Infants, children, youth, and families can experience stress and uncertainty when faced with an illness, injury, or treatment. As a Certified Child Life Specialist®, my job is to provide evidence-based, developmentally-appropriate interventions that support and reduce fear, anxiety, and pain. Certified Child Life Specialists are educated and trained in the developmental impact of illness and injury. Intervention may be through education, therapeutic play, or even advocating to the medical team. My role helps improve patient and family care, satisfaction, and overall experience.
Here are my best tips for making any doctor's appointment a bit easier:
Mom (or dad) knows best.
If you feel there is something that can help them cope during a medical experience, speak up and tell the doctor/nurse! Remember that YOU know your child best!
Help them ask the doctor or nurse questions, find a comfortable position, or do something that will soothe and distract them (i.e. singing a song, playing an iPad game, or blowing bubbles).
Whether it’s a scheduled doctor’s appointment or a trip to the emergency room, don’t lie to your child about where they are going. Of course parents only want to protect their children, but lying can often do more harm than good and could impede their ability to trust you during what is often a frightening experience.
Give Them Some Control
So much of what children fear during a medical experience centers around a loss of control in the situation. Try to find one small thing that he or she can be in control of throughout the visit - whether it’s getting to choose which arm or leg he or she will have a shot in, choosing which ear the doctor should look in first, or picking out a special band-aid at the end of the visit. Small choices can make a big difference!
Depending on your child’s age, attempt to provide developmentally-appropriate explanations for the need for immunizations, or any other medical necessity they will have to endure. This app helps to decode medical jargon
Be a Role Model
Your child can usually sense your emotions and reactions to situations. If you are expressing fear and anxiety, chances are they will look to you and behave similarly. Of course it is normal to express your emotions, but it helps to explain to your child that even though the situation might be scary to you both, you are in the best and safest place (doctor’s office/hospital) to help make it better.
Validate their feelings
Validate their fears and provide comfort in the situation, instead of telling them not to cry or be scared.
Create Positive Associations
If the circumstances allow for it, try to build positive associations with the doctor’s office and familiar relationships with the staff. If your child knows he gets to play with a favorite toy in the waiting room or see a fun nurse that helped him at his last visit, they may feel less pre-visit anxiety.
When your child has a positive medical experience or has shown exceptional bravery, make a big deal out of it! A special prize or treat can provide a sense of accomplishment for your child. And don’t forget to celebrate a successful experience for yourself - parenting during a frightening experience is not easy!
Randi Jaffe is a Certified Child Life Specialist who recently launched Kid Cope Specialists, a Child Life private practice, in Hoboken. Randi and her husband, Logan, live in uptown Hoboken with their seven month old daughter, Talia, and two cats, Hank and Melvin.
To learn more about the child life profession, visit https://www.childlife.org/child-life-profession