Make your visit to the doctor happier!

Dr Andrew Leech, GP (FRACGP, MBBS, BSc, DCH)

Have you ever experienced a meltdown at the GP? Think about the last time your child had an immunisation. This is a an experience many parents dread! Children build up extreme fears over aspects of healthcare such as needles, being forced to open their mouth for a throat check or having their tummy pushed, but in reality the actual event is not as bad as it seems. Creating a positive vibe about medical settings helps this. Helping children understand what might take place and letting them know they will be ok. Easier said than done perhaps but I find the more positive experiences children can have at a medical setting, the better it becomes.

Here’s a 5 step plan I created to helping kids relax in a medical setting:

1)      Give them a heads up!

It is always hard to know whether telling them you are going to the doctors or hospital is a good idea or not. One thing I do know is that kids are clever, they also benefit from open, honest communication…-A heads up might be – you know how that tummy pain you’ve been complaining about? I say we get it looked at. Or this year for kindy you need to have an injection to keep you staying strong and healthy. OR the doctor has told us to get an XRAY / blood test for your headache / tummy pain etc, this will be important to do so we can figure it out.-This is simply communicating to your child your plans so it doesn’t come as a surprise later.-Now some of us have children that are anxious, or easily stressed by discussions such as these. How do we manage their pre-planning stages of medical appointments? I say give a heads up but lessen the impact, keep it relaxed and brief. Something like – tummy pain can be very difficult to work out, sometimes doctors can help with that. OR kindy is a good time to check up that you are as strong and healthy as you could be. This can include seeing the doctor or a nurse to check how big you are, Mum or Dad to talk about what you have been doing at kindy and to have an injection for staying healthy.-Role play can help all of these situations which brings me to my next point…

2)      Anticipate and role play.

Anticipate what might happen next – i.e. an examination of your child’s ears, having their tummy pressed, an xray or a blood test – role play is a powerful way to engage the child in this preplanning stage. Even reverse role play – ‘you be the doctor, and I’ll be you’ play out how things might progress, press on their tummy and show them how simple it is.

3)      Buy a toy doctors kit.

This goes back to point 2. The more exposure your child has to medical toys and instruments, the more desensitised they will get. These kids are about $10 at some stores, it does not need to be fancy. Ask you child to pretend to be a doctor or nurse and give their favourite doll or bear a checkup. Then give you a checkup. Ask them to give their bear an injection – ask them how bear felt? If they pretend to give you an injection, don’t overact the situation – tell them it hurt though as it does. Again I feel honesty is the best policy with injections and blood tests. No matter how you and I might react with these sorts of things, it is important to describe the more literal sense of it – ‘that hurt for a few seconds but its better now’, or ‘there was a sting but I was OK’.

4)      Create a strong front at the doctors or hospital.

You might be breaking down inside seeing your child cry or become nervous. Our children can read our emotions. Be confident in your doctor and firm and understanding with your child – During a throat check (a childs most dreaded examination), cuddle them tightly so they know you are there but also with that firm grip the doctor will have more opportunity to look at the throat without them wriggling.

5)      Fast is good!

The build up is often the most anxiety provoking, a fast injection is always a good injection. If two or even three are required, I often find it helpful to do them together with a nurse assisting. As many doctors clinics are busy and will keep you waiting, Avoid the pre-nerves by distraction. A lollipop works well, bring a small toy for them to play with in the waiting room, or use your phone to show them something from ABC kids. The same goes for afterwards, nurse them but again be confident and put on a brave front for your child.

If all else fails, try again next time. Don’t feel guilty because it ended in a screaming mess. Doctors are human too and understand the difficulties parents face.