It’s no secret that for many kids a trip to the doctor can be dramatic, traumatic and all of the other words that end in matic. So I’m sharing a few tips to make doctors visits less scary in partnership with my friends from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Give your child advance notice, but limit it.
Kids need to know what’s happening, but until they are about school age they don’t have a great grasp on the passing of time. At age six a couple of days notice is plenty for Kayla to know that we’re changing the routine and a doctors visit is coming. One thing I learned from my days of traveling when she was young is that giving a child too much notice about something that makes them anxious is a bad thing. There is a good chance you’re extending their worry and time spent being anxious for no reason.
Play up the positive.
A great way to make doctor’s visits less scary is to play up the positive. Does your doctor give out stickers? Is there a treasure chest for children receiving immunizations? If so, highlight the FUN aspect of their visit. It is amazing what a psychological difference a sticker or a plastic dinosaur can make. If your doctors office does not offer these things then create your own age appropriate incentive.
In our home we’ve even parlayed the stickers into a sharing lesson. Since Blake is just an infant, every time he goes to the doctor (which seriously felt like ALL the time for a while) he would pick a sticker and bring it home for Kayla. That sticker sacrifice was used to show how he was so willing to share and set Kayla up to share everything with him. So far, so good. We’ll see what the future holds as he enters the mobility-and-getting-into-big-sister’s-stuff stage.
Explain how the doctor helps them.
This one is pretty simple. Doctors fall up there with Police officers, fire fighters, etc. They’re helpers. They keep you from getting sick and if you do get sick they help you get better. And that is about all you need to say if you ask me.
Offer medical play to empower them.
Have you ever heard of a child life specialist? In some ways I hope you haven’t, but they are amazing people who do a very important job. Child life specialists are healthcare professionals who usually work in hospitals and help children and their families cope with and prepare for many of the things that come with hospitalization and treating illness. At St. Jude child life specialists have a huge role in helping alleviate fears that come with surgery, chemotherapy, needle pokes and a thousand other things you never want your child to experience. In my opinion they are truly the unsung heroes of children’s hospitals.
Medical play is a major tool that child life specialists use to empower children to feel like they understand what is or will happen to them and to take the fear out of all of that strange equipment. Even if you’re not a trained child life specialist you can certainly borrow some of their tactics and apply them at home.
My friends from St. Jude sent me a medical play doll and some supplies to play with so I set up this little tray for Kayla and invited her to come be Dr. Kayla. As you can imagine she was all too excited! There were bandages, some medical tape, a few clean empty syringes (no needles!) that are similar to the ones you’ll find with any liquid children’s medication, a blood pressure cuff and the best part – a mini treasure chest filled with little toy unicorns and dinosaurs.
Believe it or not, what Kayla fears more than a needle is a blood pressure cuff. She had a bad experience at our local urgent care where I think she wasn’t prepared for the fact that it would squeeze her and she has been thoroughly freaked out ever since. 15 minutes into play time not only had she taken the blood pressure of her patient “butterfly” several times, she had done it to me and let me do it to her.
It was confirmation that framed the right way, you really can change a child’s perspective on the “scary” things. It’s also a great reminder of one of the many things I love about St. Jude. Kids come first. Always.
It’s the little things like taking the time for medical play and even preparing siblings for how their brother or sister might look with some new tubes or wires as accessories that are truly huge things when it comes to giving a family coping skills to get through a difficult time. And of course if you didn’t know it already, families do not pay St. Jude for anything. Ever. At all. I still find myself amazed by that every day.
Pay it forward.
The medical play doll you see in this post is something you can help with. You saw the huge impact it had on my child. Can you imagine the impact it has on a child who is going through more than any of us can fathom? A $7 donation to St. Jude facilitates the purchase of a medical play doll for a child who needs it most. So if you felt like this post was helpful to you I would love for you to head to St. Jude and donate $7. Your $7 has the ability to truly change the day for a child going through treatment.