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Doctors might be privy to the latest research and technological advances, but does that mean they're better at preventing their children's illnesses and accidents than the rest of us? "Keeping kids healthy is a challenge for all parents, whether they're doctors or not," says Brooks Edwards, M.D., a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, and father of three, ages 11, 9 and 7. "In our house, my wife and I try to lead by example, and that goes for everything from eating right and exercising to wearing seat belts and bike helmets." What other tricks do Mayo Clinic experts keep up their white coat sleeves? We asked, and discovered a few you may not have thought of:Wash Colds Away
Studies have shown that regular hand washing helps protect against colds and the flu, so from the time my sons were able to stand on a step stool, we've made scrubbing up a priority. To make it more fun, I stock the bathroom with bubble gum-, watermelon- and peach-scented soaps and towels decorated with fish and basketballs. Now it's second nature to them.--Margaret Gill, M.D., a doctor in family medicine and mother of six boys ranging in age from 8 to 18 monthsStart a Family Fun Night
Once a week, our whole family goes to the Y for a night of swimming, basketball or batting practice. Or in the winter, we might opt for sledding or ice-skating outdoors. Not only is this a great way for us to spend time together, but I hope that by making exercise part of their routine, our kids will adopt it as a lifelong habit.--Philip Hagen, M.D., a preventive and occupational medicine consultant and father of a daughter, 15, and two sons, aged 13 and 10Make Veggies Count
We've turned getting our fruits and vegetables into a game. At dinner, we all count how many we've eaten so far that day. If anyone falls short of five servings, she can make up the shortfall during the meal. I knew my daughters had gotten the swing of it when Grandma came to visit and tried to claim the raspberry jam she had on her toast as a serving of fruit. The girls were quick to tell her it didn't count.--Karen Ytterberg, M.D., a pediatrician and mother of two daughters, aged 13 and 10Encourage a Talent
In first grade my son struggled with reading, and it destroyed his confidence. Meanwhile, he did well in sports. We found that excelling athletically in front of his peers boosted his self-esteem and helped to balance his problems in school. He also learned that every person has something different he's good at.--Sue Odegarden, child and adolescent psychiatry nurse manager and mother of a son, aged 11Find Your Teen a Confidante
Knowing teens have tremendous pressure on them, I encouraged my daughter to begin seeing a counselor weekly when she was 13. I wanted to be sure she'd have someone to help her sort out things if she didn't feel comfortable coming to me. My daughter appreciates the confidentiality but knows that if an issue ever arose that affected her health or safety, her counselor would ask me to come in, too.--Kathy Flippin, a nursing education specialist and mother of a daughter, 15, and a son, 12
Top photo: Soo-Jeong Kang. Second photo: Marc Berenson.
I re-brush my kids' teeth each night to make sure all those hard-to-reach places are covered. I tell them I'm the Sugar Bug Exterminator, and if I don't do this, the "sugar bugs" will eat their teeth. My wife and I also don't allow sticky foods, including candy and even raisins and other dried fruits, which can promote tooth decay, after dinner.--Kevin Reid, D.M.D., chair of dental specialties and father of two sons, aged 7 and 4Strut Your Stuff
Before dinner each night, our family goes for a two-and-a-half-mile parade around the neighborhood. We don't just walk, either -- the older boys often bike, inline skate, skateboard or ride their scooters. We have so much fun that the neighborhood kids like to come along with us.--Margaret Gill, M.D.Control the Volume
Studies show that listening to a Walkman for as little as eight hours can cause some hearing loss, so I've taught my daughter to take a break once an hour. To let her know the most appropriate volume level, I placed a dot of nail polish on the dial of her Walkman. I'm also a big proponent of wearing earplugs, especially at rock concerts, which pose a particular danger to kids' hearing. My daughter and I wore them at the 'N Sync and Britney Spears shows, and she still had a great time.--David Fabry, Ph.D., an audiologist and father of a daughter, age 8Set up a Big Buddy
Finding a good role model for your children, especially during the "I hate you" 'tween and teen years, is essential. One summer we arranged a Big Buddy for our son by being the host family for a 20-year-old semi-pro baseball player who had come to our community to train. The two often hung out together, and our son learned the importance of staying focused and working hard. In fact, our experience was so positive, I've since urged many friends and relatives to seek out mentors for their children in their own communities.--Sue OdegardenServe the Good Stuff First
To make sure our daughters eat their vegetables, we give them a helping before the rest of their dinner. That's when they're hungriest, so they gobble them up.--Donald D. Hensrud, M.D., a nutrition specialist and father of two daughters, aged 5 and 2Provide a Reality Check
When I see articles in the newspaper about kids wrecking their cars because they were speeding or drinking, I show them to my children and we discuss them. Kids often think they're invincible, so this gives me an opportunity to remind them that while they should enjoy life, they need to be careful, too.--Brooks Edwards, M.D.Ease in Tough Issues
Bringing my son to volunteer with me set the stage for us to discuss those who are less fortunate than we are. I explained to him that everyone struggles with problems, but that some people don't have anyone to turn to. It's helped us talk about tough issues like homelessness, depression and even drug use, and he's learned that if he ever has a hard time with something, it's okay to ask for help. These talks also have strengthened our relationship.--Sue OdegardenGive all Foods a Try
When they think they're not going to like a food served to them, our kids know they have to abide by the one-bite rule and try at least a taste of it. Then, if they really don't like it, they don't have to eat it.--Robin Molella, M.D., preventive and occupational senior associate consultant and mother of a son, 6, and a daughter, 2Walk It Out
When my son and I have reached our boiling points, I make him take a walk or a bike ride with me. After about 15 minutes, we've both burned off our extra adrenaline and calmed down enough that we can talk about our problem without getting angry. For my family, I've found exercise to be an effective coping mechanism to handle stress and anger.--Lucia Wocial, Ph.D., R.N.C., a neonatal nurse specialist and mother of a son, 7, and a daughter, 5Brave the Weather
Our kids walk to school every day. It's only a few blocks, but, especially in the middle of winter, it can be a good workout. I don't want them growing up thinking that they need to drive everywhere they need to go.--Kevin Reid, D.M.D.
Compiled by Amy Zintl