I was asked this last week how to help children with doctor appointments. I will share with you the same story I have shared with many families for the last 20 years. In fact, I use to share this visual with parents that brought their children into the ER where I worked. It helped them not feel so frustrated with their child or judged by the staff. This post may be a little long. I will share what we do in our home and then the children’s thoughts also. I hope it is helpful and gives you some ideas as you minister to your family!
Picture for a moment that our world was ruled by Giants that would, at any moment, scoop you up lay you on a cold table with crinkling paper and then start to look inside your mouth, ears, nose and other places your mom always told you not to let people see! You would feel violated wouldn’t you? You lay there listening as they talk to each other in some foreign language with words you’ve never heard before and then before you know it they pull out a syringe filled with some unknown fluid and a needle attached to it. Wouldn’t you be just a little bit scared? As you start to object they call in the reinforcements and hold you down or worse yet tie you to a board to keep you still! And they call this event… a yearly physical. Wouldn’t you start to question the faith you had put into your parents who hand delivered you to these giants?
Okay, so maybe I’m being a little dramatic but I think you can see what I’m getting at. Just because we know what’s going on, just because we know our children are safe, just because we know that what is best isn’t what always feels best, they don’t know that! When I use to work in Pediatrics I use to always encourage parents to talk to their child and PLEASE don’t lie to them. Help them face their fears, teach them to use their words (this means you have to stop what you are doing and listen when they talk) and teach them the Scriptures that can give them hope when they are afraid. Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t let my children dictate their care. However, I do let them be a part of their care, within limits. I try to listen to them, explain to them the need and I am constantly proving myself faithful to advocate for them. Even when it means that I am going to have doctors or nurses who don’t agree. I am going to make the best decision for my child as the Lord has given me the wisdom to do so… and it will be in our timing! These events are critical and can impact my child’s outlook in so many other areas of life. It’s important that we get through this with the grace of God in a way that glorifies God!
In our home, I am honest with the children. I tell them when something is going to hurt what to expect and what I expect from them. I give them information that is age appropriate and expect age appropriate behavior. I talk about fears before we ever get there. Actually, it’s talked about often in our home. I remind them that people will listen to them if they use their words where if they carry on, throwing themselves and screaming people don’t listen and just think they are ‘naughty’. People forget that often children carry on like this as a method of self defense. In our home when they get hurt and are crying the first question is, “Are you crying because it hurts or you’re afraid?” Then once that question is answered we can proceed. I have found that asking this question gets them to calm down for a second and gives me an opportunity to reason with them. If they say it hurts. My next question is, “With one finger point to the exact spot you feel the pain.” Again, this is helping them gain control and think about what they are feeling and it allows me to really be able to help them. As their mommy I will be there to help them but they must remain calm and trust me. My child trusting me is not an isolated event. It must be something that we are working on daily in the home. That way when we have life events that test that trust they will know that I will remain steadfast and will be there to help them. There have been times I have asked the doctors to leave and give me a moment to talk to my child. It wasn’t a “popular” choice but it was the right choice and I don’t regret ever doing it. Truthfully, I can only think of 2 times I have had to do that.
We go over Scriptures regarding fear. Our favorite one is in 2nd Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. I can’t tell you when it happens, but it seems that this is always the first verse my children have memorized. Perhaps it’s just because they hear it so often when they are young and there are so many ‘fears’ to overcome.
We role play about what to expect, read books that are age appropriate and talk about visits to the doctor or dentist. We have a stethoscope here at home that the children use on the animals as well as other “tools” that may not be common in your household. Consider getting some of these things that your child would find in a doctor’s office. Use a Popsicle stick for a tongue depressor, a thermometer (teach them how to hold it under their tongue). Pretend to “prick” the end of their finger and talk about what they are looking for in that test. How a lack of iron can make us feel tired and foods to eat that have iron. You could also make an eye chart and put it in the house and have pretend eye exams. The options are unlimited!! Just remember, taking the ‘unexpected’ element out of the event helps prevent fear!
Let’s see what my children say about doctor visits, hurting and trusting Joe and I through the event.
Jed: Jed’s not home for me to ask him. :-)
Bekah: Don’t make them wear the gowns. Be patient with me. Just give me a little time to catch my breath and calm down. It makes it worse when I feel I am being rushed into something scary. (Taking your time with your child is a critical balance. It is something that is different in each situation. There are times we can wait and other times we have to ask our child to trust us. Think about little things like this that may be BIG issues to your child. Don’t make them do it if they aren’t needed just because that’s what the office practice is. Helping your child in this area can show them that you will advocate for them in the big issues too.)
Elisha: I think the most important thing is that you stay there with us. (This is a good point often doctor offices will ask the parents to leave. The thought is that the child will act up more with the parent there because they play on the parent’s sympathy. This isn’t true for children who have been trained to trust the parents and trained how to act in trying situations)
Bethany: Talk to them through it in words they understand. Holding them through it if possible. (Communication is a big thing in our house! Make sure you are communicating and if a doctor can do his exam while you hold the child then do that so that you can keep eye contact with the little one and talk to them in a soothing voice telling them how proud you are of them.)
Josiah: Answering all my questions. (Josiah once needed tetanus shot after stepping on a rusty nail. As the nurse started to give it to him the injection, he stopped her and said, “How many people have you used that thing on?” We knew that it had never been used on anyone before but to a child he had no idea. He thought she could have used it on a 100 children before him. Make sure you don’t take things for granted that your child understands all that is happening. Take time to answer their questions!)
Ezekiel: The parents telling the doctors what the child is afraid of. This helped me the most when we were at the hospital. (Telling doctors what your child is afraid of can help them revise their care if possible. Ezekiel has terrible fears of staples since he had those with his skin grafting from the burns he had prior to adoption. Because I let the doctor know that she used sutures that dissolve so that Ezekiel would not have that extra stress. There were other things I was advocating for Ezekiel about… such as not having to wear the hospital gowns, trimming the extra plastic on the bracelet that was bothering him, asking if he could eat now, and asking that they respect his privacy when having the X-rays done. All of these were very little things in the scope of what was happening and yet they were critical in helping Ezekiel feel like he had some power in the situation.)
Timothy: Singing songs with me always helped when I was having stitches. And I was happy you asked them to give me more shots when you saw it was hurting too bad. (Helping your child keep his attention on other things can help at times. Just make sure that you aren’t making it worse. Your child is going to know if you are trying to “hide” what is happening. Also, if you see that your child is still hurting after they have given pain medicine, don’t be afraid to ask for more time for it to work or more medicine.)
Sarah: Singing songs, praying with me, and talking me through it was what always helps me the most. (Make eye contact with your child and talk to them and don’t be afraid to pray with them even when the hospital or doctor office staff is around.)
Sammy: It helps me when you tell me that I am safe and pray with me. (Sammy has FAS and has had some very real fears to overcome because of his neglect and inability to understand all that’s going on. Our phrase that we have used with him since he was an infant was, “It’s okay. You’re safe now.” We would always whisper this in his ear and still today he finds comfort in this phrase being whispered in his ear when he’s afraid.)
Matthew: I like going out afterwards for a snack. (There have been times we have gone out afterwards for a snack or goodie. We don’t always do this but it is fun when we do. We never threaten them or take this away from them if they cried or were afraid. Now, if they threw a fit and were just naughty of course I wouldn’t reward that behavior. There have been times they really struggled with a procedure that was done and I still went out afterwards with them. We talked about, I reassured them that I loved them and they did their best and I am proud of them.)
I hope this blog post has helped give you some ideas how you can make doctor appointments less traumatic for your child!
With much love,
Mrs. Joseph Wood