As a parent, you want to protect and help your child however possible. But confusing and conflicting information today — often influenced by social media — can make a parent’s job even harder. Experienced pediatricians in the Sutter Health network offer reassuring, common-sense answers to the top five questions parents are asking lately. Some questions may surprise you.
1. Should I get my young child vaccinated against COVID-19?
No surprise here — this is the most common question pediatricians hear today.
“Eventually, vaccination is our way out of the pandemic,” says David Tejeda, M.D., a pediatrician in San Francisco. “The vaccine for children clearly reduces the risk of serious illness from COVID-19.”
Lauren Thompson, M.D., a pediatrician in San Carlos, reminds parents that although “for the most part kids have been doing quite well with COVID, there are cases when it can be dangerous. And of course, kids may be around grandparents or others who have compromised immune systems.”
Both pediatricians strongly recommend kids get COVID and flu shots this year, as well as the usual recommended protective childhood vaccines.
2. Why is my child getting sick so often this year?
“We’ve been wearing masks and avoiding indoor places for the past two years, so young children haven’t been exposed to a lot of viruses,” says Dr. Thompson. “Now kids are back in school. They’re being exposed to common viruses for the first time in a long while.”
Be patient, she tells parents. “It takes about a year for a child’s immune system to get used to the viruses that are all around us. This exposure means your child’s immune system is getting stronger. It’s a healthy part of growing up.”
3. Why won’t my toddler eat enough?
Even during the pandemic, toddlers are still, well, toddlers. And it’s well researched: toddlers eat erratically.
“Some days they won’t eat much at all. Other days they eat a ton,” says Dr. Tejeda.
“We watch a child’s growth very carefully, and as long as your child is growing well, they’re fine,” agrees Dr. Thompson.
The pediatricians urge parents not to force food on their toddler. “My number one tip is ‘try not to worry,’” says Dr. Tejeda. “You can’t force a child to eat.”
He also recommends limiting milk to a max of 15 to 20 ounces per day, limiting juice to less than 8 ounces per day and consider adding smoothies to help get fruit and vegetables into your child’s diet.
4. Is my child hyperactive?
Pediatricians hear this question often, especially from parents of preschoolers with seemingly infinite energy. It’s normal for young children to be very physically active. That’s why outdoor play is so important, the pediatricians say. Go to a playground. Kick a soccer ball around. Play chase or tag.
“Healthy nutrition along with adequate sleep and physical activity are some of the most important pillars of good health,” says Dr. Tejeda. “By the time kids go to school, they should be able to settle down a bit.”
Dr. Thompson encourages parents to set realistic guidelines about how much time their child should spend on homework. Show them ways to organize it efficiently.
If concerns persist about a child’s behavior and ability to focus, Dr. Thompson recommends parents and teachers complete the NICHQ Vanderbilt Assessment Scale. Pediatricians can recommend resources, behavioral tips and treatments based on the results.
5. How do I help my teen with anxiety and sadness?
“Anxiety and depression have measurably increased over the past two years,” says Dr. Thompson. “When you’re a teen you’re supposed to be social, not isolated like we were during COVID. And social media can make it worse. Teens are comparing their lives with their friends and feeling left out.”
Putting a reasonable limit on screen time is always a good idea, the doctors say. But it’s not a cure-all. The pediatricians talk to the teens themselves about how they’re feeling.
“I tell them, ‘Have fun, go to school, get the grades at a level expected based on your abilities,’” says Dr. Tejeda. “Most of all, be a part of your family’s and friends’ lives.”
When a teen seems to be struggling, the doctors urge parents to get extra help from a therapist or support program. Your pediatrician may be aware of additional resources, such as Scout by Sutter Health. Scout is a non-clinical digital experience that supports everyday resilience and mental health for youth. Whatever the plan, work together, and make sure your teen is part of the team.