It’s no fun when you feel sick and have to go to the doctor… but it’s a whole other ballgame when your child is sick. The lack of control and emotions we feel when we can’t make our little one’s pain or illness go away can be overwhelming.
Consider these tips next time you have take your child to visit the doctor, ER or urgent care:
Prepare yourself. If you don’t know what to expect or what this visit will entail – find out. Pull a nurse or tech aside and ask what the plan is going to be. Does your child need a shot? If so, what are the steps? What kind of tests is the doctor planning to run? Does your child need a nose mist? What is that like? Knowing specific details ahead of time can help eliminate some of your fears and anxiety.
Prepare your child. Once you know the details, consider your child’s developmental level and then let them know what’s going to happen in a simple and honest way.
Got a toddler? Prepare them moment-to-moment. “Now the doctor is going to check your ears. Momma will be right here next to you.”
Pre-schooler? Their imaginations can run wild. Prepare them as concretely as possible for an entire sequence of events. Get specific to eliminate fears. “The nurse is going to come back in this room and give you medicine. You will sit right here on my lap, and we can count to 10 while the nurse cleans your leg and then uses a small needle to give your body what it needs. It will only feel like pressure for a few seconds and then it’s over.”
A school-ager or older? Prepare in advance and allow time for questions. “We are going to drive to the doctor at 10AM this morning. Once we get there, we’ll ask what the plan is to help make you feel better. I’m not sure exactly what is going to happen, but what are some questions you’d like to ask once we arrive?”
Offer choices. Going to the doctor, unfortunately, doesn’t allow much room for control. Whenever possible, allow your child to make decisions for themselves. The tricky thing is to only offer choices that the child can actually make. For example, “do you want to take the medicine?” won’t work if the child actually has to take the medicine. But asking, “do you want to take the medicine in one big sip or in little sips?” may actually work. Other ideas are to encourage your child to pack a bag before you head to the doctor. Just spend a few minutes putting a couple special items in a back pack – a comfort item, a deck of cards or a book.
Invest in a medical play kit. Children from toddlerhood to school-age can get onboard with playing doctor. Explore medical equipment and desensitize them to new objects. Learn what a specific tool does, get to know unfamiliar equipment and normalize medical items.
It’s worth it to phone a friend or call a babysitter for the other kids. Being able to concentrate on your sick child, focus on what the doctor is actually telling you, and providing support at a traumatic time are all great reasons to ask for help. However, it’s not always possible to find child care at the drop of the hat. So if you do need to bring other kids with you, pack a bag of distraction items that they can play with. If you’re in a hospital, ask if there is a volunteer that can play with the siblings while your ill child needs to have a procedure done. Tag team with your partner if they’re able to accompany you to the doctor appointment.
And above all else, remain calm. Your child will feed off your anxiety, so deep breaths, momma bear… you got this.