Empowering and Supporting Parents

I started working with children in 1986.  I always knew I would spend my life working with children, and have done so in a variety of fields.  I was a daycare and camp counsellor, a tutor, an umpire for little leagues, and a clinical researcher studying topics such as infant cognitive development and ADHD.   Those years were filled with significant learning experiences, and enabled me to really get to know children and their diversity, as well as their joys, passions, and boundless energy!   I am honored to be a pediatrician for over 23 years now, caring for children medically and holistically, sharing stories, empathizing  and supporting parents.  

In the old days, there just wasn’t as much pressure to do this parenting thing perfectly, but nowadays there are so many philosophies and models, that there is a tendency to feel like you are not doing a good job, or may not be doing things “right”.   

The most important thing you can do is give your child unconditional love.  They need undying support and smiles.  They need nutrition, warmth and hugs.  You are providing a base, a backbone, as well as a platform to jump from and explore the world and flourish.   So please never feel like you are not a good parent if you haven’t cracked the code of a newborn, or if there isn’t a set schedule of naps yet.  In the moment, these things feel like the most important thing in the world, and no one should minimize the stress of a crying baby who despite all your efforts won’t sleep.  But we need to keep it in perspective and rejoice if our kids are healthy, and gear up for the real stresses when they get older and venture into the world without us!  Some say, “Little kids, little problems, and big kids, big problems!”   Well, that doesn’t help at 2am when your little one is fussy and screaming – because in that moment it does feel like it’s the most stressful thing in the world.  And as someone who has worked with children of all ages for so long, and as a fellow parent, I would like to help you through all moments of stress.  I would like to help find “the answer” to the stress and solve the problem.  But of course, it isn’t always that easy.

I can tell you one thing about children for sure – they are each unique individuals.  And so are we!  Each parent has their own set of morals, values and ways they aim to parent.   Each one of us views subjects such as daily routines, nap schedules, discipline and nutrition differently.  So the dynamic between two different parents, each raised differently, and each with their own opinions, feelings, goals and aspirations can be quite complex.  Oh yes, and then we throw in their baby who is developing their own personality,  and playing their own card, and things can get quite intense and complex! 

I look at my role as a general pediatrician as encompassing a lot of areas.  As opposed to a neurosurgeon, who we would look to for one thing – just fix the problem – the pediatrician is indeed there for more than just the treatment of fever or illnesses.  But that is absolutely our main job, or priority – guarding, preserving and nurturing the medical and physical health of your child.  When it comes to things like fevers,  asthma, rashes, screening for developmental delays, monitoring growth charts, strep throats, accident prevention, and figuring out which set of clinical symptoms to worry about, versus  which will get better with time, I think the pediatrician may actually in a sense take the lead.   I always “shift gears” when I am worried about a child’s medical condition, and whether it’s doing a thorough physical exam, or medical testing such as blood tests, images, or arranging for consultations with specialists, I can assure you that you’ll see me truly “go to bat” for your child, and you won’t see me rest until things get better.  

When it comes to giving general parenting advice, on hot topics such as scheduling a baby’s routine, choosing when to travel, teething, starting solids, and the all-important questions of sleep, I have spent over 20 hours organizing my thoughts and writing everything I know and feel about these hot topics.  I create, fine-tune, manage and pay for that “bulletin board” – my website – as a method of communication.  It is me sharing all of my thoughts, instead of trying to give a quick summary or overview.  I aim to share everything I have researched, the true evidence-based scientific results of studies,  as well as sharing my experiences over these 32 years of working with children.  I detail my thoughts and go over options and approaches in more detail than may be plausible or practical during a typical pediatric well-child time slot.   I never want it to feel like we don’t have time to discuss these hot topics, but I have found that often these topics may take more than an hour to dissect all the medical research, what a parent has heard or read, and conflicting opinions or models.  Indeed, there are entire books over 100 pages written on nutrition and sleep in children!  I try to share my advice and perhaps nudge you in a certain direction, but I feel very strongly that each family needs to make their own decisions when it comes to many of these parenting topics. 

There are many reasons I try to empower and support parents to make these decisions.  First of all, despite what you hear from one or two friends, there is no right or wrong in many cases.  There is no one way to get your child to sleep, or one fail proof method to avoid a picky eater.  Each child is different, and each parent is different, and I really think no medical professional should tell a parent what to do a 2am in their own home.  I think we can all have inclinations of what we would like to do…but in that moment in the middle of the night, you have to do what you think is best, and not feel like a doctor told you that you were wrong if you decided to go to your baby and hold or feed them.   I think crossing those roads as a couple is a learning experience, and one that can take weeks or months to work through and find the best approach. Only you and your family can decide on these and many other important topics, such as what time is the second nap, or the third meal, and when to go to a daycare, or should we hire a specific nanny.  I wish there was a simple answer or one that was clearly best, but there are so many factors to consider.   

There are indeed times where there is a developmental, or even medical basis to my advice, but the truth is, many of these hot topics have a lot of flexibility to them, and I don’t want to overstep my boundaries and actually tell one family “how to do it”.   You see, every single 4 month old is so different.  Different in their stages of development, different in the amount of ounces or calories they may consume, in the hours of sleep they may get, and different in the parents that they have.  Websites and blogs will tell you when your child is going on a growth spurt, or how many ounces they need in a day – but this just isn’t necessarily true for any one child.   

My feelings are that parents and not pediatricians, should dictate their child’s ideal bed time, nap schedule  and exactly what to do at midnight, when a beautiful healthy baby is crying, and the question is should you go to your baby, or let them work it out, or even cry it out.   I offer guidance and my thoughts on nutrition, but there is no exact right or wrong in terms of when exactly to give the first solid food and whether it is avocado or cereal, and if cereal, which kind type of grain is the healthiest.  I give a lot of advice about how I view nutrition, but I feel strongly that as a medical doctor I should not take the power away from a parent to make those important decisions, as long as they are all safe options.

The moment that a scientific study makes something proven to help the health of a child, I promise I’ll “play my card” stronger.  But when it comes to these important, intense, even stressful parenting decisions, I’ll go the extra step and give you guidelines, on how I view teething, starting solids and sleep.  I’ll share my experience, my research, and my guidance.  But they are only my general thoughts, and they are not “the rules”.  They are based on evidence-based medicine, coupled with my plethora of face-to-face interactions.  It isn’t my two daughters I am basing my advice on – it is having over 100,000 child-doctor interactions or “visits” over these 23 years – and hearing from parents the trials and tribulations of different models, and what worked and what didn’t work.  

So please never feel as if I don’t want to hear more about the difficulties about establishing a good nap schedule, or about how a 4 month old fights their sleep or seems to regress.  I know about it, and I write a good amount of “parenting” advice on my website.  I share all my feelings, thoughts and some guidance. But I have to respect, empower, or shift the decision back to the parents I work with as I respect your decisions so much.  I have heard of practices that tell you exactly “how to do it” and enforce certain “rules” of sleep training or potty training.  And since that really doesn’t feel right to me as a person, I just won’t be that kind of a doctor.   I’ll always be there for my families, and you will see me switch gears and lead the charge 100% when there is something medical going on.  But I hope it’s ok that I’ll listen, and certainly empathize, but not always tell you how I would do something, or pretend to have the one correct approach or quick fix, when there is no true right or wrong answer.  

Please remember you are doing a great job, and giving your child an absolutely wonderful childhood.  

I respect your right to decide what is best for your child, and I respect the individuality of each child, and in turn each family.  

And I am honored to be part of that team!       

When I cry, you absolutely must come to me!  Don’t listen to Dr. Gilgoff!!!

When I cry, you absolutely must come to me! Don’t listen to Dr. Gilgoff!!!