Children can be active participants in their healthcare by knowing why they need to see the doctor and how to take good care of themselves. Here are some tips on how to help make doctor’s visits easier for your child.
1. Make sure your child knows why she is going to the doctor
Going to the pediatrician’s office or emergency room is very frightening for a lot of children. Without proper explanations, your child can take the doctor’s visit as a form of punishment. Explain to your child that she needs to see the doctor to make sure she is healthy and that doctors and nurses are there to help people get better. Regardless of the reason for the visit, the last thing you want to do is to lie to your child. A trusting relationship is nearly the only thing that your child can cling to when she experiences uncertainties. So please, don’t break it. Simple, age appropriate explanations will give your child comfort and a sense of security.
2. Crying is okay. The issue is the reasons and duration.
Having a crying child can be uncomfortable, but crying is a perfectly acceptable coping behavior in general. For example, if your child cries right before and after the shot but is otherwise okay, you probably don’t have to worry about it. However, you might want to intervene in some extreme situations, such as 1) when your child cries for an extended period of time after seeing the doctor, or 2) if your child cries just by your car heading in the direction of the doctor’s office, even if you are not actually going to the doctor.
Whatever you decide to do to ease the situation, don’t lie! Your pediatrician may give you some advice on how to make the experience easier. Also, in large hospitals, there are often professionals called Child Life Specialists. Their job is to make a medical experience comfortable for children and their families. They can give you advice on how to talk to your child about going to the doctor. Your pediatrician may be able to refer you to their affiliated hospital’s CLS.
3. Give your child a “job” to cope with the experience.
Loss of control is a huge issue with medical experiences. Your child is forced to be in an unfamiliar place with procedures that are not even close to fun. Although going to the doctor may not be your child’s choice, he or she can still exercise some control over minor aspects of the visit. For example, you can explain to your child that it is the nurse’s job to give a shot to prevent illnesses. Then you can explain that your child can have his own “job” of sitting still. If it’s not reassuring enough, your child can pick light activities during the procedure, such as playing I SPY, watching a funny video clip on mommy’s phone, etc.
We hope these tips will help make trips to the doctor or emergency room a little more comfortable for your child. With trust, a little patience, and age-appropriate explanations, kids can take an active role in their own healthcare and better understand why we all need to go to the doctor every now and then.