Category Archives: fears

Nightmares

by Stacey

Last night I had one of those horrible mother dreams where my child is in peril and there’s nothing I can do to save him. Whenever I have this kind of dream, it haunts me for the rest of the day. I keep seeing the images and recalling the feelings and it makes me think about what life would be like if I did lose one of my children.

So as I sipped my morning coffee, I was drawn to read this article in Newsweek about how parents cope after losing a child. Every year, about 25,000 kids under age 10 die, most from congenital anomalies, unintentional injury (mainly car accidents), premature birth and cancer, the article says. The issue the article looks at, is the decision parents face over whether or not to have another child.

The loss of a child can put tremendous stress on even the best marriages and the closest families. “Losing a kid makes you lose faith in life,” says child psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld. “To reclaim that faith in living, that it’s worth doing this again, is an act of enormous courage.”

Anecdotally, many experts say parents seem to do better when they try again, the article says. “The most profound attachment in human life is mother and child,” says John Golenski, executive director of the George Mark Children’s House, a residential facility in San Leandro, Calif., for kids with terminal illnesses and their families. “The best adaptation to [the loss of a child] is another attachment.”

But understandably, some fear the pain of loss again. And others who do have another child sometimes feel guilty. “What I do hear a lot is the feeling of, ‘Am I betraying my child who died?’ ” says Barbara Sourkes, director of the pediatric palliative-care program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. ” ‘How can I throw myself wholeheartedly into a new child and leave the child who died behind?’ ”

As I write this post I keep thinking, why am I upsetting all of my dear readers with this topic? And the answer is, I don’t really know. This evening my husband and I are meeting with an estate lawyer to begin writing our will and establish custody for our children if we were to die unexpectedly.

A few weeks ago I dreamed that I had left my older son Sage alone at home while I went on a driving trip. My husband was away too and suddenly I realized that Sage was far too young to be in the house all by himself. I began to panic because I was so far away. When I woke up, I realized that dream was about my husband and I dying and leaving our children to fend for themselves in the world.

I didn’t know that when I had kids life would suddenly seem so fragile and precious. It’s not a feeling I walk around with everyday, thank god. But for today, I really don’t care if Sage decides not to listen to me or if Sascha cries every time I leave the room. They’re alive and safe with me. That’s all I care about. Tomorrow is another story.

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Filed under dreams, family, fears, kids, life, parenting, safety

Behavior Problems and School Success

by Stacey

Two new studies shed some positive light on irksome behavior problems in young children. According to this article in the NY Times, one study showed that kindergartners who are identified as troubled do as well academically as their peers in elementary school. The other study found that children with attention deficit disorders suffer primarily from a delay in brain development, not from a deficit or flaw.

In one study, reported in the journal Developmental Psychology, an international team of researchers analyzed measures of social and intellectual development from over 16,000 children, the article says. Kindergartners who interrupted the teacher, defied instructions and even picked fights were performing as well in reading and math as well-behaved children of the same abilities when they both reached fifth grade, the study found.

In the other study, researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health and McGill University, using imaging techniques, found that the brains of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder developed normally but more slowly in some areas than the brains of children without the disorder, the article says. The disorder, also known as A.D.H.D., is by far the most common psychiatric diagnosis given to disruptive young children; 3 percent to 5 percent of school-age children are thought to be affected.

Doctors said that the report, being published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, helps to explain why so many children grow out of the diagnosis in middle school or later, often after taking stimulant medications to improve concentration in earlier grades.

[G]overnment psychiatric researchers compared brain scans from two groups of children: one with attention deficit disorder, the other without. The scientists had tracked the children — 223 in each group — from ages 6 to 16, taking multiple scans on each child.

In a normally developing brain, the cerebral cortex — the outer wrapping, where circuits involved in conscious thought are concentrated — thickens during early childhood. It then reverses course and thins out, losing neurons as the brain matures through adolescence. The study found that, on average, the brains of children with A.D.H.D. began this “pruning” process at age 10 ½, about three years later than their peers.

The article says that about 80 percent of those kids with attention problems were taking or had taken stimulant drugs, and the researchers did not know the effect of the medications on brain development. Doctors consider stimulant drugs a reliable way to improve attention in the short term; the new study is not likely to change that attitude.

This all seems like good news for kids. It’s good to know that kids are learning what they need to know even if they’re wiggling and protesting along the way. As for ADHD, seems like it would be a relief to know there’s a good chance your child will outgrow it over time. The article says that three out of four kids with the disorder grow out of it.

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Filed under boys, child development, drugs, education, family, fears, girls, kids, mental health, parenting, preschool, psychology

Flicks In-Flight

by Stacey

The other day a reporter I know sent me an email looking for a quote about a family-related topic she was writing about for her travel column. I agreed. At issue was whether or not airlines should show movies in-flight that contain violent content, considering there are almost always some young children on board.

The topic was newsy because last month Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.. introduced the Family Friendly Flights Act which would require a separate seating area for kids and families “if a covered air carrier provides publicly viewable entertainment screens on which violent in-flight programming is displayed.”

The bill was prompted by the outrage of a parent names Jesse Kalisher who was flying with his kids in a plane that showed the movie King Kong. “The children were sleeping, but Kalisher was upset that, if the kids were awake, it would have been impossible to shield them from scary scenes in a movie rated PG-13 for violence,” the column says.

That movie does have some really scary scenes. I saw it on cable TV and I definitely wouldn’t want my three-year old watching that movie.

Kalisher would like the airlines to agree to show only G or PG-rated material during flights, but the airlines don’t seem interested in complying. He gathered a group of like-minded parents and now we have the Family Friendly Flights Act. “Ideally we’d like airlines to self-regulate and come up with a system that provides entertainment that appeals to adults but doesn’t terrify children,” Kalisher said. “This legislation will at least require airlines to make sure kids can’t see the monitors.”

I would be in favor of a family-friendly section in airplanes. As my friend Meredith pointed out, maybe the airlines could throw in a perk and hire flight attendants who actually like children. And I have an idea, maybe in the family-friendly section, there could be a normal place to change diapers, instead of on the floor, which I’ve had to do. Or in the impossibly small bathroom where your baby looks at you like you’re crazy the whole time you’re trying to keep him balanced on the changing tray and deal with the diapers.

But back to the column, I kind of waffled. One the one hand, I agreed with Kalisher that it’s hard for parents to keep their kids from looking at the movie screen and I said that it is up to the airlines to show content that won’t traumatize some of the passengers on board. But then I also said that I didn’t think the airlines should be required to show only PG and G-rated films. I guess I don’t think the world should have to stop and step aside just because my kid is coming its way.

So basically, I contradicted myself. What do you guys think? Should airlines be required to show kid-friendly films or is a family-friendly section the way to go?

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Filed under child development, children's health, entertainment, family, family life, fears, kids, life, media, parenting, safety, television, toddler

Boy Scout Badges RECALL

By Stacey

Well this is downright depressing. The Boy Scouts of America said Thursday that a painted badge commonly worn by some of its youngest scouts is being voluntary recalled after a test revealed high levels of lead in the paint.

Guess where they were made. Come on, I’ll give you one try… ding! ding! ding!

According to this AP story, as many as 1.6 million of the badges may be affected by the recall.

The badge is plastic and is given to Cub Scouts, who are usually between the ages of 7 and 8, the article says. The badge has a yellow and blue border, includes a picture of a bear and wolf and reads “Progress Toward Ranks.”

The badges are supplied by Kahoot Products Inc., based in Roswell, Ga. The company is calling for a voluntary recall of the badge and asking parents to take them away from their children.

No illnesses have been reported, the article says. The lead paint was discovered during a testing of Boy Scout products.

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Filed under boys, child development, children's health, family, family life, fears, kids, lead paint on toys, lead paint toys, life, Made in China, parenting, safety, toxic toys

College Before and After

by Stacey

Last Sunday the NY Times Magazine ran a series of articles about college. Getting in, paying for it, advice from the recently graduated, that kind of thing. I know I’ve ranted about this before, but why is this whole getting into college thing so freaking insane? Whenever I read about it, I want to hide under the bed with a blanket over my head.

In one article, called Tense Times at Bronxville High, a student named Win (actually his name is Winthrop Pearce Rutherford, which is explained by what I’m about to say) spent his life trying to get into Princeton University. His grandfather, his father, all of his uncles and great-uncles on his dad’s side all went to Princeton and all he wanted to do was to follow in their footsteps.

Clearly the dude had legacy. But he also had a perfect grade point average, was co-editor of the school newspaper, had SAT scores totaling 2,200 out of 2,400, was co-captain of the cross-country team and was a strong-enough German student that he regularly traveled to Hunter College in New York City to take a high-level class, the article says.

Cut to the chase: he didn’t get in. Huh? What more could they want? Oh, but wait! Win had a skeleton in his closet. Before attending Bronxville High, he was a student at St. Paul’s School, a fancy boarding school in New Hampshire. The article says he left the school because of a drinking incident.

Who knows if that was the reason he wasn’t accepted to Princeton. And no one really needs to cry for Win. He ended up getting accepted at the University of Virginia and from the sound of it, he will have the family funds to enjoy his college years free from financial worries.

But this story gives me the creeps. The thought that teenagers have to be these over-achieving, over-scheduled, perfect people is downright frightening. One misstep and your chances are ruined? Come on! That’s cruel.

After shuddering my way through that article, I turned to another one called Don’t Worry Be Students. The article describes a NY Times poll of a few thousand recent college graduates. The message from the post-college world is, it doesn’t matter so much where you go to school, because “college is great” and high school kids should really “chill out.”

Those surveyed said that the criteria they used to select schools ended up not being important to them once they got on campus.

The young alums acknowledge, in a variety of their responses, that the qualities they or their parents thought were crucial in choosing a college were not necessarily the things that mattered most once they got there. Magazine rankings and a school’s reputation — both extremely important in the minds of many applicants — are often of far less significance to graduates as they reflect on what made their college years worthwhile.

Instead, experiences with friends or extracurricular activities were the memories that stood out in their minds. Most said that the education they received was directly related to the work they found after graduation.

So why all this insanity? It seems fear driven, but I can’t put my finger on what exactly people are so afraid of. Any thoughts?

It also strikes me as kind of tragic. If Win with his perfect GPA, extracurriculars up the wazoo, and a legacy that beats G.W.’s can’t get into Princeton, that says to me that lots of other kids are going to be sorely disappointed in the spring. Is it worth it?

Pressed several months after his rejection to explain what was riding on his application to Princeton, Win himself couldn’t really put his finger on it. “I don’t even know what I wanted,” he says. “It was almost like this intangible thing. Getting into a good college — it’s like it was like some sort of a reward for lifetime service.” He struggles and starts again. “It was this built-up desire — part of it was for my family, but that was only part of it.” It didn’t have to be Princeton, he’d come to realize. Princeton just happened to be the school that became the fetish object. “That’s what you’re working so hard for — so you rationalize it.” If you’re working that hard for something your entire 18-year-old life, it can’t just be a good school — it has to be something bigger than that. “It’s like getting into college becomes the F. Scott Fitzgerald green light at the end of the dock, the unreachable future you’re striving for.”

Win grins, as usual, acknowledging the rarefied world he’s a part of, while simultaneously making fun of himself for it. Part of the anticlimax, he said, was the absence he suddenly felt of some other pressing goal (presumably what he’d have four years at U. Va. to figure out). “I’d worked it over so much in my brain,” Win says. “Now what?”

How ’bout just hanging out with your friends and being a kid for a little longer? You only get one chance at that and then lots of years to work and strive and stress out.

What do you all think? Can we start the backlash now so when my kids reach this stage (in fifteen years) all this craziness will be a thing of the past?

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Filed under depression, discipline, dreams, education, exhaustion, family, family life, fears, friends, kids, life, mental health, parenting, psychology, sports, teenager

Mercury Fears Allayed (sort of)

by Stacey

A study published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine shows that early childhood exposure to thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in vaccines, does not lead to a host of neurological impairments.

Researchers from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention examined mental acuity and behavioral problems in over 1,100 children immunized in the 1990s. At the time of study, the children were between seven and ten years old. They were tested for 42 neuropsychological outcomes including fine motor skills, attention, speech and language skills, verbal memory, behavior regulation and tics, according to this article in the Wall Street Journal.

The researchers did not examine the link between thimerosal and autism, which is the most controversial of concerns. That will be the focus of another research project to be published next year, the WSJ article says.

The results of this week’s study showed “few significant associations with exposure to mercury from thimerosal,” according to an abstract from the original study. The results were kind of a mixed bag with all the associations considered to be small.

Here’s what they found:

Higher prenatal exposure to mercury was associated with better performance on one measure of language and poorer performance on a different measure of attention and executive functioning, the abstract says.

(I was curious about executive functioning. What is that? I looked it up online and found this explanation: “Executive functioning is a set of processes that include ‘planning, organizational skill, maintaining a mental set, selective attention, and inhibitory control – for which the prefrontal regions of the brain are specialized.'” Someone else described it using the metaphor of an orchestra conductor.)

Increasing levels of mercury exposure from birth to 7 months were associated with better performance on one measure of fine motor coordination and on one measure of attention and executive functioning. In addition, increasing mercury exposure from birth to 28 days was associated with poorer performance on one measure of speech articulation and better performance on one measure of fine motor coordination.

The researchers concluded: “Our study does not support a causal association between early exposure to mercury from thimerosal-containing vaccines and immune globulins and deficits in neuropsychological functioning at the age of 7 to 10 years.”

However they did find an increase in motor and phonic tics in boys exposed to thimerosal. According to the WSJ article, “boys in the study who had been exposed to higher levels of the preservative faced twice the risk of having motor and phonic tics — including noises caused by an involuntary tongue movement — than boys who received a smaller dose.” This finding prompted the study authors to say there is a potential need for further studies.

Still, Anne Schuchat, an assistant surgeon general with the CDC, called the results of the new study “very reassuring for parents” whose children were immunized in the 1990s, the WSJ article says. The government asked manufacturers to remove thimerosal from vaccines in 1999, after the public bombarded federal offices with complaints.

I know that people get very passionate about the issue of vaccines. I have always fallen on the side of getting my kids vaccinated, both for their own health and for the common good. I kind of doubt that this study will change the way anyone feels about the issue. According to the WSJ article, the study’s advisory panel included a woman named Sallie Bernard, who is the executive director of SafeMinds, a consumer-advocacy group focusing on mercury’s link to disorders.

The WSJ article says that Bernard dissented from the conclusions, in part, because of the concern over tics in boys. The results, “are inconclusive and the interpretation of the data is too sweeping,” said Ms. Bernard, an Aspen, Colo., parent of an autistic child.

It’s interesting to see that the scientists were willing to include a consumer advocate on their advisory panel. As it turned out, it doesn’t sound like it did much to quiet down the debate.

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Filed under baby, children's health, family, family life, fears, kids, parenting, safety, toddler

Plastic Problems

by Stacey

A group of concerned scientists are sounding the alarm about a chemical found in baby bottles and toddler sippy cups, among other the household products. An article in last week’s LA Times reports that several dozen scientists have recently signed a consensus statement that an estrogen-like compound called bisphenol A or BPA that leaches out of polycarbonate plastic, is causing an array of reproductive problems in humans.

In their statement, the 38 scientists say they are confident that BPA, which mimics the female hormone estrogen, alters cells to switch genes on and off, programming a fetus or child for reproductive disorders later in life, and that the levels that harm lab animals “are well within the range of … BPA levels observed in human fetal blood.”

They concluded that “early life exposure … may result in persistent adverse effects in humans.”

In addition, this week a panel of experts at the National Institutes of Health Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction is meeting to discuss the possible harmful effects of BPA and to decide whether federal regulation is necessary. But the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, claims the plastic industry has corrupted the government’s review and that the findings of the 38 scientists accurately reflect the dangers of BPA.

The compound is “one of the highest volume chemicals in the world,” the LA Times article says, “and has found its way into the bodies of most human beings.” It is also found in large water cooler containers, sports bottles and microwave oven dishes, along with canned food liners and some dental sealants for children, the article says.

The scientists — including four from federal health agencies — reviewed about 700 studies before concluding that people are exposed to levels of the chemical exceeding those that harm lab animals. Infants and fetuses are most vulnerable, they said.

The statement was accompanied by a new study from researchers from the National Institutes of Health that found uterine damage in newborn animals exposed to BPA. That damage is a possible predictor of reproductive diseases in women, including fibroids, endometriosis, cystic ovaries and cancers, the article says. It is the first time BPA has been linked to disorders of the female reproductive tract, although earlier studies have found early-stage prostate and breast cancer and decreased sperm counts in animals exposed to low doses.

The plastic industry denies any harm from BPA and cites the fact that both the Japanese and European governments have convened panels to review the data and the panels found the evidence inconclusive. So far no government agency here or abroad has restricted its use. The article says that Europe’s food safety agency decided in January that the data were inconclusive, largely because of metabolic differences between mice and humans, and because it is uncertain that the amounts people are exposed to pose a health threat.

No studies have been conducted looking for effects in people, and one goal of the scientists who signed the statement is to generate human research, the article says.

Jerrold Heindel, a scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences who organized a meeting last fall to begin drafting the statement, said even though there have been no human studies of BPA, there is now so much animal data that the 38 experts believe that human damage is likely. More than 150 studies have found health effects in animals exposed to low doses.

“We know what doses the animals were given, and when we look at humans, we see blood levels within that range or actually higher,” he said.

An environmental advocacy group called Environment California has some useful information for parents on this distressing topic. They did a study of baby bottles and found BPA in Avent, Dr. Brown’s, Evenflo, Gerber and Playtex brands. Products that don’t have BPA include Medela, Bornfree baby bottles and sippy cups, and any brand of glass bottles.

Here are some more tips from the California EPA on how to minimize your kids’ exposure to toxic chemicals from plastic. It’s worth a read.

I’m feeling really down right now about this topic, but I’m motivated to make some changes in my kitchen. My goal: no more plastic storage containers for food, no more cling wrap for covering leftovers, and no more toxic sippy cups or bottles. Not sure I’ll get all the way there, but I’d like to try.

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