General Parenting FAQs

Do you have suggestions for how to handle the sibling of a child who has food allergies?

This is a great question. Often, if a first child is allergic to a food, that food will not be present in the home. When the food is in the home for nonallergic family members to eat, issues of safety need to be addressed, such as where the food is kept and how the allergic child will be able to continue to avoid it. This is trickier when children are young and messier eaters. Siblings of a food-allergic child should be taught how important it is for their sister or brother not to eat the food(s) to which he or she is allergic. Older siblings can be helpful when it is critical to ask questions to avoid accidental exposures, such as at restaurants or parties, or with homemade baked goods. Depending on their ages, siblings can be taught when and how to administer an epinephrine autoinjector and call 911. Living with food allergy can add stress to the whole family and lead to significant lifestyle changes for every family member. This can be hard for nonallergic children to understand, and may lead to resentment or anger. Families should discuss all of these issues, while recognizing the importance of ensuring the safety of the allergic child.

What do I need to know about bed bugs?

Bed bugs have been in the news recently, including in a publication that listed the top 10 cities for bed bugs in the United States. Luckily, Pittsburgh was not among them. We do, however, see cases of bed bug bites in patients who live in Pittsburgh. Bed bugs are small but visible to the naked eye and can infest the wooden base boards of beds as well as rooms. Travelers can pick them up while staying in hotels that are infested, and bed bugs can return home with them in the suitcase and can then infest the house.

Infestations tend to be more common in large cities that house travelers from around the world. They have even recently been reported to occupy seats on airlines. Bed bug bites appear as regular bug bites do, but you will see three bites in a row – a finding that we term “breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” As opposed to flea bites, which usually appear just on the legs, bed bug bites can appear all over the trunk, even under clothing. Getting rid of bed bugs can be difficult, so your best option may be to consult a professional exterminator.

We’re thinking about a pet, but are concerned that our children may be too young to learn about caring and responsibility. What is a good age?

In most cases, seven-year-old children are mature enough to learn how to care for a pet. What kind of pet? That depends on your family’s situation. If no one is home all day, you may want to start with fish. While you want to teach your children responsibility, remember that as an adult you need to ensure proper care for the pet.

My eight-year-old daughter says she wants to go to overnight camp with her friends. She has never been away for more than one night at a time. Is she too young?

Some camps offer limited stays so children can find out whether they enjoy the “camp experience.” You may want to try that first. Find out about camps that are suitable for your daughter, and review the brochures together. Talk about any concerns she may have being away from home. If she goes, don’t forget to write! Many camps now have computers for children to e-mail their families and friends.

I thought that children overcame shyness by the time they were four or five. My five-year-old is so shy that she becomes almost paralyzed when someone asks her a question. What can I do to help her?

Shyness for four- or five-year-olds is not unusual. The best way to help your child overcome her shyness is through practice. Suggest she start by smiling at friends and saying “hello” to kids she sees at school. Introduce her to new people from time to time, while being aware of her comfort level. If her shyness is keeping her from participating in activities, encourage her to talk with you about how she feels.

My younger son wants to hang out with his older brother and his friends, but the older boy gets annoyed. Should I insist?

No. Instead, provide distractions for the younger sibling. Depending on his age, suggest he invite friends to visit, as well. Forcing your children to play together will lead to resentment, which could harm their relationship.

How can I ease my toddler into potty training?

Start when he shows an interest, which usually isn’t before 18-months-old. If your child resists, he may not be ready. Try again later when he’s more receptive. Be consistent and offer positive reinforcement. Ask at regular intervals whether he has to go to the bathroom, and praise him when he goes on the potty. Remember, accidents are inevitable. Say nothing. Just clean him up, and praise him the next time he uses the bathroom.

How normal is bedwetting in older children?

By age 10, most children have stopped wetting the bed, but one in 20 may continue, sometimes well into their teens. If both parents were bedwetters in childhood, their children are very likely to wet the bed too. The age at which the parent stopped wetting may suggest when the child may stop. Boys are more likely to be bedwetters, and they often wet longer than girls. Most bedwetters are healthy with no underlying health issues contributing to their bedwetting. Treatment options include bedwetting alarms, behavioral and dietary modifications, medications, and – very importantly – time. Nearly all bedwetters stop wetting. An evaluation by the child’s pediatrician is an excellent start; then, if needed, visit a pediatric urologist.

When my 18-month-old is upset, he bangs his head against the crib. I’m worried he might crack his skull.

Ignore him. If you react, he may persist just for your attention. Children may start head-banging at about 16-months-old, and continue until they’re almost two-years-old. Like many other stages of development, this, too, shall pass. Call the pediatrician if you feel the head-banging is injuring your child or there’s an underlying emotional cause. Children with severe autism may hurt themselves.

When my son has a fever, I really don’t know how to react. How high does his temperature have to get before it’s considered an emergency?

There is nothing to be scared about when your child gets a fever. Having a fever serves a function as the body’s natural response when fighting an infection. However, if your child has a persistent high fever (104 degrees or higher) for more than three days, call his pediatrician. Meanwhile, keep him hydrated with lots of fluids and give him Baby Tylenol® or Baby Motrin®.

I want my child to be involved in activities, but sometimes it’s too much – for him and our family. What can I do?

Activities are good, but to help your children maintain balance in their lives, establish priorities for a healthy family relationship. One goal may be to eat at least one meal – any meal – together every day. Use this time to talk to each other.

I keep a clean house. My children are clean, and so are their friends. Yet their school sent home notes that head lice have spread throughout some of the classrooms. How can this happen?

Despite the stigma, an outbreak of head lice has nothing to do with cleanliness and there are no known preventive measures. Once the school has notified you of an outbreak, check your child’s scalp for nits. All treatments are available over-the-counter. Talk with your child’s pediatrician or the school nurse about the best remedies.

I grew up afraid of the water. I don’t want that to happen to my child. When should I sign him up for swimming lessons?

The best ages are four- or five-years-old. In addition to being physically ready, your child will have the language skills to understand directions, and will enjoy the socialization of group lessons. Make sure the instructors are certified lifeguards with CPR qualifications. At the same time, why don’t you sign up for adult beginner lessons at your local YMCA?

My child won’t wear a swim cap. What’s the best way to protect his ears while in the pool?

You can mold soft earplugs (sold over-the-counter) into the ear. Or use Silly Putty®. Make sure the earplugs are snug enough that they don’t fall out, but not too small, or you’ll have to take your child to his pediatrician to have them pulled out.

My kids aren’t happy unless they’re playing games on the computer or sitting in front of the TV. What should I do?

Limit screen time to two hours a day. You can set up a password so your kids have to obtain your consent to log onto the computer. Place the TV and computer in the family room so you can monitor their screen-time activity. Still concerned? Push the off button!

What can I do to keep my child from whining? It’s become constant, and I find myself giving in just to get him to stop.

Whining is common for children from toddler through school-age. Usually it is the result of feelings of anxiety and insecurity or it is purposeful, manipulative behavior. First make sure the whining is not coming from discomfort, such as an ear infection or fear. Once you have determined that the behavior is solely an attempt by your child to get his way, resist the urge to give in. In fact, do not respond at all to the whining. Instead, reinforce behaviors that are appropriate by showering your child with attention when he smiles or asks you questions. When he whines, simply walk away.

Should I worry if my children refuse to wear a hat, coat, and gloves in subfreezing weather?

It’s never easy, but it is important to get your kids to cover up against the cold to avoid frostbite. The extra clothing protects against losing heat from their skin in frigid weather, when children lose heat from their skin faster than adults do. Frostbite is what it says — frozen body tissue. To prevent cold weather injuries, have them dress in layers, and wear hats and gloves. Bring your kids indoors frequently. Warm them up with a cup of hot chocolate.

My husband and I smoke cigarettes, but we don’t want our children to take up the habit. How can we talk to them about not smoking?

First, demonstrate that you can stop smoking. Call Clean Air PLUS, at Children’s Primary Care Center (412-692-3276) for information about how to do it. Also, talk to your kids. Explain that your smoking doesn’t make it right, and that smoking causes serious health risks. Start discussing the dangers when your children are young. The younger you teach them, the greater the chances for good behavior.

How can we help our kids cope with stress now that homework and extracurricular activities are mounting up?

Sit down with your children to discuss priorities and why it’s just as important to carve out time to think and read. They may be forced to limit extracurricular activities if they don’t have enough time for homework and other studies. Review their activities with them and encourage them to make choices. For example, if it’s important for your child to run track now, perhaps he can join the Drama Club next semester.

How can I keep my 11-year-old daughter from hanging out with a child who I believe is a bad influence?

You want your children to learn to make wise decisions, including the friends they keep. Talk calmly with your child to explain why you object to her friend’s behaviors. Be specific and careful not to criticize the other girl’s character. This will keep the lines of communication open. Encourage your daughter to develop friendships with other children by arranging fun activities.

I sometimes think that my daughter, who’s now four, was born talking. My two-year-old boy doesn’t say a word. Should I be worried?

In general, the second born is more physical and less verbal than your first child. One reason is that the older one does all the talking! Be sure your children have time to talk. Spend time with your son to give him a chance, and talk with the pediatrician if you’re still concerned.