In honor of “Child Life Month,” I asked our certified child life specialists to give parents their best advice on handling medical encounters with their kids.
Here are their tips when dealing with the 6 most common anxieties:
Your child doesn’t like going to the doctor – “Reframe the experience positively, emphasizing that the doctor is working to ‘keep you well,’ and ‘helping you to feel better so that you can play and have fun again,” said Laura Leiendecker. “You can also read books about going to the doctor and purchase or make a ‘doctor’s bag’ to use in role playing.”
Your child won’t sit for a temperature reading – “I would encourage the child to sit on her parent’s lap so she can be more comfortable,” said Krista Saraniti. “If your child is competitive, make it a race against the clock to see if she can sit still until the thermometer or stopwatch beeps.”
Your child needs surgery – “Honesty is the best policy,” said Megan Flaker. “But always offer information that is age appropriate for your child.”
For example, if you tell a 3-year-old he is “going to the doctor” when he is actually having his tonsil removed, he may develop an unnecessary fear of the doctor.
Akron Children’s offers pre-surgery tours that allow children and their parents to see the hospital and ask questions. The tours guide children and their parents about what to expect the day of surgery and help calm their fears.
Your child hates needles – Be honest with your child if he is due for immunizations or lab work, said Betsy Cetnarowski.
“Numerous studies show children who are prepared for a health care experience feel less anxiety,” said Cetnarowski.
You don’t want to set up an expectation for pain, but you do want to acknowledge that pain is possible.
“If a child asks if something will hurt, say something along the lines of ‘Some people feel it hurts while others think it’s not painful at all. Let’s see what you think,” said Leiendecker.
Younger children who are especially fearful of needles may feel more empowered on the other end of a “play” syringe, playing doctor with a doll or stuffed animal. Older children may benefit from deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation techniques or listening to music.
Your child is en route to the ER – “Children pick up our anxieties, so the more calm and confident parents can be, the better their children will do,” said Michelle Peterson.
The ride to the ER is a good time to tell your child she will be meeting a lot of new people who are all there to help her. A children’s hospital ER team is well suited to get kids through stitches, casting, and other common procedures.
“Parents can help children through just about anything by offering a hand to squeeze, singing a song, and allowing for tears,” said Melissa Mares. “If you think about it, grab a book or a favorite blanket or stuffed animal before you leave home. Older kids, of course, may prefer distraction that comes in the form of music, hand-held electronic games, apps or a laptop computer.”
Your child hates taking medicine – “If your child must take medicine for an extended period, a chart is always helpful,” said Saraniti. “You can establish guidelines such as offering a sticker for every time the child takes the medicine without a fight and so many stickers can lead to a reward.”
According to Amy Lee, drawing, keeping a journal or making a scrapbook can help some children process a new or difficult experience.
“Children are smart and parents need to give them a chance to learn to cope with new experiences,” said Alisa Mills. “Don’t be afraid of those tears. Children will look to you to see if your response is strong and steady.”