Recently my two-and-a-half-year-old had a bad fall and got a big cut on his forehead. We were at the playground and it was one of those things—one minute he was standing perfectly fine and the next, his feet got tangled together and he hit his head on the sharpest sidewalk edge I’ve ever seen.
It’s always scary when our children get hurt. But for many parents it’s the actual trip to the hospital they dread the most. The x-ray, putting on the cast or the stitches, can all turn into chaos with little kids.
In our case stitches were definitely needed and we spent that afternoon at the hospital where our little one received no less than six of them. He cried SO hard during the injection of anesthesia but he surprised me when it was time to go home. As I helped him down from the hospital bed, he looked at me and said, “That was fun!” I couldn’t believe that those were the first words out of his mouth.
When I thought about the whole process, I realized, even though there was a lot of crying, he did pretty well. What could have been a completely chaotic experience still ended up being a positive (or fun) experience for my son and I believe it’s all because of how involved he was. I made sure he was prepared and aware at every step. That simple choice made all of the difference.
It’s truly impossible for our kids to cooperate if they don’t know what to expect. Here are four key things I keep in mind when we go to the doctors, the dentist or if there’s a chance of any kind of procedure, including stitches and shots.
First and foremost, we need to be calm and collected so that our children can trust that if we’re not worried, they shouldn’t be worried either. Our children sense our energy and it is so important to project security and confidence.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
I can not over emphasize how crucial it is to prepare our kids for the situation at hand. Walk them through what is about to happen step by step in as much detail as you can. Be honest and real. Tell them if things might hurt, make them uncomfortable or be a bit painful. Name the tools the doctor or dentist will be using—try to use real terms and don’t talk “around” things
Preparing our children for what is to come is an important part of setting them up for success. They need time to process and prepare.
Involve them in what’s happening
During the procedure or whatever it is that you’re going through, show your child the tools that are being used, explain what is about to happen and what the professional (doctor/nurse/dentist) is going to do. Some doctors naturally move slower around children, are respectful and appreciate the value of involving them while others might be the opposite. I have found it very helpful to start off by letting the doctor know that I want them to show all the tools and involve my child as much as possible. If he moves faster than I would like I gently suggest he show us the cotton ball he’s soaking in water or show us the sound that the thermometer makes. This sets the scene for the rest of the appointment. During the whole thing, I make sure to explain, sportscast and basically narrate whatever is happening which usually has a calming effect and helps my child not feel too overwhelmed or confused.
Acknowledge feelings instead of distracting
It is very common to want to distract children from the uncomfortable or painful things that need to get done. Surprising our children with shots while they listen to a joke or watch a colorful toy spin in circles will only create more insecurities and fear of doctors. Instead, prepare, explain and involve your child. Try showing them the needle and the spot where it will be injected. Tell them that, yes, it will probably be a bit painful and then ask if they want to get it in the thigh or in the arm. Ask them if they want to watch the shot or watch the other way. Involve them!
Instead of deciding for your child that it’s too much for them to handle, that there is no way they can actually cooperate through a tough procedure or that they don’t even understand much of what needs to be done, try giving them a chance. They might just surprise you with their competence and cooperation. Believe in your child. And who knows—they might end up telling you the whole thing was “fun.”