A visit to the doctor’s office or hospital can be anxiety-provoking for children. Children often have fears associated with medical situations such as separation from their caregiver, anticipated pain or simply fear of the unknown.
There are things you can do ahead of time to make the experience positive for you and your child. Encouraging a healthy patient-doctor relationship when children are young has a profoundly positive effect on their overall health as they grow up.
1. Tell the truth.
Your child should know what is happening when going to see a doctor. Children will automatically allow their imagination to think the scariest thought. Clear up unnecessary fears by being honest – because honesty builds trust.
2. Come prepared.
Waits can be long no matter where you are. Come prepared with a book, toy or other activities to help your child.
3. Deep breath.
Breathing helps with discomfort and nervousness. Coach your child in pretending to smell a flower or something yummy and then blow out a birthday candle or bubbles. Breathe together to relax yourself too!
4. Bring something comforting.
Giving a big squeeze to a favorite stuffed animal or cozy blankie helps ease fear and enhances coping.
5. Validate feelings.
Encourage the sharing of emotions. “It’s ok to be nervous. This is a new experience for you and the doctor/nurse is here to help you.” or “That was hard for you, and you did it!”
6. Manage your feelings.
Having a sick kid and going to hospital can bring up lots of emotions in adults. Children, no matter how old, can sense your anxiety and it will rub off on them.
7. Ask about pain management.
If you know or anticipate your child is getting a shot, or your child is already in pain for some reason, ask about what can be done to decrease the discomfort. There are many options to proactively treat needle pain.
If you need extra support for an upcoming hospital visit, North Memorial Health Hospital and Maple Grove Hospital child life specialists are here to help. Our child life specialists are members of the healthcare team that help children, adolescents and their families cope with challenging experiences related to illness, injury, hospitalization and loss.
Reasons to request a child life specialist:
- Your child is nervous about or has questions regarding an upcoming procedure or test.
- Your child needs additional support to help them during a procedure or test.
- Your child has questions, concerns or worries about going to the doctor or being in the hospital.
- A sibling has questions or concerns about the hospital.
- Your child needs guidance managing anxiety or pain.
- Your child has a long-term condition or was just diagnosed with one.
- Your child needs age-appropriate toys or activities to help them cope with a hospital stay or appointment.
- You have questions about your child’s developmental or coping needs.
- You need suggestions for talking to your child about their health, your health or the health of their sibling.