While there's no one "right" way to raise a child, it's easy for many parents to feel pressure and get caught up in the small details — like how much television their child is watching or whether they're eating organic food. However, one doctor is reminding parents to stress less about the little things and focus more on what we know can prevent harm to kids.
Dr. Sami, a pediatrician who runs an account called @thepedipals on TikTok, recently posted the video about some of her top "non-negotiables" to keep children safe and healthy.
"I've been really traumatized by my pediatric training. I've seen a lot of accidents, so these things are really important to me," Sami says in the video.
However, Sami explains that she often sees parents worried about the small details and feeling pressure to be "perfect," often from social media.
"I don't want parents to stress over the tiny decisions that are made on a day-to-day basis. ... I don't want you to stress about food, screen time, the products that you're using," Sami says in the video. "But I do want you to know whether you're doing harm to your kids."
Instead of getting caught up in the daily minutiae, Sami emphasizes importance of certain "non-negotiables" to protect kids.
A "non-negotiable," according to Sami, is a practice that we know can prevent harm and keep children safe and healthy, Sami tells TODAY.com. "It is something we have learned, through science, is the right thing to do," Sami says. Here are a few of her top evidence-based steps to protect kids.
The first non-negotiable to keep children safe? Vaccination, says Sami. "When it comes to science and immunology ... vaccines are the single most important discovery we've made, and they have been very responsible for extending life for children," says Sami.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccination is one of the best ways parents can protect infants, children and teens from 16 potentially harmful diseases. These include, but are not limited to: hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, poliovirus, tetanus, pertussis, mumps, measles, rubella, rotavirus, varicella (chickenpox), influenza and human papillomavirus.
"I want parents to know that most vaccines are pretty universal across the world, and if there is some variation, it has to do with what is most prevalent or more of a risk in a particular country," says Sami.
The CDC recommends vaccines for children from birth through 18 years of age, and many schools require immunizations for entry.
"All vaccines that are recommended have gone through trials, where the risks and benefits have been weighed and the benefit outweighs the risks," says Sami. Additionally, every vaccine has been studied and tailored to be given to children at a certain age, which is why doctors follow an immunization schedule for kids and adolescents.
Sami also recommends children stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations and booster doses.
Vaccination not only protects individual children, but also the community — including the most vulnerable — through herd immunity. "It's a group effort," says Sami.
Bed-sharing refers to when when parents and babies sleep in the same bed, couch or chair. "Bed-sharing has been a bit of a long-time tradition, but as we evolved and learned more, we learned that infants shouldn't sleep on adult mattresses," says Sami.
Bed sharing can increase the risk of asphyxiation, suffocation and premature death, Sami adds. Approximately 3,5000 sleep-related deaths occur among infants in the United States every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
"Infants are the most safe when they are in their own space that is specifically built for an infant," says Sami.
The AAP “strongly discourages bed sharing” and urges parents to make sure babies sleep on a flat, non-inclined surface on their back. “We have also learned that infants who sleep on their stomach are more prone to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome),” says Sami.
The AAP does recommend room-sharing (parents and babies sleeping in the same room on different surfaces), because it is much safer than bed sharing and can decrease the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.
"You're putting your baby at a risk that is completely preventable when you're bed-sharing, which is why that's a non-negotiable," says Sami.
Car seats and restraints
Another non-negotiable for Sami is car safety. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among children in the U.S., per the CDC.
Every time a child rides in the car, they should be in the backseat with the appropriate restraints — whether a car seat, booster or seatbelt — according to their age, height and weight, says Sami. Restraints can reduce the risk of serious injury and death, for children, as well as adults.
According to the latest AAP child passenger safety guidelines, children should:
- Sit in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible
- Sit in forward-facing car seats once they outgrow rear-facing seats through at least 4 years of age
- Sit in belt-positioning booster seats once they outgrow forward-facing seats through at least 8 years of age
- Use lap and shoulder seat belts when they outgrow booster seats
According to the CDC, children should not sit in the front passenger seat of the car until they are at least 13 years old.
Even if parents or grandparents didn't follow the same rules, Sami emphasizes that using the proper car restraints is a non-negotiable for all parents. “Everything’s changed the last couple of generations ... and as we learn more, we are safer, our kids live longer and have less accidents and far less preventable fatalities," says Sami.
Wearing a helmet is another non-negotiable step to keep children safe and prevent poor outcomes, Sami says.
In addition to developing motor skills, kids have disproportionally large heads compared to their bodies — which makes them more likely to fall and hit their head compared to adults. Resulting injuries can range from lacerations to concussions to skull fractures and brain injuries, which may result in permanent damage or death.
While no helmet is 100% concussion-proof, per the CDC, wearing a helmet correctly and consistently can help protect children from severe head or brain injuries.
Children should always wear a helmet when riding anything with wheels, says Sami, which includes bicycles, scooters, rollerblades, and skateboards.
It’s also crucial for children to wear a helmet during sports such as football, baseball, hockey, skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, and during any other activities where the head could be injured.
The helmet should fit properly, be age-appropriate and certified for use, per the CDC.
In the U.S., more children ages 1 to 4 die from drowning than any other cause of death, according to the CDC.
Fortunately, many of these drownings or water-related injuries can be prevented, says Sami.
Parents should try to educate children about water safety and teach them how to swim as early as possible, TODAY.com previously reported, but even after, it’s important that children learn to follow certain rules.
Drowning can happen quickly and quietly, per the CDC, which is why kids should never be left alone or out of sight when they are in or around water. "Children have to be closely supervised," says Sami — whether it's by a lifeguard, parent or designated water-watcher.
Life jackets can reduce the risk of drowning, per the CDC, and should be used by children for all activities in or around natural bodies of water, such as oceans, lakes or rivers.
Many fatal drownings among children occur in home swimming pools. Fences and locking gates can make a big difference for children's safety, says Sami. Ideally, all swimming pools should have a four-sided pool fence that is at least 4 feet tall and has a gate that self-locks or self-latches.