Texas Parenting News
Pregnant? Get pertussis vaccination
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is increasing among babies. While not usually harmful for adults, pertussis can cause choking, pneumonia, brain damage, and even death in babies.
The Texas Department of State Health Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that pregnant women get immunized to protect their newborns. The vaccine can be given safely any time during pregnancy but it can give better protection at 27 through 36 weeks—that is, from about the seventh month until due date.
Vaccination is available at doctors’ offices, local health clinics, and pharmacies.
Getting the vaccine before birth allows the mother to pass on short-term protection to the baby, until the baby can get immunized at age 2 months. Otherwise, the baby faces two months of serious risk. Pertussis poses its worst threat of complications during the first few weeks of life.
A mother’s own childhood vaccination cannot protect the baby—or herself, for that matter—because the protective antibodies decrease over time. Pertussis is extremely contagious and can be passed easily from person to person when an infected person sneezes or coughs in the air.
Getting vaccinated will not affect a mother’s plan to nurse the baby. Breastfeeding is safe, and protection can be passed in breast milk.
Health experts also recommend the following:
Get the whole family vaccinated so they don’t get sick and infect the baby.
Avoid contact with family, friends, and others who have not been vaccinated.
Keep the baby away from people who are sneezing or coughing.
Get vaccinated during each pregnancy to protect each child.
Want to learn more? See PreventPertussis.org, a website of the Texas health department, and the “Pregnancy and Whooping Cough” page on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
School success: What’s your attitude?
All families want their children to succeed in school and in life. Without knowing it, however, parents can hinder their children’s readiness for school by misconceived notions about education. Here are just a few that may need changing:
CHILDREN SHOULD BE SEEN AND NOT HEARD. Everyone admires a quiet, respectful child. But too much time staying quiet won’t help children in school. Brains grow best with activity: talking, asking questions, responding to what they see and hear, and playing. Parents can stimulate brain activity by talking with their children from the time they are born. Listening to what children say, explaining things, and asking their opinions give children practice in speaking and thinking, two important skills needed in school. Engaging children in conversation also helps builds their self-confidence.
SPEAK ONLY IN ENGLISH. English is a global language. It dominates science, business, entertainment, and cyberspace in the United States and across cultures. As a result, some parents who speak little or no English refrain from speaking their native language with children for fear of hindering their performance in school. Certainly, learning English is important, but the truth is that all language is important. It doesn’t matter whether parents speak to their children in Spanish or Vietnamese, for example, because using language promotes thinking and reasoning. Actually, speaking another language at home can benefit children by enabling them to become bilingual and giving them insight into other cultures.
EDUCATION IS THE SCHOOLíS JOB. Schools are designed to teach children to read, write, do math, learn science, obtain an overview of history, and generally get prepared to work and become productive citizens. But many children enter kindergarten knowing only a small number of words, having little familiarity with books, and expressing themselves poorly. Once behind, children tend to stay behind and get discouraged. Parents can avoid these lags by understanding that they are their children’s first teacher. Parents need to talk with their preschoolers, read to them every day, encourage them to scribble and pretend they are writing, and demonstrate how school skills are needed in everyday life (making grocery lists, paying bills, and voting, for example).
DONíT BOTHER THE TEACHER. Teachers have a difficult job of following lesson plans and maintaining order in the classroom. But at the same time they welcome helpful involvement by parents. Teachers want parents to discuss a child’s progress, visit the classroom, and take part in school activities such as open houses and school fairs. Such involvement shows children that their parents care about their education. All involvement, of course, needs to be respectful. If a child complains about something at school, parents need to speak with the teacher first to investigate. If the issue is not resolved, parents can speak to the director or principal. Building a trusting relationship doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time and effort on both sides.
TV AND ELECTRONIC DEVICES HELP CHILDREN LEARN. TV, especially science and nature shows, can be educational, and electronic devices can help children become familiar with the technology they will need in school. But children’s brains are not adult brains in miniature. Young children, especially babies, need person-to-person interaction to lay down and enrich the neural pathways in their brains. They need social and emotional nurturing to develop healthy attitudes and cooperative behaviors they will need in the classroom. Parents can best help their children by limiting TV and computer use entirely for babies and restricting viewing for other children to not more than five to seven hours a week, preferably when families can watch TV together and discuss what they see. In addition, too much TV can keep preschoolers from getting enough sleep. They need about 10 hours a night so they feel rested and ready to learn the next day.
ONLY REALLY SMART KIDS GO TO COLLEGE. It’s true that children who do well in school are the most likely to go to college. But all children can learn and have the potential to seek education beyond high school. Intelligence is not set at birth, as many people believe. It increases as children use their brains. Think of the brain as a muscle: the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. Making good grades may come more easily for some children, but it doesn’t happen by magic. The key is effort. Parents can help their children do well in school by talking with them, reading to them, borrowing books from the school or public library, displaying their school work at home, limiting TV, and guiding them in cooperative and kind behavior.
Help children develop social skills
Getting along well with others is a critical skill for succeeding in school and on the job. The foundation for social skills is laid in childhood, and parents play a huge role in children’s social learning. Here are some guidelines to consider:
Respond to children with love and nurturing. Parents, often without knowing it, teach children social skills from the moment of birth. When baby cries, Mom or Dad responds promptly with feeding, diaper changing, and cuddling. From then on in everyday experiences, parents engage in caring, sensitive interactions with children. They talk things out with children, never resorting to physical punishment. They serve as positive role models in their own interactions with other family members, friends, and co-workers.
Play with children. Children learn best through play. Parents can sit down with children and play just for the fun of it. Fancy toys are not necessary; kitchen pots and cardboard boxes will do. It’s important to be accepting, avoiding the urge to correct children or tell them how to play in a certain way. When parents accept their ideas, children gain confidence in themselves and their abilities. Smiling and laughing helps children enjoy themselves and realize they can build other positive relationships.
Provide play time with other children. By playing with others in their own age range, children gain social experience. Although children are not able to play together as babies and toddlers, they are beginning to identify themselves as separate people and learning cause and effect (biting can cause screaming, for example). Gradually children learn to share, experiment with different roles, expand on their own and others’ ideas, and negotiate likes and dislikes. They learn how to join a group and make friends.
Talk with children about social relationships. “How did things go today?” is a good way to start a conversation at day’s end. Children may talk about building with blocks, starting an art project, and refusing a yucky snack. But chances are they will also mention playing with other children, talking with the teacher, or feeling left out of a play group, for example. This kind of casual, open-ended discussion shows children that their parents care about what happens to them. It also gives parents an opportunity to share their own experiences about how they handled similar situations.
Teach problem solving. Problems occur in all relationships, child-to-child and adult-to-adult. Parents can help children solve problems by asking questions and discussing possible solutions. Questions like “How do you think Billy felt?” and “Why do you think it happened?” are more helpful than “Who started it?” Discussing a child’s concerns, without dismissing them or giving quick answers, helps children feel valued and better able to solve problems on their own. When children suggest solutions, parents can point out possible consequences and let children think about which sollution might work best.
Help children understand social rejection. “Go away. You can’t play with us.” Hearing this rejection, a preschooler may think: “I’m no fun. Other kids don’t like me.” Or a child may react with anger and aggression. Parents can accept the child’s feelings: “Yes, I can see it hurt your feelings.” Talking about the situation can help: Was the space too small, were there too few toys, or did the children just want to play by themselves for a while? Parents can remind children that while rejection is a fact of life, negative reactions (like tattling, calling names, and kicking) only make things worse. Parents can ask what the child could have done differently or whether playing with someone else could be just as much fun. It also helps to affirm a child’s worthiness (“I know you’re fun”) and give hope that tomorrow cam be different.
Keep communication open. Communication is two-way. Parents open the door by actively listening to children. This means not just hearing words but observing voice tone and gestures. It means looking into the child’s eyes and paying attention, and not thinking ahead about what to say. The best responses show that parents accept and honor the child’s feelings. Saying things like “You shouldn’t feel that way” and “That’s nothing” belittles children and discourages them from confiding in adults.
At the same time, parents can be honest about their own needs: “I was on my feet all day today. I need to rest now. Could we talk tomorrow on the way to school?” It’s important for children to see that it’s OK to express feelings and needs. We don’t always get our way, but we stay true to ourselves. In effect, we set boundaries, not barriers.
For more information, see “Encouraging Social Skills in Young Children: Tips Teachers Can Share with Parents,” by Jacquelyn Mize and Ellen Abell, child development faculty at Auburn University.