Like the rest of us lucky pediatricians, Dr. Claire McCarthy fields many questions parents ask at their children’s well-child checkups. Questions like these:
Should my baby’s poop be [insert color]? (Answer: if it’s not red, black or white, which could mean bleeding or liver disease, it’s fine.)
When will my child sleep through the night — and how can I make that happen sooner? (Answer: I don’t know, but it will happen — and as for making it happen sooner, it takes persistence, patience and for a while even less sleep than you are currently getting.)
Is my child eating enough? (Answer: nearly always yes, although what they are eating or drinking isn’t always perfect.)
What is this rash? (Answer: usually nothing to worry about.)
I get questions about particular foods, articles of clothing, potty training, preschool, tantrums, biting, strollers, toothpaste, water, sunscreen, bug spray, naps … you name it, I’ve probably gotten a question about it. Sometimes I feel like my answers are based more on common sense, my own parenting experience or something I read in the newspaper than on anything I learned in medical training.
Pediatricians should encourage parents to ask questions every chance we get. “There is no such thing as a stupid question” is a cliché that truly doesn’t apply in our case. In reality, all parents are “winging it” to some extent, at least with the first child! Very few questions we get have single, one-size-fits-all answers, which can be humbling to those of us who feel like we have, as a result of our long and intensive medical training, all the answers. There are some questions, though, that Dr. McCarthy wishes parents would ask more often, like “How can I teach my child to be polite, respectful and kind?” and “How can I best support and encourage my child?”:
All of this stuff is important — because it’s the stuff that ultimately matters most, the stuff that builds health, resilience and happiness and gives kids what they need to be independent, productive, compassionate people. Which, really, is our job as parents.
That’s why I wish more parents would ask these questions. They don’t necessarily need to ask their doctor; teachers, religious leaders, mental health professionals — not to mention various wise family members and friends — can have great answers, too. Just ask.
Even just asking — and wanting to know the answers — is a wonderful start.
Read Dr. Claire McCarthy’s “6 questions parents don’t ask their pediatricians but really should” here.