Jenny Hong with Noah, 10, Sophie, 13, and Parker, 15
With (from left) Noah, 10, Sophie, 13, and Parker, 15

Jenny Hong

Pediatrician at Town & Country Pediatrics, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

Got Cow’s Milk? In adult medicine in particular, there’s a push toward going plant based. In pediatrics, though, I prefer to have growing children get cow’s milk because it has the most amount of protein; it’s a comprehensive delivery of multiple nutrients, as opposed to just calcium. My youngest has food allergies, and I have to push him to drink his soy milk. If I don’t watch him, he’d rather have orange juice.

No cellphones in bed I feel strongly that healthy sleep is very important for your whole day. We have rules to maintain healthy sleep hygiene, but the one that is nonnegotiable is that all cellphones charge in my room overnight. Even if I’m asleep earlier than Parker is, I’ll hear him coming in to plug his phone in.

Keep their hands clean I’m pretty hard on washing hands, and my kids don’t get sick much. I have hand sanitizer in the car, and when I used to pick up my kids from school and they expected a snack, there was no snack until hands were cleaned.

Don’t go overboard at the drugstore I don’t really do a lot of medicines. My kids would say, “My mom is the worst doctor ever,” because when they do get sick, I tell them they’re fine. Have some Tylenol if you have a fever, drink more water, and go to sleep. I won’t go out and buy the cough suppressant and the runny nose stuff. A lot of those things aren’t any better than placebo, and in some cases, they can actually cause harm to kids. What’s going to make them better is just time.

Be present If you think about the amount of stress we’ve all gone through, it’s unbelievable. It truly burdens me, the mental health load that children are dealing with. One little thing we always do is take turns praying for our dinner. Noah says the same thing every night, but once in a while he’ll deviate and say, “Watch over the people who are dealing with Black Lives Matter.” Or “Please help homeless people have a dinner like this.” It’s a 20-second glimpse into his world. I think the best thing I can do is to just be around. When your kids need a hug because someone didn’t respond to their texts, you’re there. My husband and I have always said, “Every day, you’re going to go to bed knowing you are loved.” The nice thing about the pandemic is that we’ve had so much time to just talk. How many times are you going to have dinner together seven nights a week and then play Wiffle ball?

Reshma Shah with Shailen Castillo, 9
With Shailen Castillo, 9

Reshma Shah

Director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System

Keep them moving Pre-COVID, it was like, “Come on, Shai, sit. Just sit and talk with me.” Then with COVID it became, “You’ve been sitting for five hours. We’ve got to do something.” There’s resistance. I’ll be like, “If you don’t get up and move, that’s not good for you. You can start putting on extra weight, which will make it harder for you to run. If you want to be the fastest kid in your class, you’ve got to do this.” It doesn’t always work. Then it’s like, “Guess what? These are the rules. I am your mom.”

Give them a routine He’s a really awesome sleeper. He goes to bed at 8:30 and wakes up at 7, like clockwork. At bedtime we still read together and cuddle; right now we’re on book 7 of Harry Potter. During the pandemic, there’s been so much unpredictability: “You’re not going to school.” “You can’t have birthday parties anymore.” And when you have these little set routines in your day-to-day, it’s like, “I know what to expect.” That provides a lot of comfort.

Turmeric is your friend I make turmeric tea: hot water with turmeric, honey, a little bit of milk, ginger, lemon. A lot of people believe that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. I don’t know if it makes the cold go away faster, but it helps him feel better.

Don’t panic about diet We don’t have sodas in the house, but it’s not like he can never have one. During the week, he does the school lunch, which I’m fine with. Then on weekends it’ll be either a turkey sandwich or something from Trader Joe’s. They have this frozen chicken fried rice that he loves. It’s got protein and a bunch of vegetables. I could be better about making healthier lunches and dinners, but I know where my limitations are. I think it’s OK to give ourselves a break.

Be reasonable about encouragement How does he handle stress? His self-esteem goes down. Today he had an English test, and he was not excited at all about it. He’ll say things like, “I’m not smart enough.” Sometimes he’ll act out. I try to stay calm and concrete. Instead of “Oh, you’ll do amazing,” I try to say, “Listen, it can be hard, but let’s figure out some ways to help. You think you’ll never be good at English because you can’t do contractions? Let’s work on contractions.” I went online and printed out some worksheets, and we sat there together and worked on it.

Jason A. Canner with Max, 12, Charlie, 7, and Will, 10
With (from left) Max, 12, Charlie, 7, and Will, 10

Jason A. Canner

Pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center, Oak Lawn

Keep them moving There are a lot of things that distract from physical activity — iPads, game consoles, Netflix. So if I need to push the boys to be outside, I’ll go on a walk and they can rollerblade or bike alongside. So their outdoor activity starts with nice time hanging out with Dad. During e-learning, once lunchtime comes, they eat their food quickly and then look to be outside that hour to hour and a half. That has helped get their energy out.

Sit with them before bedtime They usually spend 20 to 30 minutes reading before bedtime. They’re super close, so often one of Charlie’s older brothers will read to him. And with the other one, usually me or their mom is present, even if we’re just lying there. I think that helps them respect the importance of reading.

Balance sweets with healthy foods Kids are kids and they’re going to want a sugary drink, a Bai or something like that. And so we work that in appropriately. Things like snacks or candy bars, it just needs to be within certain limitations. Our concentration is always health. Whether it’s milk, fruit, vegetables — it has to complement these other things kids want that taste good.

Talk to your kids with respect When I was growing up in the ’80s, you didn’t talk about depression and anxiety at 11 years old — not that I’ve had to do that, thank God, but I try to discuss openly what feelings feel like, and what things make them stressed and what things allow them to relieve that stress. In addition to the pandemic, these kids have had their parents separate in the last 18 months, and they’ve been amazing about it. A lot of it comes from us being open and reminding them we’re there, but I don’t ask them every six hours if they’re OK.

Stay calm and confident A controlled, non-freak-out approach helps my boys process things better. If I can explain what’s going on, that gives them confidence that they’re going to get through whatever challenge there is. Charlie one night was running around in socks and slipped on the hardwood floor. I saw his forehead go right into the crown molding, and he had a very bad laceration. He’s screaming, there’s blood. During the whole process of putting ice on his forehead, getting him into the car, driving to the ER, I explained to him exactly what was going to go on, when it was going to be a little bit more scary, when it wasn’t, and that allowed him to be more calm. It’s just being confident and giving them assurance.