Twelve Tips to Remember – Improve Your Family’s Health and Safety in 2014

Every parent wants the best for their child while growing up. And every child deserves a good home where they can grow and thrive in a healthy and loving environment.
In the past, Baystate Children’s Hospital has prepared a list of ‘Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions’ to help parents make the impending New Year the safest and healthiest ever for their family.
Realizing, however, that it is often a challenge for many to keep their personal resolutions, especially if expectations are set too high, doctors have taken the pressure off by simply creating ‘tips’ instead. There’s one to ponder for each month of the year to serve as an inspiration in creating a safe and healthy life not only for children, but for parents, too.
As I compiled this list, I sought the assistance of the pediatric staff and others. Together, we offer 12 healthy and safe tips for 2014.
1. A Clean Home. One of the best things you can do for a child with asthma is to keep your home free of things like dust, mold, pet dander, dust mites, and pest infestations, such as cockroaches and rodents. Try using white vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, and other ‘green’ cleaners instead of strong-smelling detergents or bleach for house cleaning, and, above all, don’t allow smoking in your home. —Dr. Matthew Sadof, attending physician, Baystate High Street Health Center/Pediatrics
2. Clean Hands. Kids and dirty hands just seem to naturally go together. But what child actually likes to wash his or her hands? Try to make hand washing a family affair and more of a fun activity, rather than a chore, by washing your hands along with your child. Hand washing is one of the best ways to guard against bacteria and viruses that cause infection, and is especially important during flu season.
Teach your child when to wash his or her hands — such as before meals, after going to the bathroom, or after blowing their nose — and how, with soap and water for about 20 seconds, or about as long as it takes for them to sing “Happy Birthday to You.” And, when soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands. —Dr. Barbara Stechenberg, pediatric infectious disease specialist, Baystate Children’s Hospital
3. A Safe Home. Guns are not something to play with. If you want to keep your children safe from injury or death — some 1,500 kids die each year from gunshot wounds — the answer is simple. Remove all guns from your home. And, for those who must have a gun in the house, keep it locked up and unloaded with the key hidden where only you can find it. Also, bullets should be locked in a separate box and in a different location. —Dr. Kevin Moriarty, chief, Pediatric Surgery, Baystate Children’s Hospital
4. Don’t Raise a Bully. Bullying is extremely harmful to children and, despite increased awareness and recent legislation, continues to be very prevalent in our communities. You can make a difference to help prevent bullying by raising your child in a loving and caring environment. Be a role model for them by showing compassion for people who are different, and avoiding the use of intimidation or violence in managing your child’s challenging behavior.
Bullying seems to thrive most when the bystanders don’t say anything about it. You can also prevent bullying by encouraging your children to speak out when they witness cruelty among their peers.  —Dr. Barry Sarvet, chief of Child Psychiatry and vice chair, Department of Psychiatry, Baystate Medical Center
5. Teach Your Child to Eat Healthy.In a society today where obesity is an epidemic, teaching children about healthy lifestyles requires more than just educating them to make the right food choices. It’s all about leading by example. If the environment you are placing your child in is an unhealthy one, then it is easy for them to make unhealthy choices. If they see a bunch of soda bottles all over the house, they’re going to drink these high-sugar, high-calorie drinks. There is data that shows that families who eat together are healthier, and children who share meals together at the dinner table tend to have a lower body-mass index. So, skip the fast-food restaurant and make a healthy, home-cooked meal where you can spend quality time together as a family. —Dr. Chrystal Wittcopp, director, Pediatric Weight Management Program, Baystate Children’s Hospital
6. Vaccinate, Vaccinate, Vaccinate. No ifs, ands, or buts — childhood vaccinations are one of the best ways for parents to protect their children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), measles, rubella, tetanus, flu, and many other diseases. There is no scientific evidence that childhood vaccinations cause autism, a common reason why some parents choose not to have their children vaccinated. —Dr. Shamsa Shafi, attending physician, Baystate High Street Health Center/Pediatrics
7. Exercise. Maintaining a healthy heart begins in childhood, not when we become adults and worry about warding off heart disease. The American Heart Assoc. recommends that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Limit their time in front of the television and playing video games, as well as on the computer (unless, of course, they’re doing homework). Sign the kids up for sports. And make it a fun family affair by exercising together on long walks or bicycling. —Dr. Yvonne Paris, chief of Pediatric Cardiology, Baystate Children’s Hospital
8. Poison Prevention. Poisonings are among the most common causes of unintentional childhood injury or death. Unintentional poisonings usually occur when a toddler accidently ingests a family member’s prescription medication (most commonly from the ground, purse, table, or countertop). Keep all medications in child-proof containers and place them out of reach of children. Discard old medications, and keep cleaning and household products out of reach and in their original containers. Supervise children carefully, especially when in an environment that may not be childproof. —Dr. Joeli Hettler, chief, Pediatric Emergency Department, Baystate Children’s Hospital
9.  A Good Night’s Sleep. If you have a teenager in the house, then you already know that they hate to get up in the morning. The truth is, they really need a good nine hours of sleep in order to function properly at school, at home, and in their personal life. Inadequate sleep can result in poor eating habits, reduced levels of exercise, and poor academic performance resulting from difficulty concentrating in the classroom and retaining what they’ve learned. If you want to help your youngster sleep better, make sure they have a sleep-friendly room that is dark, cool, and quiet. And make sure all cell phones and computers are off. —Dr. Anthony Jackson, pediatric neurologist, Baystate Children’s Hospital, and medical director of the Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Center, Baystate Medical Center
10. Good Eating Habits Begin During Infancy. If you have a new baby at home or are expecting a bundle of joy in 2014, keep in mind that you can begin your child on solid foods between 4-7 months. That’s at a time when your baby can sit up, has head control, and can take food off a spoon. You can make feeding a fun social interaction by talking to your baby throughout the process. Watch how your baby reacts to the food — from smiles to frowns and, most importantly, for signs that he or she is full and ready to stop. Never force feed your baby or feed solids mixed in a bottle. There is no particular order in which to introduce solid foods, but you should space each new food you are introducing at least 3-4 days apart. This will enable you to watch for signs of allergic reactions, rashes, diarrhea, and vomiting. —Dr. John O’Reilly, Baystate General Pediatrics, Baystate Children’s Hospital
11. Choking Prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, choking rates are highest for babies under 1 year old, and in the majority of kids, choking injuries are caused by foods like nuts and carrots. Remember to keep a watchful eye on your child while he or she is eating. When it comes to non-food items, latex balloons are the number-one cause of choking. Also, keep button batteries out of a child’s reach. If swallowed, these batteries can cause serious injury throughout the gastrointestinal tract, including life-threatening perforations. Although recently removed from the market, very powerful pea-sized magnets have resulted in several bowel perforations when ingested by children. Little kids love to put everything in their mouths, so keep a watchful eye on them as they crawl along your floors at home or pull themselves up onto a table filled with objects. —Dr. Barry Hirsch, pediatric gastroenterologist, Baystate Children’s Hospital
12. Create a Stress-free Environment. Scientists are beginning to understand that growing up in an environment full of emotional stress in childhood, especially early childhood, not only creates behavioral problems for the child, but may well create mental and even physical health problems that will remain with them throughout adulthood. Children thrive in an environment where love and consistency abound, not just directed at them, but throughout the entire household. On the other hand, homes where adults are constantly fighting or treating each other without respect, create and sustain potentially toxic stress for kids. —Dr. Lindsey Grossman, chair of Pediatrics, Baystate Children’s Hospital
For more information on Baystate Children’s Hospital, visit the website at baystatehealth.org/bch.