Meet Dr. Jack Maypole. A primary care provider and pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, he spends his days treating children and adolescents who have complex medical needs – including chronic illnesses and genetic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and epilepsy. He takes a holistic approach to this kind of complex care, working with a robust team of doctors, nurses, social workers, and family navigators to consider everything from a family’s circumstances, culture, health literacy, and engagement to their environmental stressors and other challenges in order to help his patients thrive. “If we are worth our salt, we listen to families carefully,” he explains. “Parenting is their journey, but it is our shared job to keep kids safe and healthy.”
Jack began working with ParentLab after a recommendation from his friend and colleague Dr. Kyle Pruett – who’s featured in HelloJoey’s “Co-Parenting” kit – to get in touch. Jack has been working with the company ever since. He recently appeared as a featured speaker at ParentLab’s “Brainstorm ’19,” where he also shared several of his trademark comic strips. You can find those and other drawings – along with funny, kid-driven vignettes and anecdotes – on his Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/drmaypole.
To help you get to know the doctor behind the doodles, we asked Jack to share his observations, insights, and hopes for the future of pediatrics and research in child development. Here, he offers his thoughts about the normal (and not-so-normal) ways in which kids develop, stresses there are many ways to achieve good health, and explains what you can do to support your kid as they grow – and help yourself enjoy all the little moments along the way.
Which developmental milestone seems to cause the most angst or concern for parents?
Easier question: which one doesn’t? They ALL do! For many parents, especially those who are smartphone and app savvy, any milestone from those charts of how babies and kids develop can make them anxious if they perceive their child is not hitting a new skill or behavior “on time.”
The most common developmental delay in children occurs in speech and language, and parents who believe their toddlers are not talking at all or as expected are those we encounter most often. Research has shown that these parents are often right – and, for speech and language, it is more effective for clinicians to respond to parental concern than to use a universal screening approach.
What’s the biggest misunderstanding parents have about how development unfolds in kids?
There are too many to list, but here is a standout example: Biological siblings, even twins, tend to have enough individual variation that it limits our ability to apply all that wisdom to the next child in line. So, if the eldest is a great sleeper, there’s a more than even chance many of the tricks a parent learned to help that child will not help the next child get to sleep – though sometimes it does.
This can be due to temperament of the child and parent(s), the ever changing tableau of family life, and the fact that more seasoned parents tend to sweat the small stuff less with time. Childhood resilience and flexibility can be saving graces here, but we have to come to each child with an open mind.
Since many parents worry if their kids are on track, how do you suggest they stay calm – and when should they worry?
I often tell parents: There are many good ways to the same good solution. Children are sort of like that, and there is a range for many developmental behaviors. Some kids develop early, and some come around to new skills later. To be helpful and give parents tools, it is critical we provide family members with a list of things to watch for that may show progress or that suggest further evaluation or management is needed.
Are there any “powerhouse” foods kids can eat every day that are shown to support development?
Good grief. No. Superfoods exist and are fine, but all things in moderation works best, I think. I encourage parents to take a balanced approach with a diet that meshes with the household’s taste, preferences, and cultural background. Ideally, this would involve a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables with a (animal or plant based) protein source to meet a growing child’s needs. A multivitamin is fine and helpful, but megadosing vitamins or foods is not something I recommend.
How can parents best support childhood development at every stage?
In terms of your kids: Love them. Talk to them. Play with them. Expect they will make mistakes. Offer reassurances when they tumble, but help them dust off and get back on their way. Let them have adventures and take reasonable risks with new friends or places under your eye but away from you so they learn to explore the world and to make friendships.
Be supportive of their curious souls, and encourage them to be lifelong readers and learners. Find out what they are passionate about (fire trucks? ice skating? sports? art? animals?), and learn together what you can about it. Tell them stories. Listen to the stories they tell back. Laugh with them, and find the humor in their lives and hearts. Quality time is nearly impossible to plan; it just happens. Find joy in the ever shifting palate of their growth and awareness, and never fail to be shocked at how quickly the weeks fly by, even when the daylong birthday parties and play dates never seem to end!
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I love watching the families I work with grow. I delight in playing with small kids, listening to the “why” questions of preschoolers, and watching toddlers and school age kids assert their personalities as they hit these different times of their lives. I relish seeing tweens become the young adult versions of their future selves – and hearing about their perspectives and adventures on their way.
What medical service are you most hoping will become standard for all kids soon?
I’d like to see our health system do a better job integrating care that has become fragmented. Physical health, behavioral health, and even dental health all happen simultaneously, and yet systems of care don’t crosstalk well or provide an easy way for families to get help. Integrated care systems with universal access to healthcare would allow us to offer the support our families need every day.