Annual Checkup Coming? Help Your Pediatrician be an Ally

Doctor checking a boy's ear

I don’t know about others’ experiences, but as my son aged the role and benefit of our wonderful pediatrician shifted. She started out as the font of all child knowledge and mommy reassurance – being both a well-respected doctor and a mother of boys. However, over the years, during his annual checkup, she stopped addressing most of her questions to me and began directing her attention to my son….asking him about aspects of his life like school, friends, exercise and nutrition.

Early on in this process I realized that he wasn’t always painting a complete picture of reality with his answers. Like how he said he regularly ate enough fruit and vegetables, brushed his teeth every day (true, but not always twice), and went to bed at 9:30 (yes, but when did he go to sleep??). And I sat there – wanting to be able to pass thought bubbles to our doctor so she would probe more!

I wanted her authority and influence on my son’s health behavior during these annual checkups – but not through my overt prompting. Kids start tuning out their parents at a certain age and I didn’t want his doctor to seem like an agent of parental control. This was a great concept in theory, but in practice accessing a doctor outside of a scheduled appointment can be like trying to meet the latest chart-topping pop star.

It wasn’t until I finally called her office for advice on this – and got to speak to a person – that I learned they were very familiar with this need to speak to and prepare the doctor before an older child’s annual checkup. The approach our office uses to enable direct contact with the doctor is the same they offered when we first joined the practice with a newborn: early morning phone time at the doctor’s home. Our pediatrician takes calls at her home each morning from 7 to 7:30am, which is great for new parents who don’t know whether they need to bring the baby in to see the doctor or just need some advice. But it never dawned on me that this approach could also be used to help my son’s doctor become a better ally.

It’s not the easiest process, I admit. First I have to even remember to make the call when I’m still waking up and engaged in morning chaos. A note on the kitchen counter usually helps with that. But the biggest challenge is all the other parents trying to reach her at the same time. Her number is constantly busy so I have to keep dialing and redialing to get through. But once I do, I always get results. Like this year, when I talked to her about my son’s habit of sometimes staying up very late (after we’ve gone to bed) to finish homework. I’m worried about his health – but I’ve become a broken record about the issue. So she took on the challenge and in our visit she got him to own up to how late he sometimes goes to bed – and then explained to him the concern in terms he might care about: that as he is heading towards puberty, he needs more sleep if he wants to grow as much as possible because the body makes growth hormone during sleep. And what boy doesn’t want to be tall?

Not every pediatrician will do home phone time, but they should understand the need for parents to prepare them ahead of a checkup with an older child – and it makes it easier for them to do their job well. Check with your doctor’s office to see what approach they have for this type of advance communication. And at a minimum you can ask to speak to the nurse or doctor alone at the start of your child’s next annual visit.


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