Over her 26-year career, Pediatrician Susan Sheinkop, M.D., has seen her career change. When she started, she remembers a vast majority of her time was spent treating her little patients for infectious diseases. But with advances in vaccinations that she says changed the face of pediatrics, she finds she can focus on lifestyle and wellness, including social and emotional wellness.
What hasn’t changed, though, is that parents always have lots of questions for their child’s pediatrician. Sheinkop shares the top five she hears from parents and what she tells them.
1. When should I bring my child in to the doctor?
That varies according to age. If an infant has a fever of 100.4 rectally, that’s an emergency, whereas when your child is older with that fever, it certainly isn’t as critical. My answer to people is to trust your judgment. When you feel there is something really wrong, there usually is.
If you feel uncomfortable with how your child is acting, how they are eating, how they are sleeping, how they are behaving, I think it’s the right time to bring your child in.
2. Is my child overweight? How should I feed them?
It’s a very difficult thing knowing so many kids are obese and overweight. It’s really hard to control everything they eat because so often children are outside of our direct control, they are at day care, at school, and unfortunately they have access to food that they shouldn’t be eating.
I always try to share with parents, your example is far more important than anything that you tell your kids. If you are a person who eats vegetables and healthy food, if you are a person who exercises, your children are more likely to follow that lead and learn to eat those foods and live that kind of lifestyle. Family meals are really important. Another thing I would say to families is no soda. That is a huge source of non-nutritional calories for children.
I never want to make weight an issue for anybody. It’s not about weight; it’s about being healthy. I never tell a kid to go on a diet. I say, let’s think about ways we can change our eating habits. My goal is for the weight to stay the same and let their body grow. My favorite part of my electronic medical record is the growth chart. You can click on it and it shows you this beautiful chart of height, weight and body mass, it’s a great visual.
3. How can I help my child be happy?
It’s an important thing and it’s a difficult thing. School is such an important part of our child’s life and if they are not happy at school, they are not happy kids. Parents need to understand what’s going on at their child’s school, what the dynamics are and not be afraid to advocate when they see it’s not a good fit for the style of learning your child has. A child feeling safe and happy at school is critical.
A lot of kids struggle with relationships and making friends and the parent has the chance to help their child learn to have healthy relationships and to arrange play dates and activities to maximize their child’s strengths and learn to form one-on-one friendships. It’s really important for the parent to find an activity that their child can excel at and feel proud of themselves, to feel good and happy.
4. What’s an emergency and where should I go?
It’s a difficult thing to delineate what’s an emergency. An emergency changes with the age of your child. Clearly any kind of severe injury, problems breathing, getting hurt, having an accident, those kinds of things constitutes an emergency. People say to me, where should I take my child?
If there is a life threatening emergency, you need to call 911. If there’s an urgent problem, but it’s not a true life-threatening emergency, it’s certainly reasonable to call your pediatrician or whatever physician you have a relationship with and discuss where the best place to be seen is. If there’s truly an emergency, where there’s going to need to be an X-ray or blood test, then the emergency department is the correct place. If it’s an urgent kind of problem, many pediatricians have sick hours and later hours.
At PediaTrust, we have our own after-hours center where we see kids who need acute care. I am not a proponent of storefront acute care settings. I don’t think they provide the same level of care, especially for young children, that a pediatric provider does.
When you are dealing with kids it’s important to have providers that understand the differences between caring for a child versus caring for an adult. Children are not little adults.
A lot of people call me and ask, ‘what should I do here?’ That’s a really important phone call because that’s the time I can guide somebody and say, that’s really not an emergency, we’ll be happy to see you in the office tomorrow, and here’s what you can do tonight.
Some parents have a tough time giving themselves permission to go to the emergency room or not go to the emergency room. It’s a hard thing.
5. How much technology is too much technology?
In the old days when I would walk into an exam room, kids would be drawing or a mom would be sitting, reading their child a story. And now every single kid is playing on mom’s phone or iPad.
I think there’s a lot to be gained from technology. There are really some interesting things kids can learn. I love the fact that we can communicate; for instance, a child can talk to their grandma who lives in California on the computer. But it takes away from personal communication. I think a lot of kids are not learning to talk to people face to face or look a person in the eye because they are so fixated on their device.
Parents have to be very careful about not overdoing it to a point where their child is losing interaction with people, parents included.