Worried about your child’s development? Talk to your doctor before the Internet or your friends


Opinion of Dr Neha Chaudhary, CNN

If you’re worried about whether your child is reaching developmental milestones on time, like walking, socializing, or talking, you might be relieved to know that you are like many other parents and that feeling anxious is normal.

Nearly a quarter of parents suspect some delay in their child, according to a new national child health survey from the University of Michigan’s CS Mott Children’s Hospital. But nearly one in five parents who feared their child was late in meeting milestones did not seek professional advice.

As a child psychiatrist, however, I am concerned that among parents worried or having questions about their children’s development, almost 20% did not seek help from health care providers, daycares or other professionals. Instead, one in five parents turned to much less trusted sources, like family, friends, or social media.

“It’s natural and expected for parents to scour the internet and social media for answers, but this can open up an avalanche of information and the anxiety that comes with it for the 2:00 am Googling parent,” says Dr. Alok Patel, pediatrician at Stanford Children’s Health.

While these sources may seem like a handy place to start, they can be riddled with misinformation that leads families astray and delays getting the help your child really needs. Instead, parents should turn to their health care providers – like pediatricians – for advice. Here’s why.

1. Your pediatrician is trained to understand your child’s development

Your child’s assessment by a pediatrician is informed by years of training and a much deeper understanding of how and why a child’s brain might develop the way it is, as well as what is normal for it. who is not. They have probably followed your child for a while and can capture the individual nuances of your only child. While the Internet can provide some information, only a trained healthcare professional can apply that information in the right way for your particular child and provide reassurance where it’s needed.

“I would much prefer parents to refer their serious medical issues to a pediatrician rather than the Global Anxiety Network,” Patel said. “We are trained not only to identify and manage medical conditions; we also have the experience to be able to calm and reassure parents.

While specialized care – such as seeing a child psychiatrist or developmental neurologist – can also be helpful for some families, for others it can be more difficult to find and more expensive. In contrast, follow-up visits with a pediatrician are usually relatively easy to arrange once your child has been connected to the practice.

2. Misinformation can cause serious harm

Although the Internet is full of practical and easy-to-reach information, not all information is created equal, and discerning fact from fiction can be a challenge. I have had countless patients who have told me that they would have liked to come see me earlier for an evaluation. Often times, they were slow to get help because something they were reading online made them look for unnecessary home remedies or decide that their child’s diagnosis was something different. In many of these cases, the child’s condition worsened with the delay in care. Generally, when it comes to health issues, the earlier something is identified and treated, the better the outcome.

Patel notes that the reverse is also true: “I have also seen children rushing to the emergency room because the internet has scared parents into thinking their children have cancer.

Parents looking for quick and seemingly practical information should be sure to examine the source of the information they find through Google search or on social media. Is he citing a scientific study, or some other kind of strong evidence, or do the claims not support my research?

“What appears to be a credible medical article could in fact be an article that tries to sell you a product or promote a political agenda,” Patel warns.

Even though the information is backed by science, parents should only use it as a starting point – a way to get a particular issue on their radar that they can then talk to their child’s pediatrician about.

3. Information may be correct but may not apply to your child.

A high-quality article on developmental milestones can be helpful from an educational perspective, but it isn’t always about your specific child and the attributes that make them unique. Some parents may become anxious or worried about something more serious when in reality their child’s development is normal for their own curve, which a healthcare professional might be able to reassure.

“Often times, parents worried about missed milestones just need reassurance, signs to watch out for, and remember that kids sometimes progress at different speeds,” Patel said.

Others may dismiss a concern as “not serious” when it really is a problem for which the child should seek medical attention promptly. By educating yourself from verified sources and turning to a professional, you reduce the chances of being vulnerable to the potential damage of unenforceable information and a delay in what might be really necessary for your child.

4. We speak directly to professionals for questions not related to health

When we have questions about the law, we usually turn to lawyers instead of researching laws and trying to interpret legal codes on the Internet. If we are facing an electrical problem, most of us turn to an electrician for help. Unfortunately, when it comes to health issues, for many families there are often several steps between detecting a potential problem and seeking medical help – if it does occur – and most of these steps are much less reliable or believable.

While searching the internet or using friends may seem more convenient, it comes at a potential cost to your child – something that can be avoided by turning to a professional first, just as we do in other ways. other areas of life to avoid this dangerous cost. .

5. Eliminate the stigma that prevents getting help

If parents notice their own tendency to seek professional help in other areas but think twice before seeking professional medical help when health issues arise, I encourage parents to examine their own hesitation. Are you worried about what you might find if your child sees a professional? Is it easier to avoid asking for definitive help because it makes it more real? Is it the fear of a health professional’s judgment?

Whatever the reason – and it’s probably different for everyone – reluctance to seek help from trusted professional resources can be a sign of feeling that getting help is stigmatized, along with what many families struggle with. Rather, getting help should be applauded.

However, the fight against stigma does not depend only on patients and parents, it is a shared responsibility, in which health workers play a vital role.

“Too many times, I have heard from parents who took to the internet because they were ashamed to ask their pediatrician a question,” Patel said. “If we are to build trust, we must collectively end these stigmas. A start would be to encourage dialogue, to listen actively and not to alienate anyone for asking us questions about themselves or their children.

Whether your question or concern is about your child’s physical, social, or emotional development, or their overall health and well-being, a healthcare professional’s office is still the best – and most trusted – place to be. where to turn for a review. Our children deserve the best possible care.

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