25 Things Your Child’s Pediatrician Won’t Tell You

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021

Go behind the scenes with your child's doctor to see what they are really thinking.


Want to avoid the wait?

Schedule your appointment for the middle of the week, and ask for the first time slot of the morning or right after lunch. Follow these secrets to finding the best doctors, according to doctors.

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We’ll prescribe antibiotics even though studies say not to

Even though studies show that antibiotics for ear infections are rarely better than watching and waiting for kids over age two to get better, many of us prescribe them anyway. We want to feel like we’re doing something. If I prescribe an antibiotic and a few days later your child feels better, I look like a genius. (These tips will help you make the most of your next doctor’s appointment.)

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Want to make vaccines less painful for your child?

Ask if you can breastfeed while we give your infant his shots. Or if you have an older child, see if we can use cold spray or a numbing cream to decrease the pain. (Make sure that you don’t believe these 10 myths about vaccines.)


Don’t try to fit your second kid into your child’s appointment

Don’t ask if I’ll take a “quick look” at the sibling who doesn’t have an appointment. If your mom went with you to the gynecologist, would you ever say, “Doc, would you mind putting her on the table and giving her a quick look?” Every patient deserves a full evaluation. (These are signs that your doctor is a keeper–and signs that they’re not!)

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We’re on a tight schedule

Sometimes we have less than 10 minutes per patient, so make the most of your time and ask about the most pressing problems first. If you have a lot of questions, request an extra-long appointment. (These are the most common lies that patients tell their doctors.)

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We don’t always follow our own advice

Even though I tell you to let your baby cry himself back to sleep once he’s older, don’t ask me if I always followed that advice with my own kids. I didn’t.


Always ask for a nurse in an emergency

If you have an urgent concern and the front desk tells you there are no appointments available, ask for a nurse and explain your situation. Often she or he can work you in even if the schedule indicates there’s no time. (These are 50 secrets nurses wish they could tell you.)


Don’t delay treating your child because you want me to see the symptoms

People do this a lot: “I didn’t give him Tylenol, because I wanted you to feel the fever.” “I didn’t use the nebulizer because I wanted you to hear the wheezing.” Trust me, I will believe you that the child had a fever or was wheezing. Delaying the treatment only makes your child suffer.

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Don’t scare your child

As soon as you say “He doesn’t like it when you look in his ears,” you remind your child of the last time and set us up for another failure. Be matter-of-fact: “It’s time for the doctor to look in your ears.”

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Beware of germs

Sure, we have a “sick” waiting room and a “well” waiting room, but no studies show it really makes a difference. Germs are everywhere, and we can’t disinfect after each patient. My advice? Bring your own toys, and if your child touches anything, give him some hand sanitizer.


Don’t threaten your children

Don’t tell your kid the doctor will give him a shot if he doesn’t behave. I won’t.


We go by what the insurance companies say

Insurance companies won’t pay us to check complex problems at a well visit. So if your child has been complaining of headaches for months, I may tell you to make another appointment. I literally won’t get paid if I investigate the headaches while you’re here. (Watch out for these secrets that health insurance companies are keeping from you.)


We love kids

Pediatricians are among the lowest-paid doctors, making half as much as many specialists. We get pooped, peed, and thrown up on—and worse. But we love helping kids, and that’s why we do it.

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We don’t want to create anxiety in your kids

Kids have figured out that “This won’t hurt” is code for “This is going to hurt,” and they get all worked up. It’s really best to not even use the word hurt. It just creates anxiety.


Don’t diagnose your kids over the Internet

If you want to do a little Internet research in advance, go for it. But please don’t use a website to diagnose your kids and come in asking for a specific remedy.


Don’t ask me questions when I’m off the job

Don’t ask me medical questions about your child when you see me at the grocery store, pool, or library. When I’m out with my kids, I just want to be a parent.


We listen to drug reps

If I prescribe a newer, more expensive medication, it may be because a drug rep just left my office. They constantly bring us presents and flatter us, and their only goal is getting us to prescribe the latest medication, which is usually no better than the older ones. In fact, the older ones have a longer safety track record and really should be the ones we prescribe first.

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Older children can be diagnosed with a phone call

Most visits to the pediatrician, particularly for older children, are unnecessary. It may only take a phone call to find out that your child’s fever, cold, sore throat, ear infection, and even pink eye will most likely get better on its own.

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We immunize our own children

Do you really believe that we’d be recommending vaccines if we had any concerns about their safety? Almost all pediatricians immunize their own children.

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Yes, you can talk to your pediatrician on the phone

Be persistent, be polite, and explain to the staff that you have a pressing, personal issue that you think would be best handled over the phone. We’ll call back as soon as we can.

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Have a last-minute form for summer camp you need us to fill out?

Show up with a smile and some homemade cookies, and we will get it done. I can name two patients off the top of my head who always bring baked goods, and everyone in the office knows and loves them.


We often have no idea what a particular medicine costs

If your jaw drops at the price the pharmacy gives you, call us back and see if we can prescribe something else.


Stop typing on your smart phone!

When I’m talking to your child, I need you to pay attention. He is not going to tell me everything I need to know.

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Don’t give children under six cold medicine

When you tell me you gave a decongestant to your toddler, I cringe. Studies show that cold medicines never work well for children under age six, and the risk of overdose and side effects far outweigh any benefit.


Listen to your intuition

You know your child better than anyone, and that’s why when you tell me something “isn’t right,” my ears perk up.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest