For a lot of parents, their back-to-school routines include school supply shopping, looking up recipes for healthy lunches and scheduling a pediatric checkup for their kids. As long as we get some face time with our children's doctor, we want to be prepared with knowledge going in so we utilize our time and ask the right questions.
We spoke with pediatricians about what parents should be asking while at the doctor’s office — and it's not limited to physical health.
Before we go any further, it's important to note your that your child's pediatrician should always ask for consent before examining your child's genitals, pediatrician and professional health advocate Dr. Nicole Rochester tells SheKnows, noting that this is standard practice.
"It's a good opportunity to teach your child about good touch and bad touch,” Rochester says, adding that this is how we teach young kids about "boundaries and the importance of speaking up when something is wrong.”
Similarly, Dr. Heather Hawthorne, a family practice physician at Doctor On Demand, tells SheKnows that she always "discusses sensitive exams with parents first, explaining genital exams provide important information about a child's physical development."
Then, she explains to her patients that they are safe because their mom, dad or guardian are present and reminds them doctors should only be doing this if their guardian is with them and no one else should be asking them to examine their private parts.
We need to start thinking about our children's mental health from a relatively young age. Rochester says we should be asking questions like, "What can I do to help my child cope with stress?" and "What online resources do you recommend for my child to learn about healthy physical and emotional habits?" Your pediatrician may have some advice for how to help your child's mental well-being and spot potential signs of distress.
Learning & cognitive development
Dr. Katie Davis, a neuropsychologist and neuroscience researcher at John Hopkins University tells SheKnows that parents need to take an active role in their child's learning and cognitive development, which includes "asking their pediatrician about language, reading and literacy development prior to their kids' fifth birthday."
According to Davis, early intervention is "the most effective way to minimize the impact of learning disorders." Of course, all children develop at their own pace, but parents should be proactively asking pediatricians if their children are developing according to a typical timeline and whether a psychoeducational/neuropsychological evaluation is needed if a delay with your child is suspected.
Because doctors follow age-specific guidelines for annual wellness checks, Hawthorne says parents should be asking pediatricians the following basic questions every year, as their answers will be age-specific:
- Is my child's height and weight age-appropriate?
- Is my child maturing and having age-appropriate mental development?
- Are there things I should be doing to encourage brain development?
- What should I be feeding my child at this age, and are there any specific foods, vitamins or supplements like probiotics I should be giving them?
- How much physical activity should they be getting?
- How much sleep do they need?
- What things should I be doing to keep them safe? (Safety risks change as your child gets older. From car seats, bike helmets and securing household poisons to locking up firearms, teaching about drugs and alcohol and watching for cyberbullies and predators — there are different dangers to think about at every age.)
- Is my child at risk for mental illness like depression or anxiety? What are the warning signs?
- How can I tell if my child is being bullied?
- Are my child’s behaviors normal? How do I discipline at this age?
- How much TV/phone/computer time should they have?
Doctor's visits empower you & your children
Your child's annual visits are a great opportunity to teach your kids to engage in a "meaningful dialogue with their physician," says Rochester, who adds patients should be involved in the health and decision-making regardless of age. This happens when a "pediatrician encourages children to be active participants in their health care journey," she says.
For example, our pediatrician asks my kids questions about their eating habits, how much water they drink and if they feel they get enough sleep.
Hawthorne says as a parent, it's very important to make the most of these appointments, as they let you know what is happening now and they provide a great opportunity to learn what to expect next. It's also a good time to ask the pediatrician about any concerns you might have about your child's health in order to ensure they're happy, healthy and ready for the school year.