Children’s Health

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.

How can I get my 9-month-old to sleep through the night?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 9-month-old is still waking up three to four times during the night. How can I get her to sleep through the night?

DEAR READER: By the time a baby is 4 or 5 months old, he or she is capable of sleeping through the night. We tend to think of "sleeping through the night" as a long stretch of uninterrupted sleep. But in reality, all babies wake up during the night. Some discover their own way of comforting themselves and getting back to sleep. Others must be taught. Different experts recommend different techniques for helping your baby get to sleep and then to sleep through the night.

Should I read with my toddler every day?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My pediatrician has urged me to read with my toddler every day. Why? And where do I begin?

DEAR READER: Reading with children at a young age helps them develop their reading skills and language. A child who reads with his or her parents will learn to enjoy books, learn to read faster and want to read more. But reading to a baby is more than that. It's also a bonding experience. Even though the baby can't really understand, he or she will begin to connect spoken words to the words printed on a page. The baby will enjoy the sound of your voice and start to develop listening skills. And the book will have pictures that awaken the baby's curiosity.

How do I give my newborn a sponge bath?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm about to become a new mom. I've heard it's best to give my newborn son a sponge bath, but I've never done this before. Can you give me some guidance?

DEAR READER: Don't worry; giving the baby a sponge bath is easy, even enjoyable, with experience. Give your baby a sponge bath until the umbilical cord falls off. When the baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut. A small stump of cord remains where the baby's belly button is. That stump of cord usually falls off in the first week or two after the baby is born. Once the cord falls off, you can give your baby a tub bath.

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.