Age Specific Wellness Topics

When it comes to children and their health, there is an explosion of wellness literature and wellness resources. My aim here is to list some of the topics you may wish to learn more about, and to provide just a few tidbits of advice pulled from the experts. The content is not comprehensive with all the research and theories. My listings are only designed to offer topics relevant to the age category so that you can be aware of the many facets of child-rearing, child health and safety—ideally, you’ll search the sites for more about these topics.
To learn more about diseases, syndromes, and conditions pertaining to age-specific childhood health issues, I will point you to what I have found to be the most significant and informative sites that give you the latest from the medical field.
If you want to know about food and nutrition, I have separated these out into a topic all its own, “Feeding the Brain,” located next on my Brain & Body menu.

Wellness for Infants and Toddlers:

Challenging Behaviors – Those toddlers will explore, venture, scream, cry, defy, rebel, resist, scratch, bite, pout, enrage, frustrate, and test, and whatever else they will do to aggravate… or they can be angelic sweethearts 24/7! The big advice? Patience; ease up on the restrictions; don’t panic; stay cool; don’t spank or respond with solicitous indulgence during supermarket crying fits—just let it slide, ignore it, and the attention-grabbing will stop. Recognize right behavior way more than you scold bad behavior.

Crying – This is rarely anything other than a clang-of-the-gong for attention. No need to punish or worry; just practice nonchalance, disinterest, preoccupation when in your child’s vicinity. You will know when a cry is for real. The time for attention and for flashing your joyful face is in response to the right behaviors; that’s how you’ll get more of the good stuff. Lots of crying? That happens, but check your own responses—are you rushing to the rescue at every squeak? These are years for love and support and closeness, yes, but they are also years for those tiny, but significant steps toward Independence and responsibility.

Diapers / Toilet Training

I’ve seen more sturm and drang responses from parents over diaper and potty issues than just about anything else. Whether it’s because of a rush to see one’s child reach the goal line of being potty trained, or alarm at having to slip on the diapers beyond two months old, parents need to take a chill pill on this matter big time. Earth-to-parents: the Harvard application does not include a line asking you when you graduated from Potty Prep. The more worry your face exudes during these early years, the more anxiety you’re going to engender in your child, and in turn that may extend the time of completing this rite of passage.

Environmental Health – I’m going to avoid the medical advice here (and refer you to the sites down below which are thorough and excellent), but the things to watch out for in terms of environmental health are: asthma (clear away dust, mold, pollen, cigarette smoke); changes in breathing patterns; exposure to lead (such as in older homes); unclean/unfiltered water supply; excessive noise levels; HVAC systems that are old and haven’t been cleaned; things they touch or put in their mouths that are dirty. We could add to these “environmental” issues relationship instability; neighborhood disorder; tempestuous households; chaos of all kinds; hysteria among those close by. Keep things clean, calm, stable, and fresh, and you’ll eliminate most of the problems.

Fever—When checking for fever, a lot of thermometers out there, but taking temperatures rectally (in the bottom) is probably best. Don’t use mercury thermometers. That’s poison. Just remember that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with little kids having fevers—the fever emerges to fight off bacteria, infections, and viruses. But definitely move quickly to make them feel comfortable. Acetaminophen, rather than aspirin, would be the fever-reducer of choice. Rest and fluids are best responses to fevers. Don’t force your child to eat if they don’t want to when a fever sets in. Light blankets are okay, but don’t overdo it. Little children can heat up quickly if you start to swaddle them in blankets, which can be dangerous. Vaccinations can cause fevers, too, but here again you can administer the fever-reducers.  The whole controversy over vaccinations is something I’ll address in one of my future blogs—lots of misplaced hysteria out there.

Inner Strength—This sounds like a topic for adults, I know, and a topic for those adults ready for some spiritual or wellness overhauling. But the whole quest for growing confident, vibrant children who will pursue their talents and navigate the world around them with maturity is all about teaching resilience at these very young ages. Cultivating resilience and maturity all stems from teaching young children to anticipate what’s happening next in their day and how best to prepare for what is next. In other words, teaching resilience and inner strength is about anticipating and preparing for change—even tiny changes in what will be happening in the child’s day. Preparing children properly for what is about to happen, even preparing for the mundane and repetitive elements of the day (like, it’s bath time; or it’s meal time; or, it’s time to greet daddy coming home…) will go a long way toward moderating stress and anxiety in children, and will help them confront issues and face challenges with confidence down the road.

Pacifiers—Are pacifiers good for kids? Are they merely objects to muzzle kids and thus quiet the room so that adults can proceed with their own activity needing some quiet? Are children stymied in their development when they have a pacifier shoved into their mouths? We know that kids are soothed by sucking. A pacifier can be helpful in certain situations—like air travel, or when it’s time to take a nap or fall asleep. But watch out for dependency, and there can also be dental problems associated with pacifier use. Just know that you need to have a clean pacifier, and start weening children away from them if they are being used near the age of four.

Power Struggles

Once you start engaging in these power struggles as the parent, you’ve lost. You are much better off responding to such demonstrative challenges from your toddler with a chuckle of disregard, a humorous gesture of dismissiveness, or even a cheerful tone suggesting an alternative behavior you’re hoping to see. Facially reflecting the fit or stubbornness that you see in your defiant and challenging child will only solidify the strategy and hand over “victory” to your little one. The more you can exude an “I’m above this” tone, the more you will have leverage over these tantrums, and they’ll begin to dissipate. Conversely, the more you exude upset-ness, exasperation, and anger, the more likely it is that you are being set up for a disastrous many years of being manipulated by your child. 

Separation Anxiety—This is bound to set in at some point… six months, eight months, maybe later. The best approach is to have caretakers/babysitters handle your child, so that there is some routine to having different people (meaning not always you) nearby to give comfort and assurance. Also, make departures quick and straightforward. Don’t linger or indulge every whimper or crying fit when you are heading out the door by heading back in for another hug. Say goodbye respectfully and lovingly, then leave. The cries will be short-lived, and you will have a better chance at limiting anxiety in your child down the road.

Shaken Baby Syndrome—Lots of literature and sites devoted to this troubling phenomenon of babies being shaken violently. There is a proliferation of support groups, seminars, and resources. There may be all kinds of reasons, disturbing and unfortunate, that adults/parents have the urge to shake their child aggressively or violently, but the impact can be tragic. A baby’s vulnerability to this action stems from head size/weight being disproportionate to the neck at these infant and toddler ages, while their brains are fragile and undeveloped. The force of the shake is more troubling because of the differential in size between the shaker and the baby—a crucial fact that adults prone to this behavior are typically not aware of or don’t care about. However you can intervene on a matter where this type of behavior is taking place, you must do so, and you must report it to the authorities.

SIDS—Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Read up on this one—the experts don’t have all the answers since so many of these sudden deaths will go unexplained. However, many of the deaths that are explained happen during the nighttime hours, when babies are overly swaddled in blankets or have been sleeping on their stomachs. There are risk factors associated with SIDS, like smoking, drinking, and drug use during pregnancy; low birth weight; and very young (teenage) mothers. When you rule out accidents or unhealthy conditions or abuse, you’re left with few preventable factors associated with sleep, so researching sleep safety is crucial.

Social/Emotional—Often parents of infants and toddlers won’t see these topics of social and emotional development as applicable to their little ones—it’s something to be concerned about years later. But the skills of sharing, or taking turns, or caring for others, or self-regulation, or learning how to interact positively with other children and with adults—the stepping stones toward acquiring these skills are laid down during the first two years.  The guideposts to aim for during the first year would include liking to play with others; exuding happiness for much of the day; being responsive to other people’s emotions; knowing how to enjoy independence; imitating what they see in others; being aware of themselves as separate from others. Of course there are dozens of these kinds of guideposts. The central point is that even though your child is for the most part pre-verbal, there are so many ways to develop social and emotional skills that are so vital for healthy growth.

Sucking Thumbs—The quick and skinny on sucking thumbs for infants and toddlers is that it is a normal activity. Parents and care-givers need not freak out about this natural means of self-comfort. When thumb sucking begins to look more intense and aggressive, and you notice this happening well into age three and four, that’s when you want to step in and start strategies to curtail it (and there’s plenty of strategies for accomplishing this out on the web). But for the very little ones, just know that it’s okay—the baby isn’t going to be deformed; it won’t mean massive dental bills at age six; and your baby isn’t displaying immaturity because of the thumb-sucking.

Therapies: Speech/Language—For those younger than two years: mispronouncing words or struggling to put a full sentence together shouldn’t be causes for concern. The key with speech is to listen for the absence of progress over several months, beginning around two years old. There is a whole host of things related to sound to consider when a child approaches two years old—how the child responds to or doesn’t respond to sound in the environment, and what word and sentence formation sounds like coming from the child. For example, beyond the age of two or three, be alert to single word responses, truncated answers to straightforward questions, speechlessness, or converting vowel sounds when saying everyday words. These characteristics should be brought to your pediatrician’s attention, and from there you may be referred to the specialists for possible therapy.

Therapies: Physical Therapy—I do get the question in the school setting: What is the difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy? The core difference is that physical therapy (likely to be used for older children, but there are cases for this in very young children with identifiable disabilities) treats an actual impairment from a biomechanical perspective. Occupational therapy is about training the individual to perform actual everyday functions, like balanced walking and picking up items off the floor. Of course there is overlap in the work these specialists do. For very young children, physical therapy would apply to those who are injured or have been diagnosed with some physical disability or disorder. The indicators that likely would lead to a need for physical therapy include poor posture, favoring one side of the body or the tilting the head in one direction only, stiff or floppy muscle tone, limited mobility or balance, and a diagnosis of any one of the many neuromuscular disorders.

Therapies: Occupational

This is the much more common, and much more broad-based, intervention for young children. It can be done in the school setting, at home, or in a doctor’s office. The number of developmental delays requiring occupational therapy are many: language, speech, fine motor, gross motor, reflex, emotional skills, vision. This list can extend significantly. The main point is that occupational therapy at these young ages won’t hurt a child, even if misdiagnosed or mis-referred by a pediatrician. The work that occupational therapists do is often very helpful for children in ways that will extend beyond the initial concern. Preschool or daycare settings are typically not able to emulate or provide such support. If you have a hunch that your child’s development or physical functioning doesn’t seem right, then you need to check with your pediatrician and ask about whether one of these therapies would be appropriate. 

Enlivenminds top sites for early childhood health information and advice:

Baby Medical Questions and Answers: http://www.baby-medical-questions-and-answers.com/

Familydoctor.org: https://familydoctor.org/family-health/infants-and-toddlers/

Momjunction: www.momjunction.com

Stanfordchildrens.org: https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/health-topics/childrens-health-and-wellness

Please submit your additional topics for this section and share your comments and suggestions.