Children’s Health

How can I get my child to swallow pills?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 7-year-old was recently prescribed a medication that comes only in pill form. The problem is, he can't swallow pills. Any advice?

DEAR READER: It's perfectly normal for children to have trouble swallowing pills. The good news is that there are techniques you can try to make it easier. A review article in the journal Pediatrics looked at a variety of techniques. These included using a special cup and teaching children different ways to hold their heads while swallowing. All of the techniques worked well for most of the children. More important, most children overcame their pill-swallowing problems. That's important because children who need medicine must be able to take it.

How can I tell if my daughter has a concussion?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Last week my 14-year-old daughter fell while skateboarding. She hit the back of her head and was dazed and had blurry vision for a few seconds. But she felt fine once she sat down and rested a bit. Now the left side of her head hurts, but otherwise she feels normal. Should she see a doctor?

DEAR READER: Yes, she should. In a child, particularly, it is often hard to know when trauma to the head may have caused a brain injury. That's why you should never ignore a head injury, no matter how small it seems. It may sound like I'm overreacting. After all, children bump their heads all the time. And in most cases, this results in nothing more than minor bumps, bruises or cuts in the scalp.

How can I stop my son from sleepwalking?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 8-year-old son has started sleepwalking. I'm worried he will hurt himself in his sleep. Is there anything I can do to stop him from sleepwalking?

DEAR READER: A person who is sleepwalking walks or makes other movements while being still largely asleep. A sleepwalker can be difficult to awaken fully and typically has no memory of the episode in the morning. I hope it will ease your worry to know that episodes of sleepwalking are usually brief and harmless.

How is OCD treated in children?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I think my 9-year-old son may have OCD. How is this condition treated in children?

DEAR READER: Before discussing treatment for OCD, it's important to describe what it is. You know, of course, but other readers may not. Children (and adults) with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are troubled by repeated, intrusive, distressing thoughts (obsessions). These obsessions cause great anxiety. As a result, people with OCD often have a strong urge to repeat certain behaviors (compulsions) in order to reduce the anxiety. For example, people who have obsessive thoughts about germs may repeatedly wash their hands.

What can I do to make sure my children are safe while biking?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Summer is here, and my children are out all afternoon riding their bicycles. What can I do to make sure they're as safe as possible?

DEAR READER: Bicycling is a wonderful activity for children -- and for families. As with any sport, bicycling carries a risk of injury. Proper safety skills and equipment are essential for all children before heading out on the road. It can be tricky to find a safe place to teach your child to ride a bike. The streets near your home may be too busy.

Are ready-made toddler foods unhealthy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I buy lots of ready-made infant and toddler foods for my little one. A friend told me I should make my own foods for my son at home. Are ready-made toddler foods unhealthy?

DEAR READER: Eating salty, sugary foods in childhood can set the stage for childhood obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Therefore, you might assume that foods created for infants and toddlers would be low in salt and sugar.

Is eczema just dry skin?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I took my son to the doctor because he was constantly scratching his legs. The doctor says it's eczema. Is that just a fancy word for dry skin?

DEAR READER: Eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is more than dry skin. It is an allergic skin condition that can make a child miserable. Treatment can usually help control the condition and ease its symptoms. Eczema can look different in different children. It can be bumpy or scaly, with small or big patches. The amount of redness also varies. Dry, scaling skin usually occurs along with it.

Should my child get the measles vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Should I vaccinate my daughter against measles?

DEAR READER: I was born before there was a measles vaccine, and I got the measles. Like most kids, I had a rash and a fever. (See the feature image for a photo of the measles rash.) And, like most kids, within one or two weeks I was back to normal. I remember, though, that my mother seemed more worried about me than she had been when I caught other viral illnesses. She knew three things I didn't. First, measles could sometimes cause very serious illness (blindness, brain and lung infections), even death.

How can I prevent my child catching hand, foot and mouth disease?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Two children in my daughter's day care have hand, foot and mouth disease. How can I make sure my daughter doesn't catch it?

DEAR READER: Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common illness caused by the Coxsackie virus. The disease most often affects infants and children younger than 5 years. The illness usually starts with a fever. The child acts listless. A day or two later, sores appear around or inside the mouth and throat. If the child is old enough to talk, he or she is likely to complain of mouth or throat pain. Because of the sores in the mouth and throat, the child also may refuse to eat because it hurts.

How should discipline change as children get older?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have two children in elementary school. When they were younger, I disciplined them with timeouts. How should discipline change as they get older?

DEAR READER: Discipline is important for children of all ages. But you're right: The style of encouraging discipline changes somewhat as children get older. At whatever age, the goal is not to punish, but rather to teach self-control and the difference between acceptable (right) and unacceptable (wrong) behaviors. In answering questions about kids, I rely a lot on the advice of pediatrician colleagues here at Harvard Medical School.