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Are you making the most of your child’s well visits?

July 16, 2012

We often see our pediatrician for a specific complaint: ear infections, stomach flus or broken bones. And now that summer’s in full swing, many families will be making a trip to their pediatrician’s office for sports physicals and immunizations before the new school year begins. As we manage all of these items on our to-do list, it’s easy to forget that a visit to your pediatrician when your child is well is much more than a box to be checked off of your list.

Just as there’s more to parenting than providing food and water, there is much more to health than simply not being sick. Do we only desire for our children to avoid illness or do we desire for them to enjoy a life full of physical, emotional and mental fulfillment? Do we care only about their well-being today or do we aim to equip them with the tools that will contribute to a healthy life for years to come?

The foundation for a healthy life is laid during the formative years of childhood, and one of our key allies in establishing this groundwork is our child’s pediatrician. A well visit (or an annual check-up, if you prefer to call it that) is a unique opportunity to utilize the expertise your pediatrician can offer.

Build a strong partnership

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) conducted focus groups both with pediatricians and parents to determine how to maximize the benefit of well-child care. One of the key themes that emerged from these discussions was this:

Pediatricians are experts in child health, but parents are experts on their child.

Most would agree that both pediatricians and parents have a common goal and the shared responsibility of caring for a child. Yet, the parent/pediatrician relationship often isn’t all that it could be, and this statement reflects the heart of the issue. When either side fails to value the expertise of the other, the partnership suffers.

If you don’t believe your pediatrician is an expert in children’s health issues, are you going to follow his advice? If your pediatrician doesn’t respect you as the expert on your child and his individual needs, is she going to listen to your instinct when you know something just isn’t right?

But, this scenario happens everyday in our doctors’ offices, and who suffers? A child’s health is likely to be the sacrifice. A partnership requires trust and respect from both sides, and finding that balance with your child’s doctor is crucial.

If you have a good pediatrician, trust him. If you don’t, find another one. And when you do find a good one (they’re out there, I promise!), and she recommends something that doesn’t sound quite right or you feel uncomfortable with, trust her intentions and expertise enough to ask why. Why do you feel that A is better than B? Can you help me understand what makes this option better than that one?

Trust comes first, then communication can happen naturally to form a solid partnership.

Expect more

When a strong partnership exists, you have the opportunity to utilize your pediatrician’s expertise in guiding many aspects of your child’s development. A well-child check-up can and should be more than simply cataloging height and weight.

It should be time spent looking thoughtfully and objectively at the whole child- the physical, mental and emotional aspects of him as an individual. Practically all medical issues are easier to treat and manage appropriately if it they are caught early. Your pediatrician’s examination can help identify and even prevent problems before they occur.

In the world of medicine, pediatricians are very different than our adult doctors. Adults usually look to physicians strictly for their specialized medical expertise. But, it’s a pediatrician’s job to know how to raise the healthiest kids, and that sometimes includes things that aren’t strictly “medical.”

Here are just a few examples:

A new mom saw a talk show where a celebrity advocated “attachment parenting,” which says that parents should allow their children to sleep in bed with them. When this new mom discusses this with her pediatrician, she will likely learn that infants sharing a bed with their parents are more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

When the parents of a 7-year-old mention that their son is an extremely picky eater, the pediatrician can offer helpful advice that has been shown to encourage healthful eating: establishing family meal times, setting an example yourself and most importantly, being patient.

When asked how she likes school, a teenager replies that she hates it. Digging deeper, the pediatrician finds that she is embarrassed about the changes her body is going through in puberty. The pediatrician may explain these physical changes and can offer encouragement to the teen’s parent to help guide her through the transition.

I’ve asked my pediatrician his thoughts on my child-care options, and he’s helped me weigh the risks versus benefits of preschool and at-home babysitters. We’ve talked about the right timing for potty-training, and the different stages of speech and language development my child is experiencing. We’ve also talked about preventing injuries: car seats, helmets, burns and falls.

As parents, there are many, many voices competing (often very loudly!) to tell us how we should raise our kids. And many parents don’t fully recognize the resource they have in their pediatrician. While the decisions are still all yours, your pediatrician can offer a different perspective than friends and relatives, which can often lead to healthier choices for your family.

Is your pediatrician weighing in on the choices you make for your kids?

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