Advocating for your Child at the Doctor’s Office

While it may not have been true in Disney’s Tangled, oftentimes mother really does know best when it comes to helping evaluate your own child’s illness.


Case in point. Recently, both of my children weren’t feeling well. A lingering cold was turning into an ear ache for one of them and an occasional cough with the other one, was turning into a more persistent one accompanied by other symptoms. Instinctively, I knew my children were sick. From my own experience in working with children as a professional nanny, I was fairly certain child #1 had an ear infection and child #2 had a case of croup or pneumonia (which was running rampant in our community).

Off to the doctor’s we went only to be sent home, told both children were in good health. Knowing that I likely had brought them in before anything of measure could be seen or heard, we returned home to a regimen of Benadryl and Advil. The next day, we were back. Child one with a raging ear infection and child two, hacking up a storm, but still proclaimed in good health. And then the next day, a Saturday, we ended up in the emergency room, child two with a 103 degree Fahrenheit fever, barking louder than a seal and turning blue during hacking episodes. A nebulizer treatment, chest x-ray and a prescription of steroids later, we returned home to nurse both children back to health.

From my experience in working with moms, I know too well that many drink the word of their pediatrician like liquid gold. Now don’t get me wrong, we should absolutely heed the advice of the providers we choose for our children and seek their guidance in health related situations. They are, of course, trained and licensed professionals with years of education and experience under their belts. However, my point is that all the training and experience in the world sometimes can’t compete with a mother’s instinct. Mothers know their children best and sometimes, in fact, do know best.

So when it comes to advocating for your child in medical situations, here are four things you can do to be sure your concerns are heard.

1. Know the value of your own observations

Parental reporting is so very important in pediatrics. Young children often cannot communicate what hurts and how much. Parental reporting of changes in health and behavior are a huge part of the pediatric diagnosis process.  When speaking with your child’s health care provider, look the caregiver straight in the eye, clearly state the observations you’ve made and articulate exactly why you think something may be wrong.

2. Be persistent

Now don’t get me wrong. It was not fun having to return to the doctor three days in a row. I was pretty convinced that if there was no ear infection and no croup or pneumonia diagnosis, the doctor would think I was nuts. But, that didn’t matter. I had to swallow any insecurity I had, any fears of being labeled as nuts, and simply put my children first.  I knew they were not feeling well and sometimes, regardless of how uncomfortable it feels you just have to go with your gut and be persistent until you are satisfied that your child has been evaluated to your liking.  

3. Ask questions or learn to ask questions

If you don’t ask questions, you don’t get answers. Consider asking these questions during your child’s evaluation:

  • Why do you think this is the diagnosis?
  • Why do think this (what you may believe is wrong) could not be the diagnosis?
  • Can you tell me what the other treatment options are?
  • Can you tell me the side-effects of what you’ve prescribed?
  • When should we return to do the doctor’s?
  • When should I expect improvement?

4. Know that what was okay yesterday, may not be okay today

A fever can spike overnight. Children’s ears can be clear one day and infected the next. What seemed like a mild cough can turn into a hacking one that interferes with breathing. Sometimes we are so in tune with our children, we take them to be evaluated because we know they are sick, but they don’t yet show any tangible symptoms that the doctor can evaluate.  Don’t be afraid to return to the doctor, even if you were told your child was proclaimed in good health the day before. Things change and so can your child’s diagnosis.

When you just can’t shake the feeling that your child has more than a cold or has something going on, you have to step in as his advocate. It’s important to have confidence and trust in your child’s doctor, but you also have to have confidence and trust in yourself.