My sister was a mischievous little girl. Her curiosity shaped her fearlessness.

While I was satisfied pushing my doll in her buggy and my brother was satisfied flushing bottles of deodorant down the toilet, my sister needed more adventure.

She was quick enough to catch a wild bunny with just her bare hands. She could run at break-neck speed. Yet, she was slow enough that she couldn’t navigate her two-wheeler away from a tree. There were probably a few buildings that also met her front tire.

Needless to say, my parents spent an unusually high amount of time with her at our pediatrician’s office. The office was just a block away from where we lived, so going to the doctor was as convenient as borrowing a cup of sugar from the neighbor.

Much to the chagrin of my siblings and I (because we feared shots like we feared the black plague), he always made himself available to us. Dr. Bob diagnosed every broken finger, sprained ankle and communicable disease among the five us children with precision and ease. My sister just seemed to be at his office much more than the rest of us.

Many years later, my Mom was reminiscing with us about those early days and the seemingly endless visits with Dr. Bob. She realized that his gentle interrogation of each incident with our precocious sister was somewhat of an interrogation — a way to discern whether she was being intentionally harmed, abused.

Dr. Bob was phishing to see whether the injuries matched the story. As unbelievable as those stories were, they were all true. Time never fades the image of seeing your big sister ride her bike straight into a tree. Unbelievably, she never contracted rabies.

My sisters’ antics and daredevil ways imposed bruises and scratches on her in places where children usually don’t get bruises and scratches. I have to believe that in the 1960s, Dr. Bob was well ahead of his time. In fact, it wasn’t until 1962 – the year that my sister was born — that Dr. Henry Kempe, a pediatrician, and his colleagues published a description of the battered child syndrome in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Since 1962, the medical profession has made great strides in recognizing and intervening in cases of child maltreatment. According to “The Pediatrician's Role in Child Maltreatment Prevention” written by Emalee G. Flaherty and John Stirling, Jr, pediatricians have a special relationship with families which enhances their ability to protect children and to address factors that put them at increased risk of abuse.

The experts note, “Because pediatricians have contact with families during challenging and stressful times (eg, when a child is ill), they can become familiar with a family's stressors and strengths.” As a trusting relationship evolves, families and patients develop comfort discussing personal issues with their pediatrician.

Pediatricians are experts at understanding the challenges of raising a child, and there may be many — from the sleeplessness nights with a newborn, to the “terrible twos” to the rebellious teen years. Knowing that crying, toilet training, discipline and caring for a child with special physical, emotional or mental needs can be demanding and exhausting to a wearied or stressed parent, pediatricians are oftentimes in a unique position to identify and address some of the factors that may make a child more vulnerable to maltreatment.

Speaking from my own experience with my daughters’ pediatrician, the relationship he has with my girls is invaluable. He has been nurturing, scolding and caring, in addition to being an expert on their health. In return, they have good-natured fun with him by making fun of his goofy ties and pointed shoes. As a 45+ year old with braces, he even told them it’s OK to chew bubblegum if you have braces. Sometimes, in the tough years of adolescence, he could get through to them when my words of wisdom seemed to fall on deaf ears.

I can’t help but think that our pediatrician is a modern-day Dr. Bob. 

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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