Sexuality, Attraction and Gender Identity
Is it "normal" for a little boy to want to play with dolls, and not trucks? How about for a girl to prefer skateboarding to jumping rope? What about a child or teen who's attracted to someone of the same sex? Or kids who seem uncomfortable or unhappy with their own physical gender? Is it all normal? Yes. It's all normal – and also complex.
All kids struggle to understand and accept who they are. This can be a challenge, especially when it comes to sexuality, sexual attraction and gender identity. Add to that a powerful desire to "fit in" to the world around them, and the result can be conflict and anxiety. It's also tough for parents, who aren't sure what to think and what to do. That's why Seattle Children's offers a wide variety of resources for both kids and parents.
Dr. David Breland, a pediatrician in the Adolescent Medicine department at Seattle Children's, explains, "Parents blame themselves or think something happened to make their son or daughter act differently. Unfortunately this can quickly lead to corrective behaviors that can ultimately cause more harm than good. That's why it's so important for families to understand these issues and try to educate themselves. Parents can't change their child's core identity. They can gain knowledge, become an advocate for and support their child."
Parents can help their kids by building an atmosphere of openness and acceptance. From babyhood, provide boys and girls with access to all types of toys and activities, and let them decide how to play. If they want to, let girls take martial arts classes and boys take dance. During a big social gathering, be sure that it's not just the boys who are playing or watching sports – and that it's not just the girls who are learning how to make a fun dessert.
Regardless of how easy or complicated these developmental issues are for your child, help them become comfortable in their own skin. Once your child begins having opinions on how they look, let them choose their hairstyle and clothing. Discuss how peers, pop culture, and other influences can affect how we feel about ourselves. Teach your kids to be tolerant of the choices others make. Openly express your admiration for friends, family members, or public figures who break gender stereotypes. Be sure your child understands that as long as they are genuinely themselves – that's all that matters!
Visit Teenology 101 for two blog post series – one on Parenting Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Teens and another on Transgender Teens.
Keep Kids Rear-Facing Until Age 2
A new rule change on car-seat safety will save children's lives. It will also surprise – and probably disappoint – some parents. The change is this: Parents should keep their baby's car seat rear-facing until the child reaches age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.
Why? Research proves that while rear-facing, your 12-to-24-month-old is 75% less likely to die or have a serious injury. So the old advice about switching babies to front-facing at age 1 or 20 pounds is no longer valid. Keep babies under 2 rear-facing, even if their legs touch the seat. While parents will miss seeing their baby in the rear-view mirror, this life-saving change is worth it!
Seattle Mama Doc explains this change in a blog post and short video.
What’s the Big Deal About Gluten?
Many people are going gluten-free to try to improve health issues like stomach problems, headaches and even ADHD and autism. So far, the only clear evidence is that gluten-free diets help those with celiac disease and who are gluten sensitive. Celiac disease is a disorder where individuals must avoid gluten because it damages their digestive tract and causes their body to have difficulty absorbing nutrients. Symptoms can include diarrhea, stomach upset, bloating, headaches or feeling tired. People who are gluten sensitive can have symptoms similar to those with celiac disease, but the gluten does not damage their digestive tract.
Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, rye and barley - and things made from them, like bread, pasta and cookies. It can also be hidden in prepared foods, like cold cuts, salad dressings and even canned soup.
If you are considering a gluten-free diet for your child, talk with your child's doctor first. Maintaining a gluten-free diet is hard, and makes it difficult to get all the iron, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus and fiber needed for good health.
Learn more about celiac disease.
ACL Injuries Are on the Rise Among Young Athletes
What do sporty kids and pro athletes often have in common? Sadly, it's ACL injuries. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL for short) is the tissue that keeps the knee stable. The number of ACL tears among kids has increased dramatically in the past several years.
What's to blame? In large part, organized sports – especially soccer and basketball, which require sudden starts, stops, pivots and jumps. Kids on club teams or travel teams are playing these demanding sports all year around. The intensity of competition increases the chances of an injury.
Although any young athlete doing any sport can suffer an ACL tear, studies show that middle-school–age girls playing high-level soccer and basketball are the group most apt to suffer an ACL tear. This group has four to eight times as many ACL injuries, when compared to boys of the same age playing the same sports.
How do you know if your child has an ACL tear? After the injury, the knee may swell and feel tender. A medical exam and tests are needed to diagnose an ACL injury. Ignoring an ACL tear is not an option, as doing so may worsen the damage. Some kids can recover from a tear by following a physical-therapy and exercise program. However, many young people require surgery to repair the damage.
Proper training, strengthening and specific warm-up exercises can help prevent ACL injuries. Be sure your child's coach requires warm-ups and stretches designed to reduce ACL injuries. Kids should also do warm-ups on their own before activity.
Cold or Flu?
How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?
A cold is centered on the nose, while the flu (influenza) often makes the body feel sick all over – with perhaps a headache, muscle aches, chills and fever. The flu often starts quicker than a cold, and it makes a child feel more exhausted than a cold does. The flu is also more likely to reduce a child's appetite.
If your child is generally healthy, most mild cold and flu symptoms can be treated at home. However, if your child has a chronic health condition, see a doctor. And newborns with flu symptoms must be seen by a doctor. Anyone over 6 months should get a flu vaccine each year.
Visit flu basics to learn more.
Kids’ Sports and Eating Habits
It's ironic but true: Youth sports can make it harder for families to practice balanced eating habits. When you're hungry and in a hurry, fast-food snacks and drive-through windows can be hard to resist. But just a bit of planning can make a big difference.
Keep ready-to-go snacks in plastic bags in your refrigerator and pantry. Work with other parents to provide team snacks such as fresh or dried fruit, cheese, whole-grain crackers, nuts and granola bars. Make water and milk the go-to beverages and only add a sports drink for play that lasts longer than 60 minutes. Pack peanut butter and jelly or meat and cheese sandwiches for the car ride home. If you do opt for fast food, aim for lower fat meals such as sub sandwiches or soft tacos.
Read "Do Sports Derail Children's Healthy Eating Habits?" to learn more.
School Health Screenings
Tight public education budgets and part-time school nurses mean that school screenings for vision, hearing and scoliosis (curvature of the spine) may not be done each year. In most schools, screenings are done at only some grade levels, and parent volunteers often perform vision and hearing tests. School nurses may be required to contact families only when a child fails a test – but not if they barely pass it. So you might not be told if your child has a less-than-perfect exam. While school screenings are a helpful safeguard, it's best to have your child's doctor test for vision, hearing and scoliosis during a regular checkup.
Learn more about health screenings at school.