Are you feeling like you don’t even remember who you are? How to keep your sense of self after becoming a parent: YOU MATTER

May 27, 2020

Good Morning! Today I want to talk to you about a topic that is very important. I am a parent, wife, a pediatrician and I am also myself. What I mean by that is that before I was any of those other titles, I was a person with interests, likes and dislikes, dreams and fears.

It seems that more often than not when people become parents many of these things get shoved to the side to make room for this amazing new person that has come into your life…your baby. As a new parent, it is easy to be mesmerized by the soft, perfect features you see in your baby. You spend hours analyzing their face, their hands, their feet, caressing the softest skin you have ever touched. You marvel at the reality that this baby was created by you. It is truly a miracle.

When first time parents come into the office, they are nervous and are almost in a state of bliss; albeit exhausted! They want to do everything right. They come in with lists and ask many questions (the funny thing is that parents all have the same questions regardless of culture or race). They listen intently when I recommend something for the baby and take notes. They carefully take turns holding the baby and feeding him or her. Their entire focus is now on this baby. It has become a 24/7 “job” that we are immediately immersed in. It is the most important job you will ever have….

By the second or third week of parenting, the visits are a little different. Parents come in looking for tips to get their baby to sleep the entire night. They come in with bags under their eyes and forget to bring extra diapers and wipes (and of course the baby decides to poop in the office..). I remember those days of early parenting. They are difficult. You feel exhausted. Crying sometimes just comes naturally as you repeat your day over and over again with feeding schedules and diaper changes. It is over-whelming, but you push through and you keep trying to be the “perfect parent”.

I want you to know that there is no “perfect parent”. Be kind to yourself when you parent. Take care of YOURSELF too. In the beginning the idea of ME time is elusive but it is possible. If you are lucky enough to have someone other than yourself in the home, take 10/15 minutes to take a shower without a worry or simply just go for a walk alone to clear your mind. Don’t spend all day in pajamas day after day.. and don’t feel guilty about wanting time for yourself. Make time to talk to friends and friends even if it’s just a few minutes per day. Write down ideas about things you are interested in or dream about.

Make a promise to yourself that you will not lose yourself in this parenting journey. When you take care of yourself, spend time with those that you love, cultivate your interests and continue to dream, you will be happier. Being a good parent does not mean forgetting about yourself. In fact, the happiest moms that I see in the office are the ones that have their own interests outside of parenting.

I truly believe that one of the primary reasons women are depressed as their children get older is that they have lost themselves in the world of parenting. You don’t know who you are anymore. You sometimes lose your identity all together. Your days, weeks, months and years consist of playdates, school responsibilities and day to day parenting.

Please do not lose yourself to parenting. Make a conscious effort every day to do something that is important to YOU that is independent of your parenting responsibilities. Make it a priority. Schedule it into your calendar. It can be a short walk, meditation, practicing a hobby, reading, exercising…the possibilities are endless. Taking the time to take care of yourself will in turn make you a better parent. You will feel happier.

Parenting should enhance your life not stifle it. Keep dreaming and becoming the best version of yourself. It is truly the best gift you can give your children. It will teach them to keep dreaming, to take care of themselves and to nurture their friendships and relationships. Grow with your children. Life is about  becoming the best version of yourself, and this includes YOU.

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

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Are you tired of trying to keep your child on a schedule? The importance of play.

May 20, 2020

As pediatricians, we frequently receive updates regarding topics of interest that the Academy of Pediatrics finds important for us to be aware of. Recently, a new clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics caught my attention. They are recommending that doctors write a “PRESCRIPTION FOR PLAY!”.

Yes, a prescription to play. It sounds so simple. Yet, from 1981 to 1997, children’s playtime decreased by 25 %. Children ages 3 to 11 have lost 12  hours per week of free time due to academic pressures and organized after-school activities. The pressures felt from parents to keep up with the daily-changing electronic games and digital devices is real.

Kids whose parents cannot afford the expensive digital toys may feel left out and kids whose parents CAN afford them, think that allowing their kids unlimited access to these objects is healthy and promotes learning. New games and apps come in the guise of claiming to help your child learn his or her ABC’s, math skills and or other didactic academic skills. Yet, studies show that the truth is actually that the opposite of this is true.

Children’s creativity and play is actually improved with inexpensive objects that are found in any household…boxes, spoons, balls, puzzles, crayons, boxes, pots and pans, etc.

The importance of play, it seems, has been lost. Sometimes play is viewed as frivolous or a waste of time. Parents are spending a small fortune and endless hours in a child’s life in organized sports and/or activities. The competition in the academic world is real. Parent’s want their children to be the best and this sometimes comes with the loss of free play.

Yet the studies show that play actually leads to changes in the brain in the molecular, cellular and behavioral levels. It is believed that play can have lasting changes in the brain that help to improve execute functioning and help in processing social interaction.

Executive functioning is the process of learning rather that the actual content.  It has been shown to help children with improved self-regulation and self-control, better problem solving skills, filtering of distracting details, and mental flexibility. In fact, countries that offer more free play see greater academic success among children as they mature.

It has even been shown that children have lower levels of cortisol (which indicate lower stress levels) when involved in active play. This is especially important for children dealing with significant toxic stress and adversity in their daily lives, but is also important for decreasing anxiety as well. In fact, countries that offer more free play see greater academic success among children as they mature.

So what can we do? What can we as parents do to help change this? The recommendations are clear.

  • Encourage free play in your day to day life with your children. You do not necessarily need extra time to play. Incorporate play in your day to day life. Engage your children in helping at home with chores, which can in turn result in role playing or fun games.
  • Let your child lead with their creativity. If your child gets a new toy resist the temptation to show them how to use it. Let them try to figure it our for themselves. They may actually teach you something you had not even thought about!
  • Make free play a priority instead of viewing it as a waste of time. Relax and enjoy in watching your child run around yelling “I am a pirate” or “let’s play school”

Free play, without constant supervision, helps children come together. It often brings children from diverse backgrounds together as they make up rules to a game, role-play and learn empathy. Through play,  children learn what its like to lose and  they are encouraged to come up with strategies to improve their outcomes in up-coming challenges. These interaction help to evolve independent thinking and creativity.

Some of my happiest moments as a mom, was watching my kids build a fort and create their own stories and/or games. It makes me smile just to think about it.

It is up to us as parents to bring free play back into the lives of our children. Our world is changing and our children need the skills necessary to compete in the 21st Century world. We need them to be creative, innovative and problem-solvers. These are the very skills that free-play encourages through the development of executive functioning.
Stop and look around you. Take a long hard look at your child’s life and what his/her daily activities involve. Perhaps you have been feeling over scheduled and stressed with parenting and “keeping up with the jonses”.

Play with your kids. Act silly sometimes and laugh. Enjoy games you played as a child and help your child discover their interpretation of the world around them, free from  your interpretation. The truth is that free play will not only help your child but you as well.

Below are age-specific recommendations :

  1. 2-3 months-  Respond to your infants emergence of a social smile by smiling in response. It helps an infant learn the effects of their behaviors. (making a parent smile when they smile).
  2. 4-6 months- Encourage games of peek-a-boo, laughing, and encourage your infant to discover new objects on their own. Instead of teaching an infant how to use a toy, watch them discover it!
  3. 9 months- At nine months is when babies begin to develop separation anxiety and stranger anxiety. It is a time when infants begin to learn self-regulation as they begin to use their parents for social refrencing. Your baby is looking at you for guidance. Make sure your facial expressions are encouraging instead of fearful as your baby begins exploring the world.
  4. 12 months- At this age, infants really begin to lay the foundation of the development of social skills/interactions. They love the feeling of accomplishment and true joy as they take their first steps or say a new word. Encourage your child taking those baby steps in self-discovery. Again, remember that your facial expression is what your baby is looking for.
  5. 2 year olds- Everyone talks about the “terrible twos”. I believe that the reason this is a belief is that this is a difficult time for a toddler. It is a time of emerging independence and they undertand usually a lot more than they are able to communicate. This leads to frustration and tantrums. Try to provide your child with some independence while staying close by providing words of encouragement when they fail or fall. Resist the temptation to scoop them up when they fall. Watch to see what they do and how they begin to problem solve.
  6. 3 year olds- By 3 years of age, most children have begun to communicate more effectively and can understand  cause and effect. This is when it is critically important to model behavior for your child. Help your child deal with emotionally challenging situations. Guide and lead but do not be so quick to offer solutions. Let them come up with their own ways and help them learn why some solutions may be better than others. Encourage drawing, coloring and creating. Sit back and discuss how wonderful that their elephant is purple and flies, just because… Encourage creativity and take them to the park, beach or outside with no agenda.
  7. 4-6 year olds- By 4-6 years of age, most children have started some form of formal teaching in an academic setting. If possible, try to select programs that prioritize free play and recess in these early years. If your income is limiting take the time when possible to find local parks or community centers where your child can simply just play…
  8. 7-9 year olds- By 7-9 years of age, many parents are focusing their child’s talents on one sport or another form of specific after-school activity. Many children this age spend sometimes 10-12 hours a week practicing and developing a skill. The pressures to be the best are beginning to become real and many parents with lower means begin to feel that their children are not able to keep up with their more “economically-advantaged” peers. The increase in the use of electronic devices increases significantly in this age group. Yet, studies show that active play for 1 hour per day, allowed kids in this age group to think more creatively and multi-task. These kids were also found to improved social-emotional skills that later are found to correlate with improved academic and economic success. Third grade prosocial behaviors correlated with eighth grade reading and math better than with third grade math and reading levels. So, set up play dates at the park. Set up no-electronic times in your child’s schedule and let them be “bored”. Boredom sparks creativity and taps into their imagination. Do not over-schedule them.
  9. 10 and beyond-  After the age of 10, most kids are playing electronic games and or watching more TV and videos than interacting in free play. Make a point to go outside (with no electronics) whenever possible. Find activities in your community that encourage free play. Play decreases stress, fatigue, injury and depression. In fact, adult success in later life can be related to the experience of childhood play that cultivated creativity, problem solving, teamwork, flexibility and innovations.
  10. Parents-  The benefits of play for parents are too many to  list. If your child asks you to play, do it. Enjoy the joy in your child’s face when he/she discovers the world. Go back to childhood, when life was simple, days were long and troubles were few. Create a bond with your child that will only strengthen with time, and have fun doing it!

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

How to help kids find their voice

May 13, 2020

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”-Walt Disney

Perhaps you have been there. You are in a board meeting or a classroom and an idea pops into your head. Your thoughts are elaborate. You are imagining something so amazing it has your head spinning. Suddenly you stop, look around, realize that you are in a room full of people and your thoughts begin to go in a different direction. “What would they think of me?” “What would they say?” “They will think it’s dumb” “They will laugh at me.” Just like that, your thoughts stop and you again focus on the discussion in the room. You listen and participate in the topic of the day and are careful to chose your words carefully and keep your seemingly crazy ideas to yourself…

It is situations like this that are all too familiar. I am certain your child has felt it too. Perhaps in school, in a meeting, collaborating with friends, or maybe even at home. Yet, we are surrounded by amazing inventions and technology that if you really stop to think about it, I’m sure at some point seemed absurd. An airplane, a telephone,  a car, a computer, a cruise ship, a smart phone, face time…the list is endless. Stop and think about that.

Imagine when the inventors of these amazing things we take for granted first said they had an idea. I imagine the laughter in the room, the finger pointing, the discouraging words and the whispers. Yet, for some reason these inventors continued to look ahead and imagined the impossible with perseverance. We know many of these inventions are the result of persistent failures. It makes me wonder what instills that drive in someone to continue to work on the impossible? What determines the person that will succeed?

I invite you to ask these same questions of yourself and your children. Push yourself in your next meeting to say what you are truly thinking about. Express your ideas and see where they go. Sit down with your children and role play. Give them a scenario like the one I described and encourage them to speak their mind. Embolden them to raise their hand. Remind them that usually those that ridicule or laugh are too afraid to speak up. The laughter is often a result of nervousness, personal doubt and “fitting in”.

It is exciting to imagine the impossible. It is intriguing to see where your child will go with his/her ideas. As parents, we need to be reminded that our dreams may not be those of our children. Listen to what your children are interested in or not interested in! Imagine the possibilities…they are endless.

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

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How to help your child find out who they want to be: Finding your child’s super power

May 6, 2020

The question of who am I is one that we have all struggled with and perhaps may still be struggling with….Small children look to their parents for approval and sometimes are encouraged or discouraged by the comments of their peers to act a certain way, dress a certain way, and behave a certain way.In the tween years of course this becomes even more evident.

As parents,  what can we do to help foster the development of the true self? It seems that most parents start off strong in this commitment when kids are very small. It is easy to let a small child chose their clothes, wear rain boots on a sunny day, wear plaid with stripes and pants that are too small. In fact, society encourages these behaviors as on lookers often smile and wave at your enthusiastic child as he/she runs the halls of the grocery store with a super cape on.

However, once kids reach the tween years, that once confident happy go lucky child you remember can begin to feel self conscious about their hair, their size, their clothes, their background, their identity…Perhaps even YOU remember those feelings of self doubt.

This is where I believe parents can play an important role in developing the true self.

  1. Encourage your child to explore new fashion, new friends, new hobbies.
  2. Give them encouragement and affirmation.
  3. Tell them the beauty that you see.
  4. Tell them the talents that you see.

Even if your tweens/teen seems as though they really don’t want to hear it and you get the eye roll in response, keep doing it. We all want to feel beautiful and loved. Remind them that what truly makes someone beautiful is who they are. Tell them to trust the voice inside them telling them if something is right or wrong. Build up their confidence with true unconditional love.

As your child grows, encourage them to volunteer and give back. Help them find a cause that has a special meaning for them. Putting forth effort into giving and volunteering can feel so good. It can give your child a sense of purpose. Often when volunteering, kids become aware of the situation that others are in (perhaps even their same age). This can help kids develop empathy towards others. Volunteering can also help your child realize that you are never too small to make a difference.

Lastly, help your child set a few goals, even if they seem completely out of reach. Have them try to do something that is not in their comfort zone. If they fail, remind them that most successful people fail many times along the way. True success is not obtained over night and requires hard work and dedication. No one posts on instagram and facebook the training that they do or the hours that they put into studying to get to where they want to go. Most people just post the trophy, the graduation, and their successes. The real secret is that with failure is when we truly learn the most. It’s what you do when you fall that will determine your outcome.

Life is full of choices. Help your child make the ones that  feel true. The world needs new ideas and confident people leading the way. We all have something to offer and the journey of life is finding what that is. No one can be YOU. Real beauty is found in our differences. Help your child notice and develop those differences. The possibilities are endless.

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

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How to stop worrying and start making decisions

April 29, 2020

I think my tendency to worry grew 100 fold when I became a parent. Deciding on a doctor, how and what to feed the baby, what to buy, understanding what is harmful and what isn’t. There are so many decisions to make as a parent and you want to make sure that your baby not only has the best of everything but that you don’t mess anything up. The internet doesn’t help. It provides an endless display of options from diapers, lotions, soaps, clothes, schools, shoes, etc….It is easy to get lost in the millions of opinions  and options available.

A few years ago, in the middle of parenting my 3 kids, I felt as though all I ever did was worry. I approached each decision with trepidation and fear and worried about making the wrong decisions all of the time. Even after I finally made a decision, the worrying just wouldn’t stop. I was trapped in a sea of thoughts going nowhere. One day I sat down to really thing about what good it did to worry anyway.

The first thing I realized is that worrying is exhausting and time consuming. It literally will eat up hours in your day and keep you up at night.  Some thoughts become repetitive and you can find yourself trying  to analyze the same situation in a million different ways. Sometimes too many options can literally paralyze you. You don’t even know where to start! In the end, I learned several lessons about worrying. 

  1. Worry doesn’t make anything happen. 
  2. Worrying is exhausting.
  3. Worrying disrupts my sleep.
  4. Worrying does not make problems disappear. 
  5. Worry is the synonym of inaction.
  6. Worry doesn’t make anything happen.

It is really only useful if it leads to action. Otherwise it is a waste of time. 

This time in quarantine, is making it even harder to make decisions and move forward. This unfortunately leaves too much room for worry. 

Here are some ways to decrease the amount of time that you spend worrying:

  1. When you are feeling worried, write down your thoughts and try to get to the core of your concerns. Just write everything that’s in your mind on a paper and try not to think too much as you write. Put the paper aside and read it a few minutes later. Seeing your thoughts on paper can sometimes help you to understand why you are actually worried. -What you write may surprise you!
  2. Try to focus on what you want as your end result and write a plan on how to get there.
  3. When a thought enters your mind reminding you to worry, acknowledge it as a thought and move on. Do not dwell on those thoughts/worries.
  4. If you are worried about something specific, try to learn as much as you can about the subject. Understanding something can help you make decisions.
  5. Find friends or people that can help you make objective decisions. Ask questions and listen with an open mind. Sometimes talking about something and listening to others opinions can help you feel that you are not alone.
  6. Limit how much news you listen to or watch. The news has a way of playing on repeat the same extreme circumstances over and over. The truth is that for every bad news broadcast, there is probably 10 times the amount of good news, it’s just rarely shared.
  7. Find the good news and read about it. 
  8. Reach out to a friend, even it is someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. This will not only help you, but it will help them too.

So instead of spending so many hours worrying,  try to focus on the present and make small decisions every day. The truth is that we are no more certain of tomorrow today than we were before this pandemic started. We just felt more confident. So as the next few days unfold, begin making decisions that will move you forward. Don’t let your mind stay stuck just worrying, it’s getting you nowhere.

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Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.