Doctor, hospital, and Urgent Care visits tend to be at the top of the Things Children Just Don’t Care For list. While some kids don’t mind the occasional visit, it really all depends on what the trip entails. Just a regular well visit, with no vaccinations or other invasive procedures? Potentially manageable. But when it's a visit in which a sick child will be poked, prodded, or worse? Well, that's when it's time to consider the ways to make your child’s Urgent Care visit less traumatic. Because there’s really no need to make it any worse than it already is, right?
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had to take my son to the local Urgent Care facility twice. Oh, and that's not counting our necessary trip to his pediatrician. He’s been battling a seemingly never-ending case of the flu (my entire family has, really), and there were more than a few scary moments when I started to seriously fear for my son's health. It's not just the fear of my son being ill, but the omnipresent fear of having to put him through some of the worst medical experiences he’s had since he was a baby in the NICU. I hate seeing my son in a medical situation in which invasive procedures must be administered. And, in this particular instance, not only did my son have to have blood work drawn, he also had to be given a hep-lock and be tested for the flu, which involves a loud nasal-sucking contraption he's not particularly fond of.
These procedures, on top of my son feeling sick, make for a trying, heartbreaking, difficult visit. That's why I know that, as his mother, it's important that I do my best to minimize his fears and the general trauma of these experiences. So if you have appointments coming up, or have to rush to the nearest Urgent Care in the future, keep some of the following tips in mind:
This is something you can do ahead of time, way before your child ever gets sick. My son used to be deathly terrified of anyone checking his ears or mouth. But we’ve practiced “doctor visits” at home using a toy medical kit and, I swear, he was a champ at all of the visits he had as a result.
Another way to prepare for the inevitable is through the power of books and reading and natural discussions. Thanks to some specific reading materials, I’ve been able to help my son reduce his anxiety at school drop-offs, learn not to use his hands for hitting (well, as much, anyway), and figure out ways to calm himself down when he’s upset. I’m definitely investing in a book about doctor visits next, so we can read about, and then discuss, what will happen the next time he needs care.
If your child has a blanket or stuffed animal friend they’re incredibly attached to, consider bringing it along to their visit for them to hold on to. For my son, that’s often a toy car. But just remember to wash and/or disinfect it once you leave the Urgent Care facility, as the item might pick up some of the germs from other sick patients.
If it’s not terribly urgent, consider asking your child’s care provider to discuss what they’re going to be doing to your child, way before they actually do it. I’ve had some wonderful doctors who will ask my son for consent before they check his blood pressure or temp, and he’s usually willing to comply after they've explain to him what is going to happen. It helps when your child feels as though they have some control over a potentially scary situation. Plus, it's always great to reinforce lessons about consent.
If your child is old enough to understand, you can also talk to them about what’s going to be happening at their appointment. If the medical provider isn’t being quite as forthcoming about what they’re doing, try being the voice of comfort for your child.
When you’re trying to teach your child the importance of consent, medical appointments can be rough. Doctors and nurses don’t always ask for consent, especially from young children, which leads to some serious mixed messaging. When the nurses were performing some of the most unpleasant procedures on my child, he was screaming and crying and it broke my heart. I knew it was all necessary, due to his extremely high fever, but, at the very least, I did my best to explain that consent is important and that sometimes we have to give consent when it’s medically necessary.
In words they can understand, explain to your child why a doctor, nurse, other other medical professional has to do the things they're doing to them. And, later on, talk about what happened so your child can understand that, sometimes, safety really does come first.
Too much stress on anyone is bad, whether they are a child or an adult. If a procedure can wait until your child has calmed down a bit, ask their care provider to wait a while. And if you're feeling pressured and/or unsure about the course of action, don't be afraid to ask if a procedure is absolutely necessary, or if there are other methods the physician can use when performing it. Remember, especially for younger kids, you’re your child’s biggest advocate.
If your medical provider refuses to be gentle with your child or respect your wishes, you always, always have the option to find a different provider. There are exceptions (such as if your child is experiencing a life-threatening emergency and this is literally the only doctor available for miles), but if you have the option of requesting another doctor or nurse, remember that it’s a choice you can make. I’ve asked for a different medical professional before and, as a result, found myself care providers who were much more respectful and kind.
Sometimes, a reward for good behavior is highly merited, especially if that behavior was exhibited during a particularly trying time. This is one such instance. While we, as adults, don’t usually get a lollipop (much less anything else) at the end of a trying medical visit, that doesn’t mean we can’t give that reward to our kids. This is not “spoiling” anyone. Instead, it's like simply being kind when a child had gone through something difficult. Whether it means letting them veg out with you on the couch with their favorite cartoon, taking them out for their favorite meal, or surprising them with a new toy, they will be grateful and it will help turn this difficult memory into something that ended positively.
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