Valentine’s Day Gift Guide for Kids

As a pediatrician, holidays that revolve around candy provide an extra challenge for me to be creative. Sure, I hand out candy on Halloween, but for Valentine’s Day and Easter, I try to think of non-edible gifts that will keep the dentist at bay, but still delight my children. Here’s my round-up of fun Valentine’s ideas for your little loves.

Bookworm NecklaceBookworm necklace from Sweet Lulu ($21): let’s tell our daughters that they are something other than cute.

Spotty Bow Dress by Boden ($52): I love stripes, dots, and bows, so this dress is a must-have! Does it come in my size?

Slide View: 1: Animal Alphabet Monogram Mug

Animal Alphabet Monogram Mug by Anthropologie ($8): make hot chocolate more fun in these animal mugs with your child’s initial. The wider base means they are less likely to spill it too!

Melissa & Doug Sweet Hearts Wooden Bead Set With 120+ Beads and 5 Cords for Jewelry-MakingSweet Hearts Wooden Bead Set by Melissa and Doug ($9.95): keep their little fingers busy with over 100 wooden beads. Just keep it away from kids under 3 (choking hazard!).

The Paper Bag Princess by Munsch ($6.95): tell them the tale of a smart princess who rescues her prince while wearing a brown bag.

Lip Gloss by Beautycounter ($29): kiss their lips with vanilla instead of all the synthetic chemicals in the drugstore versions they usually get.

Silver Pure Platinum Crazy Aaron Putty at Papersource ($12.95): who needs platinum jewelry when you can play with putty! Well, it’s good enough for the children.

Superhero Color-In Puzzle by Mudpuppy ($9.99): let your little superheroes color their own puzzles, then put it together. 2-in-1 entertainment that should keep them busy long enough for you to take a shower.

Crown CatchallCrown Catchall by West Elm ($20): what a pretty way to store the knickknacks on their dresser and make your little prince/princess feel special.

Have a great Valentine’s Day with your little loves!

[Disclaimer: some of the product links above are linked to me and I will make commission off purchases made. Thank you for shopping!]

What Doctors Fear

After my intern year, I forgot that children survived routine febrile illness. Every fever was hemolytic uremic syndrome, myocarditis, sepsis, leukemia…never just a common cold. We saw the worst of the worst on the wards, and because of the way our clinics were structured I saw influenza more in the ICU than in the outpatient setting. I hated seeing sick visits in clinic because I was so terrified that I’d miss something crucial and harm a patient. This may be why I chose endocrinology! When our oldest daughter had her first fever at 9 months of age, she had blisters on her hands…feet…and mouth. I was a board-certified pediatrician and pediatric endocrinologist and couldn’t decide whether she was just teething or whether meningitis was causing her fever to 104–rather than the hand-foot-mouth she obviously had!”

~Jessica Lilley, MD (Follow her blog Consider the Lilleys)


Do I over or under worry about my kids when they are sick? This is the most common question I am asked at dinner parties. Like many parenting things, the answer is complicated, because it depends on the situation. There are things that make parents call my office in a panic, like lice or reflux, which aren’t scary to me because I feel confident in treating them. As my husband has learned though, there are a few key symptoms that get my blood pressure up. As an example, after I returned from a night out, my husband calmly told me that my three-year-old fell with a straw in her mouth and had a “hole” in the back of her throat. Given that she seemed well and ate dinner, he appropriately reasoned that she was fine. Having read about such traumas in medical school and residency, I was sure she was developing a deep neck infection or cerebral vascular thrombosis and had mentally booked her for a CT scan and ENT consult from my living room couch while she slept soundly upstairs. So the answer to how much I worry is dependent on what I fear most and penetrating oral trauma is high on that list.

As Dr. Lilley recalled, sometimes our perspective as physicians is skewed by what we are seeing most often. As a resident, one of my greatest fears about becoming a parent was having a premature baby. I had seen many premature babies, or preemies, with their early life struggles in the NICU as well as the long term sequelae as they turned into children with chronic medical problems, being admitted to our hospital over and over again. I worried about having my own preemie as I rotated through the NICU during each trimester of my pregnancy. While preemies were abundant in the hospital, how common are they really? Was I putting my baby at higher risk due to my long work hours and stressful work environment? My fears were mostly unfounded as only 1 of 10 births occur before 37 weeks. The fear about the effects of residency on pregnancy is harder to validate but in a 1990 NEJM study, women residents reported more preterm labor than controls (11 vs 6%), but were no more likely to report preterm delivery (6.5 vs 6%). Yet, I found myself in preterm labor at 31 weeks and delivering a high risk preemie at 34 weeks, making my greatest fears real in spite of the statistics.

When you spend an 80 hour work week seeing the “worst,” as Dr. Lilley described, it is hard to see yourself as immune from this tragedy when you become a parent. You fear that what should be routine Coxsackie virus will turn into the rare encephalitis. You worry that your child will become the teaching case for today’s residents. Most of all, you second guess everything despite your years of training and professional experience because as a physician parent, everything can be rationalized away or elevated to panic mode depending on the situation. We have fears just like every other parent, but ours may be more obscure due to our medicalized perspectives. So when wondering if your pediatrician has parenting worries, recall that many of us have thought a simple childhood illness was a life-threatening emergency. We call the nurse triage line, ask our pediatrician silly questions, and sit in the Emergency Department waiting room at 2 AM beside everyone else. Parenthood is complicated, whether you went to medical school or not, and sometimes you need to indulge your fears and follow your instincts. The rest of the time you need to stop googling.

10 Tips to Help You Survive Until Spring

  1. Buy multiple pairs of cheap gloves and hats and stash them everywhere—car, foyer, school, purse! I prefer to get everything in the same color or patterns so that they can be interchanged when one inevitably gets lost. This trick will keep you from losing your mind when you are hunting down a lost mitten while wearing 5 layers of clothing and dragging 2 children.
  2. Head to your local art supply store and collect a smorgasbord of pom-poms, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, modeling clay, and googly eyes. When your kids start to look bored, lay down some wax paper, give them an old box, and let their imaginations go wild.
  3. Always keep baking materials on hand. Nothing gets kids more excited than the promise of dessert, but make them work for it and kill an hour having them measure, pour, and mix.
  4. Maintain at least one museum membership where you can take your kids to run around and have a change of scenery when you all get cabin fever.
  5. Teach your kids about hand hygiene and germs! They will still get sick, but hopefully you will minimize the number to illnesses and how quickly it spreads through your household.
  6. Designate a corner of your living room as the “stage” and have your children create plays, puppet shows, or karaoke parties. You can also use this space for freeze dance, to get some of the silly energy out.
  7. Find a coffee shop that is kid-friendly and walk there. As long as it is above freezing, bundle them up and get them outside. Then everyone gets a hot chocolate before making the trek home.
  8. Visit your local library for story time. While you are there, have them pick out a new book so that you don’t have to read their recent favorite for the thousandth time.
  9. Camp out indoors! Pop a tent in your living room, tell ghost stories, and make indoor s’mores in your stove.
  10. Get your flu shot!
 [A version of this post was previously published on the Today Show Parenting Team site, 1/15/18.]

MLK Day of Service in Philadelphia

After a few gluttonous weeks, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a breath of fresh air and hope, as the city abounds in activities that are educational and service oriented. Whether your children are in school or tagging along, there are many options to keep you all busy, engaged, and inspired. 

African American Museum in Philadelphia

Finish a weekend-long MLK celebration with a keynote address by Dr. Howard Stevenson, a University of Pennsylvania professor of Africana studies, and executive director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative. While you are there, explore the exhibition, Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia, 1776-1876, and the temporary exhibition, Gardens of the Mind. Your kids can also grab a photo with the Phillie Phanatic and right-fielder Nick Williams. $2 general admission.

Please Touch Museum

Everyone loves the Please Touch Museum and on Monday, you can not only explore the standard museum exhibits but enjoy a storytelling session inspired by King’s legacy, engage in crafts, and join a musical parade promoting world peace. Regular admission prices.

National Constitution Center

For a $5 admission, guests can participate in a day-long commemoration including service projects, performances, educational activities, and readings of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

National Liberty Museum

The National Liberty Museum is one of my 6-year-old’s favorite museums. As part of their MLK Day celebration, they are having a Civil Rights scavenger hunt and craft corner. There will also be a screening (at 11:00AM and 3:00 PM) of Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, which explores the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. Pay what you wish.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Professional actors, youth readers, and community leaders will read excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail at 11:30 AM, 1:30 PM, and 3:30 PM. There will be an informal Q&A after each reading, where you can respond to the letter’s relevance today. There will also be art projects for children ages 7-12. Bring your old electronics to recycle from 10:00 AM-2:00PM. Free!

Philadelphia Museum of Art

As part of their commemoration of MLK, the PMA is offering pay-what-you-wish admission! They are also leading youth-focused conversations on how his legacy can inspire today’s social movements, from 11:30AM-3PM. For the littles, they offer card-making from 10:00 AM-3PM, then MANNA will deliver the cards with food to people in need.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sculptures

Spend your day finding the nine large sculptures designed by over 50 Philadelphia students that incorporate Dr. King’s quotes. Sculpture locations include the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the Betsy Ross House, City Hall, the Comcast Center Plaza, the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia School District.

There are also many other opportunities across the city to volunteer and serve. Check with your local elementary school, church, library, or park.


Pediatric Advocacy in Philadelphia

As a vulnerable population, our children need us to advocate for them in many areas of their lives. There are many threats to children’s health today, such as exposure to violence, lack of safe places to play, poverty, child abuse, and food insecurity. Fortunately there are many organizations in Philadelphia that aim to address these issues and they would benefit from your support, whether as a volunteer, donor, or partner.

Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY)

PCCY seeks to improve the lives and life chances of Philadelphia area children through advocacy in child health, early learning, education and family stability. They may be best known for their Pre-K for PA initiative. You can sign up for a weekly newsletter to keep up-to-date with their many projects or donate online.

Education Law Center (ELC)

The ELC’s mission is to ensure access to a quality public education for all children in Pennsylvania and they advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable populations, including those living in poverty, in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, and more. They fight for fair school funding, ensuring equal access, and ending the school-to-prison pipeline. The ELC has law student internships available. You can also subscribe to their newsletter or donate online.

Philadelphia Children’s Alliance

There are 3,000 reports of child sexual abuse in Philadelphia each year. At the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, experts in law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, medicine, and mental health collaborate to guide sexually abused children down a path of healing. To help, you can attend their annual Bear Affair in May, donate a stuffed animal, or make a donation online.

Small Fry

Small Fry volunteers teach children and their parents how to cook healthy, inexpensive meals using obtainable ingredients. Families not only practice cooking, but go home with ingredients and learn the importance of family meals. You can volunteer, donate groceries, or donate money online. For more information, contact:

The Children’s Advocacy Project of Philadelphia (Cap4Kids)

This site has handouts for parents and providers on a variety of topics and is translated into 30 languages! It includes links to local resources, laws, and definitions. Cap4Kids is a thorough round-up of everything you need to know about educational testing, mental health resources, healthy weight resources, childhood dental care, youth violence reduction, smoking cessation, and safety. You can join an online mailing list for timely, seasonal updates and reminders.

Other ways to advocate:

  • Call our legislators directly
    • Mayor Jim Kenney: (215) 686-2181
    • Representative Bob Brady: (202) 225-4731
    • Senator Pat Toomey: (202) 224-4254
    • Senator Bob Casey: (202) 224-6324
    • Governor Tom Wolf: (717) 787-2500
  • Give a public testimony at the School Board Meeting (call 215-400-4180)
  • Write an Op-Ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer and submit it here:


[Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with the above organizations. I was not compensated for this post. A version of this post will be simultaneously published in the QVNA Magazine.]

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