I am highly suspicious that I have already covered this in an earlier post. If so, I apologize for repeating myself. But if Andrew Sullivan can go on and on about [random obsession] for weeks on end, surely I can be forgiven for returning to a subject of particular personal concern.
Are you a parent? Do you take your kids to the doctor? I certainly hope so. And I understand that it can be a frustrating and irritating experience. Sometimes we run behind. The exam rooms are small, and the entertainment options are thin on the ground. Your kid can get antsy and your temper can run short. I understand all of this.
Please, please, please do not tell you children that I will give them a shot if they don’t behave. Please. No matter how frayed your nerves or rambunctious your kids, that is an abjectly terrible idea.
First of all, it’s a blatant lie. Frankly, I happen to think baldly lying to your children is wrong on its face, and needs no further explanation. But that is a particularly stupid lie, easily falsified by a savvy and/or persistently disobedient child. If there is no medical indication for a shot, a shot isn’t coming. And if your threat doesn’t actually come to pass, whose credibility has just been undermined? Not mine.
But let’s say vaccines are actually coming that day. By saying what you have, you have just made my job so much harder. You have implied that good behavior will make them go away. You have indicated that administration of shots is capricious and arbitrary, and have rendered null my assurances that they are given only to help the child stay healthy. You have contributed to your child’s belief that I am someone to be feared, rather than trusted.
I am not your disciplinary agent or your contract torturer. Please don’t tell your child otherwise.
Parts of my job involve painful or uncomfortable procedures. Your child needs vaccines, occasional blood tests, sometimes a throat swab or some other unpleasantness. Obviously, I have to do these things to be an effective pediatrician. But I hate to do them. They are easily one of my least favorite parts of my work. And it makes me incredibly angry to hear you tell your kids that I am doing them because I want to punish them. It is insulting to me when you give your children the idea that I am hurting them for its own sake. It erodes my respect for you.
Also, by increasing your child’s anxiety about the visit you have made it harder for me to deliver the care you are paying for. A frightened child who fights my exam is much harder to treat. If your child is kicking and screaming, it’s that much more difficult to see in her ears or throat, hear her lungs or feel her abdomen. I can’t guarantee that she would have been at ease and cooperative without your threat, but it sure didn’t help. Her fear increases the guesswork in my diagnosis, and who wants that?
Finally, by saying what you have you have introduced an unnecessary source of contention in my relationship with you. Because I am going to contradict you. I’ll do it briefly and politely, but I’m going to correct the record. “Oh no, I only give shots to keep people healthy” usually suffices. Perhaps you don’t like to be second-guessed in front of your child, but we wouldn’t be in that situation without your lie.
Going to see the doctor is scary enough for some kids as it is. The brief pain of shots is often far outweighed by the anxiety kids feel about them. I can’t imagine you really want your child to be frightened, and I understand you’re nerve-wracked and just want him to behave. But please come up with some other strategy. We’ll all be happier for it.