Tips to help children have a fun and safe Halloween

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

It’s almost Halloween again. Before sending your little ones out in search of candy, consider the following to ensure that he or she has a trick-free Halloween:

  • Don’t buy a costume unless it’s labeled “flame-retardant.”
  • Make sure that wigs and “beards” don’t cover your child’s eyes, nose or mouths.
  • Encourage your child to choose a costume without a mask. Masks can make it difficult for your child to breathe. Use face paint instead.
  • Suggest a light-colored costume for your child, or add glow-in-the dark tape on the front and back of a dark costume.
  • Avoid oversized or high-heeled shoes that can cause your child to trip and fall.
  • Make sure that accessories, such as swords or wands are flexible.
  • Put a name tag with your phone number on or inside your child’s costume.

If your child will be trick or treating: Continue reading

Smoke alarms dramatically raise fire survival rate

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

October is fire prevention month. According to the National Fire Protection Association, a home structure fire was reported every 87 seconds in 2009.

When a fire starts in a wooden home, the inhabitants often have no more than minutes to escape. Confusion about what to do wastes those valuable minutes. Early warning given by smoke alarms is very important. Fire alarms dramatically increase the survival rate of all of the family. Two-thirds of home fires that kill children 5 and younger occur in homes without a working smoke alarm.

Make sure you change your battery when daylight saving time changes late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Parents should install an alarm on each level of the home and outside bedrooms or other sleeping areas. Remember to test alarms monthly and change batteries at least once a year — preferably twice, at biannual time changes. If an infant sleeps in a separate room, place an alarm in the room. Keep the door closed to protect against the smoke of a hallway fire. Use a baby monitor to hear it if the alarm sounds. Continue reading

Start reading to your child by 6 weeks old

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Learning disabilities are best defined as the failure of the child to learn subject matter despite adequate intelligence, instruction and motivation.

Although learning disabilities can occur in mathematics, written expression, language problems and information processing, most children with a learning disability have a problem with learning to read.

Reading disabilities can be more devastating than other learning problems because there is less available to help the learner, such as a calculator or spell check.

There are three types of reading disabilities:

Deficits in sound-symbol association, also known as the dyslexic type of reading disability, means the child has tremendous difficulty sounding out words. These children have difficulty in recognizing that the written symbols have a certain sound. They have trouble recognizing the symbols or sounds within words. They have trouble with creating rhyming words. Some children have trouble remembering to read from top to bottom and from left to right. They may start at the end of a word reading “saw” instead of “was.” This type of reading disability is sometimes inherited. Continue reading

Recommendations on bicycle safety for kids

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

The following are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics on bicycle safety:

Do not push your child to ride a 2-wheeled bike without training wheels until he or she is ready.

Consider the child’s coordination and desire to learn to ride. Stick with coaster (foot) brakes until your child is older and more experienced for hand brakes. Consider a balance bike with no pedals for young children to learn riding skills.

Take your child with you when you shop for the bike so that he or she can try it out. The value of a properly fitting bike far outweighs the value of surprising your child with a new one. Buy a bike that is the right size, not one your child has to “grow into.” Oversized bikes are especially dangerous.

Your child needs to wear a helmet on every bike ride, no matter how short or how close to home. Many injuries happen in driveways, on sidewalks, and on bike paths, not just on streets. Children learn best by observing you. Set the example: Whenever you ride, put on your helmet.

When purchasing a helmet, look for a label or sticker that says the helmet meets the CPSC safety standard.

A helmet protects your child from serious injury and should always be worn. And remember, wearing a helmet at all times helps children develop the helmet habit.

A helmet should be worn so that it is level on the head and covers the forehead, not tipped forward or backward. The strap should be securely fastened with about two fingers able to fit between the chin and strap.

The helmet should be snug on the head but not overly tight. Skin should move with the helmet when moved side to side. If needed, the helmet sizing pads can help improve the fit.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

There are various treatment options for childhood cancers

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.

During the last two weeks, we’ve discussed what cancer is and some of the common types of childhood cancers.

This week, we discuss the various treatment options, how they work and some of the side effects.

Doctors have three main treatment strategies to treat cancer: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Depending on the type of cancer and how much it has spread, the overall treatment may combine several of the different kinds of therapy.

We’ve found it useful to explain cancer treatment with an analogy many people can easily relate to — fighting weeds in your yard.

When you discover a small cluster of weeds in the middle of your yard, you can probably successfully get rid of them by digging around the offending patch and pulling them out by the roots. Continue reading

3 main types of childhood cancer

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 10,000 children younger than 15 years old in the United States are diagnosed with various kinds of cancer each year.

Last week, we discussed what cancer is and how it begins when microscopic cells that make up a normal body part start growing out of control.

This week, we discuss some of the different types of childhood cancer.

Leukemias are the most common, accounting for about one-third of all childhood cancers.

Leukemia is a type of cancer that originates from white blood cells, which normally help fight infection.

Leukemia generally begins in the bone marrow where blood cells are formed, but eventually the cancerous cells are released out into the bloodstream, so there is no distinct tumor. Continue reading

Childhood cancer is random mistake in DNA instructions

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

The word cancer certainly strikes a scary and emotional note in our hearts, and when attached to the word childhood, it can be especially frightening.

However, as with many things we fear, we can be empowered by understanding. This week, we explain just exactly what cancer really is.

Every part of the body — the brain, liver, heart, bones, fingernails, muscles and so on — is made up of hundreds of millions of microscopic cells that are specialized for that particular organ.

These cells follow a very complex and highly organized instruction set from their DNA to multiply, grow and eventually die and become replaced throughout our entire lifetimes.

Occasionally, however, the instruction set becomes damaged as it is copied into newly formed cells. Usually our bodies can recognize cells with damaged DNA and repairs or destroys them. Continue reading

Prevent birth defects with a healthy diet

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

Pregnancy is a time in which nutrition is very important for the health of both mother and baby.

Women who are pregnant are encouraged to eat healthy diets with a variety of food groups. A recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that mothers who ate higher quality diets had fewer babies with spina bifida and cleft lip or palate.

This study shows the importance of eating a varied high quality diet. Pregnancy is also a time in which certain vitamins are particularly important to promote a baby’s growth and development.

Continue reading

Reading an easy way to shape a better life

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

I have always been an incessant reader. Throughout my life, the world has entered my mind and experience through words.

New places and persons, extraordinary ideas, philosophies, faiths, art and all the panoply of what is available through literature has been instantly available to me though books and magazines.

It is even more so now through electronic sources. As a kid, summer vacations occasioned biweekly trips to the Phoenix Public Library where I would check out the maximum allowable 10 books.

Biographies of famous people like Thomas Edison, outdoorsmen like Kit Carson and Teddy Roosevelt served to inspire and keep me busy during hot summer days. Novels, nonfiction and hobby themes abounded as well in my reading lists. Continue reading

Practice safety tips to avoid unintentional injuries

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children. About 90 percent of all unintentional injuries in children can be avoided.

The five leading causes of injury death in children younger than 15 years old are motor vehicle injuries, fires and burns, drowning, firearms, poisoning and suffocation.

Practice the following safety tips to protect your child against accidents:


  • Learn CPR;
  • Safety-proof your home;
  • Install and maintain safety devices in your home such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, handrails, safety gates on stairs and covers for electrical outlets;
  • Store medicines, cleaners, chemicals and poisons out of children’s reach;
  • Develop an escape plan in case of fire and make sure that each family member knows what to do in case of fire;
  • If you own a gun, store it unloaded in a locked cabinet and store ammunition separately;
  • Wear seat belts and make sure your child uses an approved car seat;
  • Make a list of emergency phone numbers including local emergency medical services, the number for your child’s doctor, police and fire departments, and your local poison center and keep it in a visible place;
  • Teach your child how to dial 911;
  • Keep a well-stocked first aid kit at home and in your car;
  • Make sure cords on drapes or blinds are out of your child’s reach;
  • Turn pot handles inward when cooking on the stove and use back burners whenever possible;
  • Make sure appliance cords do not dangle so that they cannot be pulled from the counter;
  • Make sure that buckets, tubs or sinks containing water are not left in areas where young children may have access and that toilet lids are kept shut. • Teach your child to swim and supervise children while they swim or play in water;
  • Teach your child not to get near animals he or she does not know;
  • Watch your child at all times when they play on playgrounds. Make sure that they know the playground rules;
  • Have your children wear CPSC-approved helmets and other safety gear when riding bikes, skating, skateboarding or riding scooters;
  • Put babies to sleep on their backs. Make sure their crib sheets fit snugly. Do not put pillows, soft bedding or toys in your baby’s crib; and
  • Do not allow your child to cross the street alone if he or she is younger than 10 and to look both ways before crossing the street. Teach your child to walk on sidewalks.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.