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Doctor Barney Softness Gives Parenting Advice

Baby Wellness: A Doctor's Inside Advice

As moms, we think we know best. And, sometimes we do. But, pediatrician Barney Softness dished out doctor advice to the New York Times that no parent should ignore.

Topping his list, he said:

  • Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep. While parents will want to reassure a child who is afraid of needles, it is far worse to make a promise the doctor cannot keep. Then you have lost trust. I may look at the child’s record and discover she is due for a vaccination. A promise of no needles would mean coming back another time — and the anticipation of coming back for a shot prolongs the agony. Focus on the positives when you are trying to reassure your child about a doctor visit — a favorite toy in the waiting room, the stickers we give at the end of the visit, or the trip to the playground after the appointment.

To see the rest of his recommendations,


  • Don’t try to trick kids. Sometimes parents tell a child he is coming along just to accompany his brother to the doctor, and then surprise him with an exam as well. Even if it’s a harmless ear check, it may not seem so to the child, and he won’t fall for that one again. And he won’t trust you — or me — next time.
  • We’re not the bad guys. You’d be surprised how often I hear the phrase: “Here comes the mean doctor (or nurse).'’ We do sometimes have to do things that are painful or uncomfortable, but it does not do the child any good to portray us as mean or evil. It makes our job more difficult, and it makes the child think you’re not doing a very good job protecting her if you’re allowing us to do the dirty work. You know it hurts, but we are helping your child, and that is the message you should try to convey.
  • Don’t sugarcoat too much. You may think that a doctor’s stethoscope on your chest is not much of an issue. But if a toddler is screaming about it, it is to him. Telling him that this doesn’t hurt, or is even fun, doesn’t legitimize his feelings. And further, if he’s just learning the language, the next time you tell him you’re going to the playground to have some fun, he may get the wrong idea.
  • Don’t tell me your diagnosis. Often parents come in to rule out a single ailment — such as Lyme disease or diabetes. Or they tell me they think their child has another sinus infection or strep throat. They mean well and usually are worried because someone — or often a Web site — told them their child’s symptoms match a particular problem. But, an accurate description of symptoms is much more valuable. As doctors, we don’t presume a sore throat is always strep or frequent urination is always diabetes. It could be any number of things. However, if you have a specific reason to suspect a particular condition (for example, her brother has Lyme disease), it may help in the analysis.
  • There’s no such thing as a quickie. Squeezing two kids into one appointment isn’t good for your kids, and it’s not fair to the other children in the waiting room. Too often parents will bring a sibling along and ask me to “just check his chest real quick.” But even when the quick exam is normal, it often leads to follow-up questions about what else could be wrong. Each child deserves my full attention.
  • Let your kids take part in sensitive conversations. There are obviously certain discussions that need to be conducted out of earshot of the child — divorce, unemployment or the parent’s health come immediately to mind. But many times parents don’t want to embarrass their children by discussing other sensitive subjects in front of them, like bedwetting, constipation, weight or poor school performance. Sometimes an entire visit is merely a pretense for the real concern, which the parent finally brings up after a child has left the room. But your child already knows the problem!
    Having a parent transmit my advice to the child doesn’t work nearly as well as when the child is involved in the original discussion. If the discussion is handled in a professional matter-of-fact manner, you can almost hear the sigh of relief. (Even if the child makes no eye contact during the conversation, they are definitely listening.) It is never as embarrassing as parents expect it to be.

So on your next visit, remember Dr. Softness's words of wisdom and see what you, the parent, just might learn!


Join The Conversation
Jeremy-Fulbright Jeremy-Fulbright 9 years
Many of your suggestions are right on! Particularly, "Let your kids take part in sensitive conversations." Children are intelligent. We encourage our children to take an active role in their health. For instance, our physician offers online consultations using an account from Since our children are always on the computer, we allow them to request an online consultation when they are ill. They find out if they likely have a common cold or if they need to come in to see the doctor. It costs us only $25 and it leaves our children with a sense of empowerment.
KathleenxCouture KathleenxCouture 9 years
I love reading this site even though I don't have kids but someday I will and this post reminds me to remember when i have kids to think about when I was a kid and these things may have happened. I remember my childhood vividly and hopefully someday that will play in favor for me when i have children of my own so i can empathize with them a bit more. great post!
kikidawn kikidawn 9 years
That sounds like an awesome routine BlairBear... I'll definitely do something like that when I have kids. I, fortunately for my mom, have never been afraid of the Dr's and I have always been ok going to it.
BlairBear BlairBear 9 years
I always tell my kids ahead of time what will be happening. A couple of days ahead, I let them know they have an appointment, the day of I remind them and when we are on our way I tell them what I think will happen at the appointment (stethescope, looking in ears and eyes, etc.). That way, they prepare themselves, I don't want to surprise them with anything. If they have to get a shot or some other thing I didn't know about, they get to call their dad and tell on me, that always makes them feel better :P Plus we usually go do something fun after that if they're still upset.
JennyJake JennyJake 9 years
I'll definitely file this advice away. Thanks!
cbgmick cbgmick 9 years
Well stated!
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