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What your child's doctor wishes you knew

By William Sears, M.D.
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At the end of every appointment with a patient, I usually feel one of two ways: "Wow! We really accomplished a lot in 15 minutes." Or: "Wow. Where did it all go wrong?"

Some office visits go better than others, and some families just get more out of them. These parents get their concerns addressed -- and their kids are better for it. The good news is, it's probably because they're doing things you could do, too. Here are some suggestions to make your child's visits happy and productive, for both of you:

Take babies and toddlers to the doctor in the morning, when they're usually on their best behavior. Not true for yours? Go with whatever works! But do try to avoid scheduling appointments during naptime, to spare yourselves a meltdown. ( Doctor-visit problems solved!external link )

Try to book older kids after school or on days off. It also helps not to have your child miss a fun activity because of his checkup.

Pick the first appointment of the morning or the afternoon if your child gets extra-antsy with long waits. That's when the doctor is least likely to be running late.

Avoid the late afternoon if you're scheduling a long appointment, or want to discuss behavior or discipline problems. Your child, the doctor -- and you -- will be too drained at the end of the day.

Don't try to squeeze two kids into one already-crowded time slot. You won't get anything accomplished. Instead, book their visits back-to-back.

Prepare your child ahead of time. She may feel better if you let her know what's going to happen at the appointment. For instance: "Dr. Bill will count your teeth, look in your ears, pat your tummy, and listen to your heart..."

Read a comforting picture book on the subject beforehand. One favorite: "Blue's Checkup" by Sarah Albee and Ian Chernichaw.

Dress your child in clothes that are easy to get on and off, like sneakers with Velcro instead of laces.

Make sure your child has eaten before the office visit, since hungry kids are cranky kids. If you bring along a snack, choose the mess-free kind so you don't have to think about crumbs. (Bonus: The staff won't need to clean up after your child.)

Jot down a list of your main questions so you can be sure to cover your concerns at the appointment. Rank them in order of most important to least.

Bring a beloved stuffed animal or doll. I often do a checkup on a child's lovey to show just how easy an exam really is. After all, if Barbie or Buddy can do it, so can your child. Your doctor isn't taking the cue? Just ask.

Hold your child during the checkup if she's more comfortable that way. Exam tables are rarely needed for toddlers and preschoolers, who are more secure and trusting while lounging on a parent's lap.

Note what works and what doesn't. Toddlers that get spooked on the scale, for instance, can be weighed and measured by the nurse at the end of the exam instead of at the beginning.

Use visual aids. If your child has something that comes and goes --- a skin problem, say -- or if she seems to act up only while not in the doctor's office, don't hesitate to bring along a photograph. Or bring a home video (and a camcorder to show it on).

Trust your instincts. When you really think something's wrong, push your doctor to investigate. If he won't look into it, don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion.

Contributing editor William Sears, M.D., a dad of eight, estimates that he's done 175,000 checkups in 35 years.

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Copyright 2006 PARENTING magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Your child may do better if you tell him what to expect. For instance: "Dr. Bill will count your teeth, look in your ears, pat your tummy..."


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