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Prepping kids for a visit to the doctor

Monday, Dec. 10 | By Staff
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By Dr. Michael Amster
Special to The Times-Democrat


Parents everywhere are always hoping for what we consider the most difficult achievement — having their children actually enjoy going to see the doctor.

We do absolutely everything we can to help this happen, with fun décor, distractions in the waiting room, warm surroundings, and, of course, our friendliness and wit.

Many of our children do love to see us, looking forward to showing off a new tooth or telling us what they were for Halloween.

There are several things parents can do to help us give their children an excellent doctor experience.

Vaccines cause anxiety in any person, and children live in fear of them. It is best to not promise children that the visit is going to be vaccine-free.

Children feel betrayed if they are told there will be no vaccines, only to find out there will be.

The truth is that most children do not remember getting them at the eighteen-month visit or the two-year visit. By the time children are four years old, vaccines are a novel experience to them. Children are remarkably adaptable and accepting if they know they are getting good information.

Often older siblings or even parents build the event up to such proportions that the children are terrified of the “awful shots” before even setting foot in the office.

Usually they are still having a tantrum while the vaccines are being given, and completely miss the injections. We have to tell them it’s over.

Properly explaining what they are, what to expect, and what the vaccines are doing — namely protecting them from nasty diseases — will at least get a nod at acceptance.

I intervene immediately when parents tell children “if you’re bad, you’ll get a shot.” Absolutely nothing turns off a child faster than equating the doctor and the nurse with punishment.

They believe they are at risk the whole time they are there, no matter how much reassurance I give.

For the same reason we do not recommend the crib be a “time-out” place, we do not recommend making your pediatrician a “punishment person.”

Often I have to do procedures such as cleaning out earwax or doing a throat swab for strep throat. This is never fun and children often dread these situations.

When doing a throat swab for strep throat, I can persuade a child to open his mouth and hold it until I have the sw ab done because I take time to explain in simple and understanding terms what I am going to do.

I discourage parents from telling children “it won’t hurt” because it does hurt, but I discuss what to expect, and then deliver on that.

This way when I tell them later there will not be any “ouchies” they believe me, and know when they can relax and enjoy the visit.

One thing that we often cannot control, no matter how much we try, is the wait.

At our office I go through great pains to make sure appointments are well scheduled, allowing ample time to address complex problems. While appointments may only be 10 to 15 minutes behind, to a child that is an eternity.

Parents can prepare for this in several ways. Bringing a special lovey or stuffed animal gives them comfort and helps with anxiety that can build while waiting.

A new game or new book can be a large distraction, and keep children busy for a long time.

Also, while normally we do not endorse giving food for boredom’s sake, a small snack can help tide over a hungry child and allow her to be more flexible.

When children are hungry or tired, they have a low tolerance for new or strange experiences. Scheduling appointments when a child is bright and awake makes for a good outlook and a willingness to endure a longer wait, strange people, and explanations of why something unpleasant is absolutely necessary to make them feel better.

Children do their best when they feel their best, and when they know what to expect. They understand that some discomfort is necessary to ensure their health.

Give them accurate information and compassion, and respect their ability to understand and cope.

Amster practices at Warrenton Pediatrics in Warrenton. Call (540) 349-3225.
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