As parents, we often find ourselves filled with questions. When our children are infants, we ask our pediatrician everything — from recommendations for the best types of diaper creams to what is the safest way for our baby to sleep. As our children grow, we inquire about when to give them certain foods and how we can best prevent food allergies and intolerances. During the preschool years, we may ask about screen time limits and if there are any apps that are recommended to help our children to learn to read. There are always so many questions.
Pediatricians are a wealth of knowledge and are always happy to help parents navigate their child’s development. And while they are prepared to provide parents with information about commonly asked questions, there are things that parents aren’t asking that they probably should. Dr. Molly O’Shea, pediatrician at Birmingham Pediatrics Wellness Center, an American Academy of Pediatrics journal editor, water safety and drowning prevention advocate, and official pediatrician of Goldfish Swim School, spoke with Scary Mommy and offered suggestions to parents about topics to discuss with their pediatricians.
Many children have not seen their doctors face-to-face for a well visit in close to a year. Practices have only been seeing patients in person who are displaying signs of illness, due to the COVID-19 breakout. Now that these visits are being resumed, O’Shea hopes that parents will take this opportunity to discuss four things:
How Can I Foster Independence At All Ages?
O’Shea suggests that infants begin to exhibit self-reliance and adaptability to separation and it continues to build as a child develops. Babies build confidence in their ability to self manage by sleeping independently. Toddlers build on this independence by learning to pick out their clothes and dress themselves. As children grow, it is important to give them tasks and chores that are age-appropriate and can help them build skills to be self-sufficient. She also recommends that children participate in activities where their parents are not in charge to help children build self-confidence in situations when they are by themselves.
What Is The Biggest Safety Risk That My Child Faces That I Am Not Aware Of?
While parents worry about what their children eat and what books to read and what kinds of blankets they should sleep with, O’Shea says that the number one cause of death in children ages 1-4 is drowning. Sometimes parents don’t realize that a child could drown in as little as two inches of water. This can happen in toilets, bathtubs, and buckets. It is not only in swimming pools. She says that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children start swim lessons as early as 1 year, or sooner. Formal swim lessons can lessen the risk of childhood drowning by 88%. She wants parents to seek out a reputable learn-to-swim facility to learn this lifesaving skill. “It’s never too late for anyone to learn to swim! Teenagers and young adults who don’t have swim skills are at high risk of drowning so taking lessons at any age makes sense,” she added.
How Do I Get My Kids To Talk To Me About Everything?
As our children age, their emotions become more complicated and they tend to become more withdrawn from their parents. This can be a difficult time for kids and their parents. O’Shea says that this is partly the fault of the parent. Instead of listening to our children, we tend to give unsolicited advice and that causes our children to shut down. She offers that instead of trying to solve your child’s problem of the “mean girl” or “bully,” parents simply need to listen to what your child has to say. She suggests that parents try to empathize without saying things like “that sounds hard” or “you seem mad.” Instead, a parent should say something like, “what do you think you can do differently?” or “do you want to stay friends with him/her? Why?” Lead your child to make a plan themselves. Ask them what they think the outcome will be if they follow their plan. Parents will learn more about their child’s feelings that way and their child will be more willing to open up to them and feel like they really can talk about anything.
Why Do I Need To Take My Child For A Well Visit Even If My Child Isn’t Due For Vaccines?
Well visits are critical for children as they provide insight to so many things. O’Shea mentions that pediatricians use well visits to monitor growth, look for early signs of heart diseases, changes in growth patterns such as weight gain and slow height, or early or late puberty. This is also a time for parents to talk about any issues at school, such as learning disabilities or ADHD concerns. It is common to discuss anxiety and depression or things like bed-wetting. Pediatricians can give parents valuable advice about nutrition and exercise and behavioral issues.
Scary Mommy asked O’Shea for more tips for parents dealing with teenagers and navigating the tough years. She says that the best thing for a parent to do to prepare themself for teenagers is to think back to when they were a teen. Things really aren’t as different as they may seem. Teens need to have the chance to be independent, which means they may make some mistakes, and that is OK. Communication is key and she says it is important for teens to know that they can come to their parents no matter what.
“Having a ‘safety strategy’ can make it a little easier. A safety strategy is where the teen can text a word to the parent resulting in the parent calling the teen and ‘demanding they come home (or the parent come get them).’ This way the parent is the ‘bad guy.’ The teen comes home and NO QUESTIONS ARE ASKED. The teenager is welcome to share what was happening but doesn’t have to. The parent can be confident that the teen made a great choice,” O’Shea suggests.
It can be hard to draw a firm line in the sand of what a teen can and cannot do, but she recommends that parents step out of their comfort zone and trust their teen. And while it is easy to trust your child, but often more difficult to trust the people that they are with, parents should set the expectation that their teen use their safety strategy to navigate tough situations.
Your pediatrician is an excellent source of support and knowledge while raising your children. Parents should keep the lines of communication open with their pediatrician at all times. And if you aren’t comfortable, it’s never too late to find a new doctor.
O’Shea concluded, “Parents need to be able to discuss anything with their child’s doctor. Raising kids is full of challenges and generates a lot of concerns. Your pediatrician should be your partner in the process and open to and welcoming of all of your concerns.”