Children’s Health

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.

How do I prepare my preschooler for the arrival of a new baby?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm expecting my second baby in a few months. Everyone's excited except my 2-year-old son. What can I do to help my son look forward to the new arrival?

DEAR READER: Your son has always gotten all the attention -- and he probably assumed that he always would. I was the oldest child. My parents told me (many years later) that I wasn't real excited that a new brother or sister was on the way. I find that hard to believe, of course. It's no wonder that your son is not enthusiastic about a noisy, demanding baby that may steal the spotlight.

Can I give my 5-year-old over-the-counter cold medicine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 5-year-old daughter has a bad cold, but her pediatrician doesn't want me to give her over-the-counter cold medication. What can I do to help her feel better?

DEAR READER: When your child is coughing and congested, it's tempting to reach for cold medicine. But as your doctor advised (based on guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics), you shouldn't give over-the-counter cold medicines to children younger than 6 years.

Do babies need to take a vitamin and mineral supplement?

DEAR DOCTOR K: The other day I saw a vitamin and mineral supplement for infants. Should I be giving this to my baby?

DEAR READER: Most babies who regularly breast-feed or take commercial infant formula get all the vitamins and minerals they need. Sometimes, however, your doctor may prescribe certain vitamin and mineral supplements. Do not give your baby any supplements unless your doctor recommends them.

How can I encourage my daughter to choose a healthy lunch?

DEAR DOCTOR K: How can I encourage my daughter to eat a healthy lunch at school, whether she buys lunch or brown-bags it?

DEAR READER: Children need a healthy lunch to refuel after a long morning of working hard. The midday meal also provides energy and nutrients for kids to stay healthy and grow as well as possible. If your daughter is going to buy lunch at school, encourage her to:

How can I prepare my son to be a responsible driver?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My son is going to get his driver's license in a few months. How can I help him get ready for this new responsibility?

DEAR READER: Taking the test to get my first driver's license was one of the most emotionally charged moments of my teenage years. Being able to drive oneself around is an important step toward independence. Boy, did I want that independence.