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Frequently Asked Questions


I'm being told my kids need certain immunizations for school but I've heard that vaccines can cause other health problems. Which vaccines are really necessary and which can I have them skip?

For the current schedule of vaccinations for preschool- and school-aged children, I recommend visiting the CDC website at

The PA State Requirements include all that are on the CDC list except for the Hepatitis A, influenza and HPV vaccines.

There are some sources that claim that immunizations are to blame for multiple chronic illnesses including autism, diabetes, and celiac disease. These conditions have been blamed on specific vaccines, specifically the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine in connection with autism. Extensive studies have been done to look at these issues and have all concluded that vaccines are not linked to these or any specific chronic illnesses.

If you wish to not immunize your school-aged child, there is a process at most schools to file for an exemption – religious or otherwise. I personally recommend following the current immunization schedule as presented in order to provide the best possible protection for your children from preventable disease.

Immunization is one of the most important ways to protect yourself and others from infection and disease. August is recognized as National Immunization Awareness Month, so keep the importance of immunizations in mind with these facts:

  • According to research, vaccines are extremely safe and effective
  • Immunizations help protect against vaccine-preventable diseases like hepatitis B, rotavirus, influenza and measles
  • People who are not immunized are putting themselves at risk, as well as the entire community

Speak with your primary care physician to make sure you and your family are up to date with your vaccinations.


My nine-year-old son has been complaining of pain in his legs at night. Is this growing pain? What can I do to help him?

That is a great question. While there is no evidence that growing pains are caused by the actual growth of bones, a child’s pain is a real issue. It is suggested that a child’s muscles can get sore after a hard day of running, climbing, and normal play. Pain is common on a child’s knees, calves, or front of their thighs.

Children ages three to five and eight to 12 often experience these pains the most. The frequency of the pain is often off and on, and intensity of the pain can vary from child to child. To help ease the pain, you can massage the muscle or use a heating pad. Many children also feel better when they are cuddled. You may also give your child ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Do no give your child aspirin as it has been linked to Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness.

If your child’s pain persists and they have other symptoms such as fever, swollen or red joints, limping, loss of appetite, or other changes in behavior, contact your pediatrician.


My six-year-old recently fell while riding his bike and injured his wrist. I tried to treat his injury at home by elevating and icing his wrist, but a bruise developed and he was still complaining of pain several hours later even after giving him some ibuprofen. Since I was worried about his pain, I ended up taking him to the emergency department and the doctor did not find that his wrist was sprained or broken. His recommendation was to maintain the ice treatment and allow a couple weeks for the injury to fully heal. I feel like I overreacted to the situation. Do you have any tips on when it’s necessary to take my child to the ER?

As a parent, it’s always best to err on the side of caution when your child is sick or injured. Most of the time it is easy to determine whether you may need to take a trip to the emergency department. But for those gray-area situations, keep your ABCD’s in mind:

Airway: If your child’s airway is blocked because he or she is choking, call 9-1-1 right away.

Breathing: If your child’s breathing is abnormal, you should seek emergency medical help. This can include shortness of breath, wheezing, and asthma attacks. If your child stops breathing, call 9-1-1.

Circulation: This category includes large cuts or wounds that won’t stop bleeding, along with signs of dehydration. Children may be dehydrated if their urine output has decreased (less than two soaked diapers a day), they are lethargic, few or no tears while crying, dry mouth, sunken soft spots on their head, sunken eyes, or they have cool, discolored hands and feet.

Disability: If your child is unconscious or has a seizure, call 9-1-1.

If you still find yourself questioning whether or not to make the trip to the ER, call your pediatrician’s office and ask to talk to a nurse or doctor. If it is after normal office hours, most offices have a call system in place to deal with urgent situations.


Is my child too sick to go to school?

It’s that time of year where runny noses, coughing, and sharing germs become the norm. It’s not uncommon for children to have a half dozen colds or illnesses throughout the school year, but as a parent, knowing when to keep them home can be tricky.

While it’s ultimately a decision that should be made on a case-by-case basis, there are a few scenarios in which a child should NOT go to school:

  1. Fever: Children with fevers greater than 100.4 degrees should not go to school. Once your child has a fever, he or she should be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to school.
  2. Vomiting: Children who are vomiting should not go to school. Your child can go back to school when he or she has not vomited for at least 24 hours.
  3. Diarrhea: Any child with loose stool that occurs more than four times in a 24-hour period should stay home until the frequency slows down.
  4. Pink eye: Children with redness of the eyes, plus drainage from one or both eyes, should not go to school and should not return until they have been treated with antibiotic drops for 24 hours.
  5. Cough: Kids who are continuously coughing should stay home from school. Frequent coughing makes it impossible to pay attention, distracts other children, and potentially spreads infection in the classroom.
  6. Strep throat: Children with diagnosed strep throat should stay out of school until they have received antibiotic treatment for 24 hours. Symptoms of significant sore throat, fever, and swollen glands warrant a trip to the pediatrician to check whether it is strep or a virus causing the sore throat.
  7. Children can go to school with a cold (upper respiratory infection) as long as they do not have a fever and are not coughing too frequently. Teach your kids to use tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their arm, and wash their hands frequently. Sinus infections and ear infections are not contagious, so kids can go to school with them if they are feeling okay.

If you are ever in doubt about sending your child to school, getting an evaluation by a pediatrician can help you decide what to do. On days when sickness strikes at the last minute, consider using the walk-in service at Mount Nittany Health – Boalsburg, located at 3901 South Atherton Street, Suite 5, State College. This service for minor injuries and illnesses is open Monday through Friday, from 8:00 am until 11:00 am, with no appointment necessary. Saturday visits are also available at this location by appointment.


My child has a terrible time doing homework. It takes a really long time to complete, and I feel like I’m of no assistance because it’s been too many years since I’ve studied the material. What can I do to help?

Children all approach homework differently. While some prefer to complete it all at once as soon as they’re home, other children put it off until the last minute, oftentimes rushing through the work or forgetting to complete it altogether. As a parent, it’s your job to help establish good homework and study habits. Although it would be helpful for you to understand the information your child is studying, it is not necessary. Your goal as a parent is to encourage good study habits, and not to complete the homework on behalf of your child.

First, make sure your child has access to a quiet, clean workspace to complete homework. This could be in the bedroom or home office, for example. The space should be free of distractions like cell phones, television, and other electronics, except a computer as needed.

Next, help your child choose a designated homework and study time. This could be as soon as your son or daughter returns home from school, or you could choose to set the time for directly after dinner. Try to choose a time that would be convenient every night of the week, so that your child gets into a good routine. If your child struggles with feeling overwhelmed with the amount of homework, help him or her by organizing the work into manageable chunks (30 minutes for history, 20 minutes for English, etc.). Checklists and timers can be helpful, too.

It’s also a good idea to encourage your child to take a quick, five-minute stretch break every so often. This can be helpful in your child’s ability to focus.

Last, if your child is struggling with a particular area of study, you may wish to enlist the help of a tutor. Your child’s teacher can provide guidance on selecting a tutor if necessary.


I have witnessed that my child is being bullied. Should I intervene or just let the kids work it out amongst themselves?

In today’s world, bullying can take on many different forms, from verbal, physical, social, to cyber bullying. In some cases, the bullying may be made up of more than one of these components, too. The first thing you should do, as a parent, is to determine if your child is being physically harmed. If this is the case, it is your responsibility to intervene immediately.

If your child is being teased or has rumors circulating about him or her, you may want to teach your child a few tactics to help respond to the bully. Teach your son or daughter how to stay calm during a difficult situation and look the bully directly in the eye. Have your child firmly state that they do not want to be talked about like that, and that they do not like what the bully is doing. It’s also important to teach your child to know when to ask a trusted adult for help. If the problem does not resolve, you may wish to alert the school officials.

Because cyber bullying is unfortunately a risk, you may wish to monitor your child’s texts and interactions through social media so that problems can be identified and dealt with as they arise.

If you’re unsure whether your child is being bullied, you may be able to tell based on a few warning signs, including:

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
  • Avoidance of social situations or faking an illness to stay home
  • Poor grades and loss of interest in schoolwork
  • Lost or stolen electronics or personal items
  • Self harm or thoughts of suicide

If your child is experiencing one or more of these signs, it’s important to get help through his or her pediatrician or mental health counselor.

On the other end of the spectrum, you may find that your child is the one expressing bullying behaviors to other children. This can be witnessed by an increasing amount of aggression in your child, or frequently blaming others for problems. In this case, you should make sure your child knows that bullying is not acceptable. You may find it helpful to show your child that he or she does not have to use methods like threatening or teasing to make friends or get what he or she wants. In repeated cases, effective discipline should be used, such as a loss of privileges. It may also be beneficial for you to speak with your child’s guidance counselor, principal or teachers so that those adults can intervene when you are not around.

Last, if your child finds him or herself witnessing another person being bullied, it’s important that your child knows to tell a trusted adult about the situation. Additionally, your child should be told not to encourage or cheer on a bully, but rather, support the child who is experiencing the bullying behavior.


My thirteen-year-old daughter does not want a babysitter anymore. She feels that she is old enough to stay home alone for a few hours after school. Do you have a recommended age for letting kids stay home alone?

This is a question I’m asked often by parents. Kids ages 10 years and younger should not be left alone because they typically do not have the skills and maturity level to take care of themselves. For the most part, older teens are responsible enough to handle being home alone. But for younger teens, there is no black and white answer. If you want to determine whether your teen is ready to stay home alone, consider these factors:

  • Can your teen handle an emergency?
    • Does your teen know what is considered an emergency?
    • Does he/she know how to call 911?
    • Do he/she know basic first-aid procedures?
  • Is your teen responsible?
    • How well does he/she manage homework?
    • Can he/she successfully complete chores around the house?
  • What is your teen’s maturity level?
    • Does he/she understand and follow household rules?
    • Does he/she make good decisions?

If you feel that your teen is mature enough to handle the responsibility of staying home alone, stage a practice run. Leave your teen at home for a short period of time (30 minutes to one hour) while you go to a neighbor’s house or somewhere close by where you are readily accessible in case of an emergency. Afterwards, talk to your teen to determine if he or she still feels like they are ready to stay home alone for longer periods of time.

Keep these tips in mind to help prepare you and your teen for the first time he or she stays home alone:

  • Make sure your teen knows how to reach you in case there is an emergency.
  • Determine what appliances and devices can be used without your supervision.
  • Create a game plan on how to handle phone calls or a stranger at the door.
  • Set rules for whether friends can come over or not.
  • Be clear about when you will be home. If you run late, be sure to contact your teen.
  • Have a neighbor or close friend nearby as back up if needed.

These recommendations are for a responsible teen staying home alone for a short amount of time, typically less than three or four hours, and not late at night. For longer periods of time, or for staying home alone overnight, I personally recommend waiting until the teen is 16 or older. Again, this is also dependent upon the teen’s maturity level and successful practice runs as a younger teen.

Another area of consideration is if your teen will need to supervise a younger sibling while home alone. If the sibling is an infant or toddler, your teen may benefit from taking a certified babysitting course first. If the sibling is older, a mature teen may be fine supervising a younger brother or sister for a few hours.

Remember, as a parent you know the maturity levels of your children and teens best. Use your best judgment and make sure clear ground rules are set when the time comes to leave your son or daughter at home alone. Creating a plan can help both you and your teen feel best prepared.


My five-year-old son constantly sucks his thumb. I’m worried that his habit will cause issues with his teeth as he gets older. Do you have any suggestions for how to get him to stop?

Babies are born with a reflexive sucking instinct for feeding. As children grow older, sucking on a thumb or pacifier may help calm the child when he or she is upset or when falling asleep. Typically, most children stop sucking thumbs or fingers around two to four years of age.

You are right that there is concern about damage to your son’s teeth. The American Dental Association (ADA) notes that sucking on a pacifier or fingers may cause problems with the growth of your child’s mouth and alignment of the teeth. Changes in the roof of your son’s mouth may also occur. This is dependent on how hard he sucks his thumb. If he just places the thumb in his mouth, he may not have as many issues versus aggressively sucking his thumb.

To help your son break the habit, first identify what triggers the thumb sucking. Does your son do it when he is scared or upset? Or is it a habit of boredom? When you know what triggers the habit, you can talk with your son and provide alternative ways to cope:

  • Provide an alternative comfort like a teddy bear
  • Create a sticker chart to help keep track of days he did not suck his thumb
  • Provide positive encouragement to stop
  • If you find that your son has changes to his teeth or mouth, make an appointment with a pediatric dentist. The dentist can talk with your child about why it is important to stop doing this. For severe thumb-suckers, a pediatrician may also prescribe a bitter medication or thumb guard to prevent sucking.

With consistent encouragement, your son can kick his habit.


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