Posted tagged ‘children’

Selling to children

September 7, 2010

The Pediatric Insider

© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD

At the Pediatric Insider, I try to illustrate how people think: how doctors think about health and illness, and how parents think about raising their kids. Sometimes, our own experiences and preconceptions can fool us. That’s why adults seem to think expensive placebos are more effective, and why some well-meaning parents refuse vaccines despite overwhelming evidence of their safety and effectiveness. The internet has, of course, amplified the effects of misinformation and innuendo. It has also created a way for real-but-crazy stories to seem more close-to-home. We’re being bombarded by messages that subvert and influence our thinking in very creepy ways.

Fortunately, our children are immune to this kind of hanky-panky. Right?

In a July 2010 study titled “Influence of Licensed Characters on Children’s Taste and Snack Preferences,” researchers created a simple protocol to see if a smiling, familiar cartoon face changed the perceived tastiness of three common foods. They prepared pairs of bags of graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and baby-cut carrots, each labeled in clear packaging. The only difference was that one of each pair included a sticker with a cartoon character (Shrek, Dora, or Scooby Doo.) Each of the 40 children in the study were presented with a pair and asked to take a single bite of each food. Afterwards, they were asked if the two tasted the same, and if not, which one tasted better. Keep in mind that the pairs of food were exactly the same in every way, including the packaging and presentation—except for the cartoon sticker on one of the two bags.

You can guess what happened.

About a third of the kids correctly answered that the foods tasted the same (or said “I don’t know.”) Of the children who perceived a difference, 70-90 % preferred the foods with the licensed characters.

This should surprise no one. Look around the grocery store, especially at breakfast cereals and “snack foods” and other items sold at a child’s eye level. They’re festooned with popular characters exhorting children to buy, buy, buy and eat, eat, eat!

Of course, there’s a silver lining here. Maybe parents ought to buy a strip of Dora stickers to slap on the carrots when Junior’s not looking. When the going gets tough, the tough get sneaky!

Why why why

September 20, 2009

The Pediatric Insider

© 2009 Roy Benaroch, MD

Christy posted, “I have a 5-year-old daughter who has developed a bad habit of not responding to questions when asked by an adult. For example, ‘Why did you throw your milk cup on the floor?’ At home, she is either sent to time-out or her room. However, this is now occurring in her kindergarten class. It seems to be a power-struggle or step to independence. What suggestions do you have?”

“Why” questions are tough—especially when little kids are asked them right after they’ve done something wrong. In court, she’d have a constitutionally guaranteed right not to self-incriminate, but I doubt many five-year-olds have the wherewithal to come up with “I plead the fifth.” Instead, kids just look at their shoes.

For a child who doesn’t seem to want to answer adult’s questions, it’s important to step back and make the questions easier to answer, so the child can build confidence through success. A good rule that I apply to many areas of parenting: practice what works, and stop practicing what doesn’t work. If “Why” questions are tough, back off and practice easier ones, and work back up to harder ones.

Easier questions start with “What”—“What is your name?” or “What is your brother’s name?” or “What age are you? (Yes, I know, idiomatically the correct question is “How old are you?”, but How questions are harder than What questions, and I’m trying to make a point here.) Little kids also do pretty well with “Where,” unless the rest of the question is “did you put your shoes?”,  which is apparently a brain teaser that no child can answer. “When” gets a little trickier—“When are you supposed to bring in your share? When is the parent-teacher conference?”

“Why” questions are the toughest off all, and not in the least because parents so often ask them after a child has done something wrong. “Why did you hit your brother?”, or “Why did you cut your own hair?”—these are as difficult as any Zen Koan when you’re on the spot with the teacher or mom giving you a hairy eyeball.

If you’d like to help your child get better at “Why” questions, answer them often yourself, by using the word “because” a lot. “We need to go to the grocery because were out of food,” or “I got mad because that man ran over my foot with his cart. Then I felt better because I realized it wasn’t his fault.” You can also encourage your child to ask why questions—not the annoying, one-word “Why?”, which is just a time-waster, but a properly phrased “Why” question, like “Mommy, why did you talk to that lady so long?” (“Because,” you could say, “she is my friend and I hadn’t seen her in a while. Thank you for waiting. It’s hard to wait because waiting is boring.”) Be sure to ask your child “Why” questions when it’s not a challenging, tense situation—or better yet, when the answer is easy. “Why are you happy on your birthday?” or “Why should we bring an umbrella?”, or maybe something a touch more difficult, like “Why are your shoes getting too small?”

Another tip for kids who seem shy at “Whys” would be to have her help you put on puppet shows, where the puppets talk through answers with each other. Kids learn a lot through pretend games like these, and don’t seem to find them threatening.

Keep in mind that it’s not just the difficulty of the question, it’s the overall setting that sets the anxiety level. If a child feels threatened or upset, even an easy question might not get an answer. And some children are certainly more outgoing and talkative with adults than others. The more shy kids are going to need more gentle practice, and will have more setbacks.

By the way, if your child does something she knows she shouldn’t do—like throwing her milk cup on the floor—I don’t think it’s wise to waste time asking why. You won’t get a useful answer. A better response would be “Don’t throw your milk on the floor,” followed by taking her hand and making her clean it up. A habitual offense might need a time out before clean-up, but more talking won’t help. Tossing cups on the floor is an attention-getting behavior, and having a one-sided conversation about it afterwards will only encourage more milk to land where it’s not supposed to be.

The Poopy Party

August 19, 2009

The Pediatric Insider

© 2009 Roy Benaroch, MD

Hey! Based on comments, I rewrote & updated this. Here’s the newer version: 

How to get your child to poop on the potty: The Poopy Party

The Pediatric Insider

© 2018 Roy Benaroch, MD

Julie’s 3 year old son uses the potty great—at least for urine. For poop, well, he’d prefer to use a diaper. What she needs to know about is the poopy party, and how to create some fun and excitement to get her child to take that last step!

Keep in mind: there are three ironclad rules of parenting. You can’t make ‘em eat. You can’t make ‘em sleep. And you definitely can’t make ‘em poop. Kids can hold their poop for a shockingly long time when they’re feeling stubborn, and you may end up with a very stubborn child if you try to force her to poop on the potty. So no forcing, no punishing, no humiliating, and nothing at all negative is going to work if you want your child to be successful on the potty.

Fortunately, all kids inherently want to succeed and learn new things. As soon as they’re sure you’re not pushing, and they start to get an inkling that—hey, this is the way to go!—they’ll do it. For kids who are a little late to the party, here’s one way to jump-start the process.


“The Poopy Party”: A method to encourage using the potty for stool

This works best at age 3 and above. It’s important to “ham it up” and really play with this to create a sense of fun and excitement about the potty. At no point should you be direct—never say “Don’t you want to use the potty now?” The point is to create excitement, but only to indirectly talk about what the potty is for.

You’ll need: a willing parent or caretaker, two hardhats, two bright orange construction worker vests, and two big chunky flashlights. Feel free to add in some kind of wrench looking thing, and a tape measure, and whatever other mechanical-plumber sort of equipment inspires you. If you want, you can involve your child in a trip to the tool store to load up on your equipment.

The parent puts on an outfit with hat and vest, then (while dressed up!) goes to get the child so she can put her set on. Child and parent have both got their own big flashlights, vests, tools, whatever. Dad or mom says something like, “Something’s up with the toilet, we’ve got to get it fixed so the poop can go to The Poopy Party!”

Don’t talk more about The Poopy Party…yet. Let the excitement build!

Then go to the toilet and take it apart, or as much of it as a parent feels comfortable putting back together. Talk about the parts, the flusher, the bobber thing, the insides, and where the poop goes down. Then, if you can, go to the basement and pull down some tiles, and shine your light along the big drain pipe all the way outside the house. Go out to the street and pull off a manhole cover (or the utility cover over the water main, or just peer down a storm drain) and shine your lights down there. Then talk about The Poopy Party. Yep, that’s where the poop goes, down there. There’s dancing and singing, and it’s a great place for poop to go!

If you want to go a step further, take the child to the county wastewater treatment plant. You’ve got to keep the hardhat and vest on. Explain there that you want to show your child where the poop goes. Then check out the big tanks and turbines and other fascinating things. Then go out for ice cream.

Afterwards, hang up the vest in the bathroom where the child will see it, but – and this is very important – do NOT talk about this any more. You set the stage, make it exciting, but do not remind or suggest. Anything like that will further delay potty success.

And be prepared, once she’s using the potty, to bring the vest everywhere you go.

The best parenting advice you’ll ever get from a two word post

June 26, 2009

Be patient.

Book review: Autism’s False Prophets

October 9, 2008

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” – Winston Churchill

The scientific and medical community, finally, has got its pants on. (more…)

Nursing multiple siblings

September 27, 2008

Nancy posted a question about nursing two siblings at once: “I am not sure if this is more of a question but for OB or a pediatrician but I thought I might ask anyways ) I am pregnant and still breastfeeding my now 13 month old. If I was to continue to breastfed once her younger sister was born would my newborn get all the nutrients she needs? My daughter only nurses twice a day so of course the newborn would nurse a lot more but I am very concerned my body wouldn’t make enough nutrients for a vulnerable newborn. Please any information you can give me would be wonderful. I am less concerned about my older child’s nutrients because he takes vitamins and eats tons of regular food. Thank you!”

At The Pediatric Insider, we’re happy to tackle the occasional OB question! Nursing multiple siblings is called “tandem nursing.” Here is an article from an experienced mom addressing some ways to address some of the challenges that may arise. The bottom line is that you can successfully and safely nurse both of your children. Your body will be able to make enough milk for both of them, and both kids will do fine. Usually the quality of the milk will change to match the needs of the newborn, and in fact sometimes the older child weans shortly after baby is born, perhaps because the milk begins to taste different.

Tandem nursing may be a little harder on mom. Make sure you’re getting plenty of fluids and enough calories, as well as enough calcium, vitamin D, and iron. Your newborn should take a vitamin D supplement as well.

Don’t split the vaccines

September 7, 2008

Brook asked a good question: “I am curious to learn more about the timing and combining of multiple vaccines. As a disclaimer, may I please add – I do not fear vaccines, and I certainly think they are helpful and necessary as opposed to harmful to my children. I read that the CDC recommends that the MMR, DTAP, IPV, & Varivax vaccines be administered between the ages of 4 years and 6 years. My pediatric group recommends that all four vaccines be administered at the same visit at the age of 4 years. I wonder why they aren’t spaced such that 2 shots are given at 4 years and 2 shots at 5 years or something similar. Are there advantages to spacing the vaccines? Are there risks in administering multiple vaccines in one visit? Are the shots administered in each of the limbs? Any insight you could offer would be greatly appreciated. I am not sure if I should request that the vaccines be administered over 2 or 3 visits to make sure my child’s immune system isn’t overburdened and he fully benefits from them.”

Giving these vaccines poses no added risk versus giving them all at once, and as a pediatrician who has supervised vaccinations for many years, I’ll tell you that it’s much, much easier on the child to get them all over with at once. (more…)

Welcome back, Measles

August 24, 2008

(with apologies to Gabe Kaplan and the Sweathogs)

Welcome back,

We had a vaccine to knock you out.

Welcome back,

They’re the same families who once laughed about.

Though it’s safe, MMR, it’s been kicked around

You waited for your chance, now you’re back around.

Who’d have thought we’d meet you? (Who’d have thought we’d meet you?)

We’d already beat you. (We’d already beat you.)

The mortality’s a lot, yeah it’s more than just some spots

Welcome back.

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

It’s a travesty. A vocal but entirely misguided minority is succeeding in bringing back a once-vanquished, deadly disease. Measles is truly back, in the United States, Great Britain, and other countries where anti-MMR hysteria has replaced sound science and good thinking.

For more details about how bad science, money, and media hysteria combined to create the illusion that there is controversy whether MMR is safe, read this detailed and very revealing account.

Food Fights Fixed: How to have a successful family meal

June 10, 2008

Eating together as a family has tremendous health benefits. Kids who regularly eat with their families do better in school, watch less television, and are less likely to struggle with obesity. They also tend to get more exercise and eat a more healthful diet, including more vegetables and fewer processed foods.

But a healthy, relaxing family meal may not come easily. Parents say the kids just won’t eat what they’re served, and get whiney and surly. Mom inevitably heads back to the kitchen to make something separate for every child, and the nice relaxing family meal becomes a frustrating experience that no one enjoys. Needless to say, those vegetables sit untouched on their plates.


Holding Junior back

May 19, 2008

Kelly posted, “Can you talk about the thoughts on holding back boys from Kindergarten with late birthdays? I have a son born in July. I am seeing several families in our preschool holding kids back a year. What are your thoughts?”

Holding kids back does seem to be a trend these days, especially boys, and especially boys with summer birthdays. Though it may be a good idea for certain individuals to be held back, in the long run this trend is going to be a problem for all of us and all of our children.