I imagine being a toddler is difficult. You're constantly doing new, scary things, like going to the doctor, and it's all out of your control. Can you imagine having to go somewhere you've told you've been before, even though you can't remember? And if you can recall a visit, it probably involves shots? Yikes. So when you take your toddler to the doctor they're bound to act like, well, a toddler. That's usually when people will give you the side eye, and you might witness the many ways your toddler is shamed when they visit their pediatrician.
My kids have been shamed at the doctor's office for acting their age, which is honestly to be expected when they're forced to sit in a waiting or exam room for longer than five minutes. They've been shamed for not conforming to gender roles, and for being on the high- and low-end of weight charts. They've also been shamed for not wanting to be touched, being afraid, and crying. I mean, they're kids. Why do we expect them not to show emotion in a stressful, unfamiliar situation? That expectation is without a doubt unfair, if not inherently cruel.
Honestly, I think we expect too much of young children in our culture. We take them to a strange place full of interesting and/or frightening things and then implore them to calm down, be quiet, not touch anything, and stop crying. I mean, how can we expect young children to be able to comply with a set of rules we haven't tried to adequately explain to them, especially when they learn that we'll shame them if they don't? There are so many ways your toddler is shamed at the pediatrician, by their doctor, the staff, other patients, and probably you. It's time that stops. Your child deserves to feel safe at the doctor's office, not shamed for being frightened, and the only way to change this narrative is to admit that we're playing a part in this story.
When They Don't Conform To Gender Roles
When my daughter was a toddler, she came along for her baby brother's doctor's appointment. He needed a few necessary vaccinations and the nurse realized that she had brought in pink bandaids by mistake and said, "I'm going to run out and grab some 'boy' bandaids." My precocious toddler said, "What!? That's silly, there are no girl or boy colors. Pink is awesome. Who cares?" The nurse was not amused.
Then there are the numerous rude comments about my son's long hair. Those can stop right now. Seriously.
When They Are At The Top Or Bottom Of The Weight Chart
My daughter has experienced significant trouble gaining weight. Her little brother is almost as big as she is, despite being three years younger. They are both growing on their own curve at the bottom and top of their respective growth charts. Both are healthy, and neither one deserves to be body-shamed by nurses or doctors when they tell them they are "too skinny" or "too big."
I want my kids to love their bodies, but society constantly combats that message, even at the doctor's office. If there are comments to be shared about their diets or health, they can be shared with me and not by shaming my toddler.
When They Aren't Potty Trained
Struggling to potty train your toddler is the worst. And then, when you take them to the doctor, the nurse and doctor will both ask you innocently about "how the potty training is going" at every appointment. No, he's not potty trained, yet. No, I'm not worried about it. Geez, he's freaking 2. Give me a break.
When They Won't Take A Shot
I hate getting shots, but vaccinations are super important so it's a necessary pain. But their necessity doesn't negate the fact that they hurt, and I imagine it's terrifying and confusing for your toddler to be held down and have something painful done to their body, especially while their parent is watching. So, while vaccinations are non-negotiable, I totally understand if they are scared. I would never shame my toddler for being afraid of pain, especially when they can't understand how important vaccinations really are.
When They Act Like, You Know, Toddlers
If you take your toddler to a new place, there is a high probability that they will act out, throw a tantrum, touch everything in sight, lick the floor, or refuse to sit on the exam table. These are all normal toddler behavior, and not anything you should shame them about.
When They Don't Know The Answers
My daughter was such a perfectionist as a toddler, so she got seriously stressed out when the doctor asked her questions and she didn't know the answers. What's your favorite color can be a stressful question for an anxious kid, innocent though it may seem.
I remember one appointment when her pediatrician's checklist said that she should know what material her shoes were made of. The "acceptable" responses were leather and canvas. What year was that created? 1980? Her shoes were plastic.
When They Cry
Yeah, toddlers cry. It's normal, especially if they are stressed or in pain. So, I really don't get why so many people, including parents, constantly tell young children to "suck it up" or "stop crying."
When you think about it, telling your kid to stop crying when they are sad can be subtle gaslighting — telling them their version of reality is not real. It can also be easily misogynistic, especially if you shame them for their tears because "boys shouldn't cry." If you want them to stop crying, comfort them. As a parent, or a doctor choosing to treat children, it's kind of your job.
When They Don't Want To Be Touched
We all want our kids to safely grow into confident adults, and teaching them about bodily autonomy is a great place to start. Of course, at the doctor's office, there are more a few times when you have to make exceptions to this rule. So, yeah, my kids don't have a choice about getting a flu shot, letting the doctor take a look or listen, or enduring another round of vaccinations. I can let them know that I will be with them, and comfort them when things get scary.
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