I can't believe it's been a year since the Sandy Hook shooting. If I close my eyes I can see the footage again, and feel exactly how I felt when I heard the news. It was a tragedy that hit me particularly hard, as my youngest was in first grade--in a classroom right off the school lobby.
Did you know that gun injuries to children, teens and young adults cause twice as many deaths as cancer, five times as many deaths as heart disease, and fifteen times as many as infections? Did you know that they are the second leading cause of death for our youth?
Did you know that the number of children killed in one year by gun-related injuries could fill 134 classrooms?
After the Newtown tragedy, it actually seemed like we were going to get something done. There was something about the sheer horror of twenty first-graders being gunned down that seemed to break down the walls between us. People stepped off their soapboxes and began to work together to prevent another tragedy, to keep children safe.
And then, it fell apart. Not entirely--there has been some progress, and six states have passed legislation. But much of that legislation is being challenged. We are back to being polarized.
I don't have the answers. But as a parent, pediatrician and citizen, I know that we have to do something. In memory of all of those children--the ones at Sandy Hook and the hundreds of others who have died from guns since--we need to come together and keep children safe. Yes, we can and should teach gun safety--but it's going to take much more to make a dent in a public health problem this big.
I agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here's what they recommend:
- Stronger gun laws, including an effective assault weapons ban, mandatory background checks on all firearm purchases and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
- Research into the causes and prevention of gun violence.
- Strengthening the quality of mental health care and access to services for children.
Check out this powerful video. Together, we can make a difference. We can save lives.
- Read labels. If it says it's not meant for kids under 3, don't buy it for your 12-month-old.
- Be aware of choking hazards--not just for the child who is getting the gift, but for others who have access to it. If you have an everything-in-the-mouth 15-month-old, it might not be the year to get that 1000 piece Lego set for your 10-year-old.
- Stay away from magnets. Bad stuff happens when they get swallowed--and for all sorts of interesting and puzzling reasons, even big kids swallow them.
- Projectiles aren't a good plan either. They don't always go where they should.
- Don't buy crib toys. There's simply no need, and it's asking for trouble.
- Careful with anything with strings attached. They can end up around little necks.
- Check the Consumer Products Safety Commission website for recalls and info about toys that have lead in them.
- Save the mad scientist stuff for your teen. Chemistry experiments can go bad (my friend Katie and I exploded something once in her basement. We cleaned the glass and stinky stuff up really quickly. I'm still amazed we didn't get hurt.)
- Be aware of noise danger. Apparently some toys, like the Chat and Count Smart Phone, are so loud they might actually be bad for your kids' ears. And here we were thinking that ear damage from noise was just an iPod and rock concert thing. Sigh.
- Again, read labels. It's not just about safety, but what's age-appropriate. If your kid can't do it, or can barely do it, it's not much fun. Yeah, maybe your kid is extraordinary, but if the Lego set is meant for an older kid, there could be a really good reason.
- Speaking of Lego sets...back to that 1000 piece set...don't do it unless you've got a patient kid who will keep track of every darn piece until it's done. Keep your child's temperament and personality in mind as you choose a toy. Just because your friend's kid liked it doesn't mean yours will.
- Read the fine print (eg "some assembly required".) Read reviews (I love that we can do that now--there are many toys I wouldn't have bought my older kids if I'd been able to read reviews). Amazingly, not everything is as easy and fun as the package and commercial might make it seem.
- Use the holidays as an opportunity to clear out some toys that aren't being used anymore. Any chance to de-clutter is good...and kids may be less upset if they know new stuff is coming.
- While buying for your child, pick up something for a child in need--or even better, donate to a worthy cause, especially one that helps children. Involve your child in choosing the cause. It helps reorient to what the holidays are theoretically supposed to be about.
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- Any trouble breathing. By this I don't mean a really stuffy nose, or a cough that comes and goes. I mean a really frequent cough, or fast breathing, or sucking in around the ribs, or difficulty talking (or crying, in an infant), or looking pale.
- Lethargy. We docs get worried if a child is excessively sleepy or weak--not just taking long naps, but hard to wake, hard to get to move or do anything. We also worry if they seem confused, or have trouble doing normal stuff like walking or using their arms and hands.
- Bad pain that doesn't get better. Babies and toddlers might show this by being inconsolable. If cuddling and some acetaminophen or ibuprofen don't make a difference, that worries us docs.
- Vomiting everything. If kids can't keep anything down (especially if there is diarrhea as well), it can lead to...
- Dehydration. You can tell a child is dehydrated if they are urinating much less, have a dry mouth or no tears when they cry.
- A high fever (102 or more) that won't go down with medication. For any baby less than three months old, we worry about any fever 100.4 or higher, whether or not it goes down, and some children with medical problems might need to see a doctor for a lower temperature than 102 (check with your doctor). But in general, it's the persistent high fevers, the ones that either stay high or keep coming back that worry us.
- Any rash that looks like a bruise. If the spots are dark red or purple, no matter what the size, that warrants a call to the doctor.
My 12-year-old, Natasha, loves all things fashion. In an attempt to move this obsession into the realm of concrete and creative, I signed her up for sewing lessons. It turns out she has an aptitude for sewing--and now she wants to be a designer. She is even more obsessed with fashion, and what she wears, than before.