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4 Mistakes Parents Make at the Pediatrician's Office

We aren't here to judge -- and we have seen and heard worse, I promise. Please, tell the truth. I can't take care of your child (or you) if you don't.
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Female pediatrician smiling at baby patient sitting behind office desk
Female pediatrician smiling at baby patient sitting behind office desk

I love being a pediatrician; there's nothing I would rather do. But sometimes I get frustrated by things that parents do -- or don't do.

I'm not talking about things like being late (hey, I run late, it would be unfair to complain), or getting upset with the staff about waiting (hey, I'm going as fast as I can and what if it were your kid who needed more time?), or not holding their kid still while I examine him (I understand that some parents are better at that than others), or stuff like that. That comes with the territory.

I'm talking about stuff that makes it harder for me to give good care.

Here are the four mistakes many parents make that I wish they wouldn't:

1. They don't come prepared.
I love it when parents come to check-ups with their list of things to talk about, or when they come to sick visits knowing which medicines have been given, how many times the child has thrown up or when, exactly, the headaches started. You have no idea how helpful this is -- and how much it helps me zero in on exactly what I need to ask, say and do to help the child and the family.

Too often, parents just, well, show up with their kid and wing it. Which I get, actually. You have a check-up, or your kid is sick, so you come to the doctor because that's what you do in those situations. However, we aren't mind readers and we have a limited amount of time. It's frustrating when people don't have the information I need, or to be heading out the door of the exam room when the parent remembers the three things they really want to talk about.

So... keep a list somewhere of things you want to talk about at a check-up, and then bring it with you (lots of parents keep a list on their phone). if your child is sick, please be ready with all the details (especially important if someone else cares for your child while you work), including temperatures and medications (I love it when people bring medications with them). If you are planning to bring your child to the doctor for something that has been going on for a while, like headaches or stomachaches, start keeping a diary of symptoms. You may think you'll remember everything, but most parents don't (most people don't).

And, if you send your child with a babysitter or with a relative who doesn't live with you, please make sure they are fully informed (in my experience, they rarely are). If you can be available by phone to answer questions, even better.

2. They are less than honest.
I totally get that it's embarrassing to tell the doctor that your kid eats vegetables once a week (or never), watches TV all day or is the bully of the classroom. It's also no fun to admit that you often forget to give the asthma medicine or that you've waved the white flag in the tooth-brushing battle -- or that you are guessing on the temperature because you lost your thermometer, or didn't actually look at the poop when your child's stomach hurt so you don't know if it was hard or diarrhea (because, after all, poop is gross). But if I don't know this stuff, I may miss not just an opportunity to help you in all these struggles, but I might make the wrong diagnosis. That could be bad.

We aren't here to judge -- and we have seen and heard worse, I promise. Please, tell the truth. I can't take care of your child (or you) if you don't.

3. They don't say anything when the doctor screws up.
If I don't make sense, if I didn't ask something important, if I've misunderstood something, if I've given an instruction that is unworkable or if I've made someone feel upset or bad in any way, I want to know. Pediatricians are human and can screw up like anyone else. But when we screw up, it can lead to the wrong diagnosis or treatment, to families not knowing what to do or not getting what they need. That's why we need people to let us know when we've got it wrong. And we need you to let us know in real time, so we can fix it.

So speak up. Say, "I didn't understand that." Or, "He's had a fever for five days, not one day." Or, "You don't understand, he's never complained of a pain like this before." Or, "I actually need to talk more about what's going on at school, it's really not going well." Or, "I can't give a medicine three times a day because of my job." Or, "When you said that, it made me feel like you thought I was a bad mother."

Now, I can't guarantee that every doctor will take it well. Saying it nicely helps, obviously. But here's something I think is important: if your doctor can't take some constructive criticism, then you should get a different doctor.

4. They forget that they and the doctor are a team.
I may be the doctor, the one with the medical training, but you are the parent -- the one who knows and cares for the child.

This one kind of sums up the others, really. The visit and ongoing relationship with the pediatrician work best when parents and doctors understand that they need each other -- and when they work together to make the most of the visit. So remember: you are as important as the doctor. If you take an active role, things work out so much better.

We want the same thing -- your child to be healthy and happy. If you help me help you, we can make it happen.

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