Kids health

When will kids under five finally get vaccinated?

The latest info on the vaccine's effectiveness, side effects and when it will become available for our littlest kids.

It’s been more than two years since the pandemic began and while every other age group has had the opportunity to be vaccinated, parents of kids in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere are still waiting for a COVID vaccine for kids under 5.

For many parents, it’s been a nervous few months. “The vast majority of children hospitalized during Omicron were kids under five,” says Anne Pham-Huy, a paediatric physician and infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, who is also a member of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

So for those eagerly waiting, here’s what we know about when vaccines for the littlest kids will be available and how effective they will be.

Which COVID vaccines for kids under 5 are up for approval? 

There are two main contenders for regulatory approval for vaccines for kids under 5: Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. But so far, only Moderna has made an official request for approval.

Both vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which teaches cells how to make a protein to trigger an immune response, and are little-kid versions of vaccines already approved for older age groups.

Moderna vaccine for kids 6 months to 6 years

In a clinical trial to test its vaccine, called Spikevax, Moderna enrolled approximately 6,700 kids and gave them two 25 microgram doses of the vaccine, 28 days apart. (The adult version of the vaccine is 100 micrograms and the version for six to 11-year-olds is 50 micrograms).

Moderna has given the trial data to both Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and has requested approval for kids six months to six years of age.

Pfizer vaccine for kids 6 months to 5 years

Pfizer’s vaccine, called Comirnaty, was initially two doses of 3 micrograms for children aged six months to five years. (The approved dose for five- to 11-year-olds is 10 micrograms, and for people 12 and up it’s 30 micrograms).

However, in the trial, participants did not mount an adequate immune response to the vaccine, so the company extended the trial to include a third dose. This has delayed the company’s submission to regulatory bodies, which was initially expected in February and now isn’t expected until late spring or early summer.

What are the potential risks or side effects of the COVID vaccine for kids under 5?

In the Moderna trial, side effects of the vaccine were similar to those of other routine vaccines, including arm pain, fever, muscle pain, headaches, nausea and tiredness. In adults and adolescents, the mRNA vaccines come with a small risk of myocarditis and pericarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle and heart’s outer lining) but cases are extremely rare. In the safety information released from Moderna, no cases were reported in their under-six vaccine trials.

So far, Pfizer hasn’t released data on side effects or risks of its vaccine for this age group.

Is the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine better?

When it comes to which vaccine your kid should get: “I’m not sure parents will have a choice,”  says Pham-Huy.

Initially, most parents likely assumed their kids would get the Pfizer vaccine since that’s what the kids aged five to 11 got. Now, that’s not looking like the case, at least not early on in the under-five vaccine rollout, since Moderna is the only vaccine that is currently being considered by Health Canada for this age group.

Many adults got different brands of vaccines for their first, second or third shot. But that might not be possible with the vaccines for this age group, as the dosing might be different. “If Pfizer is successful, then it would be a three-dose regimen, whereas it will be a two-dose regimen for Moderna, at least to begin with,” says  Sabina Vohra-Miller, a health advocate and founder of Unambiguous Science.

Parents will have to wait to see what NACI recommends if and when one or both are approved.

Are the vaccines effective with new variants? 

These vaccines were developed for the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and as we know, the virus has mutated several times since then.

In the Moderna trial, antibodies produced in the 6 months to 6 years age group were similar to adults or slightly higher, but when it came to symptomatic infections—so, actually getting sick from the virus—the data wasn’t as strong, explains Vohra-Miller.

Vaccine efficacy against symptomatic illness was 51 percent for kids six months to two years and 37 percent for two to six-year-olds. These were similar to efficacy estimates in adults against Omicron after two doses of the adult Moderna vaccine.

However, Pham-Huy stresses that even if the vaccine is less effective against infection, it still plays an important role. “The main goal is to prevent severe disease and you do prevent severe disease with these vaccines,” she says. If your child’s body mounts an antibody response to the original strain thanks to the vaccine, their body will recognize that spike protein and make antibodies. Over time, those antibodies go down, which is normal. But the immune system matures, evolves and refines itself, so even though the variants can evade the immune system and cause infection, your child is still ultimately protected against severe disease from subsequent variants, Pham-Huy explains.

When will the COVID vaccine for kids under 5 be approved?

It’s hard to predict how long the vaccine approval process will take, says Pham-Huy. It depends on the data the company has provided to regulators. “All these vaccine trials and submissions go through the same high-level vigorous process,” she explains.

“We have been waiting for a very long time but we are making sure the vaccine is safe and efficacious,” says Vohra-Miller. “For Moderna, if everything goes well, then I would imagine they would have approval by mid to late June.”

She is hopeful that kids in this age group can be fully vaccinated before school starts again in September.

Should you get your baby, toddler or preschooler vaccinated?

“If I had a child under five years old, there’s no doubt I would make sure they got their vaccine,” says Pham-Huy. “I’d expect them to catch COVID at some point but I’d rather not have them go through it without any kind of protection.”

Even though most kids don’t develop severe symptoms from COVID, “Infectious disease is unpredictable,” says Pham-Huy. “You don’t know if your two-year-old will have a super easy, asymptomatic time with COVID or if they will end up in the hospital.”

And while it’s still being studied, it appears that vaccines reduce the risk of children developing multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a rare but dangerous condition that can occur after COVID infection.

Can you go back to “normal” once your under-five kid is vaxxed?

No one really knows how the pandemic will wax or wane, but doctors do know that vaccines can help us all get back to normal, says Pham-Huy. She likes to think of the pandemic as a big storm–sometimes it rains, sometimes it thunders, but vaccines act like a big, sturdy umbrella.

And for those parents who have been waiting anxiously to get their little ones vaxxed? “Knowing your child has some protection will be a huge weight off parents’ shoulders,” says Vohra-Miller.

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Kids health

Should Canadian parents be worried about hepatitis in kids?

At least 20 countries around the world have reported unusual cases of acute hepatitis in children. Should Canadian parents be concerned?

The headlines are scary. Kids around the world are getting hepatitis and no one knows why. At least 20 countries have reported unusual cases of acute hepatitis in children in recent months, prompting health agencies to investigate whether these cases are connected. While the overall number of cases remains small (so far around 350 have been reported worldwide), it is still higher than what is normally seen in healthy kids.

“We’re seeing clusters of cases of acute liver failure in higher numbers than normal, and it is somewhat alarming,” says Selena Sagan a professor of Microbiology & Immunology and Biochemistry at McGill University. And because some of the kids are becoming quite sick—a few needed liver transplants and there have been five deaths that are being investigated in the US alone—doctors are taking the uptick seriously. 

What is hepatitis?

“Whenever you hear a word ending in -itis, that means inflammation or irritation of some part of the body. So with sinusitis, you might have inflammation or irritation of the sinuses from an infection. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, and there are many causes of hepatitis,” says Anne Wormsbecker, a paediatrician at St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto. 

Wormsbecker explains that it can be confusing because there are also different viruses named hepatitis that can cause inflammation of the liver. But the hepatitis we’re seeing in children is liver inflammation and not an infection of a hepatitis virus. In fact, viral hepatitis has not been linked to these cases at all. Other causes of hepatitis include autoimmune conditions, environmental toxins and other viruses. 

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

Hepatitis will cause gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea for a few days followed by jaundice, Wormsbecker explains. But don’t worry about every gastro symptom your kid experiences. “We’re in a time where pandemic restrictions are being lifted and there are different viral illnesses causing vomiting and diarrhea,” she says. “We have to keep in mind that this unexplained acute hepatitis is extremely rare. Many children may indeed get sick with vomiting and diarrhea for a day or two, and recover and be totally healthy. But if you see a child is not recovering, and certainly if you saw any signs of yellow eyes or a change in their skin colour, then you would want to seek medical attention.” Wormsbecker stresses that yellowing of the whites of the eyes is the main thing for parents to look out for since jaundice is not always visible on darker skin. 

Hepatitis is not always serious either, says Wormsbecker. “Viruses do sometimes cause mild hepatitis that we may never know we have unless we look for it with blood tests.” These recent clusters of hepatitis, however, are a more severe inflammation of the liver which resulted in hospitalization. 

What is causing these cases of acute hepatitis in children? 

The answer, for now, is that doctors don’t know. They don’t know what is causing any of the individual cases or why they are seeing more cases recently than they have in the past. Sagan says, “Unfortunately, I think that we don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle yet.”

There are several possible causes that doctors and researchers are looking at. One is a type of virus called an adenovirus that was present in some of the cases—but not in others. Another is concern that a previous COVID infection could predispose some kids to hepatitis. A report that came out of India last year before undergoing peer review showed a rise in acute hepatitis cases in children was related to a rise in COVID. Since many of these kids had previous COVID infections, that is a possibility. “It could be something else entirely or a combination of factors,” Sagan says. “We don’t have enough information yet.”

It’s not easy to find the cause for patterns of sickness like this. Wormsbecker explains that “when we have very few cases that are spread over a massive international geographic area, looking for the cause is very complex. You can look at every single possible virus in the blood of these children, but you still don’t know exactly which one is causal. A virus can be associated, but may not be the cause.”

Even historically, though it was rare for a healthy child to develop hepatitis, when it did happen, it was common for the cause to remain unknown—up to 50 percent of the time. Stat News reports that in a typical year there might be eight cases of hepatitis in kids in all of Scotland and only half would be attributed to a known cause. But when doctors there found eight cases in March alone, they knew it was time to sound the alarm.

At least we know that these cases aren’t linked to the COVID vaccines. “Most of the children who developed hepatitis were under five years old, and the overwhelming majority had not been vaccinated,” Sagan says.

Are there cases in Canada too?

A spokesperson from Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto confirmed to Today’s Parent via email that they have found a few cases that seem to meet the criteria, although they are still investigating whether those few cases represent an increase in the usual number of cases. The statement says, “SickKids is closely monitoring for any cases of severe acute hepatitis and are reporting 7 cases meeting the probable case definition to Public Health Ontario identified between October 1, 2021, and April 30, 2022. It remains to be seen whether this number represents an increase in cases of unknown origin compared to similar time periods in previous years or if any of these cases will be confirmed to be caused by a novel clinical entity.”

B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver supplied Today’s Parent with a statement that said they have not yet found any cases in British Columbia. “B.C. Children’s Hospital has not seen paediatric cases of the severe acute hepatitis making news around the world recently. We believe there are none yet in B.C. because most severe cases would consult with specialist physicians at BC Children’s. We are aware of suspected cases elsewhere in Canada and are watching the situation closely,” the statement reads. 

CBC News reported on May 10 that one case of severe acute hepatitis has been identified in Manitoba.

Can’t we vaccinate our kids against hepatitis? 

This goes back to the tricky distinction between hepatitis viruses and the hepatitis that refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver. There are two hepatitis vaccines available that protect against two common hepatitis viruses: hepatitis A and hepatitis B. (The hepatitis B vaccine is given to children either in infancy or in grade 7, depending on the province. The vaccine for hepatitis A is available for high-risk populations over the age of 16.) Unfortunately, neither vaccine will prevent the cases of acute hepatitis we’re hearing about. Sagan explains, “Since hepatitis viruses haven’t been linked to any of these cases, the vaccines should not provide any additional protection. But the vaccines are certainly important for protecting us against those specific viruses.”

Should parents be worried about acute hepatitis right now?

SickKids says their doctors are on the lookout for “patients with signs and symptoms of hepatitis such as new-onset jaundice (yellow eyes), dark urine and/or pale stool that will require further testing, and are recommending a lower threshold for referral for specialist care.” So parents should continue to monitor their kids’ health and remember what Wormsbecker calls “the mainstays of viral prevention”: handwashing, avoiding shared food and drink and masking when indicated. And since we don’t yet know for sure if these cases are related to Covid infections, it’s still important to get vaccinated and to protect those who aren’t able to be vaccinated.

Ultimately, this is not something Canadian parents need to lose sleep over, says Wormsbecker, who stresses that the overall number of cases is still low and that this is a rare condition. She adds that parents know their kids best and should trust their instincts if a child is not recovering from an illness or seems to be getting worse. If you’re worried, don’t hesitate to bring the child to the doctor. 

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Daycare

Fees are dropping! See how much less child care could cost in your city

The federal government made a commitment to significantly reduce child care fees by the end of 2022. Here’s how much you can expect to save.

Last year, when the federal government announced its plans for an ambitious Canada-wide child care plan, parents were cautiously optimistic. Could this crucial and long-overdue dream finally become a reality? The plan’s big promises included halving average child care fees by the end of 2022 and an eventual target of $10 per day child care by 2025. And now we’re getting a taste of what these savings could look like.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has pulled together the projected childcare costs for cities across the country in 2022 and they look promising. Canada is among the countries with the most expensive child care in the world, so these savings will make a huge difference in parents’ lives.

This year, parents in Ontario, home to 38 per cent of Canada’s child care–aged population, will finally start to see the fruits of these promised savings—especially in infant care, the most expensive age group across the country. In Toronto, which had the highest fees in 2021, families should see a 50 per cent decrease, going from $1,948 per month in 2021 to $974 in 2022. Cities like Mississauga, Brampton, London and Hamilton will see similar reductions to well under $1000 per month, each costing parents with infants half of what they paid on average in 2021 (though still falling short of their 2022 federal targets). Markham and Kitchener are set to exceed their targets, down to $738 and $627 respectively.

And the savings don’t stop there. Parents in Calgary are projected to pay $770 per month, rather than $1,400, while those in Halifax could pay $540 instead of $996. Yellowknife, St. John’s and Whitehorse are on track to exceed their targets significantly, costing out at $517, $326 and $240 respectively.

Projected 2022 child care fees for infants

Photo: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Similarly, parents across Canada can look forward to big projected savings when it comes to toddler care. In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), families could save around $7,100 or more this year with Torontonians pocketing a whopping $9,696. Markham moms and dads should be especially happy if all goes according to plan, as they’re the only GTA city expected to exceed its federal target of $663 per month, costing parents $651 to send their toddlers and setting the city up for a good start to meet the $10-a-day target.

Like with infant care, Toronto would still be the most expensive city for toddlers, but Calgary comes in at a close second with projected fees of $785 (down from 2021’s $1,295)—a saving that is still $235 short of the city’s 2022 target. Winnipeg is also projected to miss their mark by a couple hundred dollars per month, while Whitehorse could save parents an extra $225 monthly by exceeding the target. Yellowknife, Moncton, St. John’s and Regina are all set to come very close to meeting their targets of reducing costs by 50 per cent.

Projected 2022 child care fees for toddlers

Photo: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

As far as preschoolers are concerned, Calgary may actually overtake Toronto as the most expensive city for child care—though still offering major savings for parents. Whereas they paid $1,150 in 2021, fees could be reduced to $700 by the end of this year. Toronto parents are projected to have their $1,300 bills slashed to $650.

Yellowknife, Moncton, St. John’s and Regina are all set to come very close to meeting their targets, while Whitehorse is once again projected to exceed its goal by hundreds of dollars per family each month.

Projected 2022 child care fees for preschoolers

Photo: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

According to the Ontario government’s projections, Ontario parents will be saving up to $1.1 billion in child care costs in 2022 alone. As part of its agreement with the federal government, Ontario also plans to open 86,000 new licensed daycares for children five years of age or younger to address increasing demand in the province.

Despite the progress Ontario is making in lowering child care fees, the province was actually the last to reach a deal with the federal government on this matter. Parents in Quebec were already paying as little as $8.50 a day for child care. Thus, the new funding Quebec is receiving as part of the national plan will go towards creating 37,000 new childcare spaces instead. Other Canadian provinces and territories, (except for Nunavut, where a deal was just reached in January), signed their agreements with Ottawa last year, making commitments to reach $10-a-day child care fees between 2024-2027.

There are many variables that can affect how much of an impact the new national child care plan will have on families, such as place of residence, number of children and how strictly the different provinces and territories adhere to their targets. Nonetheless, we’re staying positive. This might actually be happening, folks!

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Preschool

5 ways to get your kid to play alone

Because it's impossible to play with your kid all day long.

TP-11-Preschool-Play-Alone-article

Photo: @SueWhite on Instagram

Four-year-old James doesn’t like to play alone. “He enjoys Lego and building toys, but even then he seems to want an adult to play with him,” says his frustrated mom, Lori Hogan. “He wants to show us his progress every five minutes.”

It was the same story at his preschool in St. John’s. “James was constantly looking to the adults around him for interaction,” says Hogan. “He won’t spend a lot of time ‘playing pretend’ by himself.”

If your kid is like James and won’t play on his own, there’s a bright side: The fact that he’s good at interacting with adults and other kids is a positive sign in his developing maturity, says Jane Hewes, associate professor of the Early Learning and Child Care program at MacEwan University in Edmonton.

That said, your kid won’t have you or another playmate available all the time, and they need to get used to playing solo. Here are some strategies to get them comfortable playing on their own. 

1. Start gradually

Warn your kid in advance that you’ll be leaving them for a few minutes (say, to wash some dishes), but don’t go too far, and make sure you come back when you say you will, says Chaya Kulkarni, director of infant mental health promotion at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “Over time, the need for your proximity will reduce,” she says. What you don’t want to do is sneak away when your kid’s not looking, as that may alarm them and only increase their requests for your attention.

2. Swap out their toys

Gather up some toys, toss them in a box and put them away for a few weeks. The items will seem new to your kid when they’re reintroduced and will make for a good distraction from the lack of your presence (for a little while, at least!).

3. Parallel play

“To encourage children to be independent and play by themselves, parents need to model that behaviour for them,” Hewes says. Suggest looking at a book while you read your own book beside your child, or set them up at the table with a colouring book while you go over your bills. “There’s a big benefit in doing similar activities alongside them,” says Hewes. “They watch what you’re doing and imitate your behaviour. They want to be just like you.”

4. Plan playdates

Contrary to what you might think, “self-regulated play does not develop from playing alone—it actually comes from interacting with others,” says Hewes. Hours spent fighting dragons, playing hide-and-seek and putting “babies” to sleep with other kids will fuel a child’s imagination for when they’re at home by themselves. By playing with others, your kid will learn to take turns and develop patience—skills they need in order to be content on their own when you can’t amuse them.

5. Get them involved

Acknowledge your child’s need for your attention by including them in what you’re doing. Get them to help you wash the dishes, fold laundry, rake the leaves or clear the dinner table. They’re entertained while you finish your tasks, and they get a sense of accomplishment at the end.

Remember that it’s a work in progress—don’t panic if the process takes some time.

In the Hogan house, James is spending small nuggets of time playing with a recently “rediscovered” Lego set, and his mom sees this new self-regulated play as an encouraging sign. “We still try to be responsive to his needs,” she says. “But we don’t always stop everything to play with him when we need to get things done.”

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Family

9 fun typing games for kids

These free typing games will help make learning this important skill fun.

An illustrated elephant from the typing game Dancing Mat Typing

Photo: BBC

Living in today’s digital world, it’s pretty crucial that kids know how to type. But learning this important skill doesn’t have to be a chore—there are plenty of fun ways to log some online typing practice hours. Here are 10 typing games that will get your child’s little fingers moving, no matter what their age or skill level.

Fingers on a keyboard in the kids' typing game Dance Mat Typing

Photo: BBC

1. Dance Mat Typing

Dance Mat helps kids learn where all the letters are on the keyboard. In the first level, little typists familiarize themselves with the “home row” keys (A, S, D, F, G, H, J, K, L). With the guidance of some animal friends, kids then advance to the second and third levels, where they learn the keys above and below the home row. In the final level, Claudette the Cat shows you how to add the letters X and Z, make capital letters with the “shift” key, and type the apostrophe, slash and period. This game will also help kids learn the proper positioning of the hands on the keyboard—a good skill to learn young, before they pick up hard-to-break bad habits.

Free, BBC.co.uk

A screenshot of the game Keyboard Climber 2

Photo: TVO Kids

2. Keyboard Climber 2

Oh no! There’s a monkey stuck at the bottom of a cave! In this game, kids can help the monkey by jumping up rock platforms, which they can do by recognizing the letters that pop up on the screen. With each letter kids type correctly, the monkey gets a banana bunch. If they get it wrong, a coconut falls on the monkey’s head and the level must be restarted. This game is perfect for younger kids new to the alphabet because there’s no timer, allowing the player to move at their own pace.

Free, tvokids.com

Words and ghosts appear on-screen in the game Typing of the Ghosts

Photo: Novel Games

3. The Typing of the Ghosts

If you have an older kid who’s already pretty good at typing but just wants to get faster, this is the game for him. The objective of The Typing of the Ghosts is to type the words that appear on the screen fast enough so that the ghosts in the background don’t approach you. You’re given five lives in total, but each ghost is capable of taking one away if you aren’t fast enough. Warning: This game might be a bit scary for some kids. Check it out yourself first.

Free, novelgames.com

A still from the typing game for kids KeyMan

Photo: Typing Games

4. KeyMan

Remember Pac-Man? This typing game borrows its concept. Move Key-Man through the maze to eat all the dots before the colourful ghosts catch him. But instead of using arrow keys to navigate Key-Man, you use the different letters that appear above, below and to the sides of him. The catch is that the letter-navigation keys change every time you make a move. This retro-gone-educational game is so fun that kids won’t even realize they’re improving their typing while playing it.

Free, typinggames.com

A still from the typing game Type-A-Balloon

Photo: Typing.com

5. Type-a-Balloon

The aim of the game is simple: Pop the balloons before they escape into the atmosphere. To do this, your kiddo must type the letter that appears on the balloon. You’re given five lives, but will lose one for each balloon that escapes. Typing an incorrect letter will also deduct points from your score. This game is ideal for people of all ages (yes, even parents) who are looking to improve their keyboard skills.

Free, typing.com

A screenshot of the kids' typing game Keyboard Ninja

Photo: Typing.com

6. Keyboard Ninja

Kid wants to borrow your iPad? Tell her she can play Fruit Ninja on the computer instead. Only, it’s Typing Ninja! In this game, you cut the fruit by typing the letter you see on it. Chop your way through each letter, but be careful not to slice any bombs that come your way or else you lose one of your three lives. There are various modes and difficulty levels.

Free, typing.com

Kids select their flappy in the typing game Flappy Typing.

Photo: Kidz Type

7. Flappy Typing

Flappy Typing is perfect for kids who already know their way around a keyboard and want to increase their general typing speed and skill. The game lets players choose from six cute flying characters, who they help to keep in the air by typing letters. There are four difficulty levels to choose from and kids are given statistics at the end of the game, such as their WPM and accuracy—a fun challenge whether they’re competing against themselves or others!

Free, kidztype.com

A screenshot of the kids' typing game Keyboard Candy.

Photo: Turtle Diary

8. Keyboard Candy

In Keyboard Candy, players must quickly type the letters they see on candies flying through the air in order to collect them in their candy bowl. The game helps kids hone in on a variety of skills by choosing between several focus areas on the keyboard—including different rows, numbers, symbols and groups of letters. Aside from giving them their usual typing statistics at the end of the game, it also lets them know of any keys they are having trouble with, letting them further direct their efforts where they’re most needed.

Free, turtlediary.com

A screenshot of the kids' typing game Typing Race.

Photo: Turtle Diary

9. Typing Race

Building on the popular theme of racing in video games, Typing Race helps your kid to improve their typing speed and accuracy as they try to propel their race car to victory. The faster and more accurately they type, the faster their car goes, while errors cause them to slow down. Typing Race is great for helping kids progress in their keyboarding skills, no matter their abilities. The first levels challenge players to type just one letter, increasing gradually to more complicated character combinations in the upper levels.

Free, turtlediary.com

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How to cook fiddleheads safely

Enjoying fiddleheads this season? Here's how to clean, cook and prepare them safely so your family can get the most out of this springtime delicacy.

If you’ve ever wandered through a farmer’s market in early spring, you’ve likely spotted these tightly coiled ferns set out in a basket amongst the carrots and spring onions. Officially called ostrich fern fronds, fiddleheads fall into a similar flavour category to artichokes or asparagus. Rich in fibre, they’re also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A and C. If you’re not sure how to cook fiddleheads, you’ve landed in the right spot—especially because there is a safety issue at hand.

While fiddleheads are certainly pretty, they can pose a risk to your health if they’re not properly cooked and cleaned. According to Health Canada, thousands of Canadians get food poisoning each year from fiddleheads that have not been stored, prepared or cooked properly.

Here are a few tips for safely enjoying fiddleheads with your family this season.

Clean fiddleheads thoroughly

Individually clean fiddleheads by using your fingers to remove any visible brown husk. Use multiple changes of fresh, cold water to wash away any residual dirt.

Cook them fully before using them in a recipe

Once your fiddleheads have been cleaned, fill a pot with a generous amount of water and bring it to a boil. Cook fiddleheads in boiling water for approximately 15 minutes. If you prefer to steam the fiddleheads, do so for 10 to 12 minutes to ensure they are fully cooked. Discard any leftover water.

It’s essential that you fully cook fiddleheads prior to using them in a recipe, even if you plan to further sauté, fry or bake them.

Freezing fiddleheads 

If you plan to freeze your fiddleheads for later use (which isn’t a bad idea, considering how briefly they are in season), be sure to first clean them, boil them in water for at least two minutes and then plunge them into ice water before packing them into an airtight container. Fiddleheads can be frozen for up to a year and must be fully cooked after thawing.

What to make with fiddleheads

Now that the tasty morsels are cooked, what should you make with them? Give the kids a break from asparagus and substitute fiddleheads in these Herbed Crepes with Chicken, Asparagus and Mushrooms or this Farfalle with Roast Chicken, Spring Veggies and Parmesan. Yum!

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Kids health

What doctors want parents to know about COVID right now

New information about the BA.2 and XE variants, current symptoms and severity—and why you shouldn’t let your guard down just yet.

Chances are, you know someone who has COVID right now. In fact, it may feel like everyone you know is testing positive. 

We’re now in the sixth wave of COVID-19, and this one is promising to be just as disruptive as the others. 

“Even if you’re feeling done with COVID, everything is going to be impacted in the next month if we don’t do anything, including education and healthcare,” says Janine McCready, an infectious diseases specialist at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto.

While it might feel like there’s nothing you can do as this wave crashes over us, there are still ways to protect your family from getting it (or getting it again) and limiting spread can also help schools stay open and minimize disruption to the health care system. 

It’s also important to know what to do if your kid does get COVID during this wave. Here’s what parents need to know about the BA.2, the Omicron subvariant that’s fueling this sixth wave. 

What are the symptoms of BA.2?

Compared to previous variants, upper respiratory issues are more common with BA.2, says Christos Karatzios, a paediatric infectious diseases specialist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. “We’re seeing congestion, sore throats, hoarseness and loss of voice—not as much taste and smell loss as with previous variants,” he says. Coughing and fever are still fairly common. 

McCready says that, anecdotally, she’s heard of gastrointestinal symptoms occurring a lot more in both kids and adults with BA.2, and that in kids under two, doctors are seeing a lot of croup spurred by COVID. “Sometimes they need a little help breathing [with oxygen],” she says. “Really, it’s a spectrum—sometimes it’s just a runny nose, some are just very tired.”

Doctors are also seeing lesions like in hand, foot and mouth disease, including sores on the palms, the soles and in the mouth.

McCready suggests parents test their children for COVID if they have any of these symptoms, with or without better-known red flags like coughing, a runny nose or a fever.

How serious is BA.2 for kids? 

Generally speaking, BA.2 is associated with a smaller percentage of severe outcomes than previous variants of COVID-19 like Delta, but is far more transmissible than any previous variant. While research is still being reviewed, early findings suggest that the dominant BA.2 variant is 30 to 40 percent more contagious than the original Omicron. The emerging variant (XE), which is a hybrid of both BA.1 and BA.2, is an additional 10 percent more contagious than BA.2. 

This evolution of variants with higher transmissibility has resulted in surging case numbers in many communities—”a tsunami rather than a wave,” says Karatzios. While the chance your child will get a severe infection from COVID is still low, it does happen, and child hospitalizations are at concerning levels, especially for those too young to be vaccinated. In Ontario, as of April 12, 75 kids aged four and under, were hospitalized with COVID in the last 14 days. Comparatively, only 15 kids aged 5 to 11 were hospitalized in the same timeframe. According to an official at CHEO, Ottawa’s paediatric health centre, emergency room visits are at a historic high, with about 65 percent of visits being for COVID-like symptoms. 

“When more people get sick, even if the percentage of people going into hospital is less, it raises the overall number of people needing hospitalization,” says Karatzios.

How protected are fully-vaccinated kids? 

When vaccines first rolled out, they offered a very high level of protection from both infection and severe outcomes (in some cases, over 95 percent). Many adults and teens were able to get vaccinated in this timeframe, but by the time vaccines were approved for kids under age 12, we were dealing with the early stages of Omicron. With these new variants, our protection against infection is significantly reduced (efficacy against current variants is approximately 50 to 65 percent, according to Dr. Karatzios) and the farther away from our last immunization date we get, the less protection we have.

Fortunately, being vaccinated still offers very strong protection against severe outcomes from COVID-19. So if your kid got COVID recently even though they were vaccinated, that doesn’t mean the vaccine didn’t work—it very likely reduced the severity of the illness.

Kids who got COVID recently also now have additional immune protection for some time—McCready isn’t seeing much reinfection before the two month mark, while Karatzios estimates that immunity may last several months. This immunity is stronger if your child is also vaccinated.

How worried should I be about the sixth wave?

Unvaccinated and immunocompromised individuals remain the most likely to experience severe outcomes or require hospitalization, says McCready. But that’s not the only measure we need to look at. 

Higher case numbers put a massive strain on the healthcare system—particularly as healthcare workers themselves get sick—and the education system faces similar challenges as more teachers and support staff are infected.

“Most healthcare workers are fairly young, and they have children in society and in schools,” McCready says. “If they get sick, we’re going to see the impact.” 

We also don’t know much about the long term impact of COVID on kids yet, and there’s also the increased risk of MIS-C in children who have had the virus—a condition where multiple areas of the body suffer from inflammation (although vaccination reduces this risk considerably).

Karatzios, for one, is worried that another crisis is going to hit the health care system after COVID-19 in the form of long haul symptoms and related illnesses like diabetes, cardiac issues and dementia. “It being survivable is not the point. There’s a lot more to it that’s been forgotten.” 

Should kids be wearing masks in school right now?

“There is more COVID around now than in almost any other part of the pandemic,” says McCready. Masks reduce the likelihood of transmission and in addition to providing personal protection, they help protect those around you. “Unless your child has a significant issue that interferes with their functioning, the benefits of wearing a mask significantly outweigh the risk.”

Another benefit of masking is that it helps maintain consistency at school. “Wearing a mask is going to help keep your kids in school and keep their regular teacher there,” says McCready. 

My kids are sick—what do I do?

Rapid tests are less sensitive to Omicron variants of COVID (including BA.2 and XE), new research suggests, which means you can test negative even if you have the virus. Knowing this, you should stay home and isolate if you have symptoms—even if you’ve tested negative.

It may help to swab the back of your throat as well as your nasal cavity, and to test again after several days. You are more likely to get a positive test when your viral load is at its highest, which can be several days after symptoms begin.

To treat COVID symptoms at home, give your kid plenty of fluids, let them rest as much as possible and give them Advil or Tylenol as needed. A saline nasal spray may relieve congestion and discomfort, and lozenges may help older kids with a sore throat. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s condition, call your family doctor immediately. 

Opening windows can help improve ventilation in your home and may be helpful if not all family members are affected. Air purifiers with good filters, like a HEPA filter, can also be beneficial. If some members of your household are feeling healthy and testing negative, they may want to wear a mask in common areas or isolate themselves from others to avoid infection. Alternatively, you can isolate the one family member who has COVID in an effort to stop it from spreading. While this won’t work with very young kids (and parents often don’t have the option), it may be possible for some families.

Some provinces only require a five-day isolation period, but McCready says that often isn’t long enough to ensure you’re no longer contagious. She recommends staying home longer if you continue to have symptoms. A positive rapid-test result also means you’re still contagious. 

Dealing with pandemic fatigue

Despite us all wishing it so, the pandemic isn’t over. And while it’s perfectly reasonable to want to “live with COVID” going forward, that doesn’t mean abandoning all preventative measures or throwing caution to the wind. 

“There’s a way of living with COVID by making adjustments to our normal activities that will make everything more safe for everyone, and then when we get cases, it’s less disruptive,” says McCready says. “We need to do basic things like improving ventilation, masking when cases are high and staying home when sick.

“I’m very disheartened to see us lifting the white flag,” says Karatzios. “I understand that everybody is tired, but this isn’t going to go away by letting it rip through society.” Instead, he worries, we’ll see more and more mutations as the virus circulates unimpeded. 

“The public messaging has been garbled. But BA.2 is not the common cold and letting it rip through society will not create herd immunity.”

By normalizing protections in high-risk settings and staying home while sick, we can minimize risk and disruption going forward. And yes, it will help us finally reach the end of the pandemic.

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Kids health

Should your child wear a mask at school?

Most kids in Canada no longer need to wear masks at school, but many health experts say wearing one is still a good idea. Here’s how to decide what’s right for your family.

At this point in the pandemic, most children in Canada and the United States aren’t required to wear masks at school anymore.

That might sound like great news—except that in some regions, such as Ontario, COVID-19 cases are higher than ever, and credible health experts say we shouldn’t have dropped the mask mandates (and other pandemic measures) in schools. 

How can parents figure out what’s best for their family? Here are some things to consider.

Masks are effective

Plenty of research indicates the benefits of mask-wearing during the pandemic. A recently released study funded by the National Institutes of Health, for example, found that schools with mandatory masking during the Delta wave had approximately 72 percent fewer cases of COVID transmitted at school compared to schools where masking was optional or there was only a partial masking policy.

On the other hand, it’s important to know that not all masks are equal. A well-fitting medical mask or respirator offers much better protection than a cloth mask.

Masks haven’t been shown to harm kids’ development or ability to breathe

Despite plenty of concern among parents about how masks might affect children’s development, from having trouble reading emotions to difficulty hearing and learning speech, “there’s nothing in the literature about developmental issues coming from masks—and I’ve looked for it,” says Janine McCready, an infectious diseases doctor at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto.

Public Health Ontario analyzed all of the available evidence about masks in children and released a summary in February. It found that there was no research that supported the idea of reduced respiratory function or cognitive issues from masks. It found mixed results on communication, psychological impacts, and skin problems—the studies reported contradictory findings and had a higher risk of bias.

We need layers of protection

Mask requirements are being lifted at the same time as other COVID-19 protections, like indoor gathering limits and vaccine passports. And at many schools, some previous pandemic rules, like cohorting, requiring teachers to be vaccinated, having students stay distanced when possible, and informing parents about positive cases in classes, will also drop. One way to provide some individual protection is to continue wearing a mask, at least until we see the impact of loosening restrictions. 

Vaccines are more important than ever

With COVID restrictions easing, including masking, it’s extra-important to protect yourself and your kid, at an individual level, by making sure everyone in your family is as vaccinated as possible. “If your child is double vaccinated, I’m a lot less concerned [about potential health impacts of COVID],” says Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and science communicator. (Of course, for kids under five, vaccination isn’t an option yet.) 

Your kid’s comfort matters

The most likely downside to wearing a mask is simply discomfort—something especially relevant for younger or daycare-aged children. “There’s a calculation everybody has to do. Is the stress of the child wearing the mask worth it? If you’re wrestling with your child, if they’re not wearing it well, or it makes them miserable, it might not be,” says Deonandan, 

It’s toughest on the youngest kids

Younger children who are at daycare might not be mature enough to wear a mask all day. Masks in daycares are “less helpful” than they are in older grades, says McCready, because it’s harder for little kids to wear them well and consistently. But outbreaks have moved quickly through daycares, affecting a higher percentage of the kids in a classroom than they do for school-aged kids. It’s likely that the lack of masking is one reason why that happens.

That puts parents in a tough spot.

Children under two shouldn’t wear a mask, says the Government of Canada. If your child is two to five and isn’t bothered by wearing a mask, it’s probably worth it to send them in one, says McCready. 

Your community’s risk matters

Another thing to consider is the risk of the people your child sees regularly—for example, immunocompromised grandparents or parents, younger siblings who can’t be vaccinated yet, or even a classmate or teacher who you know is high risk. 

And it’s worth considering those two, three or even five, contacts down the line as well, says Deonandan. “There’s individual risk, and then there’s population risk. Kids are at low risk of symptomatic disease, and having bad outcomes, especially if they’re vaccinated,” he says, adding that long COVID might be an exception to that, but we don’t understand it well enough yet to know. “But putting that individual risk aside, there’s something to be said for the morality of doing what you can so that the kid down the street who is immunocompromised doesn’t get sick.”  

Masks are still encouraged

“People think this is saying, you don’t need to wear a mask indoors anymore, but that’s not what they’re saying,” says McCready. “It’s still strongly recommended. All of the public health officials and the school boards and the science table and the experts are all still advising and encouraging masking.” At some point, they might change that guidance to masking being seen as being optional, or permitted, instead of recommended—and that might be a better time to think about taking most kids’ masks off. 

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Activities

30 egg-cellent Easter gifts for kids

If you’re looking to pack their baskets with goodies that go beyond the basic chocolate bunnies and cream eggs, look no further than these sweet Easter gifts.

After what felt like the longest winter ever, spring is *finally* here. Along with the budding trees and never-ending mix of rain and snow—hey, we never said nice weather had arrived—comes the pastel-branded Easter. As grocery store aisles fill up with chocolate bunnies and colourful eggs, you may be on the lookout for some fun new additions to your kids’ Easter egg hunt. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with a delightfully varied collection of Easter treats that are sure to egg-cite both you and your little ones. And in case your kids ask, yes, of course the Easter Bunny can shop online.

1. Sweet Springtime Lantern

A toy box that contains a 3D Easter-themed lantern that lights up at the bottom.

Photo: Lantern Lands

$20, mastermindtoys.com

2. Unicorn Horn Sidewalk Chalk

A box of sidewalk chalk that looks like unicorn horns. The chalk is multicoloured and gold

Photo: Twee

$22, babycharlotte.com

3. Cottonball Rabbit Family

A family of brown plush rabbit stuffed animals. They're all wearing different outfits.

Photo: Li’l Woodzeez

$35, toysrus.ca

4. Sprinkled Donut Gentle Foaming Hand Soap

A coral coloured hand soap that says "some bunny loves you"

Photo: Bath and Body Works

$8, bathandbodyworks.ca

5. Push and Pull Rabbit

A brown wooden bunny that can be pulled with a string.

Photo: Kinderfeets

$35, well.ca

6. Baby Butterflies Candy Cube

A clear box filled with pink, green and blue gummy butterflies.

Photo: Sugarfina

$11, sugarfina.com

7. Easter Egg Mosaic Sticker by Number

A teal sticker book with drawings of an Easter basket with patterned eggs on it.

Photo: Crayola

$13, thebookwardrobe.com

8. Easter Dough Bundle

Brown paper bags of pink and yellow moldable dough.

Photo: Little Larch

$20, littlelarch.com

9. Robbie Sugarlite Block

A light blue, pink and white rubber sneaker with holes in it.

Photo: Native Shoes

$52, nativeshoes.com

10. Bunny Silicone and Wood Teether

A wooden and brown silicone teether with a bunny on top.

Photo: Loulou Lollipop

$16, louloulollipop.ca

11. Milk Chocolate Gold Bunny

A gold wrapped chocolate bunny with a red collar.

Photo: Lindt

$14, lindt.ca

12. Hatchimals CollEGGtibles Spring Basket

A plastic pink, purple and yellow Easter basket with colourful plastic eggs inside.

Photo: Hatchimals

$16, toysrus.ca

13. Easter Skateboarding Pajama Set

Green long-sleeve pjs with skateboarding bunnies.

Photo: Wonder Co.

$30, indigo.ca

14. Ty Squishaboos Furry the Rabbit

Round stuffed tye-dye bunny with giant eyes.

Photo: Ty

$9, mastermindtoys.com

15. Kids First Classic Wiggle Rainbow Rain Boots

Rainbow rain boots

Photo: Hunter Boots

$85, hunterboots.com

16. Cuddle Bunny

A white bunny with black stars on it.

Photo: Wee Gallery

$35, iheartscout.com

17. Spring Chick Craft Kit

A box of spring crafts with chicks on it.

Photo: Crayola

$6, mastermindtoys.com

18. Mini Bunny Waffle Maker

Teal waffle maker and a waffle with a bunny shape on it.

Photo: Dash

$25, londondrugs.com

19. Zippy the Sloth Instant Camera

A blue and white camera with a brown sloth on the lens.

Photo: Kidamento

$130, kidamento.com

20. Easter Rabbits Display

Lego Easter set with a brown rabbit, a white rabbit, tulips and grass

Photo: Lego

$17, lego.com

21. Easter Playdough Kit

A flat lay of different coloured jars of playdough, sensory toys like carrots and bunny shaped cookie cutters.

Photo: Hello Dough

$55, hellodough.ca

22. The Flying Carrot Bath Bomb

A bath bomb that looks like a carrot-shaped rocket with a yellow bunny driving it

Photo: Lush

$10, lush.ca

23. Mini Foiled Bunnies

Milk chocolate-shaped bunnies in pastel foil wrappers

Photo: Purdys

$20, purdys.com

24. Wicker Bunny Easter basket

A wicker Easter basket with bunny ears and black stitching for the face.

Photo: Wonder Co.

$30, indigo.ca

25. White Chocolate Speckled Eggs

A blue box contains a cookies and cream flavoured chocolate Easter egg.

Photo: Galerie au Chocolat

$3, galerieauchocolat.ca

26. Funny Bunny

A kids game with bunnies and carrots.

Photo: Ravensburger

$35, mastermindtoys.com

27. Hungry Bunny Beach Hooded Towel

A young kid stands wrapped in a blue beach towel with white bunnies in sunglasses and eating watermelon on it.

Photo: Pottery Barn

$59, potterybarnkids.ca

28. Construction Site: Spring Delight by Sherri Duskey Rinker and AG Ford

A book cover that depicts a smiling construction trick digging up an Easter egg.

Photo: Chronicle Books

$19, amazon.ca

29. PlushCraft 3D Bunny

A plush purple and pink stuffed bunny with big eyes and ears.

Photo: The Orb Factory

$17, toysrus.ca

30. Unisex Sherpa Hooded Chick One-Piece for Baby

A fuzzy yellow baby onesie with a beak and red hair on the hood.

Photo: Old Navy

$27, oldnavy.gap.com

 

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Kids

12 April Fool’s Day pranks you can play on your kids

Why should kids have all the fun? Here are some great April Fool's Day gags that will get the whole family laughing.

Make this April Fool’s Day one your family won’t forget when you “foolify” your gang’s morning routine. These time-tested gags are safe, easy to do and guaranteed to garner giggles from your troops. (Psst! Have your phone ready to capture their shocked expressions!) For best results, combine a few of these tricks for a can’t-fail, one-two joke punch.

Underwhere? surprise!

1. Join five or six of your child’s undies corner-to-corner with safety pins. Replace them in the dresser drawer. When your target takes out a pair, he’ll get the whole silly string!

2. Swap the position of your child’s underwear drawer in her dresser so when she opens it up, she’ll get an underwhere? Surprise!

3. Got gadgets with clocks on them? Reset them—all of them!—so there’s one ringing every five minutes during the morning routine. It will drive everyone crazy as they run to find them before the next one starts to ring!

4. Fill someone’s closet with balloons, so when they open it… balloon-o-rama!

Toilet humour

5. On a few squares of toilet paper, use permanent marker to write a goofy gag line such as “Diving for pearls—back in a flash.” Then float the paper in the toilet for the next “visitor” to find. Tip: For a longer flotation time, make sure the paper’s edges touch the sides of the bowl.

6. Unwind a bit of the toilet paper from the roll. Tape a five dollar bill to it, then roll it back up. First one to use the bathroom will reap the reward for being an early riser.

7. Stuff some folded toilet paper neatly into the toes of your kids’ shoes so they’ll think their feet have grown overnight!

Breakfast buffoonery

8. Colour the milk in the carton with purple food dye.

9. Use an apple corer or small, sharp paring knife to carve a hole into an apple and insert a gummi worm into the cavity. Cover it up with a part of the plug you removed from the apple. When your child takes a bit, she’ll get a gummilicious surprise! Alternatively, let the worm “head” poke out of the apple to greet the eater with a gummi “G’morning!”

10. Switch the inner bags of cereal in the boxes. Blame the mix-up on the Lucky Charms leprechaun.

11. Secretly add quick-acting dry yeast to a box of pancake mix. Then offer to make pancakes as a treat for your kids, but only if they help. When the pancakes start to cook, enjoy the kids’ surprise as the Pancakes start to grow, and grow… and GROW!

12. Prepare this trick the night before: Pour milk over half a bowl of cereal. Put it in the freezer. In the morning, add another thing layer of cereal and milk on top of the frozen cereal. Put the bowl on the table and enjoy your child’s still-sleepy confusion when the spoon just… won’t… go… in.

This article was originally published in February 2012.

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