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Safety and Wellness

Good Growing Seasonal Newsletter: Spring 2010

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Your Child’s Body Image

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Many parents are surprised when their children — sometimes as young as preschool age — begin to struggle with their body image. A child may complain that they are too large, or ask a parent, “Am I fat?” Or they might wish they had a different body type like one of their friends, or even a certain adult.

So, what should parents be aware of? First, body-image issues are common. Second, girls have these issues more often than boys, and may be more aware of their bodies at an earlier age. From a very young age, girls often care about being pretty, feminine and thin, like their favorite cartoon princess. Later, a girl may idolize a size-zero singer, or an actress with an unrealistic body type.

Young boys, on the other hand, are mostly concerned with being tall and strong and fast — like their favorite superhero. Later, their ideal may shift to a pro athlete or action-movie hero. Some boys and girls may not have body-image issues until they hit puberty, and their bodies suddenly change.

So how can parents help kids have a healthy body image? Above all, by setting an example. Don’t put down your body or anyone else’s. Explain to young children that no two bodies are alike. Stress being strong and healthy, not perfect. Eat healthy, and make exercise part of your family’s routine. Encourage your child to play sports or have active hobbies, so they can see different healthy body types in action. They can see for themselves that being fit isn’t the same as being thin.

Images in the media have a strong effect on kids. From a young age, help them question what they see. Is that a real body or a cartoon body? Who looks like this in real life? Has this photo been retouched?

Research shows that girls are more likely to struggle with body image when their mothers are always dieting, or worry too much about food and exercise. So moms who have their own body-image struggles may wish to get some support for themselves so they can be healthy role models.

If your child’s body image is not realistic, talk with their doctor. And if your child is in fact too overweight or underweight, create a plan of action with your doctor’s help.

To learn more, read Encouraging a Healthy Body Image.

Treating Cradle Cap

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Cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis) is very common, especially with newborns. Flaky white or yellowish scales or crusts form on the scalp. It’s not harmful, and you can treat it yourself. It should clear up within two weeks of treatment. Twice a week, wash baby’s hair with an anti-dandruff shampoo. While shampooing, massage the scalp for five minutes with a soft brush or a rough washcloth. To loosen stubborn scales, rub baby oil or olive oil into the scalp one hour before shampooing. (Be sure to wash off all the oil or it may worsen the cradle cap.) Call your doctor if the rash becomes red or gets worse, or if it lasts more than two weeks after you start treatment.

To learn more about caring for your baby, visit Wellness Topics for Infants 0 to 2 Years Old.

Swim Lessons for Kids Under 4

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Are swimming lessons for children ages 1 to 4 a good idea? A new medical study says yes. It found that children who have formal swim lessons at these young ages are less apt to drown compared to children who have not. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says all children should be taught to swim after age 5. (The AAP does not have a recommendation for or against swimming lessons for children under 5.)

Swim lessons teach skills that can help prevent drowning, like floating on one’s back and treading water. If you want your child to learn to swim at a very young age, find a trusted program designed for your child’s age group and readiness. Big, noisy pools can be scary for some young children. If your little one hates swim lessons, it probably makes sense to wait a year. Keep in mind that skilled swimmers of all ages can drown. Never leave your child alone near water, even if they’ve had swim lessons.

Learn more about drowning prevention and water safety.

Reaching Out for Expert Help

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Parents don’t think twice about taking a child to the doctor for a broken bone or a stubborn sore throat. If there’s a problem, expert help is needed!

When a child has emotional problems, it also makes sense to get help from a pro. Counselors, therapists and child psychologists really understand how kids think and feel, how they grow and how they view the world.

What causes parents to seek such help? Often, troubles in school raise a red flag. These might include problems with learning, paying attention, taking tests or completing schoolwork. Social troubles might include having a hard time making or keeping friends, fighting or bullying. Teachers are often the first to notice these issues and alert the parents. The student may then see a school counselor until the problems get better. Sometimes, the counselor will suggest additional help, such as a learning specialist or a psychiatrist.

If your child is very shy, sad, fearful or anxious, counseling may be quite helpful. It’s also smart to seek help when big changes occur, such as the death of a friend or family member, divorce or other sudden life changes. Keep in mind that counseling doesn’t have to go on for a long time. Often, just a visit or two serves as a helpful “tune-up.”

If you feel help is needed, start with your child’s doctor. The doctor might refer you to a counselor, or may simply suggest a certain book or a class for you. It may be tough to take those first steps, but don’t worry. It’s just a little bump in the long road of parenting!

To learn more, talk to your child’s doctor or school counselor, or read Going to a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or Therapist.

Dealing with Potty Talk

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“Pee-pee! Poo-poo! Ha-ha-ha!” What is it with kids and potty talk? They also love to talk about certain body parts, with “butt” probably topping the list. It’s a phase that can last for years, and it’s totally normal. In fact, it happens around the world in every language. But it’s tiring for parents. So how can you cope? Keep your sense of humor; don’t get angry or overreact. Since a total ban on potty talk doesn’t seem to work, some families allow it in certain places, like at home in a bedroom or bathroom with the door closed. Then you can ban it from the car and public places. Every child outgrows potty talk — but until then, agree on some rules you can all live with!

Learn more about What’s Funny to a Preschooler and What’s Funny to a School-Age Child.

Dental Care for Kids with Special Needs

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Children with special needs often have issues that make it harder to care for their teeth, gums and mouth. Parents may overlook dental care, feeling that other health issues are a bigger concern. But since oral health affects overall health, it’s important to practice good dental care every day. For children with autism or other developmental delays, it may help if you brush their teeth with their head in your lap, or have them lie down. This helps them stay still, and makes it easier for you to see their teeth. Before you schedule a visit with your dentist, explain your child’s special needs. Work with the staff so they can take extra measures to be sure your child has a calm and comfortable visit.

Visit The Center for Children with Special Needs website for lots more on dental care for children with special needs.

Healthier Vending Machine Snacks

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Picture this: You’re far from home at an airport, a hotel or a rest stop. Your child is hungry, and they’ve already eaten your stash of healthy snacks. If your only source for food is a vending machine, the good news is that most machines now offer healthier items. So choose smart: dried fruits instead of candy; baked chips or pretzels over regular chips; low-fat granola bars over high-fat cheese crackers; low-fat popcorn instead of trail mix with candy; animal crackers over brownies or cookies. For drinks, choose plain water or 100% fruit juice instead of soda or sugary “fruity” drinks. Vending machines are fun for kids. So agree on a healthy choice, then let them drop in the coins and push the buttons!

You may also be interested in articles on Smart Snacking and Eating Well While Eating Out.

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