How to talk with children about death


Death is a difficult subject to approach with a child especially when someone close to them passes away. You have your own feelings to process and must also provide empathy and strength for your child. Since Dr. Rusty passed recently, I thought this would be an ideal time to review how to speak with children of different ages about death. In my experience, an open, honest, and direct communication based on their developmental understanding is best.


PRESCHOOLERS – The butterfly won’t fly anymore.


Preschoolers have partial logic so when explaining death they may not grasp its permanency. They understand some of the realities of life but can quickly leap into fantasy. Often only a small thread separates the two worlds.

I recommend using the actual words like death yet illustrate the meaning by referring to familiar activities to help them process. For instance, you may tell them that grandpa died this morning and he will not breathe, eat, sleep, or wake up anymore. You can also include other real-world realities that they may have previously experienced like when we found a butterfly on the sidewalk, it had died too. The butterfly will not fly anymore. Preschoolers learn by repetition of simple examples presented in a familiar way.

Death is not a singular event. It is also an adjustment in life and feelings. Make sure you speak about your emotions and help them describe theirs as well. Drawing and free play outside may serve to create expression since connecting words and feelings may elude them.


GRADE SCHOOL – Everyone dies in their time.


Grade-schoolers have concrete thinking rather than imaginative reality like preschoolers. They understand the words used to describe death and its permanency. They will be sad without additional explanation. They may not understand the profound weight this carries for you and the changes this means for their lives.

While they have concrete logic, they do not understand nuanced values and abstract thinking. They see things very black and white. Children at these ages understand that everyone will one day die, while at the same time believing that death does not apply to them. They lack the abstract.

Children can have widely varying behavioral responses as they process their feelings. Often their emotions and words are disconnected. Parents are advised to talk about their feelings as a way to role model growth in identifying and processing emotions. A parent may want to discuss how a death will affect the child’s life. Children may have questions and it is important to try your best to listen to the questions, the reasons behind the questions, and be generous in your honesty and openness. Again, reassure them with presence and love.


TEENAGERS – An invitation to talk.


Teenagers are a narcissistic form of ourselves. They need boundaries and expectations more than monitoring.  Structure and continuity are important for all ages, but especially so for teens.  An invitation to talk without expectation is a powerful communication tool and this may be all they need.

Teens may move quickly in and out of grief.  They understand death through past experiences, music, film, school, religious instruction, and the lens of current events. What they may not do is synchronize the importance of the death into their life. This is normal. Almost everything to a teen is seen through their needs only. Give them space to grieve in this way while being open to their agenda on when they want to talk.

Remember that you are permanently carving their eventual coping skills through your example. The important thing is to reassure preschool-aged children with your presence and love, help your child connect feelings and words, and wait for your teen to cope.

“Whatever side we are on, it will be the same side.” – Dr. Rusty

“Whatever side we are on, it will be the same side.” – Dr. Rusty


These are the last words Rusty spoke to me when we said goodbye. The sentiment was classic Rusty in its timelessly inclusive, jocular, insightful, wise, authentic and downright funny nature. A sentence couldn’t better speak to who Howard Charles “Rusty” Schlachter was.


He spoke these words as I was departing his house. Rusty almost never veiled his situation or the plight of those around him. With uncanny wit he would direct the most uncomfortable parent to see the wonder and beauty of life and this day was no different. He remarked as we shook hands that, “Brian, we may never meet again. Thank you for everything you have done for me and my family.” He was sitting in a chair during his birthday party and we all knew that his time was near. We acknowledged our love of him and our time with him, as well as his eternal invitation to work at the practice. I replied, “Rusty, we will see one another again, whether it be on this side or the other side.”  He smiled and quickly retorted, “Whatever side we are on, it will be the same side.” Now I smiled as these words hung in the air. He was right. Rusty was almost always right. We are on the same side and we always will be. As a matter of fact, everyone is on the same side we simply perceive boundaries and separateness. If you listen with your heart then you will know what he was saying that day.


I met Dr. Rusty in 2010. He was giving a talk at Food and Thought on Holistic Child Birthing and I attended. I didn’t know who this man was or why he chose Naples to speak. He was not a local practicing pediatrician. I attended out of curiosity and to see what I could learn. I sat in the back row.


As fate would have it, I unknowingly sat next to Judy, his wife. I mumbled something to the effect, I have never heard someone say these things before except me.  Judy overheard me and asked me what I had just said. I repeated my sentence and this time included that I was a holistic pediatrician. After the talk she introduced herself and quickly had Rusty and me talking. Within a week he was practicing at Thornburg Pediatrics.


Dr. Rusty maintained a Monday through Friday and two weekends a month New Jersey practice then flew to Naples on the off weekends to see his wife and cover my practice. He did this until the age of 73. Judy stayed in Naples for the season. Eventually and after a few good snow storms, the New Jersey house was sold and along with it the practice was closed. This was 2015.

Dr. Rusty’s carriage house and pediatrics office.

Dr. Rusty had been practicing out of his carriage house located at the back of his 1800s Essex Falls farmhouse. The carriage house had been his office since the 1970s. You could say he was the first home visit pediatrician. He practiced common sense pediatrics and our philosophies meshed perfectly. He was the mentor I never knew I was looking for.


So Rusty, as you once told a new mom who called you late at night asking if a normal baby behavior was a problem, I say the same in eulogy to you. “Walk outside to the open air, drop to your knees, look to the heavens and say, ‘Thank you, God, for giving me a good one!” Thank you, Rusty, for giving all of us a good one…

Number Two: Why Movement Matters

Written for Dr. Thornburg Wellness by Special Contributor, Jennifer Barrell, MS, CNS, LDN

Poop. We all do it, or we all should, regularly. Yet the questions remain: Is it normal? What is normal…and why is it so important?

An infant’s first poo, that dark green sludgy-looking substance- or meconium, can be somewhat alarming for new parents. As foreign as it seems, it makes sense given their last “meal” included all types of in utero appetizers such as amniotic fluid, intestinal epithelial cells and bile. After this first alien poo a child’s bowel movements will go through numerous changes in frequency and consistency for years to come. As their wee bodies settle and get used to living life outside of the womb, their bowel movements fluctuate as well- infants are not known for their stability. Changes in sleep patterns, nursing duration and frequency, and a nursing mothers’ diet can all affect a wee one’s stool consistency. Current science suggests that when an infant is vaginally born their microbiome mirrors the mothers. So, the gut health of the mother at birth largely determines the gut health of the babe to start. However, all of that changes once outside food or formula is introduced. This is when the next major change in bowel movements occurs, naturally.

You can tell a lot about a person by their poop. Most of us know about the good ol’ Bristol Stool chart for checking consistency. Type 4 is ideal: smooth, soft and sausage or snake like. Pebbles, rocks, and/or straining all indicate constipation, or types 1-3. On the other spectrum loose, no form, or liquid-like suggests diarrhea, or types 5-7: which is also not ideal. Occasional diarrhea may not be a red flag depending on the diet and symptoms, but occasional constipation can build up quickly creating a laundry list of cascading troubles.

When the large intestine becomes backed up, those areas stretch and little pockets are created. This makes it easier for more stool to get trapped, thus exacerbating a seemingly innocuous one-time event. This is one reason why it is essential to keep it all moving- all the time.

Consequences of constipation

Biotransformation is the process by which our bodies breakdown substances that are unwanted or not needed. There are three phases: phase I, phase II, and phase III. Stool elimination and urination are the third phase. Our body’s ability to properly detox relies on adequate hydration and regular bowel movements to effectively rid the body of any environmental or ingested toxicants. Without consistent stool movements our bodies cannot effectively process the toxins we are exposed to daily. Toxins that sit in the colon for extended periods of time may be reabsorbed thus putting more stress on the liver. Excessive toxin build-up plus harmful bacteria growth equal bad news. It is comparable to not taking out the trash at night. If there is a chicken carcass in the garbage can overnight, it will decompose, and bacteria will grow creating a foul odor. It would be unusual to leave that chicken carcass in the trash for days, just as it is unnatural to withhold stool.

Besides abdominal pain, constipation can affect our immune system. Over 70% of our immune system resides in the gut, thus maintaining regular bowel movement is imperative to our ability to fight off bacteria and viruses that we encounter daily. The gut-brain axis model demonstrates how constipation can also affect sleep patterns, moods and our general sense of well-being. It is widely known that sustained stress causes elevated levels of cortisol -our stress hormone. However on-going stress also lowers levels of serotonin – a hormone related with happiness- and gut motility. Constipation can also lead to dysbiosis- an imbalance of beneficial bacteria, which also contributes to: anxiety, depression, and a far-reaching list of other ailments affecting the entire body.

Chronic constipation can lead to anal fissures, malabsorption of nutrients, a build up of toxins, liver stress, fecal impaction, a stretched out colon or diverticulitis, gall-bladder issues, varicose veins, arthritis, and hernias.

As mentioned previously, bowel movements can be altered by a wide variety of dietary, environmental and lifestyle choices and factors.

Here are 7 basic tactics to keep everything moving.

1. Stay hydrated– sip filtered water all day rather than gulping large amounts at one time. Drink half your body weight in ounces (approx), more if excessively sweating (which happens here in the summer!). Don’t forget about sodium and potassium when hydrating.

2. Exercise! Regular movement maintains regular movement.

3. Ensure sufficient dietary soluble & unsoluble fiber and resistant starch daily. Both types of fiber have different jobs, so both are important. Soluble fiber is found in many growing foods, specifically beans, greens and complex carbs. Specific soluble fibers feed beneficial bacteria in the gut. Insoluble fibers attract water and act as the bulking agent for stools, creating a larger more well-formed poo. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables- usually the skin, seed or stalk. Resistant starch acts as an insoluble and soluble fiber, and keeps you fuller for longer. The four types of resistant starches are found in unusual places such as slightly green bananas or cooked and then cooled white potatoes.

4. Remove processed foods such as those high in sugar, fried foods and refined grains. Besides the additional toxicants that come with eating processed foods, and the lack of nutrients, they can also slow down the biotransformation process.

5. Eat slow, mindfully and chew properly. Resting and digesting allows the body to produce the necessary enzymes and stomach acid to properly breakdown the food.

6. Ensure sufficient vitamin C and magnesium. These are just two of the micronutrients needed for proper elimination.

7. Manage stress somehow, someway. Find time to meditate daily, do yoga or any other task that keeps you present, at peace and content.

Determining the root cause of the constipation (or diarrhea) is of utmost importance. If symptoms of either persist for longer periods of time, more stress gets put upon the rest of the body and the more complicated an already complex system becomes.


More about the author:

Jennifer Barrell, MS, CNS, LDN, is a wife, mother of two perfect little ones, and a functional/clinical nutritionist currently living and helping people navigate their way to health in Naples, FL. 

Don’t Leave Home Without These Travel Essentials

Dr. Thornburg Wellness Original Content Written By Dr. Cade Copeland

Taking a vacation is something many hard-working parents simply don’t do as frequently as they should.


You worked hard around the clock cooking, cleaning, acting as a chauffeur, folding the laundry and being a not-so-digital version of the assistant Siri and have now accumulated some much needed “paid time off.”  Let’s make sure that special trip to Mazatlan with the in-laws doesn’t come with any unexpected side effects for you or the kiddos in the form of dreaded diarrhea!


Here is our list of the Top 5 Travel Essentials;


1. Probiotics – good bacteria never goes out of style!  As we learn more about bacteria, research is pointing to gut health as the top indicator for mood stability, mental performance, sleeping patterns and immune health.  Dosing up on your probiotics in prep for travel can act as armor for contagious coughs and colds, resistance to viral infections and parasites and may even help give your skin some extra glow for those family photos!  Check out our store for trusted probiotics designed to optimize every stage of life.

2. Vitamin C and D – unlike most other animals, humans cannot make vitamin C and therefore must get it from our diet.  Vitamin D on the other hand should take it’s official title as a hormone instead of just a vitamin, it really is that important!  Taking an extra boost of these two will undoubtedly inspire your system to superhuman status during periods of higher stress, mediocre sleep and less than ideal meal choices that typically occur during travel.

3. Topical Magnesium Oil – crucial in over 300 bio-mechanical reactions in the body, magnesium helps to provide a relaxing and soothing calm to a stressed mind and body.  We prefer the topical route because it hits the bloodstream much quicker than an oral supplement.  Topical magnesium also bypasses the gut so it shouldn’t cause any problems there for you or your kiddos. Simply apply to the bottom of feet before bed or on any stiff or sore muscles throughout the day; don’t worry about using too much, your body will say thank you!

4. Thieves Hand Spray – while we don’t normally advocate for “anti-bacterial” types of products, this one does it right.  While many other products out there have potent ingredients that do more harm than good, this hand spray contains only naturally-derived essential oils and carriers that work with the body and not against it.  Whether you need it for the gas station bathroom or the headliner on the airplane, don’t leave home without it.  If you’re the DIY type, Wellness Mama has you covered with this simple recipe.

5. Activated Charcoal – this one carries some serious bio-hacking potential!  Save some in your emergency kit as it protects against poor food choices and can even act as a lifesaving hangover cure.  While it doesn’t negatively affect gut bacteria, it adsorbs pretty much anything else in the tummy, so don’t take within 90 minutes of good food choices, other supplements or prescribed medications.  Charcoal sourced from the hull of coconuts is the purest form.  Capsules can be opened and poured into water or juice for the little ones and even used topically to soak up any unwanted toxic exposure on the skin. 


We hope your travels are full of fun and laughter, pictures worthy of being framed and memories to last a lifetime.  Dr. Thornburg Wellness is honored to give you confidence for your family’s health and we appreciate you being a part of our mission of Bringing Healthcare Home.  We invite you to check back with us in the weeks ahead as we launch a new store with great products that support generational health and wellness.


More About the Author:

Dr. Cade Copeland is a husband of 12 years, father of 3 little ones (with another on the way) and a practicing physician for 8 years. He believes that no matter what symptom, diagnosis or label a person carries, the focus should be to build upon what is right and not on what is wrong. He is a welcomed, articulate and well-educated guest blogger at Dr. Thornburg Wellness.

3 Things You Must Know About Water

Dr. Thornburg Wellness Original Content Written By Dr. Cade Copeland

Few things are more refreshing than a cold glass of ice water on a hot day in Florida.


But, reaching for the tap water isn’t really an option.  And is that bottle of water you’re buying any better?


Home water filtration systems are exploding in popularity, but many of them are only attempting to correct one of the points we make below.  Make sure you get a well rounded view of everything water related.


1. Filtration – bacteria, cysts, industrial chemicals like chlorine and fluoride are just a small part of the battle against poor water quality.    But, i t isn’t just about getting the bad stuff out, it’s also about keeping the good stuff in.    Some systems like reverse osmosis do a great job of getting rid of all the bad, but it leaves water in a “dead” state without a proper electrolyte balance.  If finding another filter isn’t in the works, just “remineralize” your water to bring the good back in with either a pinch of pink salt and a squeeze of lemon or specific remineralization drops from your local health food store.


2. pH – have you ever tried to take care of a fish tank or a swimming pool…it’s tough work!  There needs to be delicate attention to detail in terms of pH, a scale that measures acidity (like lemon juice) or alkalinity (like baking soda).  Going to far one way or the other with water (or food, supplements or medications) drives inflammation and disorganization into our tissue and requires much more energy from our body to maintain homeostasis.  For example, products that recommend water too far away from balance in the alkaline state can change stomach acidity, creating digestive issues over long term use.  Again, our body’s ecosystem and pH levels require attention and the focus needs to be on balance.  You can have a fun experiment with you kiddos using these cheap test strips.


3. Structure – every snowflake has a different and unique shape.  How can that be if water is only hydrogen and oxygen?  Well, there is a little more to it actually and with the “shape” of our water too.  Energy in the form of vibration, cell phone signals, WiFi, sound and more can influence the structure of our drinking water.  A simple recommendation: say a blessing over your water.  Studies have shown the energy and vibration of your words and intent create a change in the structure (and the water’s ability to permeate the cellular membrane of our tissues).  Considering adults are 60% water and kiddos are up to 75%, this means that your words can go a long way.  Look into Masaro Emoto’s water crystal pictures for some extra credit, it’s seriously amazing!


While the focus above is on drinking water, it is worth noting that some research has shown a hot shower causes the pores to open and the skin to absorb more unwanted chemicals than drinking an entire week’s worth of tap water.


What about our kiddos in the bathtub?  What about the hot water encouraging the plastic fish, foam alphabet and rubber ducky to leach off into the water?  What happens as the chemicals lurking in the water, the toys and the personal care products mix into a “toxic soup”…is there anybody testing that?  You can read more about the plasticizers, chemical foaming agents, shelf stable preservatives and toxin fragrances in our everyday life in the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie.


Opening our eyes to the impact of our daily habits as parents is tough.  We’ll never be perfect.  But with each decision (whether we are aware or not) moves the needle of health closer to wellness or closer to sickness.  Knowledge is power, but knowledge without action is useless.  Join our Facebook page and Dr. Thornburg Wellness Newsletter to learn how other families are making a difference in their health.


Dr. Thornburg Wellness is honored to give you confidence for your family’s health and we appreciate you being a part of our mission of Bringing Healthcare Home. We invite you to check back in with us in the weeks ahead as we launch a new store dedicated to providing families with products that support generational health and wellness.

More About the Author:

Dr. Cade Copeland is a husband of 12 years, father of 3 little ones (with another on the way) and a practicing physician for 8 years. He believes that no matter what symptom, diagnosis or label a person carries, the focus should be to build upon what is right and not on what is wrong. He is a welcomed, articulate and well-educated guest blogger at Dr. Thornburg Wellness.