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Life lessons

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(This post which was written by me was originally published on the Huffington Post a few years ago. I’m re-publishing it here as the words still ring true today!)

Throughout my medical career as a pediatrician, I have witnessed several children pass away. Each patient has a way of touching your very soul.

What I have learned from the precious angels that I have lost is immeasurable. There is wisdom that comes when a person faces his or her own mortality. The best way to honor the lives that we have lost is to learn from them and make our own lives even better.

Here are seven lessons I have learned from those who have gone too soon:

1) Never forget how big you are blessed

I will never forget the day one of my patients told me that she wished she was me because I could leave the hospital and she could not. Those words will always be with me.

While most of us lament over the happenings of our daily lives, we never stop to think about how a simple act such as walking outside is such a tremendous blessing.

It is these small treasured moments that a child in the hospital looking out of the window is wishing for. Yet so many times, we take this for granted.

I once took a patient outside the hospital on her bed for the first time in almost a year. With her IV meds and oxygen tank connected to her, she felt fresh air for the first time in 300 days. I have never seen someone so incredibly grateful.

She passed away one month later. But in that moment, with tears streaming down her face, she thanked me for taking her outside.

Francesca Battistelli once sang:

“Sometimes in the middle of my mess, I forget how big I am blessed.”

No matter what life mess you are in, never forget how truly big you are blessed.

2) Don’t lose focus of the fact that your greatest investment will be in people

The only things a person in the hospital brings with them is the love and support of their family and friends.

They don’t bring their big house, their expensive car or even their fancy clothes.

They begin to realize that their greatest investment has been in people. It is these same people who will shower them with support, love and good blessings that give strength during the tough times.

And when they have crossed over to the other side, they live on in the hearts and souls of those they have left behind.

The surest way to achieve immortality is to invest in people.

3) Be a collector of moments, not a collector of things

For a person in the hospital, every moment is special. People deeply cherish the moments spent laughing together and even watching TV together.

What if we started doing this before someone has to go to the hospital?

Learn to be a collector of moments. Cherish the moments with your loved ones as if you were collecting them. Store them in a special place in your heart and always keep looking to add to your collection.

4) Do not stress about approval

The next time you find yourself stressing about what someone else thinks of you, think of your last day on this earth. Will this matter then?

A teenage patient in the hospital once told me:

“If I get out of the hospital, I will never stress about what others think of me. I spent so much time worried about being liked, when all I needed to do was like myself.”

If there is one thing you should let go of this year, it should be stressing about approval.

5) When you have a choice between time and money… pick time

We spend so much time stressing about our money. We make portfolios, we create spreadsheets, and we hire stockbrokers. We spend hours trying to figure out how we can get more.

But what if we thought of our time in this way? Have you made a time portfolio? Have you figured out where and how you spend your time?

If you were given a choice between time and money, which one would you pick? I urge you to think about this.

Lives spent chasing after money at the expense of time with family and friends can feel empty and unfulfilling.

6) Never judge another person’s struggle

I remember a child with cancer who told me that he thought God was punishing him. When I asked him why, he said it was because he had made fun of children who had lost their hair when they had cancer.

After reassuring him that he was not being punished, I realized that this was a life lesson. Never judge another person’s struggle. You don’t know where your own life will lead you. Bless others and help them without judgment.

Heaven forbid that you find yourself in the same situation, you would want others not to judge you.

7) Life is too short to not pursue the dreams that are in your heart

I cannot count how many times I have heard someone say that they wished they had more time to pursue the dreams that were in their heart. Sometimes we put off our dreams for the day when we ‘have the time’ or ‘have more money’. Or we give up on them all together because we don’t think others would approve.

As Danielle LaPorte said:

“Do you remember who you were before the world told you who to be?”

I am here to remind you that regret is a heartbreaking emotion. Don’t find yourself in the hospital, regretting all the things that you wish you could have done. START NOW.

The best way to honor those we have lost is to make our lives even better. To pursue the dreams that lie deep in our hearts. To invest in people. To never judge. To be a collector of moments. To value our time. To not stress about approval. To always remember who we really are.

And to never ever forget truly how big we are blessed.

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Did you know that the period between birth to three years of age is the fastest rate of brain development across the entire human lifespan? Talking and reading to your child can help stimulate brain development and deepen the bond between you and your child.

So what are some great books to read to your children?

I talked with Dr. Danielle Fernandes on Facebook Live about the books that we love to develop emotional resilience in children. Check out the video below!

 

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Ways to get your child to take medicineImage via famveldman/bigstock.com

As a pediatrician, I know how to prescribe medication, but it was only until I became a mother that I truly began to understand the challenges of actually giving medication to children.

Now let’s face it. Most children hate taking medication and will do anything to avoid it. But there are a few tricks we can use to make this process easier for both parent and child. Here is what other parents and pediatricians have taught me through the years.

1) Make it fun

I’m a sucker for dark chocolate. It’s my guilty pleasure. Actually, I don’t feel any guilt at all while eating it…so it’s just plain pleasure. Nothing makes me happier than coming home after a long day and biting into a piece of pure bliss.

But without fail, if my daughter witnesses me eating anything at all…she wants some also. Now, I’m not that bad of a mother…I do share (besides those times I hid in the bathroom just to have chocolate for myself).

The point of this story is that most of the time, our children want exactly what we are having. So why not use this technique with medication too?

If you are giving medication in a syringe or a spoon, a game that a lot of parents play is to have mom and dad also drink a similar liquid from a syringe (or pretend to) and just as nature designed it, your child will want exactly what you are having!

I have even heard from parents who have tea parties with their child where everyone would go around the table and drink their cup of ‘medicine’.

Children inspire our creativity, so make it a fun and bonding experience!

2) Make it sweet

Since we’re on the topic of chocolate and how it makes everything better, here is a trick that I learned about relatively recently.

If you are giving medication through a syringe, you can put 1/2 ml of chocolate syrup in the syringe, followed by the medication and then end with another 1/2 ml of chocolate syrup. So it starts and ends with chocolate!

Seriously, how did I know about this trick before? It’s genius!

As always, please check with your pharmacist to verify that the medication can be mixed with chocolate syrup. If so, you are set.

3) Make it invisible

Sometimes as a parent, you are left with no choice but to be sneaky. If your child is absolutely refusing to take the medication, it’s time to hide it.

You can mix the medicine in a small amount of juice, applesauce, yogurt or even milk. Just make sure that your child drinks/eats the entire portion that you give them to make sure they get full dosage of the medication.

Remember to check with your pharmacist to make sure that particular medication can be hidden in drinks or foods.

4) Make it easier

One of the most eye-opening experiences as a pediatrician for me has been to actually taste the medication I sometimes prescribe. Some of them taste absolutely horrible! It’s hard to imagine a child swallowing them without a fight.

With that being said, many medications can be flavored to make them more palatable. You can even ask your pharmacist about different forms of the medication such as chewable tablets or rectal suppositories.

In cases, where there are no other options, another trick is to bypass the taste buds completely by squirting the syringe directly inside the cheek into the back of the mouth. This way, your child won’t taste too much of it. This method isn’t perfect, but it tends to work.

5) Make it cold

Having your child suck on ice chips before taking the medicine can numb the taste buds and make the medicine easier to swallow. If the medication can be refrigerated, cooling it for a bit can also help it go down easier.

As a parent, it is incredibly hard to see your child sick. And the struggle of getting your child to take medication can add to the stress everyone is experiencing. Hopefully these tips will help getting through this time just a little bit easier.

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terrible twosImage via dolgachov/bigstock.com

Okay, let’s be real.

Motherhood is an incredible blessing and amazing…but at times it’s also frustrating and completely exhausting.

I have officially entered the parenting stage that I have talked about with parents for years! It’s called the terrible twos.

If you have ever wondered exactly what happens to children when they reach the magical age of two, then this might help.

In 1972, a study done by Beulah Amsterdam from the University of North Carolina tested 88 infants between the ages of 6 and 24 months. After putting a spot of rouge on their noses, the infants were placed in front of a mirror. The mothers then pointed at the reflection in the mirror and asked their child, “who’s that?”.

Based on reliable data from 16 of the infants, here is what the research found:

Infants 6-12 months: behaved as if there was another child in the mirror. They smiled at what they thought was the other child and made noises. They approached their reflection as a playmate.

Infants 13-24 months: displayed avoidance behaviors. They would cry or avoid looking in the mirror.

Infants 20-24 months: started to recognize themselves by pointing to and touching the spot of rouge on their own noses.

This was the first of many studies spanning decades of research on self recognition.

But what does this mean for us?

It tells us that at the age of two, our children are coming into their own. They are beginning to recognize themselves as independent, as people separate from us. Because of this, they will often push their limits and test their boundaries…as well as our own.

But this also tells us that their behavior is a completely NORMAL stage of development!

How can this behavior of meltdowns and tantrums that often inspire me to run to a corner and curl up into a fetal position be normal you say? I hear you. I’ve been there.

Here’s what has worked for me: breathing.

Not the breathing you do every single minute of the day, but a different kind of breathing. One that is deliberate and deep.

Let me explain.

When you are in a stressful situation, a part of your nervous system takes over called the sympathetic nervous system. This system activates your fight-or-flight response which makes your breathing shallow and rapid causing you to breathe from your chest and not your lungs.

When you instead breathe deeply, you can actually reverse this response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This system activates the vagus nerve, which slows down your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure. By using the abdominal muscles of your diaphragm instead of your chest muscles, you allow for greater air exchange thereby allowing more oxygen to reach the cells of your body.

The result?

A calmer, more relaxed you.

So in the midst of my daughter’s meltdowns, I first make sure that she is in a safe environment where she won’t physically hurt herself. Then, I let her have her meltdown and walk to the other corner of the room.

With one hand on my abdomen, I breathe in through my nose, allowing the air to go deep into my lungs. As I feel my abdomen rise, I pause for a minute and then exhale. As I exhale, I feel my abdominal muscles contract, releasing all the air from my lungs.

This whole process takes me literally less than a minute but when I return to the situation, I am in a state where I respond with a sense of calm instead of impulsively reacting.

This accomplishes two things: 1) By having no immediate reaction, I don’t provide my daughter any reinforcement for the behavior and 2) I respond with kindness instead of anger.

This technique is literally carrying me through this phase.

I have found that parenting is often not about changing our children, it’s about transforming ourselves.

And dear parents, remember that it is a phase. One day, we will be looking at our grown child and in the deep caverns of our heart, we will mourn the ephemerality of a glorious childhood.

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Foods to feed toddlerImage via famveldman/bigstock.com

Becoming a parent has completely transformed me as a pediatrician. And I think it has a lot to do with perspective.

When I was finally able to walk in the shoes of the parents I talked to everyday, I saw the advice that I had been giving in a new light. My words connected more because of my new perspective as pediatrician and parent.

So I understand that as parents, we have all given our child some food that we probably shouldn’t have. The many nights that I served ice cream right before bedtime come to mind.

But time and time again, I have seen four foods given to toddlers that most parents understandably wouldn’t know were dangerous. And when I saw children end up in the hospital with severe complications after eating them, I wanted to make sure all parents knew about them.

So I wanted to take a few moments of your time dear fabulous reader to tell you about 4 surprising foods to avoid giving to your toddler and the reasons why:

1. Popcorn

Foods to feed toddlerImage via Yastremska/bigstock.com

Seriously, who doesn’t love popcorn? With the right amount of butter, popcorn is totally addictive. But the popcorn kernel is a high choking risk for your toddler. Because a toddler’s windpipe can get as small as a diameter of a straw, it’s easy for small pieces like popcorn kernels to get lodged in your child’s respiratory system.

2. Grapes

Foods to feed toddlerImage via PicLeidenshaft/bigstock.com

Grapes are kind of awesome. But whole grapes are not awesome for your toddler. Children younger than 4 years of age are still learning to chew properly before swallowing. Therefore, they often end up swallowing whole or un-chewed pieces of food. Whole grapes can easily get stuck in your child’s respiratory tract. The best way to give grapes to a child is to cut them length wise into small pieces no longer than half an inch. Or better yet, just avoid them.

3. Hot dogs

Foods to feed toddlerImage via Vankad/bigstock.com

Hot dogs are one of the leading causes of choking in children. Not only do they have poor nutritional value, but a hot dog is the perfect size and shape to block a child’s airway. If you are going to give your child a hot dog, make sure to first cut it into very small pieces before hand.

4. Nuts

Foods to feed toddlerImage via dionisvera/bigstock.com

Nuts are hard enough to chew for adults and even harder for toddlers. And even after some initial chewing the sharp edges from the small pieces of nuts can lead to coughing, and a risk for aspiration. For this reason, I would not offer any kind of nuts to children younger than four. The risk just isn’t worth it and can lead to a nightmare trying to get all the small pieces out of the airway.

At the end of the day, no matter how careful we are, we simply cannot watch our children constantly. That is why I recommend that parents get CPR training so that in the unfortunate event that your child is in distress, you will be able to take life saving measures while calling 911.

The toddler years are a constant struggle to try to prevent them from eating everything in sight. But can you really blame them? That’s me on most days 🙂

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