Family health

Doctor in the house

Ever wonder how MDs keep their own kids healthy? Here's what 10 of them told us

By Dafna Izenberg
Doctor in the house

Breathing easy
As an ear, nose and throat doc at Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, Trina Uwiera has seen many a wee thing lodged in kids’ airways: carrots, coins, thumbtacks, screws, bacon, Barbie shoes.… So she takes extra care to prevent choking with her own daughters, ages two, four and seven. “Hot dogs are one of the most dangerous foods,” she says. “I cut them lengthwise into long strips.” Grapes — when sucked whole into the airway — are another common culprit. Uwiera cuts them in half or insists her children bite them before swallowing. She’s also mindful not to hold pins or nails in her teeth while sewing or hammering. “Your children watch and learn from you,” she says.

Physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Colleen O’Connell of Keswick Ridge, NB, makes sure her two boys, ages six and seven, protect their noggins whenever they ride, slide, ski or skate — even if they’re the only kids wearing helmets. O’Connell has seen kids lose their dreams after traumatic head injuries. “I’ve explained to my kids that your brain helps you think and move, which is why you can play hockey, write stories, play video games.”

Bedtime rules
Batya Grundland is a family physician at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto and mom to a two-year-old boy. “We’ve found that a well-rested child means a happy child who’s much more eager to play, explore, learn and engage in the world around him,” she says. Her son has very regular bedtimes and nap times, even if he isn’t at home. “He’s learned to sleep anywhere as long as there is a crib or Pack ’n Play,” says Grundland.

Posture perfect
Most moms tell their kids to sit up straight, but St. John’s family doctor Susan King speaks from experience. “I see so many people with upper back aches and pains that can become quite debilitating,” she says. When reminders about their posture stopped working with her three boys (now 19, 25 and 27), King talked to them about how rounding their shoulders can affect the way they look as they grow older. Agreeing they didn’t want this to happen, King’s kids devised a signal she could give when they slouched. “I asked them to remind me when my posture isn’t the best either,” says King, “which they had no issue doing!”

Winnipeg paediatrician Janet Grabowski puts a premium on healthy relationships at home. “There is absolutely no swearing in the house,” she says. “They’re not allowed to say things like ‘That’s stupid’ or ‘You’re dumb.’” Grabowski, who has an 11-year-old girl and two teenage boys, often sees kids in her practice fight with and call their siblings names. “Our children have their moments, but they get along very well, and are respectful of people both inside and outside the family.”

Hygiene is supreme
“I think people chuckle at our family in restaurants,” says Sarah Forgie, associate director for infection control at Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. “As soon as we are shown to our table, we all jump up to wash our hands.” Forgie has her four kids (who range in age from two to 11 years) scrub up after using the toilet or playing outside. “When done right, hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of infections,” explains Forgie. “If there’s no access to a sink and our hands aren’t visibly dirty, we use hand sanitizer.”

Nurturing with nature
Alexandra Tcheremenska-Greenhill of Vancouver makes a point of maximizing her kids’ outdoor time. “Research shows that children who are given early and ongoing positive exposure to nature thrive physically, intellectually and emotionally,” she says. Even a 20-minute walk has been shown to help with concentration and stress. Tcheremenska-Greenhill’s three- and six-year-olds have hiked as far as six kilometres in one go. How do they do it? “Frequent stops — and dried fruit and nuts for fuel,” she says. “Good stories along the way also help propel them farther than they could imagine.”

Water babes
Michelle Ponti, a paediatrician who works at the London-Middlesex Children’s Aid Society in London, Ont., signed up her two girls, ages six and eight, for parent-tot swim lessons when they were infants. “The point of starting young is so they’ll get used to water and learn to have fun rather than fear it,” says Ponti. “Everyone should know how to swim and learn about the dangers of water activities. However, nothing replaces adult supervision!”

Exercise restraint
Melanie Lewis won’t budge when it comes to booster seats for her boys, ages four, six and eight. “I’ve seen too many kids ejected out of cars,” says the Edmonton paediatrician. Safe Kids Canada reports that almost three-quarters of Canadian parents with children aged four to nine do not use booster seats. This increases kids’ risk of injury, especially abdominal injury, says Lewis, as seat belts do not fit well over children’s hips. “My kids complain that their friends aren’t in booster seats,” she says. “But they know they’ll hear some horror story from the hospital.”

Perspective, perspective, perspective
When Amber Swan’s six-year-old son doesn’t eat his vegetables, she tries not to fuss too much. “You do the best you can. Protect them from immediate substantial injury, and try to emphasize the importance of eating well and exercising,” says the Fredericton GP. Swan’s experience in emergency medicine and oncology — as well as having had a premature baby — has taught her to pick her battles when it comes to health and safety. “You appreciate the fact that you have them,” she says simply.

This article was originally published on Jul 06, 2009

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