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Family Health

7 Helpful Tips and Tricks for Raising Healthy, Happy Kiddos

Published: Jan. 28, 2022

Stuffy noses, croupy coughs, high fevers, falls, tantrums and more. If you’re a parent, the thought of these things likely fills you with dread.

Accidents happen. Setbacks are inevitable. But take heart. There are a lot of parenting tips and tricks that I and some of my fellow pediatricians – who are also parents of littles themselves – swear by to help ensure the healthiest, happiest kiddos possible.


How To Keep Them Healthy

Even when your kiddo is young, enforce proper handwashing. Sometimes you may have to do it for them. But good hand hygiene is the best way to help your child avoid nasty germs.

"It's shocking how often children get sick from dirty hands, so I always try to emphasize washing hands before meals, after using the restroom, and as soon as they get home from school." – Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician Matthew Gibson, MD

Don’t have access to soap or a sink? Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times. It can serve as an effective bridge until your child is able to lather up.

"An adequate night's rest and a healthy diet are also important. I like vitamin C. Mini oranges or Cuties are a great snack and good source of vitamin C. If you have a picky eater, you may want to consider a multivitamin." – Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician Elizabeth Walenz, MD


How To Break a Picky Eater

Speaking of picky eaters, I often remind toddler parents that some days, your child will seemingly eat nothing. Other days, they’ll put down enough food to feed three adults. It’s all very normal.

Regardless of their eating habits and preferences, continue offering healthy options at every meal, and try to refrain from making mealtime one long negotiation. Tying sweets and treats to clean plates can foster negative relationships with food and create bigger problems in the future.

"Picky eaters are made, not born! I think the best advice for parents is this: Don’t give in and provide other options or snacks if they're being picky. A child's plate should be the same as the adults’. If they don't like the food or won't eat it, it's important to keep in mind that they will not let themselves go hungry." – Dr. Gibson
"As a child gets older and more particular, involve them in the process of meal preparation. Let them stir, chop (with a child-safe knife) and help pick out foods from the grocery store. Talking about colorful foods can be a good learning tool for toddlers." – Dr. Walenz 


How To Treat a Cold

Cold and flu medication for children can be confusing. Before giving your child any medication, be sure to read all the labels. Many cold medicines are not intended for young children. If your child is older than 12 months, my favorite “medicine” is honey. Honey can be given on a spoon, through a syringe or in warm water. Especially before bedtime, honey can help break up mucus in the throat and soothe a cough.

For infants, using nasal saline with or without nasal suctioning before feeds and bedtime is key. You might consider a cool-mist humidifier to help ease nighttime coughing and sniffling.

"Keeping kids hydrated is also huge. – Dr. Gibson

Keep in mind: With both COVID-19 and influenza circulating in the community, a fever – a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater – can be an early sign of infection. At this time, I would reach out to your child’s care provider with any fever that pops up – especially if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or influenza. Early testing can help stop community spread.


How To Master Potty Training

I think the key to potty training is keeping it a stress-free, positive experience. If your child feels pressured, they may have difficulty grasping the concept. All children are different with regard to their readiness for potty training, but that’s the magic word: readiness. Signs your child might be ready include:

  • Going long stretches of time between wet diapers
  • Waking up from nap or bedtime dry
  • Wanting a wet or dirty diaper removed right after it’s soiled
  • Being able to remove clothing
  • Using language to express feelings
"If your child is starting to show interest in the toilet, try putting them in underwear while loading them up with water and milk. Have them practice sitting on the potty every 15-20 minutes. There will be some accidents and some successes – keep going! If, however, it’s just not clicking, back off for a few months before trying again." – Dr. Walenz


How To Manage Temper Tantrums

Parents are human. And every parent has likely yelled at their child at some point. But if your child is throwing a tantrum, allowing them a moment prior to engaging with them can be helpful for both of you. Your child is constantly looking to you as an example of behavior. If you respond to difficult situations with calm, collective words, your kiddo can learn to mirror this behavior.

"Yelling at our children only teaches them to yell back." – Dr. Walenz

If your child is prone to tantrums, look at the situations that trigger them. Is your child tired? Hungry? Feeling left out? Is there something you can do to ease the blow of an impending situation or activity your child is typically upset by? Small rewards for good behavior are allowed!

"Just like with potty training, you'll never be as successful with punishment as you’ll be with encouragement. Praise your child when they're behaving and doing well. Redirect or distract them when they're doing something they're not supposed to. Use timeout only when something is a serious breech – hitting, biting, kicking, spitting, etc. Children will often take any kind of attention they can get, so if they only get attention when fighting, that's what they'll do to get attention." – Dr. Gibson


How To Child-Proof Your Home

The biggest dangers inside your home might not be what you expect. Mobility, medications, cleaners and chemicals, weapons, water, and home appliances are usually the top offenders.

Mobility

I always warn families that between 2 and 4 months old, your baby will start rolling. Invariably, the one time you step away from the changing table will be the first time your baby decides to roll over. Always be mindful of placing them on the couch or bed – even for a short time – unattended. 

Dangerous Items

As your child starts to become more mobile and able to pull cabinet doors open, make sure that all household cleaners, medications and sharp objects are locked away or in cabinets out of their reach. Please never keep a loaded firearm in a house in which a child is present.

Water

"Water of any kind – pools, ponds, lakes or bathtubs can pose a drowning risk. People often forget that drowning is a quiet danger! Children don’t scream or holler because they can't breathe." – Dr. Gibson

Burns

"The biggest dangers I’ve seen are boiling water on stovetops and tubs that are too hot. Check the water temperature before bathing your child. And make sure pots and pans are out of reach of little hands to avoid burns." – Dr. Walenz


How To Foster Open Communication

Talk to your children about anything and everything – and do it often! Make family mealtime a priority so you can sit down with your child and discuss their day. Use car rides to strike up a conversation.

"I know way​ too much about Pokémon and Minecraft, but if my kids feel like they can talk to me about those kinds of things, they'll also talk to me about being bullied or other problems they’re facing. Kids want to be heard and seen. By having an open line of communication, children won't feel like they need to hide things." – Dr. Gibson
"I think the one thing in today's day and age that parents could do more of is listening. We’re often distracted by work, our phones, the world, etc. I think stopping to listen to our kids is incredibly rewarding for their development." – Dr. Walenz


When Tips and Tricks Fall Short

These tips and tricks from my colleagues and me are just that – a starting point for making some of the most common parenting challenges a little easier.

That said, all children are unique. If you’re concerned about your child’s health, growth or development – and nothing seems to be helping – don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s provider. It takes a village, and we’re here to help as part of yours.

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About the Author

Dr. Natalie Fleming, a pediatrician at Methodist Physicians Clinic, is humbled to serve as a reliable and compassionate resource for patients and their families.

“Parents are trusting me to care for their tiny little person who can’t speak to us but clearly has needs and an opinion. It’s my job to help translate that for families.”

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