Dear Medical Personnel. What you need to know about toddlers.

1. Toddlers have a drive to explore. They don’t just WANT to explore, they MUST explore. When they’re in the hospital, they are GOING to explore their rooms. I know certain room features cannot be changed, as they’re for safety. The Wall O Medical Stuff – the O2 plug, the suction machine, the emergency supplies – clearly all that has to stay. But they’re remarkably child-proof already. And keeping him out of the bin of emergency supplies is as simple as pulling the crib far enough away from the wall that they’re out of reach. But the rest of the room? Yikes!!

Assume a toddler will be into anything they can reach. If you put the computer on the floor, a toddler will push the fun glowing button. If you leave the scanner wand (for wristbands and meds) where they can reach it, they WILL reach it. If you have garbage cans that are short enough for them to reach in, they WILL reach in. If you have a table with a platform underneath, they WILL climb on the platform. Just assume this stuff and go from there.

And, no, you cannot expect a parent to prevent all of these things. I’m sorry. It sucks enough for him that he doesn’t get to crawl all over the unit (or the hospital), sticking his fingers in things and pulling on things and crawling into things and pushing things. He DOES get to play in his room, where he is stuck most of the day. I am NOT going to follow him around telling him No all day. You cannot expect that of anyone.

2. I understand that this is a teaching hospital and there are medical providers learning how to be medical providers here. I get that. But there’s a LIMIT on how many inexperienced people get to touch my kid. After three different people listening to his heart and belly and touching him and confining him over the course of an hour, he’s largely done. As am I. I’m not trying to stand in the way of learning. But maybe pace yourselves? Yikes. How would YOU like to have three strangers poking at you in under an hour when you’re trying to do something? You’d be annoyed!! So is he!

3. He’s a TODDLER. He’s not capable of being rude OR polite. He’s just capable of being him. Yeah, he might not want to say Bye Bye when you leave. He might want to say, “yeah, get out of here,” but he lacks the language skills, so he just gives you the stare-down until you leave. It’s just as likely that, since he’s a toddler, he’s still VERY literal and lacks the ability to conceptualize, so when you’re standing there NOT leaving, he doesn’t have any reason to consider that he needs to say bye bye. When he sees you actually GO, that is when he knows he needs to say bye bye. Because you’re leaving. Quit demanding that he tell you bye bye. Just leave.

4. Toddlers don’t have the verbal skills to tell you with words, “we’re done here.” That doesn’t mean they’re not telling you. Start paying attention. When Teddy takes the stethoscope off his chest or belly and hands it back to and then turns his back on you, he’s telling you to get lost. We’re done here. You might not be done, but he is. Respect that to the extent you can.

5. Get better at your jobs. Move faster. Think you can’t get a good listen at his lungs in 10 seconds? Well, is it any easier when he’s thrashing and screaming because you’re holding him down? No? Move faster. (And consider the above points here, too. If you’re the third person to listen to his lungs that afternoon, chances are that there’s nothing to hear there. How important is it, REALLY, that you get a good listen?)

6. Picture this. You’re at home, you’re working on something. A project. Your hobby. You’re busy. You’re focused. Someone you do not know comes in and tells you to stop, picks you up, plops you somewhere you hate to be, and starts jabbing at your belly and looking down your pants. Are you having a good time? No? This is exactly what you do to toddlers at every exam. An alternative? Bend those creaky old knees (oh, come on, most of you are like 14) and get down on their level. Let them keep playing. Join them in their play for a bit before poking at them.

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3 thoughts on “Dear Medical Personnel. What you need to know about toddlers.

  1. Very good points! As a mom and someone who works with young children daily, I wonder how often medical professionals who work with young children have to take some child development coursework that covers not just the physical/medical aspect of development, but also the mental and emotional aspects. What you have posted here is obvious to those of us who work with and parent young children. It is also obvious to me that these interns (and whatnot, I’m not sure of the correct terminology for all of those people who are working with Teddy), need more practice observing and being with young children. It would be helpful also for them to be interacting with young children apart from their medical training since they could practice being civil and respectful to young children without trying to perfect the doctoring part of their work. As always (though I haven’t said it in a while) I wish you well.

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