You are not the only one who has asked yourself this question. Type it into Google and you’ll get a mind-boggling 39,900,000 responses — with the vast majority of the respondents giving the same answer.
[Confession: I did not read all 39.9 million responses before writing this article. (I am a slow reader.) I randomly scanned well over a hundred and read about half of these, especially ones from psychologists, educators, and others likely to be knowledgeable about this topic.]
The consensus: parents taking well-planned vacations without their children do their children no harm and may even benefit them. But there are pitfalls.
1. Consider “togetherness” when planning the length of vacations. Vacations provide far more togetherness than being at home, more togetherness than some families are comfortable with. At home, there are acceptable “escape valves” such as separate leisure activities, school, multiple TVs and friends to visit, for example. Not so in hotel rooms and trailers. On long vacations, some adults become anxious about missing work. Children miss friends. Homesickness causes moodiness.
2. Family vacations need not involve all family members. A growing trend is for one parent to go with one child. It may be because one parent is tied up by work or family obligations. Or sometimes vacations are planned for one parent, one child to tailor to specific interests or reward for outstanding achievements. Such vacations, likely produce quality togetherness for those going, but they also require strategic planning to prevent those remaining at home from feeling left out. The stay-at-home child (or parent) must understand that his or her turn is coming.
3. School-age children successfully vacation without their parents. Experience shows no on-going ill effects on the millions of children who go to sleep-away camps, many for eight weeks. Most parents and children find such children’s attendance at camps to be positive experiences, occasional homesickness notwithstanding. Yet most camps severely restrict contact between parents and children, acting almost prison-like. Usually, children can make or receive few, if any, telephone calls and no texts. They generally get one Parent Visiting Day when staying many weeks and none when staying a week or two.
4. Some parents foster separation anxiety in their children.These parents (more often mothers) in subtle ways encourage their children to remain dependent on them. Such children are rarely left with sitters (even when capable grandparents are available) and are breastfeed and co-sleep well into the second year. They are more likely to experience their own separation issues, school phobia later on, for example.
5. There are reasons parents need to spend time away from the kids. Raising children is difficult and most parents who differ are not being honest with themselves. Parenting is emotionally and intellectually draining, often requiring professional sacrifice and financial hardship. Kids are demanding. Yet societal pressures force parents to convince themselves that their children are an essential and continuous source of contentment.
6. Couples who have been together for many years and have young children often forget the importance of being alone. They need time to rekindle their relationship somewhere other than home. Adult-only vacations are healthy and low stress. Rediscovering each other in a romantic environment is ideal. Consider a resort that restricts young children.
7. Vacationing without children will not necessarily restore marital bliss if there are problems in a relationship. Too much togetherness can widen rifts. At home, interactions with children, outside work, separate hobbies and different bedtimes provide buffers that permit acceptable social separation.
8. Leave infants between six and thirteen months of age only with adults with whom the infants are thoroughly comfortable, adults they see almost every day. This is the period for separation anxiety, a normal developmental stage. Before six months of age, infants appear unaware of their surroundings and probably do not recognize their parents (though many parents disagree). After about 13 months of age, infants seem to grasp that a parent cannot be present continuously and that they do return after being out of sight.
9. Modern technology makes possible being “virtually there.”Studies on children between seventeen months and five years of age show that readily available video communications (Skype, for example) provide many of the same effects as does a physical presence in giving children a sense of proximity and security — far better than traditional telephone contact does.
10. Return home with substantial presents for the kids. Call it bribery. Bringing them something that they have wanted for a long time lets them know you were thinking about them while you were apart. It helps kids forget any lingering resentment they may have regarding your absence.
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Karl Neumann MD, FAAP, CTH
Hey parents, although it’s midwinter, pry your kids away from their TVs, electronic games and computers. Even the very young ones. Dress them for the cold and push them out the door. Literally, if need be. Ignore their yelling and sarcasm. If they threaten to report you to child welfare, tell them that being active in the cold is just what the doctor ordered to keep them healthy and happy. Kids need at least one hour of exercise daily (just “running around” counts) as soon as they’re old enough to do so. Kids get too little exercise in cold months, partly because indoor exercise is less strenuous.
Here what you should know:
1. Indoor air can make kids sick. In winter, kids stay indoors a lot, often with friends over. Or they’re crowded into daycare centers and such, windows shut, heat turned up. Kids cough up and sneeze out disease-causing germs. Dry air indoors lowers humidity, allowing airborne germs to stay viable longer and travel further. Also, low humidity dries out nasal membranes; membranes need moisture to ward off germs. Meanwhile, air outdoors is relatively germ-free.
2. Indoor air is often polluted. Energy-efficient homes keep cold air out and let no fresh air in, allowing unhealthy buildups of vapors from heating units, household cleaning materials and other sources. Concurrently, outdoor air quality is improving, due to the use of better fuels for heating houses and for running cars and trucks.
3. Overdressing kids for the cold is counterproductive. Modern fabrics are so efficient in retaining heat and repelling rain/snow that perspiration can be a problem. Modern clothing allows kids to stay out longer. Wearing wet clothing, whether wet from perspiration or the elements, is like standing naked in the cold. As kids perspire, remove layers of clothing, open zippers, take off hats, and unbutton jackets.
4. Exposure to cold does not increase susceptibility to illnesses. Only extreme and prolonged exposure to both cold and wetness causes body temperature to tumble and leads to serious cold-related health issues. This does not happen to toddlers frolicking in the snow or older kids skiing, sledding or ice skating.
5. The colder the weather, the more active kids are and the more calories they need. Calories provide energy to maintain body temperature, warm cold air being inhaled, and fuel muscles. Even moderate activities require about twice the calories needed for sitting and watching TV. Frequent eating helps maintain steady heat production. “Trail food” (mixtures of raisins, dried fruits, chocolate and nuts) supplies the necessary calories. And kids like it. Bribery can help get them outside.
6. Cold weather increases the need for fluids.The body loses fluids through deeper breathing, perspiring under clothing, and exertion. Remind kids to drink even when they are not thirsty. Water and juices suffice. These are quickly absorbed. The benefits of hot drinks, if any, in keeping kids (and adults) warm are mostly psychological. “Sports drinks” are helpful only for older children participating in competitive sports.
7. The sun helps boost vitamin D levels.Vitamin D is especially important for building and maintaining strong bones. An important source is the action of the sun on the skin. However, many children living in cold climates spend limited time outdoors in winter, and when they do go outdoors, they’re covered with clothing, with little skin exposed. This results in less than optimal levels of vitamin D in their blood. Check with your pediatrician to determine if your children require oral supplements.
8. Winter sunlight helps minimize being sad and having SAD. Sad (small letters) is having the “winter blues” or “cabin fever.” SAD (capital letters) stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a more serious form of the winter blues. This condition is brought on by too little exposure to light. In children, SAD causes listlessness, concentration issues, irritability, crying and increased difficulty getting up in the morning. In the Northern hemisphere, the farther north you live, the higher the incidence of SAD. Exposure to sunlight or specific artificial light is the antidote.
9. Sick children can play outdoors. Exposure to cold does not cause, worsen or prolong illnesses (see #4 above). However, if ill children prefer to rest indoors, obviously, let them. Note that children’s noses often start running when they are outdoors in cold weather. This is due to the cold air, and is not necessarily a sign of illness. Ignore old wives’ tales that illness is caused by wet hair, drafts, and overheating.
10. Wearing sunglasses when snow covers the ground is as important as wearing them on a sunny day at the beach. Snow reflects almost 80% of the sun’s rays, far more than water or sand. Reflected rays are additive to direct rays in causing damage. Many winter activities take place in snow-covered hilly terrain, allowing reflected rays to penetrate eyes from different angles. (See http://kidstraveldoc.com/kids-winter-sunglasses/
Quiz: Look at the pictures. How could the adults and children improve their sun protection? Answers at the end of the article.
If you live in snow country or are planning to take your kids on a visit there, outfit them with a pair of snow-appropriate sunglasses (“shades,” in teen talk). While the sun’s warming rays are off frolicking in the tropics, the troublemaking ultraviolet (UV) ones bombard us the year ‘round. Snow worsens the rays’ effects, with young children particularly at risk. Yet a mere third of parents correctly protect their children’s eyes from the winter sun.
Here is what you should know:
1. The sun burns the outer layers of the eyes just as the sun burns skin. And, as with skin, damage occurs each time of exposure, with the effects cumulative for life. The younger the child, the more years of damage ahead. Children’s skin and eyes contain less melanin than adults’. Melanin is the substance that helps block out the damaging UV rays.
2. A winter day in snow country can be more damaging to eyes than a summer day at the beach. Snow reflects almost 80% of the sun’s rays, far more than water or sand. Reflected rays are additive to direct rays in causing damage. Modern winter clothing allows kids to spend more time outdoors. Many winter activities take place in snow-covered hilly terrain, allowing reflected rays to penetrate eyes from different angles. Most winter resorts are located at higher elevations; the higher the elevation, the less atmosphere to filter out harmful rays.
3. Recognize early signs of too much sun. Symptoms include sensations of discomfort, perception of brightness, difficulty blinking, and dryness and redness of the eyes. Such discomfort, often called snow blindness, is often erroneously attributed to wind or cold. Unfortunately, the onset of such symptoms generally occurs many hours after exposure, making prevention particularly important. While the immediate effects of snow blindness are generally reversible, the cumulative long-term effects are a major cause of impaired vision in the elderly.
4. Consider sun exposure when infants cry excessively. Minimize exposure; thirty minutes suffice to cause discomfort. Check if the sun is in an infant’s eyes when you push them in a stroller or carry them in a backpack. Sun shields are available for strollers and carriers. (Other causes of infants crying in cold weather are frostbite and tight clothing.)
5. Seek shelter from the sun. Ideally, go indoors or into a car. The shade from buildings or mountains offers virtually no protection from UV rays if the sky is visible directly above. When shelter is unavailable, place a loosely woven scarf or ski hat over the eyes, allowing some vision. Relieve discomfort with cold compresses, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), a dark environment, and saline eye drops. Seek medical help, if necessary. Virtually all cases heal spontaneously over a few days. But damage is cumulative.
6. Buy children’s sunglasses from eye care professionals. Sunglasses are available in supermarkets and variety stores and may be less expensive there. But there is no one to help you select correct ones. Some sunglasses for children are “fun glasses” − meant for children’s parties and offer no protection.
7. Most summer sunglasses allow too much light into the eyes for snow country. Choose ones that give 100% protection against both UV-A and UV-B radiation, fit snugly, cover the entire area between the eyebrows and middle of the cheeks, and wrap around toward the ears. Wrap-arounds prevent rays from entering from the side and help prevent irritation from wind. Large lenses protect from flying ice particles and dirt and from branches when skiing and snowmobiling. Glasses need not be expensive. Cost is mostly related to frames. Polarized lenses add cost and reduce glare, increasing comfort but adding no protection.
8. Hats with brims three or more inches wide help protect the eyes as well as the eyelids. The skin of the eyelids is thin, fragile and susceptible to damage that may cause cancer decades later. Ski caps and helmets offer no protection; baseball caps offer limited protection. Some winter sports call for protective goggles.
9. Insist that children wear sunglasses. No exceptions. In fact, most infants and toddlers enjoy wearing them. Allow them to see their surroundings in different colors. Let them choose color and style. Wear sunglasses yourself. Adjustable straps help keep glasses in place.
10. Miscellaneous. Teach children never to look directly at the sun. Check if medications your children take increase sensitivity to the sun. UV damage to the eyes occurs all day, even when the sun is low on the horizon.
Answer to the quiz: (a) None of the sunglasses wrap around to the ears; (b) No one is wearing a hat with a wide brim.
If a car seat containing an infant is placed “just for a moment” on a non-moving conveyor belt at an airport security machine the infant may pass through the machine.
It has happened. How? Parent places car seat on the belt. Parent turns around to take off his/her shoes or to tend to another child. Belt starts. Infant enters machine. Parent hysterical. Infant unharmed. Radiation negligible. (One grandmother intentionally placed her infant granddaughter in a baggage bin and sent her through the machine, thinking it was mandatory to do so.)
In fact, family trips involving air travel are quite safe for infants and young children. Mishaps are rare, mostly preventable, and more likely to occur at airports than in flight.
Here’s how to make your family’s airport experience safer and less stressful:
1. Security screening machines are safe for infants (And for pregnant women.) No X-rays are involved. Presently, passengers are screened by advanced imaging technology (AIT) or by metal detectors. AIT uses non-ionizing radio-frequency energy. Both techniques have been extensively studied and have no known harmful effects. Parents do have the option to decline such screening in favor of pat-downs. Low dose X-rays are used to scan items on conveyer belts but cause no harm to milk, other foods, medications (or infants). For details on screening children, see https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children.
2. Sign up with . The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has programs especially helpful for parents. It allows adults and their children under the age of twelve to go to the head of the security line on domestic flights. Registering for the program requires filling out a form online, a onetime visit to a TSA office (usually at an airport) and a onetime fee. A similar program, TSA Goes is available for overseas travel. See http://kidsareatrip.com/tsa-precheck-what-you-need-to-know-and-how-to-apply/.
3. Prepare for screening process. Carry tickets and ID items in an easily accessible place. Empty your pockets – and those of your children – of items that set off alarms to avoid passing through the detector again or a hand search. Wear shoes that are easy to remove. Place strollers on the belt first so that they will be available first on the other side, enabling you to place your infant in the stroller while you retrieve other belongings. Consider wearing a sling carrier to hold infants, freeing your hands for other chores.
4. Instruct older children not to make jokes about terrorism, weapons or explosives. Security personnel take mention of such subjects very seriously, even from children, possibly resulting in delays, missed flights and (extremely rarely) fines. Authentic-looking toys and knives may cause similar problems.
5. TSA also has a website and a telephone helpline for screening children with disabilities. “TSA works closely with disability advocacy groups to help understand their needs and adapt screening procedures accordingly.” See https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children. Call the helpline (1-855-787-2227) about 72 hours ahead if you’ll need specific assistance for your child. If necessary, they will arrange for personnel to assist you on your arrival at the airport
6. Prevent accidents. Injuries to pedestrians occur daily at large airports. For example, many drivers of carts transporting people around airport terminals are poorly trained, and drive too fast, and many carts emit no noise. Children make sudden moves, sometimes darting into the path of carts. Lately, more carts are equipped with flashing lights and beeping sounds when in motion. (Some airports have speed traps to check on how fast cart drivers go.)
7. Avoid escalators. Injuries result from carts, luggage and strollers falling down escalators and when people fail to quickly step away from the escalator when getting off. Leave a few stairs or a short distance empty before entering an escalator or moving sidewalk. Be careful with strollers. On down escalators, the first few steps are level at the onset, forming a platform, giving you a sense of false security. Wherever there are escalators there are elevators, often out of sight. Ask.
8. Parking lots are hazardous. They intermingle people and cars and require drivers to back in and out of spaces. And children can be near impossible for drivers to see. Airport lots may be especially hazardous. Much time is spent milling about to load/unload children, toting luggage may leave no hands to hold children, and the shortest walk to the terminal may entail walking between cars.
9. Many airports provide children-friendly facilities. Ask. They generally have playrooms, restrooms, diaper changing facilities, and breastfeeding rooms. Some airports have special attractions. Chicago O’Hare has an interactive exhibit featuring a cargo plane that needs fueling, a cockpit in a fantasy helicopter, and an air traffic control tower. San Francisco International has an aquarium. Boston Logan has a baggage-claim slide. Many airlines provide free transportation within terminals for families with children.
10. Miscellaneous. The most common accident at airports is falling over luggage, often your own. Consider leashing rambunctious children and placing toddlers in strollers, even if they usually walk. This reduces accidents and prevents children from becoming lost. Milk and other liquids necessary for young children may be carried in larger amounts than otherwise allowed. US authorities are easing rules governing the carrying of breast pumps and related paraphernalia though security screening.
For in-flight health/safety issues for infants, see tinyurl.com/p2lse2d
Season greetings! Tis the season to be jolly. However, the very events that make holiday seasons so special for kids – festive atmospheres, gifts, and visiting friends and family – also cause holiday-related illnesses and mishaps.
Here are some tips to help you make the holidays healthier and safer.
1. Give your friends and relatives the gift of declining their invitations when your children are ill. And hopefully, they will disinvite you if someone at their end is ill. Family gatherings bring together people of all ages, from different communities, crowd them into close contact, with much hugging and kissing, ideal for exchanging disease-causing viruses. Kids with fevers accompanied by coughs and runny noses, for example, are likely contagious. Also, are your family’s flu shots up-to date?
2. Mentally baby-proof homes you visit. This is especially important in homes without children. Each year, American ERs see about 15,000 injuries resulting from holiday festivities. Serious hazards include lamps that can be pulled down, curtain cords that reach the floor, and tree ornaments. Place fragile ornaments sufficiently high that young children can’t reach them. Check that doors and windows are locked; they are often left open during parties. Very rarely, children have been shot by children finding poorly stored guns.
3. Consider poisoning when children become ill. Stomach upsets and peculiar behavior at parties or soon thereafter can be due to ingesting mistletoe, holly berries and other plants, or alcoholic drinks (left on coffee tables), or medications (carelessly left on nightstands), for example. The telephone number of the National Poison Control Center is 800 222 1222.
4. Ask about smoke and carbon monoxide monitors – especially for overnight visits. Each year, more than a thousand home fires are related to holiday decorations. Malfunctioning heaters to warm spare rooms and extension cords also start fires. Keep candles at least 12 inches from flammable objects.
5. Appoint a designated “toddler watcher.” Everyone wants to play with infants and toddlers. But when “everyone” watches them, no one is in charge, and toddlers wander off. When not overseeing your child yourself, make sure that someone responsible is, and that they personally return the child to you.
6. Be wary of pets. No dog is totally predictable, especially ones not accustomed to children. Two-thirds of dogs that bite have no history of aggressive behavior. Toddlers may innocently incite dogs by suddenly running towards them, arms flailing and making happy noises – behavior dogs often interpret as threatening. Pets become edgy with numerous and unfamiliar people, much activity and noise and owners ignoring them.
7. Check toys. Well-meaning guests may bring presents that are age-inappropriate, with sharp edges or small pieces, or not include safety items to go with the presents, helmets for skates and bikes, for example. Toys may have been brought from overseas and bypassed safety inspections. Toys requiring plugging into electric circuits are inappropriate for children younger than 10 years of age. Avoid toys which require small batteries – these can become detached and swallowed.
8. Be wary of food left standing at room temperature for long periods. Hosts may be inexperienced catering for large groups. Guests also bring food. Buffets are popular. With people coming and going, food is left standing unrefrigerated. Creamy items are especially likely to spoil. If your child has serious food allergies assume that hosts may be unaware of all the ingredients in the food that they serve.
9. Have infants and toddlers sleep in their own crib. For overnight stays, portable travel cribs are handy. Avoid “heirloom” cribs. These may date back to before stringent regulations regarding paint and spacing between slats. Also, avoid “co-sleeping. Infants have been injured falling off beds, or by adults rolling onto them, (especially obese and sound sleeping adults). Infants may experience breathing difficulties by burying their heads into pillows, blankets and loose bed linen.
10. Children who take baths and showers alone at home may need assistance elsewhere. Many bathroom fixtures are difficult to decipher, even for adults. Children receive burns in showers by turning on the hot water and then falling, trying to escape the water. Most tub injuries occur exiting the tub. Grab bars in tubs and showers may not be reachable by children. Instead, they reach for non-weight bearing towel racks, which pull off the wall. Floors wet from splashing increase the accident risk.
Don’t be surprised when planning your baby’s first trip – whether across town or across the ocean – becomes a monumental undertaking, not unlike outfitting a cruise ship for a long voyage. For one, how do you carry your baby plus all the paraphernalia he or she requires?
1. “Wearing infants” is the most practical way to transport them. While wheeling or carrying them in a car seat may be somewhat safer, these conveyances have shortcomings. Wheels can’t go everywhere and seats are heavy, clumsy, and fatiguing for the adult carrier. The least safe way of transporting infants is in your arms. A squirming infant or toddler is a distraction and may block your view when you walk, which can affect your balance, causing you to stumble.
2. But infant carriers can be problematic. Issues arise when you wear carriers incorrectly, are unaware some types may be hazardous for certain infants, or have not been notified that your carrier has been recalled for a newly found defect.
3. Familiarize yourself with various models before buying one. There are chest, front and hip carriers, each with numerous variations. At purchase time, “test walk” a few. Find an object that weighs approximately the same as your infant. Practice assembling the carrier and walk it with the weight. Have someone with experience accompany you. Infants have been injured when they were improperly placed into a carrier or when an incorrectly assembled carrier came apart. Carriers come with written directions and, sometimes, videos. Read/watch carefully.
4. Prior to purchasing one, make sure that you are comfortable wearing it. Some salespeople tell you that aches experienced when first wearing one are temporary. Not always so. Select one that is comfortable immediately and doesn’t tilt or pull you to one side, affecting your balance.
5. Match infant to carrier. Most carriers have minimum/maximum weight limits and need replacing as infants grow. Sling-types keep infants’ heads upright. Backpack carriers are the most comfortable for adults, especially when carrying older infants, and for long walks/hikes, but should not be used until infants can sit unassisted. Many carriers come with headrests. Front strap-on carriers tend to cause back and neck strain for the adult. Generally, the most practical ones for younger infants are front-carriers; they allow you a full view of the baby.
6. Take special care when using carriers with very young infants. Infants cannot support their heads until four or five months of age. They bend their chins onto their chests, possibly compromising their airways and reducing the amount of oxygen that gets into their lungs. This also impairs their ability to cry for help, increasing the risk of suffocation.
7. Check frequently that an infant’s nose and mouth are free. Many carriers consist of soft fabric, which can contour over the infant’s face, impairing breathing. Even if the fabric only partially covers the nose/mouth, the infant’s ability to inhale oxygen-rich air is impaired and forces him/her to re-breathe air with less oxygen. A similar situation can arise if the infant’s head is covered with a blanket (for breastfeeding, for example).
8. Certain infants are at risk for additional breathing issues. This includes infants born prematurely or with an unexplained low birth weight, or who were one of multiple births or experienced significant heart/lung problems at or soon after birth. Such infants, for the first year of life, even if they appear healthy, have less heart/lung reserve when their breathing is compromised. (They are also more likely to have breathing issues with upper respiratory infections and during air travel as lower cabin oxygen levels require more forceful breathing.)
9. Be leery of hand-me-down carriers. Products for young children are frequently modified for safety reasons. Previously used carriers may lack the latest safety features and may have been recalled by the manufacturer. Register warranties with the manufacturer at time of purchase so you can be notified if recalls occur. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains a website, https://www.cpsc.gov/recall-products/baby-carriers/ where recalls and other problems are posted. You can also sign up to get recall notices by email. Go to www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx.
10. Unusually cranky infants in carriers may be asking for help. “The sun is shining in my eyes.” Sunshade attachments are available for some carriers. “I’m hot.” Most sling carriers consist of thick fabric that acts like a blanket, increasing an infant’s temperature in hot weather. Some slings have mesh sidings or flaps to allow air in. “I just touched a rose bush. My finger is bleeding.” Be aware of your surroundings. And “my foot is caught under my backside.” Ensure infants are placed properly.
Miscellaneous facts about infant carrying. Carriers are not substitutes for car seats. Don’t use carriers while cooking or in other potentially hazardous places. When picking up an object from the floor while wearing a carrier, bend at the knees rather than at the waist. Keep an eye out for carrier wear and tear. Small infants can fall through leg openings of carriers designed for an older child. Baby carrying is not safe while you are riding in a car.