Tips for kids during a visit to the doctor’s office or trip to the ER |
Going to the emergency room can be scary for a child – and his parent. A high fever, a deep cut that requires stitches, a broken leg or any of life’s unexpected traumas can cause a great amount of anxiety. And, if a child is afraid of doctors, the experience may be even more stressful.
There are some easy ways to prepare a child for a trip to the ER or for an appointment at the doctor’s office:
Avoid making the doctor out to be the ‘bad guy.’ Using threats of taking your kids to the doctor for a shot may be an unfair connection for the medical profession and for children. While shots are a regular part of appointments in the early stages of life, they become less frequent as a child gets older. Some appointments only require an assessment, such as checking your ears and throat.
Reinforce that a doctor’s job is to help you feel better. If your child is not feeling well, or if there is a situation that requires a trip to the ER, a doctor can make you feel better. Tell your child the reason for the visit is so he can get well.
Share information with your child. Be mindful of her age and share the appropriate amount of information so she’ll know what’s happening at each stage of the appointment.
Use distractions. Find ways to take your child’s mind off of the visit. Bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal. Coloring books, stickers, bubbles, a portable video game or a television show in the waiting room are also helpful.
Don’t make promises. Wait to see if a shot or procedure will be needed before telling your child anything about the treatment. If it’s necessary, be honest and tell your child there might be some discomfort or that a shot may sting a little. Make sure there are no surprises. Being honest will help build your child’s trust for future visits. Next time, they’ll know to expect pain with a shot.
Misbehaving may be a sign of fear. If your child acts out, he may be trying to tell you he’s afraid. Perhaps he’s experiencing stranger anxiety because of his age. Consider his limitations and set reasonable expectations for your child, such as being a good listener or following directions.
Reward him for a good visit. It’s perfectly acceptable to reward your child for being brave and cooperative during an appointment. However, consider the reward and the impact it may have in the future. Popsicles and stickers are effective incentives.
Pick a child-friendly ER. Look for a hospital that offers pediatric emergency services, which may shorten your wait time. Colorful walls and a kid-friendly environment can make the experience a little more soothing for a child. Also, a child-friendly ER will use “ouchless” stitches that have a topical preparation to numb the cut and reduce pain.
Remain calm. For your child’s sake, stay composed. Your child will pick up on your facial expressions and your actions. Your primary role is to be a comforter. Use a soothing voice. Offer him a hug or blanket to keep warm. Use deep breathing to keep yourself relaxed. Above all, be your child’s advocate.
Finally, most doctors encourage you to give a pain reliever such as ibuprofen or ice before coming in to the office or ER. When your child is experiencing pain, she will be miserable during the appointment, so it’s helpful to relieve some of the discomfort prior to the visit. And, it’s important to note, neither will affect the level of care or treatment.
Going to the ER or doctor’s office usually isn’t a fun experience. For many of us, the anxiety of what we expect to happen is probably worse than the experience or pain itself. Some of us may never outgrow our fear of doctors. With a little bit of reasoning and some mental preparation, we can help our children and ourselves get through the appointment and move on to healing.
George Koburov, MD, medical director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at Edward Hospital, contributed to this article.
Edward Hospital offers the only Pediatric Emergency Room in DuPage County. It features private, family-friendly rooms; pediatric triage; and board-certified pediatric emergency physicians and trauma surgeons. The 4,000 square-foot pediatric area is adjacent to the ER at Edward Hospital, located at 801 S. Washington Street in Naperville.