Playground Safety: A Mom’s Public Service Announcement

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It has been a real privilege to share information on our Skagit Health Connection Blog over the past year. One of the greatest gifts of my role as Communications Coordinator is being able to share with you both professional and personal information I’ve gleaned over the years as a Public Health employee, wife, mother, and Skagitonian. Creating content for the blog has been—in many ways—a cathartic experience during these difficult months; a place where I can share my thoughts, but also provide content that is essential for the health, safety, and wellbeing of our community.

Today’s post comes from a more personal perspective: it is a PSA provided by me, a 30-something mother of two young children; a bit crazed after a long rainy winter and weather-worn from COVID. It also comes from a place of humility as I share some things I’ve learned from my most recent “mommy fail.”

About a month ago I took a quick trip to a local playground with my two young daughters, ages 4 and 18 months. It was a park that we’d never been to before and my girls were running hog wild! At one point my youngest made her way to the top of the tallest slide, and, instead of grabbing her off and suffering the consequences of a toddler tantrum, I decided to take her down on my lap.

Big mistake. Her leg must have caught or twisted just so, resulting in a spiral fracture to her left tibia. 6 weeks with a full-leg cast. Not cool.

It was only after a blubbery call to my husband and a lengthy urgent care trip that I was informed by the doctor that sliding with a child on your lap isn’t something that you should do. I had no idea!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an estimated 352,698 children under the age of 6 were injured on slides in the United States from 2002 through 2015, and many of those injuries were leg fractures. Of those under 6 years old, toddlers age 12-23 months had the highest percentage of injuries. The most common injury overall was a fracture at 36 percent, usually involving the lower leg.

The biggest issue appears to be the size and weight of adults. When a young child slides down by themselves, they are unlikely to get a severe injury to their leg, even if the foot catches due to the relatively low forces involved. The force generated by the forward momentum of an adult with a child on their lap is much greater and can easily break a bone if a child’s foot gets caught on the slide.

Thankfully, my daughter’s leg is healing quickly enough and the cast is scheduled to come off in the next few weeks. However, the experience has definitely left me a bit unnerved. I am now finding every opportunity to share what I’ve learned with friends and family—and I hope you will share this information, too!

To prepare for the fun days of summer ahead, I am taking time to read up on other playground safety tips. If you’re interested in this type of information, here is a great place to start. Play equipment like swings and monkey bars can be incredibly fun, but they can also pose safety risks for children—especially those a bit more daring than the rest.

I hope you and your family enjoy our local playgrounds and have a wonderful June.

Play safe and have fun!


Celebrating Safely This Easter

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Here comes Peter Cottontail, Hoppin’ down the bunny trail, Hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on its way…”

Spring is here, the tulips are blooming, and Easter is just a hop-skip and a jump away. Spring is an exciting time—especially in the Skagit Valley—as we say “see ya later” to winter and begin planning for the warmer days ahead.

After a relatively dreary winter season, I’m eager to begin putting together spring and summer plans for my family. Like most, we’ve been essentially homebound this past year, and now that more and more people have gotten vaccinated, I’m feeling excited for what the next several months may bring.

That said, we still have a little ways to go until things can really open up again. COVID-19 is still spreading in our community, and with the new variants that we’re seeing across the state, it remains vitally important that we continue to use precaution.

So, what does that mean for Easter this coming Sunday?

The CDC continues to recommend staying home and postponing travel at this time. Doing so remains the best way to protect yourself and others this springtime. The recommendations are the same as they’ve been for a while: Limit your gatherings, keep a 6-foot distance, avoid unnecessary travel, wear a facemask, and wash your hands frequently.

Skagit County—and the rest of the state—is currently in Phase 3 of the Roadmap to Recovery, which means that indoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to 10 people from outside your household, and outdoor social and at-home gatherings have increased to a maximum of 50 people. When gathering, remember to wear your mask and practice safe distancing from non-household members.

The CDC’s recommendations are slightly different for those who have completed their series of COVID-19 vaccinations and have waited two weeks after their final dose. That said, everyone must continue to do everything that they can to end the pandemic until more is understood about how the vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19 and how long protection lasts for those who have been vaccinated.

If you intend to travel for Easter (or at any time this spring or summer), please keep current travel recommendations and restrictions in mind. It is still recommended that Washingtonians avoid unnecessary travel when possible and delay travel if the traveler is experiencing signs of COVID-19 or has been recently exposed to someone with COVID-19. After all, travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.

If you must travel, the CDC offers the following steps to protect yourself and others:

  • If you are eligible, get fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
  • Before you travel, get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before your trip.
  • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth when in public.
  • Avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from anyone who did not travel with you.
  • Get tested 3-5 days after your trip and stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel, even if your test is negative. If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
  • Follow all state and local recommendations or requirements after travel.

This news most likely isn’t what you were hoping for, especially since this is our second COVID Easter. However, compared to 2020 (ugh!), we have a lot more opportunities to celebrate safely this year!

If you’re feeling like me, you may be itching to make this year’s festivities a bit more…festive? The mom guilt is strong and I’m looking for new (and safe) ways to make Easter fun for my family. For those looking to shake up the usual “Easter egg and chocolate” routine, there are some great ideas online! This is the perfect year to try an Easter-themed Nature Scavenger Hunt or an Easter Egg Relay Race.

Looking to do something out of the house and in the community? Check out Skagit Kid Insider’s EASTER EGG HUNTS & ACTIVITIES GUIDE for some local events taking place this Easter weekend. If you decide to take part, please remember to wear your mask and follow all COVID-19 guidelines.

Hoppy Easter!


Preventing Poisoning During COVID-19

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Earlier this month, the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) released its data “snapshot” for 2020. This is something that WAPC puts out annually in order to educate the public about poisoning trends at the state level. These trends are based on the types of calls that WPAC’s hotline receives throughout the year, compared to years prior.

This year has been one for the books in so many ways, and the new data snapshot tells an interesting story. I had the opportunity to talk with one of WPAC’s staff, and I’d like to share what I learned.

But first: What is the Washington Poison Center (WAPC)?

The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous, or toxic substances. Each year, its specialists answer more than 63,000 calls from Washingtonians related to poisoning and toxic exposures. All calls are free, confidential, and help is available 24/7/365.

Major Takeaways

COVID-19 has increased our risks of accidental poisoning. Period. So what is the reason for this increase? WAPC staff believe that it is due to several factors, including:

  • We are home more due to social distancing and other safety guidance
  • We may have new daily routines this year that are out of the ordinary
  • More products in the home (perhaps due to stockpiling) may cause increased access
  • More stress can cause people to be less focused
  • Rumors and misinformation can lead to dangerous choices

Calls to the Center have increased in 2020, and staff have seen spikes in calls regarding substances common to COVID prevention (hand sanitizer and household cleaners). They have also seen spikes in calls for vulnerable demographics like adolescents and adults over 60.

This data is concerning, and parallels poison trends across the U.S.

Cleaners & Sanitizers

It isn’t unusual for WAPC to receive calls about household cleaners; however, this year has definitely seen a serious uptick. Most calls have been in regards to accidental poisonings, or poisonings due to misuse (mixing products, using in low ventilated areas, etc).

The vast majority of hand sanitizer exposures have been in children ages 0-12, most likely due to increased access to the products in the home. The high alcohol content in these products can be very dangerous for young children, so it is extremely important to supervise kids when using hand sanitizer and to make sure that bottles are always out of reach.

Nicotine

An interesting find this year has been the decrease in nicotine exposure calls. In 2020, nicotine exposure in children ages 0-5 actually decreased—a trend that even WAPC staff were a bit surprised about. Perhaps the decrease is due to parents being home more? Or perhaps the new Tobacco 21 law has decreased access to these products? While it is difficult to pinpoint direct correlations, it is certainly nice to see this type of data!

That said, it is still very important to keep nicotine products stored safely and away from children. The vast majority of calls for 0-5 year old’s were for raw tobacco, with vape products in second. WAPC staff explained that raw tobacco can be dangerous, but vape liquid—if ingested—can be fatal. Always, always, keep these products away from children, as flavored liquids can be especially enticing to little kids.

Cannabis

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

Trends for THC exposure are less rosy. All age groups saw an increase in THC exposures this year, with a sizeable increase among children 0-5. Among this group, exposures were almost 100% due to unintentional use (getting a hold of an edible, plant-based product, or concentrate). Safe and secure storage of these products is crucial to keeping kids safe.

Medications

This is another area that has historically been a concern for WAPC, however COVID has exacerbated the problem. Stress, distractions, and new routines can lead to user error and poor judgement. WAPC staff encourage people to use medication lists, trackers, and reminders in order to decrease risk of double-dosing or mixing meds.

It is also encouraged that people secure medications in the home. This simple step can decrease the likelihood of accidental poisonings in young children, or misuse among adolescents.

Adolescent Self-harm

By far, this data tells the most worrisome story. Historically, data has shown an increase in youth self-harm/suicidal intent since 2014, and this trend continues. COVID-19 related isolation and stress may increase these risks—something that mental health experts have been concerned about for months.

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

It is encouraging, however, to see this data and to realize just how amazing our kids are. Despite all the ups and downs of 2020, our youth are showing resilience in magnitudes. We must not forget that we can all make a positive difference everyday in the lives of our young people.

Two steps that each of us can take today are: 1) locking up medications (even over-the-counter meds like Tylenol and Advil); and 2) talking to our children about substance use. Don’t know where to start with this? Visit Start Talking Now for some ideas.

What to expect when you call

It doesn’t need to be an emergency to call the Washington Poison Center—you can call to get advice or directions if you are concerned or confused about poison-related issues.

You will speak with an expert (nurse, pharmacist, or poison information provider), and there are always Board Certified Medical Toxicologists on-call if necessary. You are not required to give your name, however providing your age and gender can be extremely helpful in order to gauge risk. What was taken, when, and how much are other vital details to provide to the staff.

These calls are always confidential. You do not need to be worried about law enforcement or CPS getting involved. WAPC is concerned about your safety and about providing care.

Staff are trained to provide direction on what to do, what to watch for, and most of the time this can all happen with the caller at home. If/when it is decided that the caller needs medical intervention, staff can advise the caller to go to the emergency room, or WAPC can actually contact EMS on the caller’s behalf.

Finally, WAPC staff will follow-up with you—just to make sure that everything is alright!

It is important to be vigilant when it comes to poisoning prevention—now more than ever. With that said, I feel comforted in knowing that there are trained professionals available to answer my questions. If you don’t have the Washington Poison Center’s phone number somewhere in your home, I encourage you to jot it down! 1-800-222-1222

You never know when you might need it!

To view the Washington Poison Center’s full data report, visit: www.wapc.org/programs/covid-19-resources-information/covid-19-data/.


Take Time to Invest in You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Kari Pendray at Brigid Collins Family Support Center

As we find ourselves well into our sixth month of living with Covid-19, many parents have one thing in common – we are all juggling multiple demands in a time that leaves us feeling more uncertain. The idea of being at home for some is isolating and for others it feels more like a safe haven. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the role of a parent has suddenly become more demanding. That’s because stressful events, like being in the midst of a global pandemic, adds a layer of unpredictability in our lives.

Whether you are feeling stressed out, burned out, or just plain tired, you are not alone. Stress is sometimes defined as when the need to respond exceeds our capacity to respond. How can you recognize stress and burnout? Stress comes in three forms. Acute stress is healthy stress, like when you have a deadline for work or school. Episodic stress is short episodes of high stress, such as taking on too much work, then, being unable to get the stress out of your system. Finally, chronic stress is one that has been linked to chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Chronic stress is very serious and needs to be managed with care and helping professionals. Burnout is a complete feeling of exhaustion and can make you withdraw from other people. Burnout can lead to cynicism and can cause you to delay tasks.

During our Coping with Stress virtual seminars at the Parenting Academy, we talk to parents and caregivers about managing stress and building our capacity, as parents, for emotional well-being, which centers around three main strategies:

  • Awareness of unhealthy thinking
  • Shifting negative self-talk and automatic thoughts
  • Challenging unhelpful thoughts
Focus on the things that you can control, and let the other things go.

First, ask yourself, “What evidence do I have for this thought or idea?” Then, ask, “What could be another explanation?” Finally, ask yourself, “What can I do to change or shift my thinking that would lead to a positive outcome?

To prevent stress and burnout, it’s important to plan daily activities that alleviate stress, just like you would plan to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks or watch your favorite show on Netflix. It’s important to invest in yourself in ways that add years to your life.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Invest in your heart – Eating heart healthy foods such as leafy green vegetables, lean fish and meat, and minimizing sugar, can contribute to having a good nutritional balance. (See My Plate.gov or Harvard Healthy Eating Plate). You can use cooking as a way to learn math, science, experiment with food and enjoy eating new foods.
  2. Invest in your body – Pumping oxygen into your blood is not only good for your heart it is also good for your mind. Studies show that exercising can release positive “happy” hormones into your body and relieve stress. Children love to exercise with their parents. Families are taking more walks, riding bikes, playing soccer and making the most of their own backyards.
  3. Invest in your brain – Has anyone ever given you a prescription to laugh? Well, if not, consider this your first one. Laughing soothes tension, stimulates organs, re-wires new neural pathways in your brain and alleviates stress. When parents take time to play with their children, this can involve 5-10 minutes of mutual enjoyment, laughter and a break from your day. Children learn from play and play can be a great way to co-regulate.

When you invest in yourself, you will not only improve your own health, you will also be modeling health and wellness for your children; you will be more present for your child, and you will be having fun in the process. That’s a gift that will last a lifetime.

If you would like more information on the Parenting Academy or wish to register for parenting coaching or virtual seminars, please go to www.parenting-academy.org.

Resources:
www.choosemyplate.gov
www.hsph.harvard.edu
www.hhs.gov/fitness/beactive/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html
www.parenting-academy.org


Back to School: Create a Schedule that Works

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Along with Skagit school districts’ back-to-school reopening plans, each school has provided students with a schedule. While it is very important to become familiar with this academic schedule, it is also important to develop a schedule at home that will work for your student, as well as the rest of the household. Here are some ideas that may help bring a sense of clarity to your weekly routine. 

1. Compartmentalize your day

For anyone who’s been working from home the past several months, you have probably weighed the costs and benefits of compartmentalizing your day. When the work day bleeds into the work evening, then into the work weekend, it becomes really important to define your time—for your mental health, if nothing else.

The same holds true for your child! Create a routine in which your student gets up, gets dressed and has breakfast, then progresses into their school day. While it can be tempting, it is important to change out of pajamas (at least from time to time!) and put on some day-time clothing. Compartmentalize the day into natural chunks of time: morning classes, lunch, afternoon classes, and end-of-day. The late afternoon should include a period of free time to allow your child to decompress from the day and to wrap up their school work.

2. Take breaks and eat well

Along these same lines, be sure that your student takes breaks and sets aside a time to have lunch. It can be easy for kids to snack while they work, and to eat lunch at their study space. However, it is good for the mind and body to take a breather and spend some time in a different part of the house or outside.

For breaks, it may be helpful to take 15-20 minutes every few hours (or more often, for younger children). Be sure that your child knows that taking a moment to breathe, stretch, and come back to their work is extremely important (even adults need to do this!). If your child is really struggling with a project or assignment, encourage taking a quick break.

3. Get organized

It may be helpful to work with your child on reviewing their weekly academic calendar and any due dates that they may have for assignments. A planner (either paper or digital) could be a great tool for some students, while others may need something that is easily accessible and clearly visible. Just like in a school classroom, your child may find it helpful to have a whiteboard by their desk with a list of assignments, or even a large calendar with due dates clearly marked. This may also be a good thing for you, as the parent, since you can keep track of your child’s schedule from afar.

4. Get active…daily!

This is critical for your child’s physical and mental health. When the weather still permits, encourage your child to go outside to take a walk or bike ride. For younger kids, their local playground may be re-opening! Be sure to talk about keeping distance from others, even when outside, and wear a mask if in a more crowded area.

When the weather starts to turn chilly and/or rainy (or smoky), find some things to do indoors that get their blood flowing! Exercise and dance videos can be fun, and even stretching can be done in small spaces. Doing the same activities every day can get tiresome, so encourage your student to try different ways to get moving. And if you can, do it with them!

5. Encourage socialization

Your child might be excited to get back to school, even if it is remote and online. It may be the first time in a while that they have seen some of their friends and peers after a long COVID summer, and this re-engagement might be a seriously needed mood-booster. But don’t be surprised if by October your student is feeling burned out on online schooling. This kind of socialization might not be enough for many children, and it is okay to admit that!

When your child is feeling antsy or moody, encourage some socialization with friends. While it isn’t advised to schedule in-person meetups with large groups of friends, an occasional get-together between “besties” can be really good for your child’s mental health. Arrange a playdate outdoors for young children (being mindful of the 5-person per week limit), and for older students, maybe a study session outdoors? Take care to maintain social distancing and have your child wear a face covering. While it isn’t “school like usual” with the variety of opportunities to interact, a few social activities a month can go a long way to promote health and wellbeing.

6. Be flexible!

Expect the need to shake things up. A routine is awesome and a schedule is great, but sometimes things just don’t go as planned, and it is okay to modify it if necessary. There will be days that your student is rocking it and crossing off one assignment after another. However, there will also be days when PJs and a bubble bath are the most important thing. Both are okay. 

What we are asking of our youth right now is unprecedented, and we must always keep our children’s health at the forefront. If you ever feel like your child is struggling, connect with their teacher (or other school staff) and ask for some advice. You don’t need to take on these challenging times alone.


Social Distancing – Living Room Ruckus Edition

Reading Time: 4 minutes Reading Time: 4 minutes

One Skagit family’s struggles with staying home, staying healthy.

It was day eleven of my family’s social isolation, and my three year old was beginning to lose it. On a normal Sunday, by 2:30 pm we would have sped through a host of weekend activities: grocery shopping, play dates, church, visits to the park, etc. But not today, not on day eleven. Today we hadn’t left the house, hadn’t even changed out of our pajamas. I find myself stumped. How can I explain to my toddler daughter why we can’t play with friends or go to her classes, especially when every fiber of my being wants to be able to do so?

No surprise — within minutes I have an unruly little child on my hands, plus a fussy infant, and a dog pleadingly staring at the front door for run to the dog park. In the middle of this ruckus, my neighbor calls to see if my daughter wants to come jump on their trampoline. I’m thankful for the questioning look on my husband’s face, gently nudging me to do the right thing when I say no thanks. A wave of frustration and anxiety wells up in me and I barely can shove it all down, knowing the last thing I want to do is to break out crying. That would only add more mess into our living room drama.

This social distancing thing is really tough! Humans are social creatures and we thrive on routine. So the sudden absence of both these things leaves us reeling. I laugh at memes like the one that says “Our grandparents were called to war. We’re being called to sit on the couch.” This in no way describes what I’m doing as a mom of a toddler and a baby during the age of COVID-19. Without daycare, I spend my days trying to balance mothering and this new working from home thing, while struggling to fit in a moment to jump in the shower.

Don’t get me wrong—this struggle rings true for all of us, not just for moms of small children! All over my social media feeds there is a sense of mourning, a sadness and nostalgia for a past that was only a couple of week ago. Personally, I am wrestling with how to tell my daughter that we can’t have her friends over for her third birthday party in April. The guilt and frustration piles up and I snap into anger. But who am I mad at? No one dreamed up COVID-19 – it just happened.

What is being called of us is not easy, and it isn’t “just sitting on the couch.”

Our actions (or actually, inaction), will make all the difference in the end.

Staying put and staying home is courageous and strong. It’s patriotic. So while these so, so incredibly long days drag on, it is important to remember we are helping to write history. We can be the next greatest generation.

How do we do this?

  • Well, we accept a new normal…for a while. How long is unknown. It won’t be like this forever. So, let’s make the best of it, and feel a little grace along the way. This is your big chance to lead a work meeting in your pajamas, or hear your boss’ kid crying in the background of a conference call. There is something hilarious about cobbling together dinners made solely out of canned goods, or rationing out toilet paper amongst your family members.
  • We will learn new things about ourselves…I am learning a lot of things about myself and how I handle a crisis. For example: a) I can feel lonely, even in a room full of children, a husband, and a dog. b) Not being able to go to the grocery store when I want to causes me to feel claustrophobic. c) Starting the day off with a shower improves my mood and helps me be a better mom and employee.
  • We will practice self-care…Aside from forcing myself to get dressed every day in something other than sweats, I am trying my best to practice that thing we might talk about but never really take seriously: self-care. When my brain gets too foggy, I take a walk. When I begin to feel overwhelmed and anxious, I do some deep breathing. And I encourage my toddler to do the same. Just as my Director, Jennifer Johnson, said on our Conversations COVID-19 video talk show, “this is truly a time to lean on others” (from at least six feet away!). When my kid couldn’t go play with her friend on Sunday, we hit the pavement with sidewalk chalk and wrote secret notes to her buddies. Come Monday morning, our driveway was scrawled with messages from kids from throughout the neighborhood, and the joy in my daughter’s face helps me to know we will get through this.
  • Skagit County, we can own how difficult this is. We don’t always have to be so tough. Along the way, we can help each other make it through the challenges we face. This is already happening! After all, it does not take much to find encouraging and heartwarming and stories in the news and on social media. The heroes are all around us – probably right next door. These stories tell us something about ourselves – they show Skagit’s ability to find the positive in a seemingly negative situation. Just stay tuned and you will find more in upcoming editions of Skagit Health Connection.

So, here’s one Public Health employee saying, “You can do this.” And please just know, you’re not alone. 

For great ideas and support for families, check out United Way of Skagit County’s COVID-19 Resources for Parents & Caregivers: https://www.unitedwayskagit.org/covid-19-resources