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Parenthood can have a steep learning curve, especially when it comes to kids’ health. But some issues are universal and there are helping hands to guide you through them.

Charles Hatcher, a pediatrician in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at Greenville Health System, said your child’s doctor can partner with you to keep your family healthy and make sure your child stays on the path to growing strong.

Regular well visits

“If we have any hope of catching problems early, regular well checks are your doctor’s best chance,” he said.

More well visits are scheduled early in a baby’s life when there are more developmental issues to monitor, Hatcher said. And without that access to a child, their pediatrician can’t prevent some problems and intervene early in others.

“They allow us to recognize problems as early as possible,” Hatcher said.

Delays in care can make problems more difficult to solve and potentially cost valuable time in treating them.

“Some people go to see the doctor after a problem has happened,” Hatcher said. “We really are putting an emphasis on leaning into preventative care.”

Vaccines

“Vaccines save lives,” Hatcher said. “They literally save millions of lives every year. I wouldn't recommend them so strongly to my patients if it wasn't as simple as that.”

Hatcher said vaccines have been proven over and over to be safe and useful in preventing dangerous diseases.

“Vaccination is considered one of, if not the greatest advances in medicine – like water sanitation,” he said. “Vaccines are on that level. For thousands of years, smallpox was one of the deadliest diseases in the world. Now, it’s zero. In effect, it doesn’t exist in the natural world.”

The fear of potential side effects frightens some parents into choosing not to vaccinate. Hatcher encourages parents to fact check information they find online and take that information to someone they trust. He said he loves it when parents come in with questions and ideas. That sparks a conversation.

“There’s almost nothing we do that doesn’t have a risk of side effects,” Hatcher said. “Your physician is not out to get you. We consistently live by doing the most good and the least amount of harm. I wouldn’t recommend anything for a child that I wouldn’t recommend for my own child.”

Developmental delays

If parents suspect a developmental delay in their child, Hatcher said they should trust that instinct and seek help.

“Bring it up if you have a concern about a delay,” Hatcher said. “If something doesn’t jump out, there’s a chance we can miss it. The earlier you recognize delays and the earlier you implement services, the better the outcome will be for the child.”

Hatcher said Help Me Grow South Carolina (http://helpmegrowsc.org) and BabyNet (https://msp.scdhhs.gov/babynet) accept children referred by parents. They monitor for potential issues at an increased frequency.

Hatcher advises parents to make a list of questions and concerns to discuss at upcoming well visits.

“Write it down or make a note in your phone,” he said. “Parents are always going to be the best expert on their children. Always express concerns.”

Sex, drugs and screen time

“When talking about health issues, it’s never too early,” Hatcher said.

The key is to make sure discussions are age appropriate.

Many lifestyle issues, like healthy eating and use of screen time, are modeled by parents for their children, whether they intend to or not.

“What your child practices and what they see you do builds their understanding,” he said.

Hatcher said structure and a consistent set of limits are better than loosely regulated use of screen time. Having “no screen zones” like the dinner table, bed time and short car trips can help.

“Build in cooperative screen time where you are participating with your child,” Hatcher said.

Knowing what your child is seeing and hearing is important. Hatcher recommends parents check ESRB ratings for video games (www.esrb.org) and he discourages the use of headsets for online games and headphones for screen time, unless it is for a parent-chosen activity.

Approaching topics such as sex and drugs can terrify parents, but Hatcher said keeping communication at an age appropriate level eases parents and children into what could be tough talks.

“Start talking about it at about 8 years old,” he said. “Who do you want to be the first to talk to your child about it?”

Hatcher recommends opening doors to conversations as they naturally come up, asking a child, “Hey, have you heard that word before?”

“They don’t need a lot of specific details,” he said. “Keep it open and honest.”

Pain relief tip for kids

Need to soothe aches and pains or just make a sick little one feel better? Thermal-Aid animals can be heated in the microwave or cooled in the freezer to comfort children ages 3 and older as they recover from an illness or injury. The smallest versions are perfect for an earache, while the larger animals can be great nap-time companions for a sick child. These animals are washable, unscented and made with all-natural cotton and corn (with a process that eliminates molds, fungi and odors). Grown-up hot/cold packs are also available. For details, visit https://thermalaidproducts.com.

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