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6 common medicine mistakes parents make with kids

Today's Parent | posted Thursday, Apr 9th, 2015

Cough, cold and flu season is in full swing, and so it’s the time when medication errors are most likely to occur. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics revealed that a child is given the wrong medicine or the wrong dose every eight minutes and that more than a quarter of these errors occurred in children younger than one year. The study also found that the younger the child, the more likely a medication mistake is to be made. Though the vast majority (94 percent) of these mistakes didn’t require medical attention, some lead to serious complications and even death.

Most medicine mistakes happen with liquid pain relievers meant to reduce fever (likely because they’re more commonly used with little kids, but also because they can be tricky to measure out), such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, followed by allergy and antibiotic meds. The biggest jump in medication errors in kids has been seen with dietary supplements and homeopathic and herbal treatments.

The study’s lead author was careful to note that even the most conscientious parents make mistakes, but there are ways to cut the risk. Here are the most common medicine mistakes and tips to help keep your children safe.

1. Giving the wrong dose Always follow the dosage recommended by your doctor or pharmacist or as written on the package. Most children’s medication doses are based on the child’s body weight, which is the most accurate way to dose medication. (Over-the-counter medication doses sometimes provide dosing by age ranges, which are based only on estimates of weight by age.)

Liquids often come with dosing instructions in millilitres (mL) as well as in teaspoon or tablespoon measurements. While you may prefer the familiarity of a teaspoon or tablespoon,using kitchen cutlery can lead to errors because they vary so much in size, and baking teaspoons can be awkward to use. Instead, measure kids’ liquid medicines in millilitres (mL) with an easy-to-use oral syringe or a medicine cup with clearly marked millilitre lines for precise doses. Syringes and cups often come with prescription liquid medications but are also available in drug stores. (Some pharmacists will give you one for free if you ask.)

2. Repeating a dose Accidentally repeating a dose is a common error, particularly with babies, who can’t tell you that they’ve already been given their medicine. Keep track of your child’s dosing schedule with a medication log on your smartphone, a programmable timer app, a printable medication log or even a sticker on the medicine bottle. Make sure that all of your kid’s caregivers use the same log and are communicating about what doses were given when. If you miss a dose, do not double up to make up for the missed dose—talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

3. Giving doses too close together Follow the dosing schedule from your doctor, pharmacist or the package instructions. Don’t push doses closer together or exceed the maximum amount of doses per day instructed on the label. Alternating between two medications (as is commonly done to bring down a fever) isn’t recommended by the Canadian Paediatric Society, as it can lead to over-dosing errors.

4. Confusing units of measurement What’s written on your original prescription and the label on the medicine you get from your pharmacist may not necessarily match—and that’s OK. A prescription is a communication between the doctor and pharmacist, written by the MD in ‘medical-ese,’ then translated by the pharmacist into plain language on the label. Medications come in a wide variety of units, including milligrams (pills), millilitres (liquid), micrograms (inhalers/puffers) and more—a pharmacist may have to convert one unit to another (i.e., solid to liquid) to prepare the prescription. Don’t get hung up on what the prescription from your doctor says—it’s most important to talk to your pharmacist to make sure you understand the label.

5. Giving the wrong medication Always read the label for instructions and expiry date to make sure it’s right for your kid’s symptoms and age and that it has not expired. Do not remove labels from medication bottles, put medications in other containers or bags, or mix medications together. Always return pill packets to their original container with instructions and dosing information. Make a habit of periodically checking your medicine cabinet for expired meds and bring them to your drug store to be disposed of. Expiry dates are not always listed on vials and bottles, so check with your pharmacist if you’re unsure. The concern is both reduced efficacy and safety, as the drug may lose its desired effect or change in some way over time.

6. Giving medicine in the wrong spot Medicines are pretty commonly given orally, but they can also be given in the eyes or ears, up the nose, on the skin, etc. Always read the label to ensure you’re putting medicine where it’s meant to go.

Medicine safety tips

  • Keep a list of all your child’s current medications. If your child is taking one medication, always check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting another (whether it is prescription, over-the-counter, nutritional supplement or herbal medicine).
  • Keep all medication (including over-the-counter, prescription, creams, vitamins or natural/homeopathic) up high, out of reach and out of sight of children in a locked cabinet or tackle box. Put medications away after every use, even if you plan to use it again soon, and ensure the child-safety lock is secure.
  • Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about any drug/medication allergies or other allergies.
  • Make sure to store medications as instructed on the label and by your pharmacist.
  • Talk to your kids about medication and never refer to it as “candy.”
  • Ask house guests to keep bags, purses, cosmetic cases and coats containing meds up high, out of reach and out of sight of kids.
  • If your child has taken too much of a medication, call your local poison centre immediately. Program the local poison centre number into your phone and post it somewhere visible for caregivers.

Joelene Huber is a paediatrician and assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Toronto and is affiliated with St. Michael’s Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children, specializing in development and autism spectrum disorders. She appears regularly on TV and is a mom to two small children. Follow her on Twitter at @uberhealthykids.

Special thanks to James Tjon, pharmacist at the Hospital for Sick Children.

The ultimate toy guide 2014: 19 toys for babies and toddlers

Today's Parent | posted Thursday, Dec 4th, 2014

Best toys for babies and toddlers

Click here to read more.

A version of this article appeared in our November 2014 issue with the headline “The ultimate toy guide holiday 2014,” pp. 63-86.

shomi: 10 things to watch with your kids

Today's Parent | posted Thursday, Nov 27th, 2014

Rogers and Shaw have joined forces to create shomi, a recently launched service that offers customers more than 12,000 hours of streamable content in the first year. The biggest draw? Tons of family-friendly content to choose from, in both the Film and TV Shows categories.

Now that the winter weather is in full swing, here are some of our shomi favourites that you can watch with the family this week.

Home Alone (1990)

Is your family looking to get into the holiday spirit a little early this year? Why not introduce your kids to this early ’90s Christmas classic.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

If you just can’t get enough of the misadventures of little Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), make it a double feature and watch this equally-entertaining sequel.

The Karate Kid (2010)

This reboot of the ’80s kids classic stars Jackie Chan and Will Smith’s son, Jaden. The perfect entertainment for your own aspiring karate kid.

The Secret Garden (1993)

If you’re looking for something less action-packed try this underrated little gem, starring Maggie Smith as the meddling housekeeper Mrs. Medlock. Based on the famous book by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Robots (2005)

Still reeling from the loss of actor Robin Williams? Introduce your kids to one of his family-friendly features with this animated adventure.

The Princess Diaries

Before Anne Hathaway was famous she played an unlikely heir to a royal throne alongside the legendary Julie Andrews.

Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

Since The Muppets have received a new surge in popularity thanks to their latest two feature films, now is the perfect time to watch this high-seas adventure with the family.

Yo Gabba Gabba (2007-present)

Let DJ Lance Rock keep the party going on those wintery nights with episodes of this popular kids TV show.

Baby Looney Tunes (2002-present)

It’s just as adorable as the title suggests.

102 Dalmations (2000)

Watch Glenn Close reprise her role as the villainous Cruella De Vil as she goes after those cute little puppies again after breaking out of prison.

NHL hockey dads: Parenting lessons from the ice

Haley Overland | posted Thursday, Oct 9th, 2014

Wayne Gretzky

“I always tell my kids, ‘You know what? The biggest thing you can have in life is passion,’” he has said. “If you have a passion for going to school and becoming a doctor or if you have a passion for being a good hockey player, or a good baseball player. What happens with passion is that you take that extra step, you put in that extra work, you put in the extra time because you have a dedication and a love for it. People come up to me and say, ‘Could you tell my son how many hours you used to practise?’ I say, ‘No, I can’t tell them because I didn’t think I was practising.'”

Read on for more great parenting quotes from hockey greats>>>>>

When did school lunches become a political statement?

Jennifer Pinarski | posted Friday, Oct 3rd, 2014

“Why can’t I have a juice box or cookies in my lunch like all the other kids?” my daughter, Gillian, whined.

Since starting full-day kindergarten this month, Gillian has eaten everything I’ve packed in her lunch—but it hasn’t been without complaints. Typically, her comments are related to what’s missingfrom her lunch—i.e. sweet treats and packaged snacks.

My son, Isaac, now in the third grade, is used to my no-nonsense, nutrient-dense lunches and rarely complains anymore. On that particular day, he backed me up on the lunch debate, albeit with a surprising rebuttal. ”You can’t have a juice box because they’re bad for your brain, because it’s just sugar and water. Mr. L. said so,” Isaac said, a little too haughtily for my liking.

Read more: Fear mongering and the anti-sugar obsession>

“Wait a minute…sugar isn’t bad for your brain,” I responded. “Your brain and your body need sugar to work. My problem with juice boxes is that I know you’ll drink them all and not have room for food.”  I try to hide the my frustration at the fact that the school is trying to teach my kids (inaccurate) nutrition lessons.

Forget stroller wars…lunches are the new battleground. And it makes me wonder if packing a child’s lunch for school was this difficult before the days of Pinterest?

Reminiscing recently with a friend, we realized we ate the same brown-bagged lunch growing up—a frozen juice box, a mac and cheese loaf (or PB&J) on white bread, a Wagon Wheel and a red apple. Invariably, the juice box thawed and tore the paper bag, the sandwich was crushed and soggy and the apple bruised and inedible. The only item in our lunches that survived was the Wagon Wheel.

Read more: Bento box lunch ideas your kids will love>

There were no bento boxes in my day: Lunches from my childhood were utilitarian and definitely not Instagram-worthy. I remember hating school lunches, but I also remember not having a choice in what was in them since our family lived on a very limited budget. It’s clear to me that there’s been a major shift in the last 30 years as to how we feed our kids, and while awareness of the benefits of healthier and less processed food is positive, the shaming and the guilt parents seem to pile on themselves for packing a less-than-perfect lunch isn’t healthy at all.

For example:

  • The Lunchbox Dad recently declared that he was going to stop making fun lunches for his kids, because he was fed up with people making fun of him for making his kids’ lunches so fun.
  • Peanut butter has been long banned by schools (and justifiably so). But when schools started bringing in rules banning nut-free spreads, parents of picky eaters were outraged. Schools defended the decision by saying that nut-free products look too much like real peanut butter, which stresses out children who have life-threatening allergies.
  • Taking lunch policies one step further, some schools dictate what parents can and cannot pack in their kids’ lunches. Banning treats or processed snacks put teachers in the role of nutritional authorities—something I strongly disagree with.
  • Litterless lunches are a great idea—if your child remembers to rinse out their containers and close the lids. A friend of mine showed me what her son’s lunch looks like at the end of the day and it’s like a bento-box bomb went off. And while the idea of a litterless lunch is noble, the upfront expense of buying reusable containers only seems to pay for itself after the containers have been in use for a year—those lunch kits are expensive!

Read more: School bans eggs, dairy and nuts due to one student’s allergies>

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

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