Why We May Want to Stay Angry


It’s sometimes easier to stay angry with someone else than to face our own frustration and fears.

When we think we’re treated unfairly, we typically become upset. Yet I wonder how often we’re really upset about another problem—but we don’t “go there” because a viable solution to that situation doesn’t seem within reach.

A recent letter to the editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune underscores this reflection.  The woman wrote about her negative experience with San Diego Hospice. Or so she thought.

When I read the letter, it seemed more about a woman who was beleaguered after caring for her bedridden mother, rather than a letter about the wrongdoings of San Diego Hospice.  Although the woman slams the organization for not giving her the support she wanted, the reader is left with a different impression.

Namely, the woman faults San Diego Hospice with examples that are actually beyond the scope of services that hospice provides. So instead eliciting support and compassion from me, I almost found myself becoming annoyed with her indignation—until I reminded myself that she was probably choosing to stay angry rather than deal with her grief and loss.

But that’s why as parents, I think it’s good to step back and reflect when we find ourselves upset with a person or organization that’s trying to help us.  We can ask ourselves: Have we created unrealistic expectations that are not in sync with established policies?  Are we remaining upset (e.g. we don’t ask for clarification or give the person a chance to respond to the concern) to avoid dealing with another (perhaps bigger) problem?

And if so, what are we modeling for our kids?  That instead of moving forward, it’s good to stay upset?

Somehow, I don’t think that message is in anyone’s best interest.

How Parents of Kids with Fatal Food Allergies Can Help


Not everyone understands that craft and science projects can also trigger a reaction.

If you’re a parent of a child with life-threatening reactions to food, you’re keenly aware that ordinary events such as birthday parties and cafeterias can quickly turn into a medical emergency.

Here’s how you can help others help your child.

1. Tell everyone what your child cannot eat.
While we don’t think of food being offered at places such as karate or piano lessons, you never know. So don’t leave anyone off the list. Create a sheet that identifies your child’s restricted food and what to do if he accidentally ingests it.

2. Don’t assume your child will refrain from eating the restricted food.
Again, at our center, we had a child once tell us, “I am going to die now because I just ate some peanuts.” After a few panicking moments, we knew she was okay since she was talking and breathing normally, and there were no signs of anaphylactic shock. Turns out that it was another type of nut that she could not eat, but clearly, this child had gone ahead and eaten something she thought was bad for her.

3. Don’t expect your child to know what to do if she accidentally ingests a restricted food.
When we relayed to the mother of this same child what had happened, she assured us that her daughter’s medicine had been right in her backpack all along—had she actually eaten the nut she was actually allergic to. Really? She expected a nine-year-old girl to what? Go to her backpack and administer a shot while she was in the throes of an allergic reaction? And recall, that’s not what her daughter did when she thought she had eaten the restricted food.

4. Establish a “no sharing food” rule for your child.
Make sure your child and your child’s friends know and honor this rule at all times.

5. Educate others that children can have adverse reactions just by smelling or touching the  restricted food.
This means adults must also pay attention to what’s being used in arts, crafts, and science projects.

When it comes to fatal food allergies, parents of such children can’t afford to be anything but proactive. The more people understand how they can help prevent adverse reactions, the safer such kids will be.

How Fatal Food Allergies Affect Everyone

Just smelling an allergen
can cause an adverse reaction.

Many of us have probably spent time with one or more kids with serious, possible fatal, reactions to food—and did not even know it.  Fortunately, no child has ever had a life-threatening reaction while I’ve been in charge. But had I known what I now know, some of my close calls would have never even happened.

So for anyone who is around children, here are some ways to ensure that no child has a reaction on your watch.

1.  Don’t assume parents of kids with potentially fatal food reactions will tell you.

If you’re a parent, know whether any of your kids’ friends have allergies and what to do in case of a reaction. If you’re someone who works with kids, send home a questionnaire with the same questions.

2.  If possible, reduce the chance of accidental ingestion by excluding common life-threatening allergens from group events.

This could be as simple as asking participants to forgo all nuts when making their dish for the potluck. Such a request not only reduces the possibility of accidental ingestion, but it’s a kind gesture that will be greatly appreciated by parents and kids who have to be vigilant about food choices away from home.

3. Remember that some kids are so sensitive that they can react to allergens in the air.

At our local Brain Highways Center, a child once had an adverse reaction to lingering peanut air molecules—even though she arrived at our center seven hours after a group of kids had made peanut butter clay that morning.  After that, we decided that we’d no longer do anything—at anytime—with peanut butter at our center.

When you look at how little effort the suggestions above require—and how such simple actions can keep kids alive—it’s hard to justify glossing over them.  For example, experts say that peanuts can kill an allergic person within three minutes after exposure either by ingestion or inhalation.

That’s why all of us have to do our part.

Part II: “How Parents of Kids with Fatal Food Allergies Can Help” will appear tomorrow.

Why We Keep Talking About Vaccines

Vaccinations remain an
emotionally charged topic.

Since California has now declared whooping cough an epidemic, there’s a push to make vaccines mandatory—eliminate all exemptions for everyone, regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs.  In other words, close the chapter on vaccines. Discourage any discussion.

Yes, there are no studies proving a correlation between autism and vaccines. And yes, we have to acknowledge that many, many kids get vaccinated without a problem, and many diseases have virtually disappeared since we’ve vaccinated children.

But I don’t think the topic of vaccines is as black-and-white as many would like us to believe.  Here are some facts that are generally swept under the carpet.

1. A vaccination actually doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the disease it’s targeting.

Yep, you can still get the disease even if you’re vaccinated (although this fact is seldom mentioned in articles). Moreover, there’s no predicting who is more vulnerable to the disease.

2.  The medical community is not sure how long immunity lasts.

Booster shot guidelines (as to when and how often we need them) are so often changed.

3. Different countries have different vaccine schedules.

Since there’s no universally accepted schedule for vaccines, the timing and number of shots given at one time could be important variables to consider.

I may have some personal experience with the timing of vaccines. Within an hour of my youngest daughter receiving her first vaccine, her temperature shot up, and she started experiencing convulsions. We were lucky—no brain damage as my doctor feared may have resulted, but I’ll never forget that agonizing night.

My daughter was born six weeks premature. So in a sense, she was really only two weeks old when I dutifully took her to get her shot at the two-month mark.  Would she have had the severe reaction if I had waited until she was older? Who knows? After that night, our doctor wrote emphatically all over our daughter’s medical chart that she should never, ever receive any future whooping cough vaccines.

4.  Today’s seniors have not received the same number of current vaccines as today’s kids.

That means we don’t have medical studies that prove there are no long-term effects from vaccines. In the absence of such data, I’m guessing we won’t find even the strongest proponents of vaccines giving their patients a signed guarantee that there will never be any adverse effects as a result of being vaccinated.

Those are just a few of the facts that need to be included in a general discussion on vaccines. And then, throw into the mix all the parents who swear their child’s neurological development significantly declined after getting a shot. I’ve met many of them. These parents often have pre- and post-videos that underscore their convictions of the change.  You’ll never get them to believe that there wasn’t a correlation between the vaccine and the change in their child thereafter.

So that’s why we have to keep talking about vaccines, why we have to keep all parts of the discussion alive. Most importantly, we should be concerned about trends that automatically dismiss parents who question health and safety issues as ignorant victims of sensationalized media. Instead, we should all want to  encourage healthy discussions that focus on unfiltered factual information—until we find answers that are truly satisfying to everyone.

Parenting Tips from an Unlikely Expert


Some of the best parenting advice comes from none other than . . . Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer.

I’m serious. No, I’m not inferring that your child is a pit bull or Rottweiler.  But listen to what he says, substituting the word “dog” with “child,” and you may be amazed at how his advice also applies to parents.

Cesar Milan has great advice for dog owners . . . and parents.

Here are some of the main points he makes on his site and during his weekly television show:

  • A dog’s behavior will change only after the owner’s behavior changes.
  • Owners must establish themselves as the   pack leader.
  • If the pack leader is not clearly established, the dog will try to fill the vacant role (but with disastrous results).
  • There are no part-time pack leaders; in fact, inconsistency triggers confusion and anxiety.
  • Pack leaders gain control of a situation before it escalates.
  • Pack leaders remain consistent in their body language and signals.
  • Pack leaders know what they want from their dog, and they set  clear goals.
  • Dogs thrive on structure and boundaries or they feel lost and confused about their role in the pack.
  • Pack leaders help their dogs learn to problem-solve on their own since doing so keeps their mind busy and builds confidence
  • Dogs respond to a calm-assertive demeanor—not emotional arguments or negotiations.
  • Pack leaders always end a training session with success.
  • Dogs cannot survive on love alone.
  • Pleading, cajoling, and offering treats have no lasting effect on changing the dog’s unwanted behavior.
  • Unwanted behavior is viewed as an opportunity for change, growth, and learning.

On Cesar’s show, the dogs and personal stories change weekly, but the ending is always the same.   Lo and behold, the owners discover that once they change their behavior, the dog’s behavior also changes.

In other words, the dog is never the variable. While viewers watch various owners go through a process before they arrive at this “amazing” realization, Cesar and his fans always know how it’s going to go right from the start.

We’ve been working with families for over 11 years at the Brain Highways program, and we, too, find that once the parents change their behavior, their kids’ behavior also changes.  While we use more people-friendly terms (we talk about parents reclaiming their castle since they’re the kings and queens who rule it), we have the same philosophy for kids as Cesar does for dogs.

So, if you’re not sure that you always rule your own castle, try watching The Dog Whisperer.  Often, it’s easier to take information in and reflect when examples are a few steps removed from our own personal situation. If you find yourself sighing and shaking your head since you know the poodle’s owner is contributing to or even causing the existing problem, ask yourself if anything in the show might apply to your own home.  Sometimes, the answer is very humbling.

Sensory Friendly Films


I love an idea that’s great for everyone, and Sensory Friendly Films are just that.

AMC's Sensory Friendly Films could become a model for other businesses, as well.

AMC's Sensory Friendly Films could become a model for other businesses, as well.

AMC Entertainment and the Autism Society sponsor a monthly film day so kids with autism can go to the movies – but in a way that’s tailored to meet their needs.  During these special showings, some lights are left on and the volume is turned down.  Parents are allowed to bring their food since many of their children are on restricted diets.  Kids can also make noises and move up and down the aisles—even touch the big screen—if they want.  Best of all, no one is shooting anyone dirty looks or calling the usher.

This idea is a win-win for all, especially the following:

Families with kids with autism

Now they can go to the movies without worrying what might happen.  If you don’t have a child with special needs, you probably haven’t considered how many places in the community seem off-limits to many families. That’s because parents of such kids are often judged when their child does not behave in a way that’s expected.

AMC Theatres

Without question, Sensory Friendly Films are great for business.  Not only is it good public relations to reach out and acknowledge a special group of kids, but I’m betting that show times for Sensory Friendly Films are not scheduled during peak hours.  So, AMC helps families, and at the same time brings in more revenue.  Brilliant.

Employment for teens and adults with autism

The huge response to Sensory Friendly Films (they are offered at 67 AMC sites in 36 markets) has provided lots of opportunities to AMC employees to get to know this special population of kids. I’m guessing such rich experiences were a catalyst for AMC’s recent announcement of a new employee program. They now have plans to help integrate teens and adults with autism into the theater’s workforce.  How cool is that?

Families without kids with special need

Sensory Friendly Films also addresses these families’ needs. While no one wants to appear unsympathetic to such kids, the truth is  . . .  most of us go to the theater expecting everyone to sit still and be silent throughout the movie.  By offering Sensory Friendly Films, no one has to choose between being supportive of a child who is moving around and making noises or enjoying a movie in a still, quiet environment.

Does this mean that we should always isolate kids with special needs and forgo compassion and tolerance whenever we happen to be in the same place? Absolutely not.  But I do think it’s genius any time businesses and support groups work together to meet everyone’s needs.

So why stop with Sensory Friendly Films?  How many other businesses could use this model to do something similar?

Just seems like the world would be a little kinder if we continue to find ways to help each other.

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