Mary McAteer, MD, a pediatrician at Indiana University Heath, shares the inside advice
she’s learned on the job—and from raising her own four children.
Secret #1: Your kids really will eat the healthy foods you serve (eventually.) When
Dr. McAteer recently asked her (now grown) children what was different about being
raised by a pediatrician, “they told me they were the only kids in the neighborhood who
ate fruit and vegetables for snacks,” she says, laughing. Fortunately, raising healthy eaters
didn’t require any magical skills on her part—just persistence. “Too often, we let kids
dictate what they eat when they’ll eventually make do with whatever you serve them,”
she says. “You may have to offer them a certain food umpteen times before they’ll eat it,
but that’s normal.” Another pro tip: While it’s okay to give choices, stick to just two
options. “Young kids may feel overwhelmed by any more than that and may not pick
anything,” says Dr. McAteer.
Secret #2: Asking your pediatrician to delay vaccinations can put your child’s
health at risk. Though most parents don’t oppose vaccinations, some worry that giving
their child so many shots at once—and at a very young age—could be dangerous. But
extensive testing of vaccines and their timing hasn’t revealed any health concerns, says
Dr. McAteer. Not only does following the schedule protect your child from contracting
preventable diseases, it also ensures maximum effectiveness. Dr. McAteer points to the
hepatitis B vaccine, which infants first receive at birth, as an example. “Research shows
that children who receive this vaccine on schedule have better lifelong protection from
hepatitis B than those who are immunized later,” she says.
Secret #3: Don’t assume you have complete control over your child’s sleep. Dr.
McAteer jokes that pediatricians who write sleep advice books were probably lucky
enough to have kids who naturally slept well throughout the night. “There will be times
where your child won’t sleep and the best you can do is make sure he feels safe and
comfortable,” she says. But if bedtime is always a struggle, do to tell your pediatrician.
“She’ll review your child’s routine and look for any issues that could be interfering with
his sleep, including sleep disorders,” says Dr. McAteer.
Secret #4: Limiting tech time is even more important than you think. Though
scientists are still gathering evidence on the risks of too much screen time, some
consequences are already apparent, says Dr. McAteer. “Even babies are able to recognize
screens and are attracted to them,” she explains. There are developmental concerns as
well. “One of the hardest things children have to learn is how to communicate, and too
much screen time prevents them from interacting with others,” says Dr. McAteer. Stick to
the limits set by the American Academy of Pediatrics—no more than 2 hours of media
per day, and no exposure at all for kids under 2—and enforce them consistently.