Children’s Health

My middle schooler struggles with academics despite his best efforts. Could he have a learning disability?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My middle-schooler spends a lot of time studying. But his grades have dropped, and I see him getting more and more frustrated. What could be going on, and what can I do?

DEAR READER: Many children have problems with schoolwork or homework at one time or another. These problems usually do not last long. But if your son is still getting poor grades (C or below) despite working hard, it could be a sign that your son has a learning disability or some other problem that needs help.

How can I take better care of my children’s teeth?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I just took my 4-year old to the dentist, and she has three cavities! How can I better care for her teeth? And what can I do for my infant son so he doesn't end up with cavities, too?

DEAR READER: Our mouths are home to many bacteria. They live there pretty much all of our lives, taking advantage of one convenient fact: When we put food in our mouth, that's food for bacteria, too. And while we have to work to put food in our mouths, they just sit there. Doesn't seem fair.

Can anything be done to treat childhood tics?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My young daughter will suddenly blink her eyes or twitch her nose repeatedly, for no good reason. The doctor says she has "tics," a condition of her nervous system. Will this go away, and is it serious?

DEAR READER: Tics are upsetting -- both to the person who has them and to the people who see them. We like to feel in control of our world. A sudden, uncontrollable, rapid repetitive movement (called a motor tic) says we're not in control. So it's understandable that both you and your daughter should be concerned.

How can I help my son sleep better?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 6-year-old son just can't seem to fall asleep at night. He doesn't fuss -- he just doesn't get enough sleep. Is there anything I can do?

DEAR READER: Kids can have many different kinds of sleep problems. Like your son, they can have trouble falling asleep. Other kids may fall asleep promptly, but awaken repeatedly. Others may snore or have breathing problems during sleep. Still others may have abnormal movements during sleep.

How can I protect my daughter from lead poisoning?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend's daughter got lead poisoning from paint in her house. What can I do to protect my kids?

DEAR READER: Lead is poison. Although major strides have been made in the past 50 years, lead poisoning is unfortunately still a problem. All of us are exposed to lead, but children are most vulnerable to it.

Why should my child get the flu shot every year?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I know my child is supposed to get a flu shot each year. But how much good does it really do, and is it safe?

DEAR READER: Every fall and winter, parents face the question: Should my child get an influenza (flu) shot? Many parents ask the same question that you do. There are several important reasons why children older than 6 months should get a flu shot every year: Influenza can be dangerous to even healthy children. You can't catch the flu from the flu shot. The flu shot is safe. The flu shot protects more than your child.

My toddler gets frequent ear infections. Should we consider surgery?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My toddler gets frequent ear infections. His doctor wants me to consider surgery, but that seems much too aggressive to me. Am I wrong?

DEAR READER: I'm not sure what kind of surgery your pediatrician is recommending, but I'll bet it involves putting in ear tubes. I'll explain that below. Ear infections are very common and can make children miserable. Most go away and don't cause problems, even without treatment. But a few can lead to complications, including more serious infections of the bone near the ear or even the brain.

Will my son grow out of his childhood obesity? I don’t want to make a big deal about his eating habits.

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 9-year-old son is very overweight. I don't want to make a big deal about his eating habits, because I assume he'll grow out of his obesity later in life, and because we already set so many rules for him to follow. Do you agree?

DEAR READER: I wish I could, but I can't. A child's eating habits, and weight, can adversely affect his or her health later in life. The healthy eating habits you set with young kids not only influence their eating habits later in life, they also influence the chemistry of your kids' bodies so they are less likely to get fat as adults. All the talk about childhood obesity is not just media hype.

Why does a boy’s voice change during puberty?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My son is 14, and his voice has started to change. Why does this happen?

DEAR READER: Your son is going through puberty. A change in his voice is just one of several changes in this phase of life. The first thing that generally happens to a boy during puberty is that his testicles begin to get larger and to make testosterone. Then, the penis begins to grow and sexual hair begins to appear. He will become more muscular. He will have more frequent erections, become capable of making sperm and thus become fertile.

What do I need to do if my child get head lice?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A child in my daughter's classroom has head lice. What do I need to do if my daughter gets it?

DEAR READER: Lice -- the visitor dreaded by parents everywhere. Head lice are small insects that infest hair on people's heads. A single insect is called a "louse." The female lays up to 100 eggs, or nits, at a time. She secretes a kind of glue that attaches the nits onto strands of hair near the scalp. Once the eggs hatch, their six legs allow them to grasp and wander between hairs. In their remaining days or weeks of life, they feed on human blood. They're sort of like vampires, only much smaller.