Dealing with healthcare professionals can be stressful for younger patients feeling ill. Early visits to the doctor, pediatrician or dentist are sometimes difficult, especially because children may not be able to fully understand what’s going on, or articulate what they’re experiencing. Taking steps to make your practice a positive place for kids isn’t difficult, and it’s an important way to help them develop a great attitude about taking care of their body.
Offer a child-oriented open house
Fear of the unknown is one of the biggest sources of anxiety in children, so head it off at the pass by introducing them to your practice in a fun way. Implement a quick meet and greet at your office with key staff and give the children a tour of the office and equipment. This will enable the children to ask questions and become prepared for their first “real” visit and be more confident and calm when coming in for an appointment. Whether you make it a regular event or offer a brief one-on-one intro to new patients, it’s a wonderful way to make kids more comfortable.
Start in the waiting room
Boredom and worry are a bad combination. Fun distractions in the waiting room are an important way to help children relax before their appointment. Toys, videos, and picture books are a good place to start. Provide coloring books and fresh crayons to keep kids busy while they wait. You can go a step further by choosing special coloring pages which illustrate a visit to the doctor or dentist and good health habits. They can help get kids thinking about the positive aspects of taking care of themselves, and provide an extra level of familiarity with the process.
Talk to them
Because parents are our main source of information, it can be easy to address everything to them. It’s important to remember to include children in the conversation, even when they are very little. Try to be as clear as you can about what’s happening at every step of the way, and use age-appropriate language. When something is likely to hurt, be honest, but try to frame it as positively as possible.
Make room for feelings
Fear is normal, and so are tears. If a child is upset, acknowledge it, and validate it. Let them know you understand that it can be scary, and that it’s okay to cry if they need to. Saying, “I know this hurts, and you are being very, very brave” is important, even if they are struggling and need to be gently restrained.
Offer a reward
There is a time and a place for everything, including bribery. Knowing that they can look forward to a sugar-free treat or a sticker at the end of the appointment can help children make it through a stressful or difficult appointment. However, don’t make the reward contingent on behavior; it should be something they can count on no matter how the visit goes.
A truly kid-friendly practice starts with genuine respect for the wants, needs, and emotions of each child. If you can make your office an interesting, fun, and safe place to be from the perspective of a child, pediatric visits will be much easier on the kids, their parents, and you.