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About Dr. Howard Bennett

Dr. Howard J. Bennett is a practicing pediatrician in Washington, DC and a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at The George Washington University Medical Center. When he's not sharing humor with patients, Dr. Bennett loves to poke fun at doctors and medicine.

Here are my most recent posts

An Effective Way to Learn About Epi-Pens

The most popular medication used to prevent anaphylaxis in children with food
allergies is called the Epi-Pen. Although the company that makes this device
also makes an Epi-Pen Trainer, I have found that parents are better able to use
an Epi-Pen if they practice with the real device. To accomplish this, I keep a
supply of expired Epi-Pens on hand and give them to parents if one of their
children is diagnosed with a food allergy. (My supply comes from other parents
who give me their old Epi-Pens after they expire.) After showing parents how to
use the Epi-Pen, I have them go home and practice on an orange or grapefruit to
simulate what it will feel like if they need to administer the Epi-Pen to their
child. I ask parents to return used Epi-Pens so I can dispose of them with other
medical waste. If you have a child with food allergies, ask your doctor if he or
she could set up the same program for patients.

A Backwards Way to Collect Urine Specimens

Most pediatricians order routine urine tests when children get to be around five
years of age. Although it is easy to collect urine specimens from boys, girls
often have difficulty placing the cup between their legs. You can make this task
easier for your daughter by having her sit on the toilet backwards. When a girl
sits in this position, the toilet seat not only pushes her knees apart, but
there is also more room between the back of the seat and the child’s bottom to
“catch” the specimen.

A Practical Suggestion for Pet Funerals

When a pet dies, parents often want to give the animal a funeral so their
children can “memorialize” the pet as a member of the family. In many parts of
the country, it is illegal to bury a pet because the body may attract scavengers
such as rats. In these jurisdictions, the family’s veterinarian disposes of the

Because I live in an area that prohibits animal burials, I encourage families to
still have a memorial service, only in this case they bury a memento instead of
the pet. Children can pick a favorite toy, a picture, or even write a poem or
heartwarming anecdote about the animal. This approach follows community rules,
but lets children have some closure regarding their pet’s death.

Howard J. Bennett, M.D.

A Variation on Time-Out

Time Out is one of the most effective behavior techniques you can use with
children. Although most doctors recommend Time Out for aggressive behaviors such
as hitting or biting, parents sometimes overuse Time Out by choosing this
punishment for just about any infraction their children commit. There are a
number of behaviors that children exhibit during the day that are bothersome,
but don’t reach the level where a person could get hurt or something might be
broken. In this instance, it is helpful to use a lesser punishment, which I call
Time Off. Time Off is an action that grows out of what psychologists call “I”
messages, i.e., “I don’t like it when you…” The types of actions that Time Off
helps control include annoying behaviors such as teasing or being disrespectful.
The difference between Time Out and Time Off is the following: In Time Out, the
child has to sit in a specific location for one minute per year of age. If the
child talks or gets up, the “clock” is reset and Time Out starts over. In Time
Off the child has to go somewhere else in the house and must stop the behavior
that led to the punishment. There is no set time, but the child cannot come back
until he is ready to act normally. As a further incentive to get children to
comply with the punishment, children who do not follow the rules of Time Off
will subsequently have a full-fledged Time Out.

Stop Tantrums Before They Start

Tantrums are a normal in toddlers. Although it is not always
clear what sets them off, there are four circumstances that most commonly elicit outbursts in this
age group. In order to help you remember these triggers, I came up with the following acronym, FACT.
If you keep these “facts” in mind, you may be able to prevent tantrums before they

Frustration: Toddlers become frustrated numerous times during the day. The
most common triggers are not getting their way, having difficulty completing a task, or not being
able to communicate due to immature language skills.

Appetite (hunger): Young
children are often unaware of their body’s hunger cues and may have a “meltdown” simply because they
need a snack.

Choice: Young children may have difficulty transitioning from one
activity to the next and are frequently held captive to other people’s schedules, i.e., they are
asked to get dressed, eat meals, or leave the house with little say in the matter. Parents can
prevent problems by giving children a couple of warnings before transitions occur and by offering
choices whenever possible. For example, if your child does not want to get dressed, you may be able
to avoid a struggle by saying, “Do you want to wear your green socks or your red

Tired: Tantrums are often triggered because a child needs a nap, did not
get enough sleep the night before, or because he is tired due to an illness. If you see this
behavior, comfort your child or encourage him to take a nap.

J. Bennett, M.D.