I’m a Pediatrician, and These are the 5 Best Pieces of Parenting Advice I Ever Got

It’s a cliché but it’s true— enjoy the little moments because you’ll miss them years down the line

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I have been a pediatrician for 25 years and a parent for 20. I love being both. But as you can imagine, when it comes to parenting my own children, sometimes my chosen profession is a gift, and sometimes it’s a curse.

It’s hard to be clinically objective about your kids, and as a result, I’ve made many mistakes along the parenting way. But one of the many upsides of being a pediatrician is that I’ve heard tons of parenting suggestions from colleagues, experts and patients, much of which I’ve tried to incorporate into my own experience. These are the best tips that my doctor-self most avidly endorses:

1. Try Not to Obsess About Every Single Thing Your Child Does or Doesn’t Eat

True confession here: I was guilty of this. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about it. My son was not the best eater growing up, and he was relatively small, so I worried endlessly about his caloric intake and nutrition, what he would eat and what he wouldn’t. He was the pickiest child in my circle. However, at the end of the day, he was a healthy kid who hit all his growth milestones and did great on his annual well-visits to the pediatrician. Now, he is a grown college man, and although a mother’s worries never end, I am confident that all that food-related stress was unwarranted.

My point here is this: If your child is generally healthy and their primary care doctor is not concerned, try to make food as much of a non-issue as you can. Of course, do your best to offer a balanced diet and encourage them to “eat the rainbow” and try new foods. But don’t stress yourself out if your child, like mine, is not gobbling up the dinner table.  It will just become a control issue—one that is hard to win.

2. The Laundry Can Wait

When work, household tasks, and other important obligations pile up, we tend to prioritize getting them done. However, I urge you to really be intentional about being present in the moment with your kids as much as you can. As stressful as it can feel not getting “adult” things done, you don’t want to miss out on making memories as they grow.

This is why it’s OK to sometimes let the laundry piles accumulate and the grass remain un-mowed. If your kids are eager for your attention and energy, prioritize giving it to them rather than spending it on the to-do list. Those tasks will always be there, but children will grow up. Indulge in the little moments—you will miss them years down the line! I know it sounds clichéd, but it’s true.

3. Teach Health and Emergency Awareness and Autonomy

This is a crucial piece of advice that could potentially be lifesaving in an emergency. Help your children commit important health information to memory starting at a young age. Exactly how old they need to be to know and communicate the information below will depend on your child but it’s likely younger than you think (your kid should know how to call 911 by age 5, for example). Here’s what they need to know:

  • Their address and phone number
  • How to call 911 and what to say
  • Who their pediatrician is, as well as two to three trusted emergency contacts
  • Chronic conditions and prescribed medications
  • Allergies and the location of their epi-pen   

Teaching kids these details encourages autonomy, curiosity and a positive relationship with healthcare.

4. Put On Your Oxygen Mask First

It’s a classic trope, but it’s also totally true: if your own tank is running on empty, you cannot carry another being. Self-care is very important for parents because it is the thing we tend to forget about the most as we focus on being the best version of ourselves for our kids.

The truth is that without self-care—from basic necessities, to staying on top of your own medical needs, to taking time with adult friends—we cannot show up for our children the way we could if our needs were met. So, listen to your inner voice and remember that your own well-being is a vital variable in your life equation.  Decompress, and maybe even treat yourself a little. The return is usually many-fold.

5. Give Yourself Grace When You Falter

Finally, remember that no one’s perfect. We’re all doing our best on the parenting journey. When you make a mistake, own it, apologize, vow to do better, and leave it behind. There’s a reason why the rear-view mirror is smaller than the front windshield!

Dr. Christina Johns is a pediatrician + Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S.

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Dr. Christina Johns is a pediatrician + Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S. She received her undergraduate...