When it comes to parent concerns, doctors say you can chill out about these biggies
Kids can bring us so much joy. But you know what else they bring? So. many. worries. Are they sick? Are they getting enough sleep? Is it okay that all they eat is dinner rolls and noodles? But—and this is easier said than done—we’re here to encourage you to try to relax, parents. Whether you’re freaking out about a fever or stressed about sleep schedules and nap times, experts say much of parents’ anxieties are unfounded. But don’t just take our word for it— see what physicians we reached out to had to say about the most common parent concerns, including when you should and shouldn’t worry.
1. The Worry: Your Child Has a High Fever
It’s easy to get nervous when your child’s temperature sizzles into the 100's, but parents should remember that a fever is just the body’s defense mechanism, and not usually on its own a cause for concern.
“A lot of parents have fever phobia,” said American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson Christina Johns, a Baltimore pediatrician. “But for an otherwise healthy, fully immunized child older than 3 months old, the actual number becomes less of a concern.” Instead of just looking at the number, Johns said, parents should focus more on how their child is acting. “Are they hydrating well, are they breathing comfortably, what’s their mental status like? Are they still playful, or are they just lying around like they’re uncomfortable—those are the things to focus more on than the actual numbers.”
That said, she advises parents of children under 6 months old to call a doctor—just to be safe—if their child’s fever goes above 100.4.
2. The Worry: Your Child Isn’t Hitting Milestones
Sure, the books might say your baby should be able to roll over by six months and walk by one. But some don’t—and that’s okay. All those “milestone” numbers are meant to be a reference, not a deadline. “Don’t make yourself crazy,” Johns said. “Don’t immediately assume the child is delayed if they don’t hit their milestones.”
Of course, with parents posting their child’s every babble, scoot, and toddle on social media, it’s hard not to worry that your kid’s not keeping up. In fact, a recent survey of 2,000 parents of children under three showed that 59 percent of them worried their babies weren’t meeting certain milestones, like saying “mama” or “dada” by their first birthday. But the truth is, there’s a wide range when it comes to when your child will achieve each developmental hurdle. And the exact dates don’t matter as much as the whole picture. That means, if your baby is developing normally in every other way, but doesn’t seem interested in crawling, don’t jump to conclusions.
“My oldest son ate three things and my daughter never crawled; she scooted on her bum,” Johns said. “I knew the data, but I still had a lot of anxiety.”
3. The Worry: Your Child Doesn’t Eat... [Insert Any and All Foods Here]
Got a kiddo who won’t eat anything green? Does your toddler prefer to graze all day rather than eat an actual meal? Does your kid only want carbs? You’re not alone. According to a poll conducted on behalf of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, more than half of all parents surveyed said it was hard to get their children to eat a balanced diet. Thirty-five percent called their child a “picky eater,” with 31 percent saying their kids aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables.
“The old saying is, you can’t make them eat and you can’t make them sleep,” Johns said. “Don’t get into a control battle about that.” Instead, she urges parents to look at the whole picture: if your child is otherwise healthy and following the growth curve, they're likely getting all the nutrients they need.
4. The Worry: It Seems Like Your Child Is Always Sick
If you feel like your preschooler is always sick—you’re probably right. According to experts, toddlers and preschool-aged children get sick as many as 8-12 times per year. Blame their immature immune systems, which have to rack up enough germs to build a proper defense system (They do this by going to daycare or preschool, where they’re bombarded with bacteria and viruses.)
Frequent illnesses don’t usually indicate a problem, as long as your child isn’t getting severely sick, and as long as your kiddo seems to recover after each sickness (even if it’s just for a few days before diving into the next malady). That said, talk to your pediatrician if your child is:
- getting sick more than 12 times per year
- losing weight and/or not growing normally
- getting sicknesses that don’t seem to go away or that need hospitalizations and/or multiple rounds of antibiotics
Related: How to Survive a Sick Day with Kids
5. The Worry: Your Child Won’t Nap
If lulling little angels into slumber wasn’t such a struggle, books like Go the F**k to Sleep wouldn’t be international bestsellers. You can laugh about it, but it doesn’t make the battle any easier. Here’s the truth: Experts recommend that toddlers and preschoolers get, respectively, 11-14 and 10-13 cumulative hours of sleep per day (nap plus nighttime)—but some kids may get less (or more) and be perfectly healthy. “Kids do color outside the lines in terms of following the guidelines,” Johns said. “If your days are OK and you don’t have a child who is melting down constantly—who is happy playful, growing and healthy—then I am less concerned,”
Additionally, kids who sleep well at night may not need naps during the day, especially after age 2. In fact, it should come as no surprise that an Australian meta-study into children’s naptimes found that kids who napped after age 2 tended to sleep less at nighttime. “I encourage parents to know in general what the recommendations are for amounts of sleep for kids at different ages, but then really be cognizant of the other clues from each of their children that may tell them what approach is best,” Dr. Judith Owens, director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital said in an article.
6. The Worry: Your Child’s Bedtime Is Too Late
Some kids are just night owls—and that isn't always a problem. In general, doctors say that if your kid is acting like they have enough energy during the day (not falling asleep on every car ride or in the middle of dinner), they're likely getting the sleep they need. “We need to change our narrative around sleep,” Bryana Kappadakunnel, a marriage and family therapist and founder of Consciousmommy.com, said in an e-mail. “In our American culture, we are largely control-oriented, and so we tend to be overly anxious about getting our children on a sleep schedule.”
Kappadakunnel said that while it’s important to make sure your child gets enough sleep, parents shouldn’t stress if they have a child who just isn’t sleepy at 7 or 8 p.m.—as long as that child doesn’t seem tired and has enough energy during the day. “If you notice your child is struggling behaviorally or emotionally, start with adjusting your approach to sleep, and see if that helps support them,” she said. “But please remember: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' If what you're doing is working for your family, continue it, no matter what the next 'sleep expert' may tell you.”
Good to Know: If your little night owl seems cranky and tired during the day, or if you suspect that she’s not getting enough sleep despite all your best efforts, talk to your doctor about possible medical or neurological reasons for the sleep resistance. Up to 80 percent of kids with autism and about half of kids with ADD, for instance, have trouble falling asleep.
7. The Worry: Your Child Bumped Her Head
Another day, another boo-boo. It’s only natural that when you mix wobbly balance and never-ending energy, you’ll get a little person who will likely bump into, fall over, or collide with at least one thing every day. But how worried should you be when it comes to a bump on the noggin? “We do have very good data that toddlers especially will have lots of goose eggs on their foreheads,” Johns said. “If they’re minor slips and bumps, those are not something that cause brain damage, for example. The regular bumps of daily life are not something to be concerned about long-term.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if your child hasn’t lost consciousness or vomited—and if she is alert and responding to you— chances are that the head injury is mild. “Your child may cry from pain or fright, but this should last no longer than 10 minutes,” according to the AAP.
Parents should apply a cold compress for about 20 minutes to alleviate swelling, then watch the child for any of the following signs, which could indicate something more serious:
- A constant headache, particularly one that gets worse
- Slurred speech or confusion
- Dizziness that does not go away or happens repeatedly
- Extreme irritability or other abnormal behavior
- Vomiting more than 2 or 3 times
- stumbling or difficulty walking
- oozing blood or watery fluid from the nose or ears
- difficulty waking up or excessive sleepiness
- unequal size of the pupils (the dark center part of the eyes)
- double vision or blurry vision
- unusual paleness that lasts for more than an hour
- convulsions (seizures)
- difficulty recognizing familiar people
- weakness of arms or legs
- persistent ringing in the ears
8. The Worry: Your Child Isn’t Potty Trained Yet
It’s true there are preschools that require kids to be potty-trained to be admitted, but the truth is that most kids aren’t fully potty-trained until about 4, so all that effort Moms and Dads into getting their 2-year-old to use the toilet may not pay off, according to Johns. “I see parents get so frustrated, but I just tell them, it’s OK, your child isn’t ready,” she said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t worry, your children aren’t going to go to college in a diaper.’”
That said, most kids show some signs of readiness between 18-24 months, while others aren’t ready until at least 3. According to the Mayo Clinic, some signs your child may be ready to trade in her diapers for big kid panties include:
- Your child can walk to and sit on a toilet.
- Your child can pull down and pull up her own pants.
- Your child can stay dry for up to two hours.
- Your child can understand and follow basic directions.
- Your child can communicate when she needs to go.
- Your child seems interested in using the toilet or wearing "big-kid" underwear.
If your child doesn’t show at least a few of these signs, it's probably not the right time, especially if there’s a change looming in your family (the addition of a sibling, or a move, for instance), which can regress your child’s potty-training progress.
As for night-time accidents, those can still happen even after your child is “good” at using the toilet. While most kids are fully potty-trained by age 5, experts say 15 to 20 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 7 still wet their beds at least occasionally. Bedwetting past age 7 can be genetic (if you or your partner wet the bed, your child might, too). Restricting fluids close to bedtime and encouraging “double-voiding” before bed can help. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has some good tips for what else can help.
9. The Worry: Your Child Is Dealing with a Big Change
While we all want life to be smooth sailing for our kids, the truth is that it’s just not always that. Things happen. You might lose your job. Your dog might die. Your child might have to move schools. But kids are resilient—especially with the right kind of support. “All of these kinds of situations, though upsetting, are normal parts of life,” Sherman said. “Therefore, there is no need to worry if your child is occasionally exposed to these stressors.”
Sherman recommends talking to kids about these things using matter-of-fact, age-appropriate language. “Tell them how it makes you feel, and ask them how it makes them feel,” she said. “Tell them their feelings are normal and make sense. Use their questions as a guide when deciding what to share.”
Kappadakunnel, whose approach is rooted in attachment theory parenting, chimed in, adding that it’s how you support your child through these changes that matters. “So many parents are consumed with fear that they're damaging your children,” she said. “We must remember that children are resilient and they will watch you to learn how to get through hard things in life.” She urges parents not to ignore or dismiss their child’s emotions but to instead offer empathy and compassion. “If you honor your child's emotions, offer your empathy and compassion, and support them in getting their needs met during this time, your child will learn a very important message: Even in difficult circumstances, they're never alone and others are reliable and dependable.”
10. The Worry: Your Child Always Cries at Preschool/Daycare Drop-Off
Hey parents, we’ve been there, and we get it. There’s nothing worse than handing your child over to teacher, babysitter, or daycare worker when your child is screaming and flailing as if you’ve just abandoned them at an orphanage. “Many parents worry that they are traumatizing their children at drop-off when their child is screaming, protesting, and resisting the transition,” said Kappadakunnel, who works with children as well as coaching parents. “It can feel anxiety-provoking to see a teacher lovingly release your child's grip from your jacket and bring them inside the classroom.” However, Kappadakunnel said, there is no evidence to suggest that these transitions cause any long-term damage or provoke trauma, “particularly when they are managed in compassionate, supportive ways.”
Of course, it can still be hard. To alleviate the stress on both you and your drop-off, Kappadakunnel suggests preparing your child in advance:
- Talk with your child about the plan. Tell them, “I'm going to bring you to school, and your teachers will take you inside. How are you feeling about it?’" Kappadakunnel said. Don't pressure your child to have a good day. Instead, tell them, ‘You're going to have the day you're going to have. And I'll be back to pick you up when school is over.’"
- Read books about separating and reuniting (Kappadakunnel recommends The Invisible String).
- Have a ritual around separation, such as a particular phrase, like "Mommy always comes back," or a secret handshake, just between the two of you.
- If your child is really struggling, consider sending them to school with an attachment object to help the transition. This might be a lovey in a backpack or a special keychain looped on the belt loop. “Be creative and work with your child on what would give them comfort,” Kappadakunnel said.
Lastly, trust that this will pass. “The teachers are trained for these kinds of issues, and they absolutely love and adore your child,” Kappadakunnel said. “Remind your child that you trust them to help with their big feelings, and that they are safe in school.”
11. The Worry: Your Child is Too...[Insert Adjective Here]
It’s easy to put your kids under a microscope to find something wrong. After all, we see them every day, so we’re the ones who notice when they are acting especially shy, when they're making us crazy, or when they’re bouncing off the walls for no apparent reason. But try not to overanalyze. “Your kids aren’t ‘too’ anything,” Los Angeles pediatrician Elham Raker told Tinybeans. “Just support them where they are. They will mature into the person they are meant to be.”