Stories about: Dr. Claire McCarthy

Remembering Aidan 20 years later

My son died 20 years ago last month.

We did our remembrance of him on his birthday earlier in the month, and that brought various condolences from various people. We are so sorry, they said. It must be so sad.

Although the condolences came from kindness, they felt off somehow. It’s not so much about sadness anymore. After 20 years, it’s different.

While Aidan was still alive, after he was diagnosed with a severe, life-limiting disability, I wrote something for Sesame Street Parents Magazine that our priest read at Aidan’s funeral:

All of us, at some point in our lives, are faced with something we didn’t expect and never wanted. What defines us, I think, is what we do with those things that life gives us. Very often, whether we are cursed or blessed is a matter of choosing.

Aidan’s family chooses to be blessed.

That’s how I feel: blessed.

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Learn CPR. Save lives.

Last week, an 11-month-old baby in our community accidentally fell into the bathtub.

The family called 9-1-1 and while they waited for an ambulance, nearby workers from local power company Eversource stopped to help. The baby was not breathing, and her lips were turning blue.

The Eversource workers administered CPR, and the baby started breathing. She recovered at Boston Children’s Hospital and ultimately survived because of the efforts of CPR-trained passersby.

Dr. Claire McCarthy, Boston Children’s general pediatrician, offers tips on preventing drowning.

Accidents can happen at any time and place. We never know when we will need the help of a stranger. Or when we will be put in a position to help. Please consider taking a lifesaving CPR class.

Find out more about the Boston Children’s Hospital Basic Life Support program.

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The 5 pieces of advice I’d give about screens if parents ever asked

McCarthyClaire_201108_047The explosion of tech and screens into the lives of children is outrageously obvious to me as a pediatrician. Besides the fact that most kids and parents seem to be attached to a phone or tablet when I enter the exam room, when I ask questions about how kids spend their days (and nights), screens seem to be part of everything.

You’d think that I’d get questions from parents about screen time and about how best to use devices with their kids. But I don’t. Like, never.

This is weird, because I feel like I get asked about everything else that touches a child or is part of a child’s life. I think I have been asked every possible question about food, sleep, toys, school, after-school activities, playgroups, strollers, summer camps, shoes, coats, soaps, pajamas… I’m not kidding; I get asked about everything.

But not screens. I used to get asked about when kids should get a cell phone, but I don’t even get that question anymore.

I figure that there are three possible reasons. It could be that screens are so commonplace that people don’t think to ask about them. It’s certainly true that they are becoming ubiquitous; currently two-thirds of US adults have a smartphone, a proportion which has nearly doubled since 2011.

Yeah, but shoes are even more ubiquitous and I get questions about those. So maybe not.

It could also be that parents feel like they know everything there is to know and don’t need my advice. I think that’s probably the case for some parents — although given how new some of this technology is, I am impressed with their knowledge.

I think that the most likely reason is that parents are afraid of what I’ll say. They think that I will tell them to turn off all the screens or take the screens away from their kids. And that would be such a drag, right? Because let’s face it, screens are pretty great. Besides the fact that smartphones, tablets, computers and other devices are remarkably useful, they are remarkably entertaining, too. And we all know that happy kids make for happy parents.

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Talking to children after tragedy

Our thoughts and prayers are with the city of Paris.

As the news unfolds, here are some suggestions for parents (adapted from our advice after the Connecticut shootings and Boston Marathon bombings):

  • Tell your children what happened — it’s important they hear it from you. Do it in a broad-strokes way. (“There were explosions and shootings in Paris, and some people were hurt.”)
  • Answer their questions simply and honestly. (Again, do this in a broad-strokes way — details aren’t necessary)
  • Limit their exposure to media. It’s hard not to end up glued to the television, especially as events are unfolding, but it may be very upsetting to children. Use your laptop or smart phone instead.
  • Make sure they know that events like these are very rare. It’s usually very safe to be in public places.
  • Let them know that you, and other helping adults, are working all the time to keep them safe. Talk about some of the ways you do this.
  • Understand that they, like you, may need time to process what has happened. They may be upset but not even know why, so be patient if they act out in unusual ways.
  • If your child is very sad or anxious and nothing you are doing is helping, call your doctor.
  • Give lots of extra hugs. They will help you, too.

These resources may be helpful:

Talking with Kids About News, from PBS Parents. They also have tips on communication strategies.

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy-Related Anxiety, from Mental Health America

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a number of resources on their healthychildren.org website.

 

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