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Influenza and Children: Your child may benefit more than ever from an Influenza (flu) shot this year!

This year’s flu season will coincide with the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 virus. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are cautioning the occurrence of a “Twin-demic.” That is when two diseases spread at the same time. Yes, you can contract Influenza and COVID-19 at the same time, which could overwhelm our healthcare systems.

In children, the flu illness is more dangerous than the common cold. There are more than 200 different viruses that cause the common cold, which is an upper respiratory virus that usually only causes symptoms in the nose and throat areas. Rarely does the common cold cause fever or serious complications for children. Influenza or the flu is a lower respiratory infection that attacks the lungs and our oxygen exchange system. The flu commonly causes fevers and reduced oxygen levels, which can lead to very serious and life-threatening illnesses for children, like pneumonia (CDC, 2020).

There can be some confusion surrounding the flu shot and how it actually works in our bodies. The flu shot is a vaccination made up of three to four different kinds of influenza virus strains. This year, the flu shot contains the H1N1, Type A, and Type B strains (CDC, 2020). The flu shot has only pieces of the viruses and does not cause the flu. It takes about 2 weeks for the immune system to create antibodies from the flu shot.  Every year, scientists decide what are the best viral strains of the flu to use in the annual flu vaccination, and these strains, on average, have a 45% rate of accuracy (CDC, 2020). Any flu antibodies your body creates will lessen the symptoms and severity of the flu, and you may be better off than if you had not been vaccinated at all (Arriola, 2017).

The flu shot offers several benefits to your child, such as the following:

  • Reduce the spread of flu to others.
  • Reduce flu illnesses and make them shorter and milder if you do get them.
  • Reduce doctor’s visits.
  • Reduce the number of missed school days.
  • Reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization and death.
  • Provide preventive care for children with chronic health conditions.

The flu shot is very important for children and teenagers who are at high risk of complications from the flu, including those who have the following characteristics:

  • Are between 6 months and 5 years of age.
  • Have chronic heart or lung disorders.
  • Have chronic conditions that weaken the immune system.
  • Have diabetes.
  • Have chronic kidney disease.
  • Have chronic anemia or a hemoglobin disorder.
  • Have a chronic neurological disorder.
  • Are severely obese (body mass index ≥40).
  • Need to take acetylsalicylic acid (ASA or Aspirin) on a daily basis.
  • Live with another child or adult who is at risk of complications from the flu.

In addition to children, pregnant women and individuals and caregivers who care for children less than 5 years of age should also receive the flu shot (Thompson, 2016). Given during pregnancy, the flu shot helps to protect the baby from the flu for several months after birth, which is a time when he or she is not old enough to be vaccinated (Benzowitz, 2010).

Additional Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 31). What are the benefits of flu vaccination? https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccine-benefits.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 11). A strong defense against flu: get vaccinated! https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/general/strong-defense-against-flu.pdf

References

Arriola, C., Garg, S., Anderson, E. J., Ryan, P. A., George, A., Zansky, S. M., Bennett, N., Reingold, A., Bargsten, M., Miller, L., Yousey-Hindes, K., Tatham, L., Bohm, S. R., Lynfield, R., Thomas, A., Lindegren, M. L., Schaffner, W., Fry, A. M., & Chaves, S. S. (2017). Influenza vaccination modifies disease severity among community-dwelling adults hospitalized with Influenza. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 65(8), 1289–1297. https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/cix468

Benowitz, I., Esposito, B., Gracey, D., Shapiro, D., & Vázquez, M. (2010). Influenza vaccine given to pregnant women reduces hospitalization due to influenza in their infants. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 51(12),1355-1361. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21058908/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 31). What are the benefits of flu vaccination? https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccine-benefits.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 11). A strong defense against flu: get vaccinated! https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/general/strong-defense-against-flu.pdf

Thompson, M., Kwong, J., Regan, A., Katz, M., Drews, S., Azziz-Baumgartner, B., Klein, K., Chung, H., Effler, P., Feldman, B., Simmonds, K., Wyant, B., Dawood, F., Jackson, M., Fell, D., Levy, A., Barda, N., Svenson, L., Fink, R., Ball, S., Naleway, A. (2016). Influenza vaccine effectiveness in preventing influenza-associated hospitalizations during pregnancy: A multi-country retrospective test negative design study. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 68(9),1444–1453. https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciy737

 

Talking about Government and Politics with Children

Children learn from a young age about our government by participating in national holidays, such as Memorial Day and the 4th of July; reciting the pledge of allegiance in school; and commemorating the American flag during National Flag Day and the 4th of July.  As children progress in school, they learn about the three branches of our federal government and the political process through presidential elections and history lessons. In the United States, the right to vote begins at 18 years of age. Many high-school seniors will be old enough to vote before they graduate! Now, more than ever, with the availability of instant information and prevalence of, at times, misleading facts, it is important for parents to have age-appropriate discussions with their children about government and politics. Here are some tips on how to talk to children of all ages about our government and politics.

Preschool

Complex government systems and political climate may be topics that are beyond what young children can understand. Preschool-aged children are, however, experienced in justice and fairness, and they can understand basic democracy. Explain that voting is democracy. We vote for our leaders. Let them know that we vote for our president every 4 years. Demonstrate democracy by creating voting opportunities for your children and the whole family by holding votes on activities like what movie to watch, what restaurant to go to for dinner, or what kind of pizza to order.

Elementary

By elementary-age, children begin to understand political parties and their platforms. They can also learn about democracy, patriotism, and American history. At this age, children often become aware of political messaging. Explain we are all part of one country with many different kinds of people who have diverse ideas, values, and beliefs. Talk with your children about negative political advertisements on television and social media and help them understand how to research issues in order to separate fact from fiction.

Discuss ads. When a political ad pops up on the computer screen or is played on television, use this opportunity to talk about what the ad claims and how visuals and music are used to evoke emotions in viewers. Talk about the negative ads, and explain it is a competition to get everyone’s vote.

Try news for kids. Many online news sources provide information that is appropriate for children viewers. Explore the news sources listed below with your child.

Read books about American politics for kids. There are several books available that teach children about American politics; some of those books are listed below.

Avoid hard to understand controversial topics. Children may not able to understand controversial topics, but they are exposed to them and can feel the emotion behind the rhetoric. Remember, children will pick up on your reactions and the reactions of others. When children are present, be mindful of what they hear on television news stations, and mute the television, if you can, to avoid confusing your child or creating anxiety for him or her. Change the channel to something age appropriate for you both to share.

Middle School

Middle school-age children are able to understand more complex concepts and may be learning in-depth information about our government in school. They may have a better understanding of the separation of local, state, and federal governments. This could be a good time to start some deeper discussions.

  • Talk about political ads. You can ask your child some questions to start a conversation.
  • How is a commercial different than a political advertisement?
  • How are they similar?
  • Who pays for political ads?
  • Do political ads help candidates win elections?

Tackle the tough topics. Children in middle school may not be able to understand the bullying and mudslinging that occurs during political campaigns. They may hear about things you will need to explain further, and these topics may be issues you didn’t expect to have to explain. If this happens, try to focus on the positive aspects of the candidates and the important issues of the election. Ask your child to pick out one or two real issues that are important to him or her to discuss.

Try to explain how elections work. Ask your child if he or she votes for a class president at school?  This opportunity presents is a good way to explain the election system to your child. Explore other things your child may vote for in or out of school, such as which book to study next or where the class will visit on their next field trip and discuss the voting process.

High School

High school-aged children are our future voters! At this point, they should be well educated in our government’s history, have a clear understanding of patriotism, and may be able to have debates on controversial topics. Teens learn how to research scientific and factual information in school for projects. Help your child apply this skill and look for the differences between fact and opinion in political messaging.

Discuss campaign issues. Some parents have difficulty understanding certain political issues; this makes explaining those issues to children difficult. National news during election seasons can become captivating for its excessiveness, and information, whether true or false, has the potential to go viral on social media sites. When discussing campaign issues with children, try to ask open-ended questions like, “Do you think they are a good candidate?” “What is important to you?” Let your child speak freely about how he or she feels about a certain topic and let him or her try to make up his or her own mind about topics and issues.

Watch the news together. Pick a topic, and compare the differences in how it is reported on one network versus another. Point out when you hear facts and when you hear opinions.

Talk about polls. Explain that polls are not facts but estimates, and the results of the poll can be completely different depending on where the poll was taken and who is paying for the poll.

Social Media, aka the land of opinion. Talk to children about the risks of conversing about politics with friends, family members, and even strangers (who may follow the same page or politician) on social media. However, be sure to explain that it’s okay to be passionate about one’s values and beliefs, but it is not okay to be disrespectful of others’ values and beliefs. We are all free to have our own political choices.

References

Bright horizons.  (2020). Teaching your children about politics and government. https://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/teaching-children-about-politics-and-government

Mcmahon, R. (2018, August 17). Easy ways to steer kids through the political season. Commonsense media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/easy-ways-to-steer-kids-through-the-political-season

Nolas, S., Varvantakis, C., & Aruldoss, V. (2017). Talking politics in everyday family lives. Contemporary Social Science, 12(1-2), 68-83. https://doi.org/10.1080/21582041.2017.1330965

Teaching Children about Respecting Differences

Our world is constantly changing, and, as it becomes more diverse and interconnected, children need to understand that all people are unique; they have varying abilities, beliefs, and traditions; and they are important as individuals. Children begin to notice differences in their toddler years. As children grow into adults, they will encounter diversity in every aspect of their lives.

Here are some tips to help parents teach children about diversity, model appropriate responses to differences and similarities among peers, and help create a positive perspective on others.

Celebrate differences!

Have open discussions with your child to help him or her understand and respect the differences among all people and also mention the similarities people share. It is natural for your child to notices differences, use this as an opportunity to start a conversation and provide an age-appropriate explanation. If you do not have an answer immediately, tell your child you will think about his or her question and respond soon. If you realize later a response you provided may be biased, tell your child you are also learning to be more inclusive.

Create diversity in your own environment.

Not everyone lives in an area that is culturally diverse. But, as a parent, you can create a diverse environment through play and learning. For example, teach your child basic sign language and arrange play dates with people who are different from you.  In addition, children’s books are available that represent a variety of ethnicities and cultures, and they embrace differences and promote acceptance. Visit this website for some books that discuss diversity https://www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/childrens-books-about-race-and-diversity

Teach your children about empathy.

You can teach your children about empathy by modeling empathetic or compassionate behavior.  For example, volunteer at a soup kitchen or collect dog or cat food to stock an animal shelter. Caring for animals and plants can teach children how to care for or help another living thing grow and thrive.  When your child is excited or upset or experiences a strong emotion, name and discuss those different feelings. Help him or her understand that others have these feelings too and try to consider how others may feel in a similar situation. Use playtime to teach empathy. For example, as a fun game, tape emoticons (which are used in everyday texting and posting) on the wall and ask your child to demonstrate those feelings and what kinds of thing may make him or her feel that way.

Unlearn your own biases.

We are currently living in an era of acceptance and celebrating diversity can create confusion for some individuals if they have lived in a culture flooded with or experienced years of negative imagery and discrimination.  Help yourself! Explore diversity and learn as much as you can about differences. Parents can look inward to see where their own bias may lie. Harvard scientists have developed, Project Implicit, which provides quizzes and tools for you to examine your own personal biases. Project implicit tasks and tools can be found here https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/featuredtask.html

Keep the conversation going!

Discuss ways you can talk about diversity with your child by expanding the conversation by including friends and family. Join the pursuit of celebrating differences through solidarity by recognizing and attending events in your community that promote unity.  Attend an arts festival, visit nearby cultural centers, tour museums, or explore different foods from around the world.

Additional Resources

We are different, we are the same: Teaching Young Children about Diversity.

https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/knowledge-areas/environment-curriculum/activities/all-activities/we-are-different-we-are-the-same-teaching-young-children-about-diversity

How to Teach Children about Cultural Awareness and Diversity.

https://www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/how-to-teach-children-about-cultural-awareness-and-diversity

How to Talk to Kids about Tolerance, Acceptance and Diversity.

https://thrive.psu.edu/blog/page/2/

References

de Novais, J. & Spencer, G. (2018). Learning race to unlearn racism: The effects of ethnic studies course-taking. The Journal of Higher Education, 90(6), 860-883. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2018.1545498

Krieger, N., Carney, D., Lancaster, K., Waterman, P. D., Kosheleva, A., & Banaji, M. (2010). Combining explicit and implicit measures of racial discrimination in health research. American Journal of Public Health, 100(8), 1485–1492. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.159517

Warren, C. A. (2014). Towards a pedagogy for the application of empathy in culturally diverse classrooms. The Urban Review, 46(3), 395-419. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1007/s11256-013-0262-5

Are you ready to Thrive?