyes, ears, nose, and lips to begin to form personal awareness. This is the beginning of “object permanence” where you could disappear for a moment, and she knows you are just around the corner. Along with this concept, she will soon start to experience “stranger anxiety” when seeing other people (especially if they want to hold her) and may start protesting when you have these separations.

Gross Motor Development

Along with her interest to investigate everything comes her desire to acquire these objects. Movement, and the progression of gross motor development, goes in a very predictable fashion from the head down to the toes. First, muscle strength and coordination began at the neck and by four months of age, you might remember, you could pull her up from laying on her back and she did not have any more head lag. In addition, if you placed her on her tummy, she could put weight on her elbows and raise up her neck. The chest was off the table a little, but her stomach was flat on the table. Now, at six months, she can push up with her hands and raise her chest and tummy, but her pelvis and legs are flat on the floor. She has learned to “army crawl” or creep. If you stand her up, she stiffens her legs and pretends to jump, although her feet never leave the ground. Rolling over was a reflex at four months, sometimes startling her, but she does it now routinely. You can prop her up in a sitting position, but she does need her arms to “tripod” herself. If she tries to reach for an object, she falls easily because the tripod fell apart. She is not able to get to a sitting position by herself, but she will soon learn around nine months of age how to sit up by herself when she has learned how to crawl.

Her life is filled with frustration as she continues to exercise daily trying to accomplish these milestones, but it is in a way, a “happy frustration” because she is meeting goals. As part of this wonderful bond, you have formed with her, you have learned to be sensitive to her needs and know when to come to her aid when she seems defeated.

Fine Motor Development

Touching and grabbing to form concepts in her brain has been part of her development since birth. To develop her fine motor skills, however, she first had to get rid of her “primitive reflexes,” reflexes that she was born with, including the grasp reflex. By two months of age, she started to open her hands and was transferring objects from one hand to the other by four months of age. When she grabs objects, she uses the “rake” approach where she uses all her fingers and hand to grab an object. It will be exciting for you when she is around nine months of age, and you see her using her thumb and index finger as a pincer grasp to get an object.

So now that you are done reminiscing about her development for the past six months, it’s time to enjoy your visit with your parents. We hope you have a nice Memorial Day weekend!

A health article from Dr. John Spitzer, a pediatrician at Bronson Primary Care Partners (first published on the Bronson Health web site)


  • Touchpoints: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development by T.Berry Brazelton, M.D.  A Merloyd Lawrence Book, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1992.
  • Solving Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, M.D. Simon & Schuster, 1985.

Teenage Mindfulness this Spring

With the stresses of daily life and ongoing uncertainty in the world, it is no surprise that teens may feel disinterested and just want to tune everything out.  Is it possible that we can help our teenagers be mindful in the moment?   Is it possible we can invite them to experience other ways to relax and release some tension?

The laughter coming from the backyard catches my attention as I look out our kitchen window and contemplate the sun piercing through the clouds and blue sky. I can see the play structure as my son standing in the tower chats with his friend Trevor, who sits at the bottom of the slide. Richie is swinging pretty high after being pushed by Lauren, and Joe is chasing Billy with a water gun as they loop around the fortress (names have been changed to protect their privacy). It is mid-afternoon Saturday and they have chosen to escape their “teenage” world and dive into the playground, reminiscing and enjoying their days when they were much younger and did not have to worry about the challenges of being in high school.

Teens face many challenges as they move from middle school to high school. Not only do they desire to have more independence as they seek more activities, but more responsibility is thrown their way as well – both from parents and teachers. The way that they handle the stresses of life can depend on so many factors, including their temperament and personality; their previous life experiences, and the resilience they may have developed through these experiences; the activities they participate in and how busy they feel; their friendships and whether or not they feel support from those relationships; and their home life and family support. Add to the mix that they start to experience growth spurts, hormone changes and romantic feelings, and life can feel complicated.

Mental Health Problems

Anxiety can pop up easily in teenagers as they try to navigate their adolescence. About 1 in 3 teens may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder with symptoms that become significant enough to disrupt their daily life. One of the major factors that often lead to anxiety and mental health problems amongst teens is high expectations. This can include the expectation to perform well, or act, look or “be” a specific way. These expectations may be self-imposed, be caused by parental pressure, or simply our American culture to achieve and be the best.

COVID-19 and Uncertain Futures

Mental health has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought on virtual learning and major uncertainty about their futures (as highlighted in a recent New York Times article, titled 12 Teenagers on What Adults Don’t Get About Their Lives). Additionally, a recent Washington Post article mentions the concern that the CDC has for declining mental health in teens. In “A Cry for Help:” CDC Warns of Steep Decline in Mental Health, Moriah Balingit stated that “more than 4 in 10 teens [report] they feel ‘persistently sad or hopeless,’ and 1 in 5 [say] they have contemplated suicide.”

Social Issues, War and Violence

In addition, our world continues to be complicated by social issues, which seem to always be bombarding our psyches. Poverty, homelessness and hunger affect not only developing countries but here in our own country as well. Other areas of concern include climate change, civil rights and discrimination, gender inequality and gender dysphoria, and immigration challenges The current generation of kids and teens are very socially conscious and want to make an impact in our world.

The war in Ukraine has touched all of us. It is natural to feel empathy and sadness, particularly for those who have relatives there. Schools continue to have lockdowns and drills to address shootings, which can potentially cause emotional stresses perhaps not too different from the Ukraine war. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to restrict activities and to wear masks on a regular basis. It is no wonder that going out in public can create some degree of stress and anxiety, even for us adults – so again, no wonder our teens may be feeling this way too.

Social Media and The Need to “Fit In”

being connected to social media has its positive effects, but can also create enormous negative energy. Today’s teens are very connected and aware of what is going on, not just in their friends’ lives, but also in the lives of everyone around them and so many larger world events. Imperfections are all erased, and “only edited for perfection,” unattainable standard is loud and clear. Appearances carry a lot of weight, to the point that it can be very distressing when posts are negative or offensive to others, or a teen is lead to believe everyone else’s life is perfect.

With all of these daily stresses and looming uncertainty, it is no surprise that sometimes teens feel like just going to their room and tuning things out. They find security in their chats and by posting how they feel. But is it possible we can invite them to experience other ways to relax and release some tension?

More likely than not, there’s going to be some resistance, as venturing out into another activity may rock their boat. But with a little love, some humor and teasing, maybe using words to expand their imagination, we can talk them into going on an adventure with us and enjoy nature, even if it’s just for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon. We may not have to go far to experience the wildlife here in our own home of southwest Michigan. One of our nurses used to keep in our office a book about the different birds in our area so kids could identify them as the birds flew by our exam rooms and kids could see them through the windows. Try taking your camera or your phone and capture some of the birds perched on a branch or chasing each other as if they were flying and playing in their own backyard. Perhaps do a nature scavenger hunt walk with phone cameras.

What Can We Do? Where Can We Go?

  • The Kalamazoo Nature Center website shares its mission statement, “A not-for-profit organization whose mission is to create relationships & experiences that welcome and inspire people to discover, enjoy, value and care for nature. KNC envisions a resilient community where all people have strong interconnections with the natural world.”
  • Asylum Lake is a 274-acre parcel owned by Western Michigan University, located by Drake Road and Parkview Avenue. It supports multiple habitat types including oak savanna, prairie, forest, wet meadow, emergent marsh, shrub carr and two lakes. Birds fly in every so often so it’s good to have your camera ready.
  • The Kleinstuck Preserve is also a 48-acre nature preserve owned by Western Michigan University. As stated on their webpage, “This unique ecosystem includes upland forest, swamp forest, shrub carr and marshland which are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Some of Kleinstuck’s special features include a beautiful showcase of native wildflowers in the springtime and a highly diverse bird population. The property is open to the public for passive recreation and is used by WMU and other educational institutions for research and education.”
  • Celery Flats in Portage, as stated on their website, “Is really a ‘park within a park.’ A key element of the Portage Creek Bicentennial Park, Celery Flats, has two distinct settings. On the north side of Garden Lane, the Celery Flats Pavilion offers a nice open-air seating area, picnic tables, restrooms and an air station. The Celery Flats Historical Area, with several relocated and restored buildings, is located south of Garden Lane. The Historical Area is the site of many community events and several of the buildings can be reserved for private group use.”
  • The Kal-Haven Trail is, as stated on their website, “33.5 miles between Kalamazoo and South Haven in southwest Michigan. The trail rests on an abandoned railroad bed constructed in 1871. The converted rail-trail winds through gorgeous scenery including wooded areas, farmlands, streams and rivers.”

Consider getting the All Trails: Hike, Bike & Run app as a guide to the outdoors. I found a number of other app’s on my phone that help me discover what’s in my “own backyard.”

So as spring rolls around the corner and we find ways to get outside and experience life, perhaps this might be an occasion to create some bonding time with your teen and spend it in nature. A couple of hours away from the house and disconnected from social media might release some Dopamine from that “feel-good” center of the brain. And who knows, this just might be the break that the doctor ordered to help our kids get back their self-confidence, release some tension and stress, and tackle that school project they’ve been wanting to finish.

(A health article from Dr. John Spitzer, a pediatrician at Bronson Primary Care Partners, was first published on Bronson’s Blog Page on April 15, 2022)


Self-Efficacy in your Children

“You got this,” Self-Efficacy in your Children

Sometimes psychology terms get confusing for me.  Here are three that are on my mind:

Self-confidence:  One’s own sense of self-worth

Resilience:  the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change (Webster Dictionary)

Self-Efficacy:  the belief in my ability to succeed in achieving a goal. (Albert Bandura, a Canadian-American psychologist and professor at Stanford University, 1977).

One of the challenges we have as parents is trying to raise our sons and daughters to become successful kids who can later become productive members of society.  Not caring enough or not getting involved and we have kids who sail without direction, lost and without purpose.  Too much involvement and we behave like helicopter parents, setting them up for anxiety and depression later on.  Where is the middle, we may ask?

What is Self-Efficacy?

As noted above, in self-efficacy, we develop the belief that we can achieve anything.  We have the confidence to know that we can do whatever we set our mind to.  We do this by managing how we think (we control our thoughts and learn how to become optimists), how we feel (we control our emotions and better yet, realize we have the power to manage our emotions) and how we behave (we control our actions).

The Main Ingredients for Self-Efficacy

  • Bandura believes there are four main sources that influence the development of self-efficacy:
  • Mastery of Experiences, one’s previous experiences, particularly success. In essence, success breeds success.
  • Vicarious experiences, where seeing others succeed helps us develop the confidence and visualization that we too can succeed.
  • Social Persuasion, where coaching and getting feedback by others helps us develop the skills necessary for success.
  • Emotional, physical, and psychological well-being can influence our feel about our personal abilities. Eating well, exercising, getting a good night sleep can affect our beliefs in ourselves.

Suggestions for Self-Efficacy

Here are a few suggestions to help your child develop self-efficacy:

  • Set goals
  • Have them do things they like to do
  • Have them try new things and face the challenges
  • Teach them to accept failures and criticism in a positive light
  • Reframe obstacles with positive interventions
  • Approach goals slowly and don’t let them get over-stressed about the ultimate results.

Interesting enough, self-efficacy helps with the development of self-confidence and resilience.


Bandura, Albert (1997). Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman. p. 604. ISBN 978-0-7167-2626-5.

Lopez-Garrido, G.  August 2020.

Mamie Morrow, Why Self-Efficacy Matters, TEDx Talk, May 29, 2019

Jessica Lahey, How to Lower Your Child’s Risk for Addiction, The New York Times, March 31, 2021.

Parenting Toddlers

Being a parent to a toddler is filled with precious moments of joy and silliness.  However, sometimes you may experience some “terrible two’s” hiccups. Read on for some tips to help your toddler learn and develop into a happy, healthy child.

(I originally posted this article on Bronson Hospital’s blog site on February 10, 2022).

A health article from Dr. John Spitzer, a pediatrician at Bronson Primary Care Partners.

What can be more frustrating than not being able to find your words to express your unhappiness, frustration, or anger? Welcome to the toddler years! As parents, these moments are filled with joy and silliness. Sometimes though, we may lose our patience with our little ones because we don’t know how to help them.

In fact, sometimes their aggressive behaviors can cause us emotional and physical pain. Not that they mean for that to happen, but they are simply expressing their negative energy in unintended ways. So, what goes into their response, and why is a 2-year-old more likely to have that aggressive temper outburst compared to an older child?

Factors That Go into An Aggressive Temper Outburst

There are three main factors that go into a toddler’s behavior, be it positive or negative. Keeping these factors in mind can help us navigate these difficult toddler years and their tantrums.

  • The child’s age and development. Part of a toddler’s frustration in dealing with life’s challenges is not being able to express their feelings. If you think about your child’s development, you’ll notice that a lot of energy goes into gross and fine motor development for the first two years. But somewhere around 18 months to two years, their energy begins to focus on language development. Typically, an 18-month-old might have around 10-15 words in their vocabulary, rising to about 25-50 words and putting together two-word sentences by two years of age, and exploding to about 1,000 words by three years of age. A typical four-year-old will have too many words to count, talk in paragraphs and tell stories. It is no wonder that two-year-old Tommy hits Jack on the head when Jack takes his truck. It is easier for Tommy to release those hurt and distrustful feelings with a hit than trying to verbalize his feelings.
  • The child’s temperament and sensitivity. What is temperament? According to the Webster Dictionary, it is “a characteristic or habitual inclination or emotional response” to activity going on around us. It is our predisposition to act and react in certain ways. Some children tend to get excited, physical, or emotional easily. Some children tend to be sensitive with their feelings or with touch. These types of toddlers are more likely to respond to an adverse event with anger and aggression.
  • The child’s past experiences and social environment. Children are constantly observing and trying to learn from their environment. Sometimes, unintended adverse experiences can create an imprint in a child’s mind, then becoming a way for them to solve problems. From remarks of shame such as, “What’s the matter with you?” or “You should know better!” to overt childhood trauma, negative events can become imprints in a child’s psyche and may later come out in a negative way.

Responding to Aggressive Behavior and Tantrums

Once a toddler begins to display some aggressive behavior and tantrums, how do we help them out?

In the moment:

  • Stay calm. As a parent, we always want to be in control of the situation. Trust yourself that you know what to do. This acknowledgment will give you a sense of peace and serenity that will allow you to think clearly. If necessary, take a minute or two to collect yourself. Your child needs to see you calm and in control, while they are “spinning out of control.”
  • Survey the scene and situation. Try to put yourself in your toddler’s shoes. This may give you some empathy to appreciate what they might be feeling.
  • Stop the aggressive behavior or tantrum. While staying calm and very matter of fact, you may say something like, “No-no, we don’t hit.” or “No, you cannot bite.” Then, you want to move into a different location to help your child gain control. Depending on the location and circumstances, you may find yourself placing your toddler in a “safe space” (see below. Sit down and hold your child in a hug (it may take a couple of minutes). Or, put your child in the stroller. During this time, you may find yourself giving some words of reassurance, like “You are going to be ok,” “I know you are upset and it’s ok to feel angry,” or maybe “Take a deep breath, let’s work together on this.”
  • Move on. Once you feel your toddler has settled down, try to change the scenery or activity if necessary. If you feel that maybe they have hit a state of boredom, maybe let them run outside in the backyard. Perhaps suggest they try a different activity. This will help reset the field and rules for their interaction with others.

In the moment, we are simply trying to put out a fire. Eventually, what we would like to do is be more proactive and try to minimize these aggressive behaviors and tantrums. In any event, make sure your reaction is appropriate to the circumstances and not an overreaction. Always try to avoid yelling or further traumatizing a situation. Remember, your child is learning from you at that moment as well and will copy your response, positive or negative, as a learned behavior.

Long-term solutions to help minimize tantrums:

It is difficult for children to learn when their brain has been flooded with hormones and emotions. The best way to teach children in the long run is to address potential misbehaviors when they are calm, before they have a meltdown. Here are some suggestions to empower your toddler to solve problems:

  • Teach them to self-regulate. Teaching “self-regulation” skills can start as early as the toddler years. The two big challenges toddlers face not having enough words to express themselves, and not being able to control their impulsive behavior. As adults, we can put words to their emotions so they can learn to recognize them. Try phrases like “I know you are angry,” “I know you are hurt,” or “I know you are frustrated.”

    Adding new words to your child’s vocabulary that help them to identify their emotions will help them move to the next step: learning how to relax. You can practice relaxation techniques with them such as deep breathing, using the belly muscles to breathe, using their arms to stretch up and out or tensing and releasing their arms and legs.

  • Play charades or visualize adverse situations. When your child is calm and in a good mood, act out being mad, frustrated, or disappointed. Ask them how they would make things better or feel better in the acted-out situation. This exercise will help them create empathy and understanding. Listen to their thoughts and ideas, it’s amazing what they can come up with!
  • Help your child feel confident and secure. Keep a regular routine at home. This creates a space that is safe, secure, and predictable. Some great times to have a routine in place are mealtimes, bedtime, nap time and playtime. Children like predictability and feel confident when they know when the next activity is coming up.
  • Create a safe space. Let your toddler create an area in your house that they consider “safe and cozy.” This should be an area that they can be comfortable going to when they get upset or frustrated. This can be any area in the room or perhaps a tent that you have propped up. Let them choose and create the area themselves. In this area, let them have some pillows, stuffed animals, books or objects that they can safely squeeze, such as squishy balls or larger foam balls.
  • Create space for child play with books and toys. Teach them what areas in the house that have “nice things” or “things we don’t touch.” Children do better when they know the rules.
  • Play soothing music during the day. Children tend to be more relaxed and may listen better when home feels peaceful. Playing classical or “spa” music at home will help children find a sense of peacefulness that they can try to tap into when having a dispute with another child.
  • Reassess as your toddler grows up. Ask yourself if your child is developing enough to be able to use the right words and solve problems by themselves. Supervise your child carefully when they are involved in disputes with playmates. If a disagreement is minor, keep your distance and let the children solve it on their own. However, you must intervene when children get physical, or the issue continues even after they’re told to stop.

When to Seek Help

Despite your well-intentioned efforts to manage your toddler’s aggression and tantrums, you may still struggle sometimes. That is okay and completely normal! If you notice your child is showing signs of the following behaviors, consider setting up an appointment with your child’s pediatrician.

  • Your toddler’s aggression is persistent to the point that it is interfering with a healthy and functioning home.
  • Your toddler’s aggression is interfering with their social development and ability to play with others.
  • Your toddler’s aggression is having an impact at daycare, childcare, or preschool.


AAP, Toddler Aggressive Behavior

ZeroToThree.Org, Aggressive Behavior in Toddlers, Taming Toddler Aggression

AAP HealthyChildren.Org, Childhood Trauma & 3 Ways to Help Kids Cope

Mindfulness in Adolescents

This is the third part on the topic of Mindfulness after talking about it in infants and in children.  See archived issues in September and October respectively, at

Although apps can be useful to teens when they are trying to learn about mindfulness and the techniques to practice mindfulness (Headspace, Calm, Insight Meditation Timer, Smiling Mind, and Stop, Breathe and Think), teens learn best by practicing mindfulness in the moment and as they are relating to others.  The daily practice involves being in the moment with friends, family, in a relationship, or in sports competition.  At the heart of the activity is the ability to be present in the moment, listen with an open mind, and speak back with kindness, understanding and honesty.

When we begin to practice mindfulness, we become in tune with our bodies: we learn to pair our emotions with how our body feels.  During moments of stress, for example, we learn what parts of our body tend to tense up.  As we learn to recognize what is going on with our body in a particular moment and practice mindfulness, we learn to control our emotions.  From here, we begin to improve our relationships as we learn to listen to others.  Interestingly enough, we release dopamine (the “feel-good neurotransmitter”) when we show compassion and kindness to others.

Part of mindfulness involves being in the moment without passing judgment.   This frees us from any distractions while we try to absorb the outside and feel what we have in the inside.  This allows us to see ourselves as we are, with all our positives and even accepting all our negatives.  As we accept ourselves as we are, we become more confident and begin to develop a more positive self-image.  Studies have shown that teens who practice mindfulness have less problems with anxiety, depression and have more resilience.  In addition, teens that meditate or practice mindfulness concentrate better at school and perform better during the exams.

We can begin this concept of mindfulness at home during dinnertime.  The conversation can go in many directions, including some joyful and laughing moments while at other times there may be some stress and tension.  In either situation, being able to listen with an open heart and mind while making sure we understand and empathize what the other is saying is key to avoiding raising voices and beginning an argument.   We can minimize distractions by putting our phones down and beginning the meal with a moment of silence to be grateful for being together and sharing each other’s company.  For some families, this may take the form of a prayer.

It is important that teens understand why this is important.  I found Sara Raymond’s YouTube video from the Mindful Movement a good introduction to mindfulness:

I also found an easy read for teens the book by pediatrician Dzung X. Vo, MD: The Mindful Teen.

Let’s empower our teens to be free and resilient!

Thanksgiving for Picky Eaters

Thanksgiving can be a fun time for family get-togethers.  However, sometimes life can be challenging when trying to prepare a meal plan for your picky eater.

Here are some tips to improve your chances that your child will have a good meal experience:

Engage your child in meal planning.  Some pointed questions like, “what veggie would you like with your dinner?” “What do you think about a fruit with your meal?” “What do you think about eating turkey for dinner?” can empower them to help us with the menu, especially if we look up together some recipes.  Then, they are more likely to look forward to the event and eat a balanced meal.  Here are some samples of food groups from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Use food bridges or like foods to expand their repertoire of healthy foods. For Example, if he likes mashed potatoes, try sweet potatoes.

Choose at least one food you know your child will like.  In that way, she is guaranteed to eat something nutritious at meal time.

Make it look, smell, and taste delicious. What do you think about becoming an artist for thanksgiving?  Enhance the look and smell of a dish with special ingredients (for example cinnamon on cooked apples or nutmeg on peaches.

Keep the mealtime relaxing and enjoyable.  After all, this is time for family and friends to come together, feel thankful and enjoy each other’s company.

To learn more about fussy eaters, follow this link:


Mindfulness in Children

By 5 years of age, most children are heading into kindergarten having learned to polish learning some life skills: getting dressed, taking baths, washing hands, learning how to write, riding a bike and so on.  As it turns out, it is possible to begin to teach mindfulness in children and some meditation.

It is a good idea to instill this concept as a daily habit rather than using it during times of stress.  Practice is key to becoming more proficient, and can be incorporated into daily routines or activities, such as when playing outside, drawing or painting, and when doing bedtime reading.  Help children feel new feelings and sensations, even if the moment may seem neutral at the time.  It’s amazing how easily pleasantness can pop up after a few minutes.

Children like to copy parents so it’s a clever idea for parents to be role models for them.  Practice mindfulness yourself in front of them and with them.  It’s possible that at the beginning, while you are seated in a relaxed position, maybe even in a yoga pose with your eyes closed, your child may not know what you are doing (there may be even some laughing and giggling) but will be curious and learn from there.

As kids grow older, life becomes more challenging as they begin to experience the loss of control and have set backs.  They may even find adversity in the school playground or classroom.  It is easy to lose grip of the moment to the point that it threatens the sense of self.  It is at this point that kids begin to question their worth and their strength.  A simple exercise to incorporate into the practice of mindfulness is with the mnemonic RAIN (The New York Times, 2017):

  • R (Recognize): Acknowledge the moment in a calm, accepting manner
  • A (Accept): Allow the moment to be what it is without changing it right away
  • I (Investigate): Be in touch with your feelings and see how you feel
  • N (Non-Identification): Realize the sensations and feelings will soon pass and do not define you.

Here are some phone apps that can be helpful to kids (from iPhone Magazine and Psychology Today).   You may need to be involved initially to help them explore the app:

  • Smiling Mind ( Produced by non-profit organization in Australia, a good beginner’s tool to help children develop awareness of how their body feels.
  • Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame ( Good for young kids to learn the concept of calming down through breathing.
  • Headspace ( Uses cartoons to teach how meditation works.  It has a lot of guided meditations in different areas, even incorporating sports and health.  Focuses on calm, kindness and bedtime.  Can be customized to children < 5 years, 6 to 8, 9 to 12, and adult version.
  • Calm ( Helps children relax and restore themselves after a full day of running around.  Has sounds like ocean waves and wind that kids may like to listen to.  It has sleep stories to read to kids to help them relax and sleep better.
  • Three Good Things ( This app is actually a journal that helps children focus on the positive of life by writing 3 good things that went well that day, and therefore practicing gratitude.

As kids grow into their pre-teen and teenage years, it will become important for them to understand that either good or adverse moments, bringing either happiness or sadness/frustration/anger, do not define them.  By practicing mindfulness and meditation, they can go deeper into who they are and what they want in life.   Tune in for the next article on Mindfulness for Teenagers!

Mindfulness and Your Infants

Our lives are frequently challenged with work and other external pressures that often make it hard to parent.  Sometimes we find ourselves trying to parent but are not in the moment, we are stressed or preoccupied.  It is not much different with children and teens, although their stressors may seem trivial to us.  Starting with this post, I’ll try to cover the practice of mindfulness over the next 3 editions (mindfulness in infants, children, and teens) and hopefully you’ll find these tips helpful for you and your children.

The concept of mindfulness is a technique that helps us pay attention to the current moment with an accepting, gentle and non-judgmental attitude.  This practice helps develop compassion, curiosity, focus and empathy, thereby relieving stress, minimizing anxiety and promoting happiness.

Our frontal lobes act as the Executive Office in our decision making and conscious behavior.  The area behind these lobes, the pre-frontal cortex area, oversees focus, paying attention and cognitive control.  This area develops quickly in our infancy and childhood years and is involved ultimately in the development of skills such as self-regulation, focus, judgement, and patience.  As parents, we are instrumental in the development of mindfulness in our children. In fact, the best way to teach them this skill is by modeling it ourselves.

It is possible to begin to instill this concept with our infants, even right after birth.  Newborns and infants can feel our bodies when we are holding them.  Feeling relaxed, we can impart this feeling to them and help them relax as well.  Being in the moment implies putting away our distractions, including electronics, no matter what is happening.  While holding the baby quietly, we can make eye contact in a gentle and loving manner.   Being in the moment, totally dedicated to them during the feedings, can allow the infants to bond with us in a relaxed and mindful way.  They will actually start to copy our behavior.

When your infant becomes upset or cries, try to not let him or her make you agitated and anxious.  You will end up tensing up your body.  Instead, remain calm, maybe take some deep breaths, and remember that you are always in control.  It is important that you feel confident in yourself.  Acknowledge to yourself what is going on and think calmly how you are going to solve the problem.  With time, it will become important for you to acknowledge that you can soothe your infant.

Finally, incorporate thankfulness into the moment.  After all, how special is it that you are here with your infant?  Feeling their breathing, the warmth of their body, and the wiggles of their legs on your chest and belly will help you feel thankful that you have brought this little creature into the world.  It then becomes easy to feel that our lives are better because of our child.

Back to School

It is hard to believe that it is that time of the year already to start thinking about going to school in September.  After such an odd year last year with COVID-19, our sons and daughters can expect to be at school in person this academic year.  With those 12 years of age and older and who have had the COVID vaccine, they may be given the option to not wear a mask in class.  However, for those 11 years of age and younger, they are going to still need to practice safe guidelines, including wearing a mask, social distancing for 6 feet and good handwashing.

Otherwise, we are back to the usual routine of getting ready to start school that first week of September (or last week of August for private schools).  Here are some thoughts and tips to help you get ready:

Your son or daughter is new to the school

Meet your new teacher.  One of the big questions before school starts is, “Will I like my teacher?”  You can help break the ice by taking advantage of the school open house or back-to-school night event.  Usually, these events are very friendly with kids’ activities to help your child feel “at home.”  Around this time, teachers may also make themselves available via phone calls or email in case you need to discuss special circumstances, such as learning disabilities or food allergies, for example.   Also take advantage of the school’s website so you can let your son/daughter see a picture of the new teacher.

Tour the school premises.  The open house also becomes an opportunity to tour the school.  Help your son/daughter familiar themselves with the classroom, hallways, bathrooms and the main office.  You may also get an opportunity to see where your child may sit and what her/his desk looks like.  Sitting at the desk can bring a lot comfort.  Finally, seeing the playground will help him/her visualize what recess is going to look like and feel like.

Connecting with Friends.  Sometimes you get lucky during the open house visit that your son/daughter will get a chance to see a familiar face or friend.  Even just one friend can make all the difference in the world as odds are, they are looking forward to being in school with your son/daughter.  If you happen to know if friend might be attending that school, maybe set up a playdate prior to the open house so they can talk about the school and develop a comfort level with each other.

Recall past positive experiences.  Help them remember that they have had fun with other kids in previous activities, be them sports, another school or other recreational activity.  Highlight for them how they were able to get over their fears or anxieties and enjoyed themselves.  Self-efficacy is part of being able to visualize yourself and see yourself succeed, and memory plays a big part.

Weeks before school starts

Get Your Supplies.  One of my more exciting times before school started was going with my mom to the office supply store to buy my coloring pencils, paper pads or notebooks, ruler and pens.  Check with his/her teacher as to what is being recommended so your son/daughter is ready to go on day one.  Let your child pick out the supplies with your guidance.  Giving them the opportunity to make decisions will empower them to go to school.

Choose a backpack.  Another fun item for them to pick out!  Make sure it is wide enough for school supplies, has padded shoulder straps and a padded back.  Teach them about all the compartments the backpack has and what to place in each one.  Encourage them to keep the backpack light so talk about what goes in it and what does not belong.  A good rule of thumb is that the backpack should not weight more than 10-20% of your child’s weight.  Teach them how to use both straps and make sure the bottom of the backpack is at their waste line.

Getting a new lunch box.  What art design will it be this year? What was the latest Pixair movie or Disney show? This is another opportunity for them to make a choice and let them buy into the excitement of going back to school. Keep the lunchbox simple and easy to use.

Minimize school work before school starts.  It might be possible that you had a curriculum, perhaps a small one and at a more leisurely pace, that you followed during the summer months.  This is always a great idea to maintain some academic performance and him/her ready for when school starts.  However, it would be a good idea to back off and let your son/daughter have unstructured play time at least a couple weeks before school starts.

Get back to the school routine.  As a family, you probably have been enjoying the sun setting down late in the evening to continue to do family and play activities.  Turning the “sleep” clock back gradually over the course of 1-2 weeks is helpful as you get ready for that first day when your child has to be out the door by 730 in the morning.  Go through your routine with your child and what expectations you have so as to be on time, either being on time at the bus stop or you are driving them to school.

Make the First Day a Success!

Be on time.  Better yet, if you can, try to arrive to school early so you can give your son/daughter an opportunity to walk around the hallways, classroom and recall where are the bathrooms.

Make contact with the teacher.  It is a good idea to touch bases with teacher at the end of the 1st day, and maybe even every day during the first week, to see how your son/daughter is integrating into the new learning environment.  Check to see how friendships and cooperation are developing.  Finally, this gives the teacher an opportunity to see that you are engaged and invested in your child’s success.

Traveling To and From School

Riding the school bus.  Here are a few tips to ease their fears and ensure safety:

  • Remind them to always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building.
  • They should make themselves visible to the bus driver so teach them how to look at the driver so they can see that the driver is looking at them.
  • Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb.  If he/she has to cross the street to get to the bus, they should look both ways before crossing.  You can work with them 1-2 weeks before school starts to teach them how to cross the street.
  • Remind them that one of the rules in the bus is they should stay in their seat and not move around to chat with friends.
  • Check on the school’s policy regarding food on the bus. Eating on the bus can present a problem for students with allergy and also lead to infestations of insects and vermin on the vehicles.
  • If your son/daughter has food allergy problems or chronic medical conditions, make sure the school and bus driver know about these and they can have a “bus emergency plan.”

Riding in the Car.  This is a good time to review the basics just in case you are taking other children:

  • Children should be in a car seat with a harness for as long as possible, and then ride in a belt-positioning booster seat.  Check specifications for both types of seats but some good rules of thumb for moving to the booster seat include the shoulders are above the top harness slots or their ears have reached the top of the seat.
  • For older children, our State of Michigan law calls for them to be in the back seat until the age of 12 years and they reach a height of 4’ 9”.  If they have outgrown their booster seat, double check that the shoulder belt lies across the chest and shoulder and not the neck or throat; and the lap belt should ride across the pelvic bones and by the thighs, and not over the stomach area.
  • For those in high school, remind them to limit the number of passengers in the car to minimize distractions while driving.  In the State of Michigan, the recommendation is to have no more than one non-family member in the car.  Also remind them about not texting while driving, no cell-phone conversations and no alcohol-drinking.  You can learn more about graduated driver’s license law from the AAP’s Healthy Children website.

Riding a bike.  Follow these guidelines to ensure a safe ride:

  • Practice the bike route to school before the first day of school to make sure your child can manage it.
  • Make it a rule to always wear a helmet no matter how short or long the ride to and from school.
  • Use the sidewalks as much as possible, and if they have to go on the road, to ride on the right side of the street, in the same direction as auto traffic and ride in bike lanes if they are present.
  • Use appropriate hand signals when coming to a corner or turn.
  • Respect traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Wear bright-colored clothing to increase visibility. White or light-colored clothing and reflective gear is especially important after dark.

Walking to and from School.

In general, children are ready developmentally to start walking to and from school around the age ages between 9 and 11 years.  But also check to see how they are doing with their impulse control.  In general, younger children tend to be more impulsive and need an adult to go with them to school.

  • Walking with friends and in a group is always safer than walking alone.
  • Try to stay on the path or side walk where there are trained adult crossing guards, particularly as it related to crossing the streets.
  • Think about dressing your children with bright-colored clothing to make them more visible to drivers.