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Published on August 27, 2013

Making a Good Start Makes a Difference

Dr. Christine Pagel shares some effective parenting tips for raising young children

This is the second in a series of Dr. Mom blog posts. As physicians with children, our Dr. Moms will share their personal and professional insights to help you navigate your role as a parent. Learn more about our Dr. Mom group!

Being the mother of two boys – 10 months and three years – and a practicing pediatrician at Dean Clinic – East gives Dr. Christine Pagel a unique dual perspective for raising young children. Here she lists some helpful suggestions learned as both a mom and a doctor.

Sure, it helps being a pediatrician when it comes to raising my boys. But like you, I face the same unpredictable moments of daily life that I have to respond and react to in parental fashion.

However, I do have an advantage of putting into practice what I know and have learned professionally as a pediatrician. That’s why I’m glad to have the opportunity to share a few ideas that might be of help to you.

Effective sleep training

Dr. Pagel with her husband and two boys.

Sleep patterns – both good and bad – are developed at an early age. That’s why it’s important to begin good sleep training with your child as early as you can. It will make a significant difference in the quality of life for you and your child. Believe me, I know, as both a doctor and a mom. It also helps to have a partner to share in the responsibility, which I’m fortunate to have with my husband.

For the sake of familiarity with my own family, and to avoid clumsy pronoun use, allow me to use the male gender in describing the following:

  • As an infant, let your child get used to the room where he’ll sleep to become familiar with the surroundings.
  • Start by putting him in bed at the same time every day, ideally when he’s drowsy but not fully asleep.
  • Do this at the same time every night following the same routine — bathing, reading together, rocking, singing, etc.
  • Give him a few minutes to wind down by himself.
  • Try to avoid picking him up if he starts getting fussy or crying. Give him the opportunity to learn to soothe himself. You can soothe him by touching him or tucking him in, but don’t pick him up and hold him or give him a bottle.

As a parent, I know that’s very hard to do. It’s a natural reaction to want to pick him up or feed him to try and quiet him down. But as soon as you do, he will instinctively expect that to happen every time he acts up. The more you do it, the more he’ll do it.

Once you leave the room, if he starts crying, come back in to check on him. Again, you can soothe him or tuck him in to let him know you’re nearby. Do it quickly, and leave the room. Remember, if you pick him up or feed him, it will prolong the sleep training process.

Self-soothing is a learned behavior. It’s important that we give our children a chance to learn how to self-soothe, but it may take some practice.

Some children will learn faster, others will need more time to get used to a sleep pattern. Just be patient and consistent, because good sleep is essential to your child’s development. And it’s pretty important for us moms, too!

Selecting the right daycare

If you use daycare for your child, select the type you’re most comfortable with. It’s strictly a personal choice.

Decide if you want your child in a larger group setting with classrooms of similar ages, or a smaller, more home-like atmosphere. They both have their advantages. At a younger age, your child may receive closer attention in a more personal daycare. On the other hand, a larger daycare offers more social interaction with other children, which is good as your child gets older.

  • Get recommendations from friends or family members.
  • Check references or reviews online.
  • Visit the daycare location to see it for yourself. Meet caregivers and watch how they handle the children.

My personal suggestion is to show up at unexpected times, so you’ll see what it’s actually like. If you have any doubts or you’re not happy, keep looking. Don’t accept anything you’re not satisfied with. This is the place that is caring for your children in your absence, so don’t settle for less than good. It may be a great daycare, but it might not be the right fit for your child or his needs.

Remember to always be an advocate for your child, especially as he or she gets older. If you sense he or she is being singled out at daycare, check into it. Talk to your child and find out his or her side of the story. Then question the daycare staff or supervisor and discuss your concerns.

Your concerns should be listened to and taken seriously and the daycare provider should offer solutions for improving the situation. This happened to us when we found our son was wrongly identified as having a behavioral issue. With a change in his daycare environment, the behaviors disappeared.

Take time for yourself

I mentioned that it helps to have a good partner to raise your children. It also helps to have a good support group. Meet with other moms without your kids in tow. Exercise together, do a girls night out or just meet up for coffee and chat. I try to do it on a regular basis and it really refreshes me and gives me a positive outlook, personally and professionally. I encourage all moms raising a family to make time for themselves.


Have a thought to share on one of these topics? We invite you to comment below.

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