A sneeze and you look warily in your child’s direction
A cough and you are shaking your head and rolling your eyes
And a warm forehead and you have already imagined the worst diseases possible
Such is parental attachment and love.
If you are a parent it is impossible to disentangle yourself from the clutches of paranoia. We are all victims of it.
It is nightmarish to have a sick child at home. Not only is it heart wrenching to watch your child suffering. It also disrupts any semblance of routine that you may claim to have in the house on regular days when everyone is well.
When your child is sick, you are ready to do just anything to make them well soon – and that is when you reach for antibiotics.
You know that antibiotics cure infections – and the cold and fever are obviously because of infection. So why not use this easily available remedy? Why not give antibiotics? You reason with yourself.
But even as you reach for the antibiotic – somewhere at the back of your mind – something tells you shouldn’t.
And so rages the eternal debate in the mind of the parents of all sick children.
Should we give antibiotics or should we not?
A lot of these doubts come from not knowing enough about antibiotics.
These are the answers to some of the questions that parents ask about antibiotics
“Why do doctors wait for three to four days before starting an antibiotic?”
When we train as doctors – we are taught this in medical school.
“A viral infection left untreated – gets better in 7 days. And if it is treated with antibiotics – the patient gets better in 1 week.”
This is a humorous way of teaching young doctors the futility of using antibiotics in viral infections.
Learn more about Viral infections
Antibiotics kill bacteria. They have absolutely no effect on infections caused by viruses. It is common knowledge that most childhood infections are usually viral infections. That is why doctors wait for 3 -4 days before they start antibiotics. They want to be sure the infection is not a viral infection before they start antibiotics. And this is usually evident in 3 – 4 days.
“But children really do get better rapidly once the doctor starts antibiotics. How does that happen?”
When a doctor starts antibiotics – he is certain – that what started out as a viral infection – has now turned into a bacterial infection and that is why – when he starts antibiotics – the child immediately improves.
When you start antibiotics yourself without prescription – things sometimes improve too. This is not because the antibiotic starts acting against the virus or because the disease was a bacterial infection in the first place. The improvement is usually an illusion.
Viral infections are at their worst on the third day and start to get better by the fourth day. It is usually the third day that parents find unbearable. They are unable to tolerate their child’s suffering and they are tired of the havoc the illness in the family is wreaking on their lives – and so they start antibiotics. The next day the child is better and all the credit goes to the antibiotic. What has really happened here however is – that by the time the antibiotic was started, the viral infection had run its course and was on its way out anyway. This would have happened anyway – even if the antibiotic had not been started.
“Is there a way to know if an infection is bacterial or viral?”
Yes there are several clinical signs that doctors are trained to identify that tell them that an infection is a bacterial infection. And what these clinical signs tell the doctor – can usually be confirmed by lab tests.
While most childhood infections are viral – there is the possibility of infections being bacterial as well. Also viral infections considerably lower the immunity of the child that they infect. This makes it easier for bacteria to overpower the immune system and cause a bacterial infection. So sometimes there may be a bacterial infection superimposed on a viral infection.
Bacterial infections must be treated immediately by starting antibiotics. And only a doctor can tell if an infection is bacterial or viral. That is why it is important to consult a doctor as soon as your child falls sick. And also trust his advice
“Is there any harm in giving an antibiotic even if the infection is not a bacterial infection?”
Yes. Giving an antibiotic when it is not required can do a lot of harm.
The human body houses millions of bacteria. Most of these bacteria are useful bacteria and help in the normal functioning of the body. Antibiotics however do not consider the role of the bacteria in the body before they kill them. When an antibiotic is administered – it indiscriminately kills any bacteria that it comes across in the body. The loss of good bacteria make the body weak and prone to more infections.
The loss of good bacteria can also lead to stomach upsets and diarrhoea
By taking antibiotics when they are not required you build antibiotic resistance. Resistant bacteria are difficult to cure with antibiotics. It takes longer to cure future infections and the antibiotics have to be stronger. If these stronger antibiotics don’t work – hospitalization and use of injectable antibiotics could also be required
Sometimes resistant bacteria do not cause infection in the person who has taken the unnecessary antibiotics because the person who has taken the antibiotics has good immunity. But these bacteria are still alive and can be passed on to other people. At special risk are siblings of the child who has taken the antibiotics and other family members.
Viral infections are terrible. They make you and your child miserable. However the answer to feeling better lies in getting rid of the symptoms. And relief from symptoms does not require antibiotics. Instead of requesting your doctor to start antibiotics – ask for something that will relieve symptoms and make your child feel better.
“If you study all day today - I will take you out for pizza”
“If you finish dinner - you can have dessert”
“If you play tennis well today - we will stop for ice creams on the way back”
Do you find yourself making such statements all the time?
And do you then complain that your child is a Picky Eater - who picks junk food in place of healthy food?
Can you see why he does that?
When you repeatedly offer junk food as a bribe or reward - you give it the status of the ultimate attainment - you make it that one thing worth striving for.
Junk foods by nature are intensely sweet, salty or fatty. And such foods have the ability to trigger off the Reward Pathway in the brain. The Reward Pathway is what causes people to get addicted to substances like Cocaine.
Cocaine is addicting because - once an addict is attuned to the reward cocaine offers his brain - he is unable to resist the urge to take it in larger and larger doses - which is what makes him an addict.
Junk food works the same way.
Cocaine abuse however is illegal, socially stigmatised and known to be fatal. So even in your wildest dreams you would not dream of offering your child cocaine as a reward.
But you offer your child junk food - the chemical properties of which stimulate the reward pathways of the brain. And by doing this - cause your child to get addicted to something which may not be fatal immediately – but is definitely potentially damaging to the physical and mental health of your child.
In addition with your words - you give it the status of the ultimate attainment or reward.
Unsurprisingly then - your Picky Eater picks junk food over everything else.
Stop offering junk food as a reward. In fact do not offer food as a reward at all.
Rather offer an extra large doses of your affection and time as rewards
Say - “You get two kisses instead of one - every time you play the new piano piece right”
“We play two games of Uno - instead of one if you finish dinner quickly”
“We go for a walk in evening - if you finish studying during the day”
Keep your child from getting addicted even as you compel yourself to eke out those extra minutes of quality time.
Your love in its pure unadulterated form is what your child wants and needs. Do not feel compelled to give support it with the crutch of junk food.
Stay healthy - stay happy
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When the exams are around the corner – entire families of those taking the exams are stressed.
Even the parents of the most relaxed children are treading on eggshells around their children. And every parent is looking for an opportunity to do something to help their exam going child. Sadly however – most parents have no idea what to do.
If you are a parent - the simplest way in which you can help your child while you wait for the nail biting race to the finish line – is to help your children with food.
To work effectively – the brain needs food. Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, are all essential to keep the brain functioning well. As stress gets the better of children – the first thing they do is skip meals and survive on junk food.
It may be difficult to convince children to eat regular meals as they study – but parents can make an attempt to include all the elements of a balanced diet into the food that their child eats through the day with some innovatively cooked snacks
It is important to focus on nutrients because a diet that lacks essential nutrients can compromise concentration.
While all the elements of a balanced diet are required to keep the brain and body going – it is important to remember that having the regular three or four square meals while studying long hours can be counterproductive. Heavy meals can be sleep inducing and so frequent small healthy meals packaged as snacks - is what you should ideally give your child.
Eating too much or too little can interfere with the ability to focus. A heavy meal may make one feel tired, while too few calories can result in distracting hunger pangs
The brain runs on sugar. It is the brains most preferred fuel source and so some amount of craving for sweet things is normal in a child who is spending several long hours exercising his/her brain cells. However an excess of sugar can actually impair the functioning of the brain and cause both brain and body to slow down. So keep a watch on how much sugar your child takes in.
If your child insists on sweets, try chocolate or cocoa based sweets, which keep the brain in great functioning condition when they are consumed in moderate amounts, because of their antioxidant properties. Nuts and dry fruits are full of antioxidants and very good for the brain too
It is tempting to offer caffeine in the form of tea coffee and other energy drinks to keep the mind alert. However too much caffeine can actually have the reverse effect and make your child jittery and uncomfortable
There is a long gap between dinner and breakfast and since the brain needs food before it can function effectively - breakfast is a non-negotiable. If your child refuses a regular breakfast – package it innovatively into small tasty snacks. Studies have found that eating breakfast may improve short-term memory and attention. Students who eat breakfast tend to perform better than those who don’t. Foods that top the brain-fuel list include high-fibre whole grains, dairy, and fruits.
Overeating at breakfast however – is not a good idea because high-calorie breakfasts induce sleep and sluggishness
As the exams approach – the “I am forgetting everything” feeling can grip students. And their panic about forgetting can overwhelm parents as well.
I have often encountered parents looking around for memory enhancing drugs to help their children at such times.
It is important to remember that while a lot of claims have been made about the memory boosting properties of a lot of drugs – a great deal of research is still required in most cases to prove their efficacy and ensure their safety and absence of side effects. In such a scenario – it is best to exercise extreme caution before experimenting with medications or supplements.
Both the brain and the body function best when they are well hydrated. It is important to drink water.
Juices, tea, coffee and other beverages cannot take over the function of water.
Frequent sips from a bottle strategically placed on the study table can make a lot of difference to the functioning of the brain.
A healthy body and mind are extremely important for success in exams. You can contribute to your child’s success by feeding him/her right. And you should.
“It is really strange Doctor – but my child is just not interested in eating. He / she can go for a whole day without asking for food”
In my Practice as a Parenting and Wellness Consultant - I have heard this often from Parents.
Have you – by some chance - been one of the parents who said this?
If you are – I would like to ask you to listen to yourself again.
Read the complaint again and pick out the Key words.
Would you say that the key word there is “INTERESTED”?
I would definitely say that.
So my response to that would be – “If your child is not interested in Food – try and make food and his/her meals INTERESTING,”
If you think of a meal from the point of view of your child you would realise why it is BORING.
From the child’s point of view – eating involves chewing and swallowing – for at least half an hour to forty five minutes (maybe longer if the child is not interested) four to six times a day!
Not an activity to look forward to in any way!
If you want to interest your child in eating – turn – BORING into INTERESTING.
Make food interesting by adding an element of FUN.
Concoct FUN - it is really not that difficult.
For example - have an assortment of interesting shaped plates and glasses at hand.
Make meals exciting by allowing your child to imagine which veggie would like to be eaten from which plate. Then - sometimes be good and let the veggie be eaten from the plate it likes. At other times be naughty and put it on a plate the veggie doesn’t like - and eat it up quickly before it knows what you have done.
Or - decide which plate is to be used on which day of the week and then say – “OK let us be naughty today – and pretend its Saturday by using the Saturday plate on Wednesday. And let’s eat up all the veggies really quickly before they realise what we have been up to”
There are a million games like this that you can think up with a little bit of imagination.
These teeny tiny actions – that could be meaningless to you as an adult – would usually mean the world to your child.
Being silly and naughty could add that much needed element of excitement to an otherwise boring activity and get your child INTERESTED in Food.
Make mealtimes memorable by garnishing every meal with FUN.
Also, basic things can be kept in mind like letting a child eat when he is hungry, serving the food at the same time daily and making the food appealing for kids.
“Doctor – my child just refuses to try any new food”
This is something I am used to hearing very often.
Getting children to try new foods - like them and begin to eat them without a fuss are dreaded uphill tasks for most parents.
Battling children is an exercise in futility for parents and should be avoided at all costs.
If parents want children to eat different foods - it is important that they understand what food REALLY means to children. And, it is my endeavour to explain to this to parents - in my nutrition workshops.
For children – food is a sensory experience. They focus on experiencing food with their five senses.
Food needs to look good to them. It needs to smell good. They need to squish it with their fingers and smear it on their faces before they allow their tongues to taste it.
But when they offer new foods – how many parents actually allow this?
Ugly mushy spoonfuls that can be rapidly pushed down the throat and disseminate nutrients are what parents focus on providing in the early years.
And since what is familiar - appeals to the senses – by the time parents offer new foods - the sense organs of the child are comfortable only with mush. And so they refuse to eat anything else.
In situations like this it is important for parents to be patient with new foods.
Children are likely to require repeated exposures to a new food before they take the first bite.
To encourage children to eat new foods – it is important to talk about the colour of the food, the shape, the aroma and the texture.
Just touting the food as tasty is unlikely to make a child try it.
It is also important that children watch their parents enjoy the experience of eating something that he /she is being offered.
Appeal to all your child’s senses – they will persuade your child’s taste buds for you.
Focus on enjoying and savouring every meal.
Turn into an epicurean family!
“Doctor – how do I get my child to eat?”
That is the question I am asked most frequently at my Parenting Consultations and Workshops.
Almost every parent I encounter has a child who “just won’t eat”. And mealtime battles are the stuff childhoods now seem to be made up of.
What I have realized parents are really asking when they ask –
“How do I get my child to eat?”-
– “How do I get my child to eat more than he wants to eat”
And my answer to them is – “Don’t even try!”
Always respect your child’s appetite – or lack of one. Your child is the only one who knows how hungry he is.
A person feels hungry when the body sends a message to the mind saying that is short on nutrients and needs replenishment. The message is usually read loud and clear by the mind and is tough for it to ignore. And so the person eats.
This mechanism is well and truly in place when a child is born and so the child is perfectly capable of deciding how much he should eat.
If your child isn't hungry, don't force a meal or snack. Never bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or to clean his or her plate.
There are 4 things that are likely to happen when you do this and none of them are good –
Allow meal times to be pleasant occasions. Encourage independence by serving small portions and giving your child the opportunity to independently ask for more.
There is no way you can allow a nose to run and drip.
And so - when a cold has you in its grip - mopping up is the primary task at hand.
And it is important tomop up right.
Containing the discharges from sneezes and coughs is really important because every droplet of snot and phlegm is laden with the infectious virus and most of us know that.
So as soon as we feel the aaaaaachooo aproach………….. we reach for our handkerchiefs or tissues……….we manage to avert the disastrous spread of snot and phlegm by placing our handkerchiefs and tissues in the path of our coughs and sneezes just in time……...and then with a grateful sigh of relief …………..deposit the handkerchiefs and tissues that have just successfully averted disaster……….. back in our pockets or on the nearest available surface.
And as we do that - we help the virus find its next victim.
The common cold can be caused by many different viruses - and the one thing that these viruses have in common - is their resilience to destruction.
So viruses like the Rhinovirus - that cause the common cold - can survive for up to 24 hours after they leave your body in a cough or a sneeze.
When a used tissue or handkerchief is placed on a table or chair - the virus from the tissue gets transferred to the table or chair. From there - it moves to the hands of the next person who touches the table or chair - and infects her / him.
And that is just TERRIBLE !!!
You cannot and should not allow this to happen - and you can prevent it - if you go DISPOSABLE !!!
Use disposable tissues to mop up!
And as soon as you mop up - make sure the tissues make their way into a dustbin.
When you carry virus laden handkerchiefs or tissues around or leave them lying around on tables or other surfaces - you allow the virus to get onto these surfaces - and infect other people who touch these surfaces and then their noses and eyes.
And that is how you help the virus find new victims.
Getting up to find a dustbin to drop your tissue into - when you are in the clutches of a viral malaise - however is certainly not easy.
Make life easier for the sick. Place enough boxes of tissues at handy spots around the house - and place dustbins next to them. And then - to be doubly sure that you are one step ahead of the virus - place a hand sanitizer there as well to ensure clean hands.
When the common cold virus encounters all this it will soon beat a hasty retreat.
All of us were raised to know that covering our noses and mouths when we cough or sneeze – was the right thing to do. It was a regular part of our lessons in politeness and courteousness.
So – as the Aaaaaaachooooooooo approaches ……all of us……….with the years of reminders and admonishing playing in our minds - .automatically galvanise our hands …the fingers and the palms into action.
Our hands have an important mission ……they are rushing to contain the snot and phlegm and keep it from raining onto everyone and everything around ……. and with good reason
Colds spread from person to person by droplet infection.
The “Droplets” that spread the infection – are droplets of snot and phlegm loaded with the cold virus.
These droplets come out at a tremendous velocity when an infected person coughs or sneezes because of the force of the sneeze or cough.
Because of their great velocity – these virus laden droplets travel great distances and allow the virus to attack every susceptible person around. And so - covering up - is definitely the wise thing to do.
However - when hands are used to cover up – and contain the mess – they do get some amount of snot and phlegm on them and become virus laden themselves.
When these hands touch door knobs or taps and other objects - they deposit the virus there. The next unsuspecting pair of hands touching that door knob or tap thus gets infected and infects the hand owner.
It is possible to prevent the cold virus from spreading by ensuring frequent hand washing – as I said in my previous article – but how often can you get children to wash their hands?
It is therefore better to teach children another technique to cover up.
It is now recommended that the CROOK OF THE ELBOW be used to contain coughs and sneezes instead of hands – by children and adults alike.
Infected droplets that get onto the crook of the elbow are unlikely to travel further because the crook of the elbow is unlikely to touch objects that other people touch. The virus in the crook of the arm can therefore go no further.
Of course it is really important to ensure that the shirt or the jacket that the person has worn be put in to be washed at the end of the day.
Sneezing into the crook of the elbow - is called the “Sleeve Sneeze” and can go a long way in keeping colds from spreading – so let’s do it.
“Have you washed your hands with soap?”
As a parent I am sure it is question you are used to asking every time your child begins to eat.
That is because you know that germs that cause stomach problems usually make their way into your gut through dirt transferred to food that is being eaten - through dirty unwashed hands. And these germs then cause stomach aches, loose motions and vomiting.
But it is important to know - that when there is a sniffling nose or a cough in the family
“Wash your hands”
is something you need to holler much more often.
The viruses that cause the common cold are present in the discharge from the nose of the sick person. And when a nose has a cold - it runs and runs - it just runs everywhere.
And when a nose is running - hands with handkerchiefs and tissues (and sometimes without) are desperate as they try to prevent snot overflow disasters.
And as they go about this disaster management - hands end up getting virus laden.
When these virus laden hands touch eyes and noses of the hand owner they infect that person.
And when they touch other things like tables, plates, pencils etc. they leave the virus there - so it gets onto the hands of the next person touching that surface - making him / her an easy target for the virus.
Hands therefore need to be cleaned frequently and adequately so that they do not spread the virus.
Getting motivated to wash hands however - is really not that easy. Especially- when a cold has you down.
A hand sanitizer that can be readily accessed by everyone in the house - can be a life saver at such times. Encourage everyone in the house to use it frequently
Of course employ the soap water routine as often as you can.
There is no way you can keep viruses out of your house - but when everybody has clean hands - you can drive out this unwelcome visitor much faster.
Happy hand washing!
It is really strange how one’s priorities change in life.
Ten years ago - if I was to contemplate falling in love - the object of my love would certainly not have been an OBJECT.
But being a Mom changes so much.
You fall in love with things - things that keep your family healthy and make your life easier - in general make you a better Mom without your doing too much.
And today I am writing one such love story.
Being - Mom, Parenting and Wellness Consultant and Infectious Diseases specialist all rolled into one is not easy. And I am all three.
As Mom - I want the best for my daughter………..
As Parenting and Wellness Consultant - I know what the best is…….
And as Infectious Diseases specialist - I know when the best things are really not good enough to give her!
And because I am all three - for the longest time - a daily battle raged between the three of me. Especially when I thought of MILK
As Mom I was insistent upon serving my daughter a glass of milk every day. The Parenting and Wellness Consultant in me agreed that it was a good idea because milk is a complete food. But the Infectious Diseases specialist in me was always sceptical.
“Milk that is likely to be unsafe because it has germs in it or has been adulterated -is best not consumed. Drinking such milk does more harm than good” - is what she had to say every time we served up a glass full.
So Milk usually had the three of me frequently disagreeing.
When my daughter was about a year old - all three of me reluctantly agreed to serve up milk that was sold in sealed plastic packets. And though debates still raged in my mind between boiling for long enough times to destroy the germs and short enough times to keep the nutrients intact - I still managed to live in an uneasy calm.
Until one day - by virtue of being the wife of an officer of the Indian Air Force - I had the privilege of setting up home in Jorhat (Assam) - 300 Km from the China Border.
The milk available there was just terrible.
I had never trusted milk supplied by milkmen. So, there once more - I turned to milk in plastic pouches.
In Jorhat however the milk in plastic pouches travelled such long distances to get to me that by the time the packet reached me - it looked battered and dirty itself.
Unlike in the cities and towns where it arrived with clockwork accuracy in time for me to start my day -here- depending on the prevailing road conditions - it arrived at any odd time of the day. Sometimes even past noon.
By the time it reached me it had usually been in transit for so long that it was beginning to spoil. And even when it wasn’t spoilt - it looked dirty and smelt funny.
It was milk that I was compelled to ban from my house.
It was depressing. And for the first time ever since I became part of the Air Force family - I began to regret moving with my husband to the back of beyond.
Fortunately - my regret did not last for long.
Browsing the stores one day for supplies - I chanced upon Tetra Pak.
The brick shaped carton looked sturdy - it said it was tamper evident - the milk in it looked and smelt fresh - it was preservative free and it didn’t need boiling.
I couldn’t have asked for more - I fell in love - in love with Tetra Pak.
I have been a big Tetra Pak fan ever since.
In the years since - even while living in the Metros I have been unable to let go of the goodness of milk packed in Tetra Pak cartons.
However, I discovered a lot more about the company that makes the product I love so much and its commitment to providing safe food and making it available everywhere - at the seminar they organized on Food safety - last Friday in Bangalore.
It was for Moms like me.
They told us how they pack all the nutritious food we want to give our families - in 6 layers of packing!
And because they are so careful while packing what they pack - the food they pack does not get spoilt even though they don’t put in preservatives. All you need to do with food packed in Tetra Pak cartons is - cut (open the carton), Pour (it out) and Drink.
It is my dream come true.
If you are a Mom - I am sure health and happiness are what you dream of for your family.
Get both - just open Tetra Pak and pour them out.