Children’s Health

How can I help my daughter as she goes through puberty?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What should I expect when my daughter goes through puberty? How can I help her as she goes through these changes?

DEAR READER: Full disclosure: I don't have any personal or parental experience to tap into for this question. Experienced colleagues and friends always emphasize how important it is to discuss puberty with your daughter before these changes begin. She needs to know what to expect and also that these changes are perfectly normal. Otherwise, she might be frightened by the first signs of change, such as her first menstrual bleeding.

What can I do to prevent my daughter from getting another urinary tract infection?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I think my 4-year-old daughter may have a urinary tract infection. How will it be treated? And what can I do to make sure she doesn't get another one?

DEAR READER: A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria infect urine in the kidneys, bladder or urethra, a small tube that connects the bladder to the outside.

Is it safe to swaddle a baby?

DEAR DOCTOR K: The other day I swaddled my niece before putting her down for her nap. My sister told me that's dangerous. Really?

DEAR READER: My colleague Dr. Claire McCarthy, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, confirmed that your sister is right.

Could my teen be addicted to her smartphone?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage daughter jokingly said she's "addicted" to her smartphone. I didn't find her remark funny because there's too much truth to what she said. Do I have a valid cause for concern?

DEAR READER: Real addiction -- such as to narcotics -- causes changes in brain chemistry. I'm not aware that such changes have been shown for smartphones. But regular users of smartphones (of any age) surely can become very dependent on their phones -- and very anxious when they are not able to use their phones for even a few hours.

Can teens help prevent diabetes through exercise?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage son doesn't like sports or exercise. Diabetes runs in our family. You say exercise protects against diabetes and is valuable even in young adults. Can you give me some ammunition to convince my teenager to exercise?

DEAR READER: Perfect timing: A new study has been published that provides an answer. Most studies of exercise have been in adults, often older adults. Until this recent study, there wasn't a lot of information about teenagers.

How can I help my teen to get more sleep?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage daughter stays up late, then has a hard time waking up for school. I don't think she's getting enough sleep. What can I do to help her fall asleep at a reasonable time?

DEAR READER: Not getting enough sleep can have serious consequences. This is especially true for children and adolescents, whose developing brains are very sensitive to insufficient sleep. Teens need as much sleep as do adults, maybe more. They need eight to 10 hours for optimal function, but studies have found that few get this much sleep.

What should I feed my baby if I need to avoid rice cereal?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You recently wrote about the dangers of feeding rice cereal to babies. Can you tell me more about this? What should I give my baby instead?

DEAR READER: For years, rice cereal has been a go-to food for parents when they start their babies on solid foods. My Harvard Medical School colleague Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, says it's time to change that.

Are ADHD medications safe and effective?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter has ADHD. I have heard conflicting reports about ADHD medication for kids. Please tell me, is it safe and does it work?

DEAR READER: ADHD stands for "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder." Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention and are impulsive and hyperactive. These symptoms can get in their way and make it harder for them to function at school and at home. ADHD also interferes with a child's ability to form and keep friendships.

Can exposing babies to common food allergens help prevent food allergies later on?

DEAR DOCTOR K: In a recent column you said that parents should give babies peanut products to help prevent peanut allergies. Does the new advice also apply to other common food allergens, like eggs or cow's milk?

DEAR READER: To answer your question I turned to my colleague Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital. For decades, the standard advice recommended by allergy specialists was to hold off on giving babies foods that commonly cause allergic reactions. Parents were advised not to give egg, dairy, seafood or wheat in their child's first year. And parents were told to wait until two or three years to give peanuts or other nut products. It turns out that was bad advice.