Do your kids need a prescription to play?

In an updated study about children and play from the American Academy of Pediatrics, doctors are urging parents to have their children, especially young children, play more because of the lessons that play teaches them.

“We’re recommending that doctors write a prescription for play, because it’s so important,” said pediatrician Michael Yogman, the lead author of the report in a press release. “Play with parents and peers is fundamentally important for developing a suite of 21st century skills, including social, emotional, language and cognitive skills, all needed by the next generation in an economically competitive world that requires collaboration and innovation. The benefits of play cannot really be overstated in terms of mitigating stress, improving academic skills and helping to build the safe, stable and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress and build social-emotional resilience.”

Kyle Scarbrough makes the sound of a firefighter using a firehose as he and his son Alden, 3, and Maggie McCreery, 7, play on the fire truck in the Zilker Playground. AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2017

What the study and others like it note is that children are playing less.

Here are some stats this study offers:

  • Children’s playtime has decreased by 25 percent from 1981 to 1997, and we bet that if someone did a current study, it would be even less.
  • About 30 percent of kindergarten children don’t have recess and instead have more academic lessons, says research from Advances in Life Course Research.
  • In a study of 8,950 preschool children and parents, only 51 percent of those children went outside to walk or play once a day with a parent.

RELATED: Kids stop playing by age 9

Part of what has happened is that academics have replaced play at a very young age, and parents don’t know how to play with their children or they are fearful about safety concerns to let their children play.

RELATED: How to play safely

What does play do for kids?

It enhances brain structure and function and promotes that executive function, the study says

When kids play, stress is reduced and kids learn to regulate their stress. One of the things the study found was that preschool children who were anxious about going to school were twice as relieved of their stress when they were able to play with their teacher of fellow students for 15 minutes instead of listening to a story. Kids with disruptive behaviors were also less stressed and disruptive when a teacher played with them one-on-one.

Children who played as preschoolers had a better advantage when it came to paying attention and behaving appropriately in the classroom.

RELATED: Reading, playing with your children could reduce hyperactivity

Preschoolers who were given lessons in early math skills didn’t do any better in math in elementary school.

Play helps kids do what’s called scaffolding: building one skill on top of another skill.

Early learning happens socially. Think about the baby who picks up cues from the mom to smile because the mom smiles.

RELATED: Kids want to play more, but they think video games count

Of course, the study also looked at play in rats and changes in the brain structure of the rats who played and the rats who weren’t allowed to play. “Rats that were raised in experimental toy-filled cages had bigger brains and thicker cerebral cortices and completed mazes more quickly.”

And in kids, the study notes that “Children who were in active play for 1 hour per day were better able to think creatively and multitask.”

Play also helps our children be physically active, be socially aware, learn self-regulation skills, language development, imagination and more.

RELATED: Where are the best playgrounds in Central Texas?

So, parents, get out there and play with your children. Yes, you can put the phone down and they can put down that tablet or gaming device. Also, make sure that your child’s school still has elements of play such as outdoor time or recess.

Zach Theatre is starting a new class for parents and young children to play together called Wee Play. It will be showcased at the open house on Saturday at it’s 1510 Toomey Road location and on Sept. 1 at its 12129 RM 620 N. location.


The open houses are 10 a.m. to noon. Here is the schedule for the day:

10:00 A.M. – Sign Ups for Sample Classes Main Campus begin/All Stations open

10:05 A.M. – Back to School Confidence-Building Activities

  • Want to get your student ready for new situations?  Come try some activities that over time will help your student’s confidence, resilience, and flexibility in a new place.

10:20 – 10:40 AM – 1st Set of Sample Classes

  • 1 yr – Wee Play
  • 3.5 – 5 – Story Drama
  • K – 1st – Broadway Kids
  • 2nd – 3rd – Create a Play
  • 4th – 5th – Improvisation

10:45 A.M. – Confidence-Building Back to School Activities

  • Want to get your student ready for new situations?  Come try some activities that over time will help your student’s confidence, resilience, and flexibility in a new place!

11:00 – 11:20 AM – 2nd Set of Sample Classes

  • 2 yr – Wee Play
  • 3 – 5 – Broadway Babies
  • K – 1st – Act the Story
  • 2nd – 3rd – Musical Theatre
  • 4th – 5th – Acting and Scene Study

11:25 A.M. – Back to School Activities

  • Want to get your student ready for new situations?  Come try some activities that over time will help your student’s confidence, resilience, and flexibility in a new place!

11:40 AM – 12:00 PM – 3rd Set of Sample Classes

  • 1 yr – Wee Play
  • 3 – 5 – Story Drama
  • K – 1st – Broadway Kids
  • 2nd – 3rd – Intro to Acting
  • 4th – 5th – Musical Theatre

Want to have a great school year? Follow these teachers’ advice

Some kids around Central Texas started school this week. Others start next week or the week after.

We’ve already shared what advice teachers have for parents at the start of the school year, but what about the rest of the year?

Mirielle Badgley-Finan and Avery Knox are excited about school starting. Now let’s keep that excitement all year long. LYNDA M. GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Here’s what they suggest:

Avoid being overscheduled. Before signing up for many after-school activities, see what you can handle with school. Try to avoid late evening extracurriculars. Sleep is important.

RELATED: How to help shy, introverted kids go back to school

Have a backpack and binder cleaning out party regularly. Consider doing it whenever we have a school holiday or at the start of a new grading period.

Establish positive communication with teachers, parents. Read the regular emails and notes your child’s teachers sends. Ask questions but not in an accusatory way.

RELATED: Parents want to hear more from teachers, teachers want to hear more from parents

Look for ways you can help teachers. Does that teacher need help copying papers or cutting things for an upcoming project? Ask how you can help, even if you can’t be at school during daytime hours.

Attend as many school activities as possible. If you can, chaperone a field trip. Come to games and performances. Be that embarrassing fan in the stand cheering for your kid, just don’t undermine the coach or director.

RELATED: What does your school nurse want to know?

Give teachers praise. Like something that the teacher did for your child or the rest of the class? Parents and students always can drop teachers a handwritten note or an email. ‘Thank you” goes a long way. Think about nominating a particularly great teacher for an award.

Get to know the staff at your school. The principal and vice-principals, the secretaries, the counselors all can be good allies to have.

RELATED: What to ask on Meet the Teacher night?

RELATED: How to take a great first day of school photo?

Sources: Inez Flores, Mills Elementary; Erica Green, Kiker Elementary; Juli Naranjo, Cowan Elementary; Beth Ann Cole, Boone Elementary; Lori Pearce, Fulmore Middle School; Nancy Stewart, Cedar Park Middle School; Katherine Ratcliffe, Kealing Middle School; Jo Patrick, Fulmore Middle School.

RELATED: Sending a kid off to college? Follow these tips

What does the school nurse want to know about your child? A lot

If you’ve thought school nursing was just about taking temperatures and handing out bandages, a few hours at “Kids First” workshop at University of Texas School of Nursing proves you wrong pretty quickly.

During the course of two days last week, about 300 nurses from districts around Central Texas learned about the latest in managing diseases like ADHD, diabetes and mental health disorders, how to recognize child abuse, and how to recognize signs of stress and sleep deprivation in students. They also brushed up on skills such as catheterization, cleaning gastrostomy tubes, changing tracheal tubes and how to recognize abnormal heart and lung sounds and ear infections.

Kellee Flemmons and Molly Hinds practice catheterizing a mannequin. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

While school nurses cannot diagnose anything, they might be the first medical professional to see warning signs of life-threatening or chronic illnesses, and they also might be called on to help manage some of the care during the school day.

Some of the nurses who attended “Kids First” were regularly having to do things like catheterization or GT tubes because of the kids who are in their schools, others had never had a kid on their campus with those needs and welcomed the refresher lessons.

Deanne Hemmenway, CD Fulkes Middle School in Round Rock Independent School District, who regularly has done catheterization on a student, says it’s all about creating privacy and a trust factor, as it would be for any student she sees.

She’s been a school nurse for 20 years and knows that what comes into her office definitely depends on the time of year. There’s flu season, and allergy seasons, there’s also football season, volleyball season and track season. She also sees a lot of asthma and diabetes management come in as well as scrapes and falls. She’s called ambulances for football paralysis, severe asthma and falls down the staircase.

Sometimes the nurse’s office is where kids take a breather in the sanctuary of a quiet space and a nurse with an empathetic ear.

“Every day I have a handful of kids that don’t want to go to class,” Hemmenway says. Sometimes it’s a test they are trying to avoid. Other times there is more going on, like avoiding peers or family struggles.

Jacquelyn Kernan listens to the breath sounds and heartbeat of a mannequin. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The nurses office, she says, is like a mini emergency room or clinic, in the variety of things that come in.

“You never know what is going to happen day to day,” says Joanne Johnson, a nurse at Ridgeview Middle School in Round Rock ISD.

What has changed is some of the things that are coming nurses’ offices weren’t decades ago. Mental health crises, particularly depression and anxiety, and problems with stress management come into the office more frequently, says Violet Filley, who has been a nurse for 23 years and works with sixth-graders to 12th-graders at Round Rock Opportunity Center.

How can parents best work with their school nurses? We asked some nurses at the training what information they’d like parents to be given them and how parents can be better partners in their child’s care.

RELATED: Teachers offer this advice for going back to school

Make sure your contact information is updated online (if your district has an online emergency contact form) and also by paper (if they don’t have the online form or the power goes out).

Make sure your child knows your phone number and the phone number of a few more people to call in an emergency. It’s not enough to have it in their phone. Their phone might not be charged at that moment.

Take the nurse’s call when she calls you and have a plan on what to do if your child needs to go home. Have a backup person who can pick up your child if you’re not available and make sure that your backup person is on the emergency contact form.

Know that a school nurse cannot diagnose. They can make a suggestion of what they think might be going on, but you have to take your child to a doctor to receive a diagnosis and treatment. The school nurse also is not your primary care clinic. However, sometimes school nurses might notice things that a teacher or parent has not, and often, they know what ick is going around.

Follow the 24-hour fever-free rule to return to school. Our nurses understand that parents have to work, but giving a kid Tylenol or Advil to get the fever down, doesn’t qualify as being 24-hours fever-free. It has to be 24-hours fever-free with no assistance. This is for your child’s safety as well as other children’s to stop the spread of disease. Remember last year’s flu season in which some districts had classrooms with very few kids in them? Let’s try to avoid that this year.

RELATED: Teachers want to know more about kids than parents share

For very young kids, put a clean pair of pants and underwear in their backpack and keep it there all year. Make sure your child and your child’s teacher knows where those clothes are.Nurses often have to send kids home or find clothes in the lost-and-found or try to clean up kids after an accident.

Share medical information with the nurse. They want to know if your child has a chronic illness, what medication your child is on and how much, what food or other allergies your child has and what to do if she has an attack, and what mental health diagnoses your child might have. If you think the teacher or the counselor has this information, don’t assume it’s filtering down to the nurse. It can be beneficial to sign a records sharing request for your child’s doctor’s office to send over medical information.

BACK TO SCHOOL: See our guide for tips, checklists and resources for parents.

Let the nurse know if there has been flu, strep or other communicable diseases. The school districts’ health departments are required to share numbers with the state and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those numbers start with the school nurse and can help establish a pattern of where and how quickly a virus is moving.

Share the 504 plan or individualized education plan with the nurse. The teachers, counselors and administration might know it, but the nurse also should be informed, especially if it’s for behavior, physical health or mental health. They want to know what works with your child. They also want to know if the behavior that has caused your child to go to the nurse is normal for them. If your child regularly has panic attacks, that’s helpful for the nurse to be able to rule that out if your child comes in with shortness of breath.

Let the nurse know about a long-term medical condition that might mean homebound services will be needed. Sometimes the school nurse gets tasked in getting assignments for kids who can’t attend school.

Have the right paperwork for giving a child medication. If your child needs to take medicine while at school, most districts won’t let you just give the kid the pill bottle. There will be paperwork involved that comes from your doctor if it’s prescribed or from you if it’s an over-the-counter. Each district has its own set of guidelines. Ask your nurse what you need to provide and know that she can’t give your child anything if the paperwork is not filled out properly.

Realize that kids are different at school than at home. Sometimes kids will have stomachaches and headaches at school and be fine at home or the opposite can be true. It depends on how your child is wired. Recognize that what the nurse sees might not be the same symptoms you see regularly.

Understand that the nurse might not need to call you. Most districts have protocols for calling parents if there is a fever or head injury. If there’s an injury that seems to be fixed with a bandage or if the kid just needs a break, the nurse might not call you. Sometimes nurses who know families well have more information about whether or not you’re the kind of parent who wants a call at every visit to the nurse’s office or not. If you are that parent, let the nurse know that you’d like a call. Realize that the nurse’s time is valuable (usually there’s only one of her for hundreds or even thousands of children). She might not be able to call you that moment. A good reason that you might want a call is if you’re trying to establish a pattern to your child’s symptoms or if you’re trying out a new medication and need data if it’s working.

When in doubt, overshare information. Often the school nurse is the last to know, but the first to see your child in an emergency.

Who should be screening moms for postpartum depression? More doctors now can

The postpartum depression that can follow having a baby can catch many families off guard and become worrisome not just for the mom experiencing it, but for the baby whose mother might have excessive worries about that baby’s safety or feel a lack of connection to her baby.

That maternal bond is important in the first few years of life as babies learn that if I smile at you, you smile back. If I cry because I’m hungry, you feed me.

“When a baby is parented by a depressed or anxious mother, there is some evidence that long-term exposure can lead to a learning disability, cognitive delays or motor delays,” says Elaine Cavazos, a licensed social worker who specializes in postpartum depression. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Texas and the clinical director of the Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas.

Postpartum depression rates vary from 10 percent to 20 percent to ratios of 1 in 7 postpartum women. It depends on what study you cite.

Getting support from groups like Partners in Parenting or finding fellow parents of young babies can help new parents not feel so alone. AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2016

One of the questions among medical providers has been who can screen for it and when should it be done.

In May the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that doctors offer more postpartum care for women by adding follow up within the first three weeks of delivery in addition to a comprehensive visit within 12 weeks of delivery. Part of that recommendation is a response to recognizing that symptoms of postpartum depression often happen before the traditional six-week checkup.

Mothers actually see their child’s pediatrician more regularly throughout that first year than their own doctors. Usually within a few days of birth, then at a month, two months, four months, six months, nine months and at one year.

“One of the critical things is we have access to the moms because we have access to the babies at a pretty high frequency,” says pediatrician Louis Appel.

Pediatrician Dr. Louis Appel visits with 15-month-old Jose Romo as mother, Laura Patricia Romo looks on during a well child checkup at People’s Community Clinic. For about seven years, doctors there have been screening new moms for postpartum depression during their child’s well-check visits. AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2007

Recognizing that, the 2017 Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2466 that allows pediatricians to charge Medicaid and child health plan programs for the screening of mothers for depression within the first year of a child’s life even if the mother isn’t covered by those programs but the child is. Medicaid covers mothers with low incomes while they are pregnant until 60 days after delivery, at which point they might not have the insurance to be screened for postpartum depression. Now they can still get screened after 60 days by going through the child’s pediatrician and insurance.

Once screened, pediatricians can refer mothers to mental health services.

Appel, says about seven years ago, pediatricians where he works at People’s Community Clinic began doing the screenings because they were looking at what they could do to help with early brain development.

“The thing we landed on was screening for postpartum depression,” he says. “That early bonding is so important to early brain development in children.”

People’s Community Clinic screens by having the nurse or doctor ask two questions known as the Patient Health Questionnaire 2:

1. During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?

2. During the past month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?

If they answer yes to any of those things or if there is a noticeable lack of interaction between mom or baby or an anxiousness around that interaction, the patient would be given a longer 10-question form to fill out.

In this 2011 file photo, nurse practitioner Peggy Wall conducts a prenatal visit with patient Leticia Martinez at in the Women’s Health department at People’s Community Clinic. New guidelines encourage obstetricians to follow up with new moms sooner after birth than six weeks. AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2011

Doctors and nurses then refer patients to the clinic’s social workers, sometimes in-person that day or by phone later. If Appel didn’t have those in-house resources, he says he would refer the mom to her primary care physician or to other community health resources or the national crisis line for postpartum depression. Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas also keeps a list of providers and what insurance companies they take.

It’s not just moms who can get postpartum depression. It can happen to dad’s, too, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 4 percent of new father’s experience it as well. Cavazos says that in her practice, she sees dads as well as adoptive parents.

The depression for moms might start in pregnancy. “The more severe cases probably we might have seen while she was pregnant,” Cavazos says.

This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that parents actually have a prenatal visit with pediatricians. This can help pediatricians anticipate postpartum depression by looking for any perinatal depression as well as give guidelines for those first few weeks of infant care. It also helps establish a partnership between the doctor and the family, and for the doctor to get a sense of pregnancy complications, family medical histories and any exposure that baby might have had to drugs or alcohol while in the womb.

Cavazos says the hallmark of postpartum depression is intrusive thoughts that something awful is going to happen to the baby or they are going to do something awful to the baby or something awful to themselves and the baby. The mom becomes super vigilant about the baby’s care and won’t let anyone else care for the baby, or she is unable to engage with the baby because she’s afraid she’ll do something wrong.

Cavazos says it’s like she is thinking, “What’s the very worst thing that can happen to her?” and she’s playing it over and over again in her head, but it’s not a Child Protective Case, because it is fear-driven and anxiety-driven, not something she will actually act on, Cavazos says.

Her family will take note that she just doesn’t seem like herself.

Postpartum psychosis, though, can happen, but is very rare. That’s when she doesn’t feel fear or anxious. She feels almost like a deity or something outside herself is making her do things, Cavazos says, and that’s a psychiatric emergency. The mom needs to be separated from the baby and get help immediately.

With postpartum depression, Cavazos will ask the mom if she’s sleeping, and that will get a laugh. She worries if women are getting less than five hours of sleep a day combined. She also wants to know about whether they have access to nutritious food and are eating. She might want them to have their vitamin D and thyroid levels checked to rule out other possibilities.

Sometimes antidepressants will be necessary. Even for moms that are nursing, “the general consensus is if the mom is depressed, the benefits far outweigh the risks of the medication,” Appel says.

Other times, the treatment is self-care and talk therapy.

Cavazos will work on what feelings the moms have about the baby, what things cause them to become overwhelmed with the baby’s care, what resources they have to get help, and also normalize what she is feeling.

Often moms don’t stay long in therapy, usually four or five visits to eight visits because of the amount of bandwidth they have. After all, they have a new baby, but sometimes they will make therapy part of their self-care regimen. Sometimes Cavazos will recommend a support group or some sort of parenting group to help the mom not feel so alone. And she’ll help reassure moms that they have good parenting skills and find ways to strengthen those skills.

RELATED: Partners in Parenting help new moms, dads get support

Appel encourages a mom’s partner or support system to help as much as possible and to “give new moms permission to … take any help people can give,” he says. That whole “sleep when baby sleeps” is important. “You should not be doing the laundry or cleaning the house,” he says.

Does ‘Incredibles 2’ get the work-life balance wrong?

The family in “Incredibles” are just like us. OK, yes, they are superheroes with super powers, but they, too struggle with the work-life balance. In the first movie, Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) struggles with a job he hates, but it pays the bills. He’s looking for excitement, for the glory days of saving the day. His wife, Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) is his loving wife, who is much more practical as they settle into a new life away from their superhero days. And then, he gets called up (by the guy who ends up being the villain) to be a superhero again. He’s away from home, but checking in on the family — who later have to help him save the day.

“Incredibles 2″is now in theaters. Contributed by Disney/Pixar

In the new movie, the roles are reversed. Elastigirl is the one who gets called up to be a superhero and Mr. Incredible turns into Mr. Mom. It’s a rough go for both of them in the beginning as the roles are reversed. Yet, Mr. Incredible figures out things about baby Jack-Jack that his wife hasn’t discovered, he learns new math to help Dash and he tries to help teenage daughter Violet with her dating heartbreak.

RELATED: First year of baby’s life from a dad

His wife, feels torn between this exciting new job and what she’s missing at home. My favorite scene is when she’s on her super motorcycle racing off to stop a runaway train when she gets a call from Dash. Multitasking happens, and, of course, we all see that she isn’t really able to do both at the same time, certainly not both well.

She needs help. She needs it from her husband, but she also needs it from her kids, too.

And so, we accept that the Incredibles are just like us. And yet, why do we buy into the fact that Dad struggles as Mr. Mom and Mom struggles with the guilt of having to work outside the home? Does he really not know how to do anything for the kids? Did the kids just fall from the sky one day, rather than him being part of the raising of them since they were born?

Did she never have to be away from her kids, do any work outside the home until now? Are the kids helpless without Mom? Is Mom really the only one who can do the things that make the trains run on time at home?

RELATED: Moms go in and out of the workforce to make it work for them

As much as I can identify with the Incredibles family, it’s missing something. Moms and Dads share much more equally in the raising of kids these days. Dads pick up kids from school and take them to activities all the time. Dads even take kids to the doctors or cook dinner or wash the laundry. Moms sometimes work late or go out of town for work. Kids get help from both parents with homework. And that’s if there are two parents in the house. Sometimes it’s Mom or Dad doing all of it.

The 1950s are over — and truthfully, at least in my family, that stereotype never really existed. Both my grandmothers worked in the 1950s, my mother also worked in the 1980s, and I work in the 2010s. My grandfather helped his kids with homework, my dad made dinner and did carpool, my husband and I split the driving, the cooking, the cleaning, and we both work, a lot.

Why is it that “Incredibles 2” still in 2018 played into the hardship of dads as Mr. Mom and Mom and CEO? Our kids are watching and they deserve better than stereotypes.


What dads can teach their daughters to help them become empowered women

For dads, raising daughters can sometimes be mystifying. The same could be said for mothers raising sons or really any parent raising a kid who isn’t like they were growing up.

But dads do some great things for daughters, including setting the example of how men should treat women, which feels especially important in this year of #MeToo.

Devin Price holds his daughter, Ada at a Partners in Parenting meeting. AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2016

Sheri D. Engler, psychologist and author of “The Pearls of Wisdom: A Fairy Tale Guide to Life’s Magic Secrets for All Ages,” offers these tips for dads raising daughters:

  • Treat women with respect.  Your daughter is watching how you treat women, and it will have a lifelong impact on her in ways you can’t imagine. You must be cognizant of your attitude and behavior around women at all times. This includes not saying negative things about her mother if you are divorced. See yourself as a role model of the kind of man you would want your daughter to marry one day, because that frequently influences how women choose their partners.
  • Give her compliments about things other than her beauty. It is OK to tell your daughter she’s pretty, but that should not be the only compliment you give her. Compliment her intelligence, her resourcefulness, her imagination, her many skills, her hard work, and her strength. Honestly tell her the unique things you love about her, the things that make her a good and special person.
  • Teach her the magic of self confidence. Teach her about the power that comes from believing in herself and believing she can achieve greatness in the world, while understanding that there are many girls who simply want to be a “mommy” like their , which is the most important job in the world. In this case, they may fear failing their father’s expectations of greatness. There is a critical difference between encouragement to be who they are and pressure to be who they aren’t.
  • Teach her about what has traditionally been “guy stuff.”  Teach her self-reliance, such as routine car maintenance, or mechanics in general. Teach her how to use tools while building a treehouse. Go fishing together. Take her to see planes at air shows, teach her photography and go birdwatching with her. It matters to spend quality time with her because it makes her feel she is worth her dad’s time. And it doesn’t have to stop in childhood. What could you be teaching your adult daughter?
  • Let her get gritty like the boys.  Teach her how to play sports from early on. This fosters tremendous social confidence as well as body confidence. Or just let her play in the mud and get dirty if that is what she wants to do. Girls don’t always have to be clean and pretty.
  • Introduce her to books with girl heroes. There are plenty of books to choose from, so when reading to her let her enjoy a variety of adventures including books with strong female leaders. This will send the message that you believe in her. Or perhaps help her write a story of her own imagining herself as the hero or lead character. If nothing else, this will give you a valuable view of how she sees herself so you know what’s going on with her.
  • Share music with her. Play your favorite music and tell her why you like it and let her do the same. Take her to concerts. If she wants to play an instrument, help her learn how. Music, and the arts in general, can be very bonding experiences.

Matt Coyne’s first year of fatherhood turned into ‘Man vs. Baby,’ the book

Head to any bookstore or online bookseller and you can find dozens of new titles about motherhood. Some are deeply moving, some are instructional and still others find the humor in this difficult job.

Books about fatherhood? Not as many.

On Dec. 7, 2015, Matt Coyne, a graphic designer from England who had become father to Charlie three months before, sat down and wrote a Facebook post about what these first three months had been like. He was honest about his ineptitude, he was real about his role versus his partner’s role (you just can’t compare the level of tired or the work she’s doing), and he was hysterically funny. Side-splitting, make-you-wet-your-pants (especially if you’ve had children) funny.

“I used to think the theory that the moon landing was a hoax was total bullocks, just because it required a huge amount of people to share a secret,” he writes. “I now think it’s a distinct possibility, given the conspiracy of silence about how horrendous labor is. The labor suite is like being in ‘Nam. It is nothing like you see in sitcoms or in films, unless that film is ‘Saw IV,’ or it’s the chest-bursting scene from ‘Alien.’ So, to those who told me that the birth would be a magical experience … you’re a bunch of (expletive) liars.”

Matt Coyne became a father to Charlie almost three years ago. He wrote “Man vs. Baby: The Chaos & Comedy of Real-life Parenting,” ($17, Simon & Schuster).

Oh, yes, there are obscenities sprinkled throughout this recap of the first three months. He doesn’t hold back on Charlie peeing into his eye during diaper changes, the lack of sleep, the family coming to see Charlie, the fact that the baby is all-consuming.

“I was trying to make sense of what I had learned, which is nothing,” says Coyne, 43.

At first he got 20 likes on his Facebook page. Then friends reached out and requested that he change the privacy settings so they could share it with other friends. It wasn’t supposed to be anything, really; just something he wrote in the Notes app on his phone and then posted to Facebook.

“Very little I do is calculated,” he says.

It’s now been viewed 18 million times.

Book publishers reached out and news shows. While he has a degree in English, he wasn’t sure he could turn one Facebook post into a full book. He began with a blog he called Man vs. Baby.

It has now turned into a book about this first year, named after the blog, but with the subtitle: “The Chaos & Comedy of Real-life Parenting.” ($17, Simon and Schuster).

“I was a graphic designer,” he says. ” I was very bad at it. … Now this is what I do for a living until it goes horribly wrong.”

Fatherhood has come with its share of surprises, which Coyne writes about, and talks to us about by telephone.

“All of the sudden you have no time to do anything other than focus on this human being,” he says. “It comes as a massive shock to the system. You can’t decide to go to a restaurant. You can’t decide to flip on the TV,” without thinking about the baby and the baby’s schedule and whether or not you’ll wake him up.

He went into it knowing he would be sleep deprived, but he had no idea just what that would feel like. He writes: “For two weeks, I didn’t shower, didn’t shave, and barely ate, and neither of us escaped from bathrobes and sweatpants. We looked like forgotten patients in the basement of a Victorian asylum.”

Coyne’s theory is that every parent thinks that the time they are in the hardest part. The first three months seemed like the hardest part, but then friends told him the toddler years were far harder. Now they tell him to just wait until Charlie’s a teenager.

“It’s never boring,” he says.

On this Father’s Day, he says, “the ultimate goal is just like a Mum on Mother’s Day — to do absolutely nothing and get on with doing nothing. I’m supposed to say, ‘spend a lot of time with the kid,’ but I do that all year long.”

Actually, instead of watching Netflix like he’d like, he and the family are going to a working farm in England to do things like pet and feed the animals.

The response to the blog and now the book has been surprising to Coyne. The readers of the blog are 90 percent women.

“They are moms who are interested in a dad’s perspective,” he says.

“You would think there would be differences,” but he says, “I’m not convinced there’s so much of a difference.”

Well, there is one thing: How much time dads spend in the bathroom. “Clearly we use excuses all the time,” he says.

The American audience found the blog after celebrities started sharing it. “They’re really lovely about it,” he says of his American readers.

There are actually two versions of the book: The English version and the American version that explains some of the English phrases in footnotes.

Sometimes they call him on the fact that he swears a lot. “That’s an English thing,” he says. “They’re called sentence enhancers.”

He also gets comments when he talks about vaccinations, and he feels a twinge of guilt that an English doctor started the controversy.

Coyne is now working on a second book about the next year of Charlie’s life. Charlie will turn 3 in September.

The first book was planned out during that first year based on milestones leading up to ending with Charlie walking. Of course, Charlie didn’t follow that script.

“You’re desperate for it to happen,” he says, then you ask, “why did I want it to happen?”

His next book will include maps of Charlie’s walk to the park. In the first book, the map is a round-about way to avoid an elderly neighbor who turns a wave hello into an all-day event fawning over Charlie. In this next book, it will show the day they didn’t move from their front step for three hours because they saw a ladybug, or the day that they walked for miles chasing a cat.

“Now I need all my energy to keep up with him,” he says.

There won’t be a book about adding a sibling to the family, though.

“The idea of having another one might finish me off,” he says.

And if it sounds like Coyne is complaining, he’s not. Fatherhood has been the most positive thing. “I wasn’t expecting to be quite so attached to him,” he says.

Harry Connick Jr. coming to Austin to talk about colon cancer

Singer, actor, TV personality Harry Connick Jr. and his wife Jill Goodacre Connick will be in Austin Tuesday, but this time it won’t be for a movie premiere (he’s shot two here) and it won’t be to perform.

Instead, he’s talking about turning 50 and the importance of getting screened for colon cancer.

Harry Connick Jr. will be back in Austin on Tuesday. In 2013, he was on the red carpet at the Paramount Theatre for the opening of “When Angels Sing” with Willie Nelson during the SXSW Film Festival. American-Statesman 2013

“Cancer’s been unfortunately a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” he says. His mom died of ovarian cancer when he was 13; his wife had breast cancer. “I’m just sick of cancer.”

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but it’s also one of the most preventable if caught early.

In Texas, we’re not great about getting our screenings. Texas ranks 41st in the country for colon cancer screenings, says Dr. Jacqueline Champlain, a family practice physician at Austin Regional Clinic.

The Connicks have been touring the country talking about screenings as part of Cologuard, a noninvasive colon cancer screening test, and its New 50 campaign. Age 50 is when most people should first be screened for colon cancer, unless they have genetic risk factors such as a parent with early onset cancer; symptoms such as changes in the stool or weight loss; or an underlying disease such as Crohn’s or colitis or irritable bowel syndrome.

On Tuesday, Connick will be at the Bullock Museum and talk about getting screened himself, using Cologuard. It was simple, he says, and took about a minute. Yet, he knows it’s not something people want to talk about. We’re trying to demystify the process of screening, he says.

RELATED: University of Texas tests app for colon cancer

“Fortunately, my results are negative,” he says, but he knows what it was like when his wife was first diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was a nightmare,” he says. “It’s terrifying. ”

Her cancer was caught by a routine screening, in her case a sonogram, instead of a mammogram.

A colonoscopy is considered the gold standard of colon cancer screening, Champlain says. A colonoscopy is like what a dermatologist does for a skin check, Champlain says, except it’s inside the colon. Think of it as a doctor looking for a suspicious mole, but in this case a polyp inside the colon. During a colonoscopy, the doctor can then do a biopsy of a polyp and even remove it.

Colonoscopy often it isn’t convenient to patients, Champlain says. Many people don’t have the time to do the prep work associated with a colonoscopy, she says. Often prep includes a day of drinking some medicine that will have you needing to be near a toilet to clean out the colon. Then it’s a day for the colonoscopy. Sometimes you have to have an appointment with the specialists who will be doing the colonoscopy after getting the referral from your doctor, though she tries to have her nurses smooth out that process.

Also, there’s the cost. Cologuard costs about $200 out-of-pocket if insurance won’t cover it, but Champlain says she has seen really good results in getting insurance to cover it. A colonoscopy can be thousands of dollars if you have a high-deductible insurance plan.

The Cologuard kit gets ordered by the doctor, then a patient takes it home. The kit comes with easy-to-read instructions, a bowl that you put into the toilet to capture your stool, a swab to collect a sample of the stool and then a package to mail in the sample.

With Cologuard, it’s looking for signals of cancer that the colon is giving off, Champlain says. She thinks of it like the colon sending out a wireless signal that Cologuard picks up like your cellphone picks up the wireless transmissions.

If Cologuard comes back positive, then a follow-up colonoscopy is done to see what is going on. She has not had anyone come back with a false positive, she says, and has patients right now that are being treated for colon cancer because of Cologuard.

“We need folks to get this done,” she says, because in addition to colon cancer being the second-deadliest cancer, the majority of people have no symptoms.

Yet, like skin cancer, if caught early, it is easily treatable by removing the cancer. If caught later, like skin cancer, it is not.

Cologuard screenings need to be done every three to five years, Champlain says. Colonoscopies need to be done every five to 10 years until age 75, but it also depends on what the initial colonoscopy finds and family history.

The Connicks will be issuing a #ScreenWithMe challenge on Tuesday. People 50 years old or older can pledge to get screened, then invite three of their friends to get screened. For every pledge, Exact Sciences, which makes Cologuard, will donate $1 to cancer research and advocacy. You can learn about the challenge at

Connick says since turning 50 in September, “I physically never felt better,” he says. “I feel strong. Fifty is different than it used to be.”

It’s definitely different than what he thought 50 would feel like when he was young, he says.

He’s recently workshopped a new musical based on the movie “The Sting,” will be going on tour this summer and thinks a studio album won’t be far off.

Champlain also reminds that in addition to a screening for colon cancer, women need mammograms beginning at age 40 and pap smears beginning at age 21; men need prostate cancer screenings at 50. Beginning at age 25, your doctor should also do a blood panel to look for things like cholesterol and diabetes. Everyone should be getting their blood pressure and weight checked at each visit. Champlain says she screens for depression and domestic violence at each well visit as well.

Champlain thinks of these screenings as “low hanging fruits” with high rewards, minimal risks. “It’s like getting in our car and putting on your seat belt. Why wouldn’t you do that?”

Related: Moms, don’t skip your well-checks


The New 50: An Evening with Harry Connick Jr. and Jill Connick

When: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Texas Spirit Theatre at the Bob Bullock Musuem, 1800 Congress Ave.

Cost: Free, but you must register at


Mom shares the less-than-pretty truth about raising a child with autism in ‘Autism Uncensored’

Whitney Ellenby writes her truth about raising a son with autism in “Autism Uncensored: Pulling Back the Curtain.” ($19.95, Koehler Books) Not everyone is going to like it, and that’s just fine with her. In fact, she’s been reviled for writing what she’s written.

Ellenby was a lawyer in Washington, D.C., working in the Disability Rights Section of the Department of Justice, when she and her husband, Keith, became pregnant with Zack, who is now 17.

Whitney Ellenby, her husband Keith, son Zack and daughter Cassie.

Ellenby doesn’t pull any punches about the first five years of Zack’s life. When he was born, she had trouble connecting with him. He didn’t sleep well. He didn’t respond in ways she thought he should. His expressions were just flat. He never pointed for anything. Yet, how should she know this wasn’t normal? He was a first child.

She doesn’t hide her bitterness when the diagnosis came, and with it, a recommendation for 40 hours a week of therapy. This therapy came with a false hope that maybe he could be trained to alter his behavior so much that he appeared normal.

Whitney Ellenby wrote “Autism Uncensored: Pulling Back the Curtain.”

She dutifully brought her son to Applied Behavior Analysis therapy for months on end. Some behaviors would get better for a time period, or he would move from one behavior to another, but she became aware that it wasn’t working, that he hated the therapy, that it felt like punishment.

She writes that felt like she was losing herself. She looked at her work clothes and realized she was no longer that person who wore those. She felt like she was becoming more and more isolated. She couldn’t take Zack to public places because he would freak out. He started doing things like smearing his poop all over his room at night or eating non-food items. She writes “So this is my life. I am a well-educated woman. I am an accomplished civil rights attorney. I am a woman who spends hours every night on her hands and knees scraping feces off walls.”

The book, she says, was written for parents like her who are struggling and in pain. “When you decide to become a parent, it’s a leap of faith,” she says. You expect a normal baby. You don’t expect a Zack. “It’s not natural to have a total surrender of your identity,” she says. “Are you expected to be happy and thrilled or is there a natural amount of anger and bitterness?”

“Autism Uncensored: Pulling Back the Curtain,” by Whitney Ellenby.

She has experienced backlash after writing the book, she says, mainly from some other parents of children like Zack and from adults with autism who are high-functioning. “It’s just terrible to tell my truth,” she says, of the messages she has received. “I’m offended that your offended,” she says about her critics.

The way she felt, she says, is very normal. “It’s helpful to acknowledge it,” she says.

Ellenby spent five years trying to figure to figure out what went wrong and blaming herself as well as trying to find a way to make him more like a neurotypical kids. She wants parents to “shed the shame. Don’t waste time blaming themselves,” she says. “The numbers are huge and we don’t know why. We don’t know what’s causing it, but it isn’t anything we intentionally did.”

The book takes readers through those dreadfully frustrating years, but there are triumphs for sure. The highs were incredibly high, and the lows were incredibly low.

One of the things Ellenby did that experts discouraged her from doing was exposure therapy to the public spaces that Zack feared.

Ellenby created a routine of bringing Zack to places like the movie theater or a “Sesame Street Live” performance. Zack would have an all out tantrum and often the audience would be hostile to Ellenby until she started explaining to them what was about to happen. She would tell them that her son has autism and that he is afraid, but if they will just listen to him scream for a few minutes, she would talk to him and tell him what was going to happen, and suddenly he would realize that Elmo is on stage and that’s magical or that a movie is going to start and that’s pretty cool.

“Our kids can do so much more than they think they can do,” she says.

Through doing this, Ellenby made sure that Zack was able to go on the high slide at the water park, even though she was too chicken to follow him down, or go to a rock concert.

Her work with Zack also inspired her to create a nonprofit organization in the Washington, D.C., area to offer sensory-friendly events for families of children with autism.

Instead of chasing a cure, she’d like national organizations to build in more services for families, to advocate for more opportunities for people with autism. She’d like autism to be treated like any other disability, with accommodations in public places.

“Our kids are innocent travelers with a disability that makes the world hard to navigate,” she says. “If they are flapping, own it. Don’t feel ashamed of it. Get them out into the real world. Don’t keep them at home because you’re embarrassed. The only way to crystallize skills is to practice them in the real world.”

One of the things she wants to encourage families with a new autism diagnosis to do is to try lots of therapies, but to trust their gut. If something isn’t working or if their child plateaus, try something else.

She wishes she had done more with real world experiences and playdates when Zack was younger rather than him spending his time in 40 hours a week of therapy that didn’t work.

Zack started out in regular classes with some support, but then as the gulf between him and his classmates became wider and wider, it became painful for Ellenby to watch. She had to get over the idea that the experts had given her early on that Zack could “recover” from autism. It was about letting go of the fantasy and pretense. Once she accepted that he’s never going to “recover,” and “it was strangely liberating,” she says. “We acknowledged we had set the bar at an unrealistic place.”

For her, that means she looks to a future of Zack living with assistance and maybe one day having an entry-level job that works for him.

“This is who he is, this is who he’s meant to be,” she says. “Call the thing what it is and ask for what you need.”

Your map to finding day care from Austin Public Health

Looking for child care in Travis County? Austin Public Health has this handy map. You can see where centers or in-home day cares are located. You also can see which ones have been Texas Rising Star certified and or National Association for the Education of Young Children certified. These measures look at the director, the teachers, the ratios, the amount of education, the outdoor activities, parent involvement, and other rubrics.

Look at things like cleanliness, attitude of the caregiver and staff to child ratio in day cares. LISA POWELL / STAFF

To look at the safety standards of your day care, check out the Texas Health and Human Services database, which shows the size of the center and location as well as what violations or self-reported incidents the centers or in-home care have had.

RELATED: Millennial parents, your cost of child care is like paying for college every year

And if you’ve ever thought to yourself, this daycare isn’t working out, read this story I wrote in 2014 on how to switch day cares;

Election Day 2008. I walked into my daughter’s day care room and saw another new teacher – her fourth or fifth of the school year. I was done. From my car, I called another day care center to see if by chance they had room for a 5-year-old for the next six months. They did.

Right then, I fired my day care of almost eight years.

The center that was perfect for my son and perfect for my daughter for the first four years of her life had changed. We needed something else.

Leaving your day care is a big decision. Sometimes there are obvious red flags: Is the center clean, are there a lot of accidents, are the children well-supervised, does anyone have access to the building and your child, are teachers doing what they say they are doing in their newsletters, does the staff know your child and you?

If your gut is telling you there’s something very wrong, check with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. At, you can look up recent inspections at your center and see what the violations were and if they’ve been corrected.

Before you decide to make the move, Lisa Tate, director of Children’s Lighthouse Learning Center in Cedar Park, suggests having a conversation with the center. A good center wants to hear why it’s not working for your child.

There might be something that the director is not aware of that needs to be fixed or it could be that you misunderstood what has been going on in the classroom.

Sometimes there are things that happen that might be typical for kids at that age – like biting – that might be alarming to parents, but are normal.

Tate likes for parents to meet with her face to face so she can read their body language, but phone, texting and email work, too.

“I assure them that I understand. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to fix it,” she says.

Sometimes it’s just not a good fit for your child anymore, and your current day care might be able to point you to a center that is better-suited. Maybe your child needs more structure or less structure.

Maybe the boy-girl ratio isn’t good for your child. Maybe your child needs to be challenged more or less academically. The teacher and your child might not be an ideal match.

Your child might need more targeted assistance than the center can supply.

Those are all things that you can’t predict when you first go looking at day cares.

Sometimes your family and your child would like another location.

“Each location should be doing the same things, but the culture of each location is different,” says Andrea Breen, director of quality assurance for Stepping Stone Schools and an evaluator for National Association for the Education of Young Children.

If you do decide to pull your child from that center, you should give your day care a reason so that other children can benefit.

Make sure to look at the day care’s policies before quitting. Many require two-weeks notice.

Of course, if you think your child is in danger, don’t wait. Pull her out. “If you look at hierarchy – health, safety and security – nothing else matters above that,” Breen says. “If you feel there is a danger for your child to return to that school… you can’t return to that school for two weeks.”

And after you’ve given notice, there should not be any repercussions. Your child should be treated as if she were going to stay the rest of the year.

Sometimes, though, you might go to another center and realize that the one you had been at was actually better than you thought. That’s why you want to leave on good terms.

“It’s never going to be perfect 100 percent of the time,” Breen says.