Tips to help your kids through a potentially-unavoidable emotional situation
Updated: Aug 15, 2022
Visuals 2 Develop & Deepen is an exciting new project by Kate Eunson at Attention 2 Detail & Design
➡️ "Exploring my passion for creating visuals to support you in your parenting pursuits."
The first visual tool introduced in my free resource Impactful Visual Tools to meet Parenting Challenges relates to supporting your little ones who may experience anxiety, fear or worry about going to those necessary medical appointments like seeing the doctor, going to the dentist, having eye or hearing tests, receiving important immunisations and receiving treatment when needed. Unfortunately, these are things that we can’t avoid as such appointments are vital for keeping healthy and well, and are especially important for our little ones as they grow and develop in their early years. The need for regular medical visits can be for preventative reasons but also in unexpected situations so when our little people have the ability to face them with calmness and confidence it will make life less stressful for you, for them and for your family.
Due to developmentally being unable to recognise and express what they are feeling and why, not to mention possible emotional overstimulation, you will become aware of your child’s worries through their behaviour. It can look like any or many of these things; tears, tantrums, withdrawal, abnormal quietness or hiding away, anger, aggression or physical melt downs. It can present as nausea and a physical feeling of sickness and can result in conflict with parents, siblings or other family members.
The reasons behind these feelings are quite varied but all extremely valid. A fear of needles is a very common association that little ones have with going to the doctor and one that even many adults struggle to come to terms with! Your child could already be in quite a lot of pain or feeling sick or may associate these visits with previously feeling that way. A sense of having no control of their environment and their body is a real factor in feelings about these visits as essentially they are facing having a stranger talk about their body and invade their space for reasons they cannot comprehend. The fear of the unknown is real. Unfamiliarity with the people and the environment plays a big part in their anxiety. Clinics and medical offices can often be noisy, busy and bustling places, and the people around them use terms that they don’t understand and do a lot of talking about them, not always to them. Understandably, they could be quite worried about having to have painful tests or treatments and be scared that something really serious could be wrong with them. It's possible they even think they could die. This is especially true for little ones who have lost grandparents or other friends or family members or if they have visited with these people in their lives when they were sick or recovering.
By using a range of strategies you can support your child through these feelings and manage and minimise their negative emotions about medical visits. The infographic developed includes strategies that were put together by a licensed therapist specialising in attachment tips and concepts (I’ve shared her video on my A2D2 Facebook page if you’re interested). The strategies have been presented in a quick and easy to access visual format in the resource.
The strategies recommended are:
Give your young person the right amount of notice of the upcoming appointment. Too little or too long can result in worry or panic so the night before or the morning of, might be appropriate. Use positivity when you talk about it. “I’m excited to see your doctor. She takes care of you and helps you stay healthy and strong.
Use relational language about who’s going and who you will see. “We’re going to see Dr Soandso together.”
Acknowledge and accept their nerves and anxiety. Don’t ‘shut down’ their worries by saying things like “You will be fine, there’s nothing to worry about”. Instead validate their feelings and model healthy ways of handling anxiety. Let them ask questions and share their feelings and let them know that feeling nervous is normal.
Reassure them that you'll stay with them the whole time and support them to handle and understand anything that happens during the appointment.
Use humour and playfulness to distract and divert where you can. Singing a song or playing a game on the journey can ease your little one’s mind. It’s likely you’ll have to spend some time waiting for the appointment so bring distractions or preferred soothing toys to help them stay calm in the waiting room. Make a plan together to get a treat after the visit is done.
Stay calm yourself in your voice, body and facial expressions. Of course you will be feeling nervous if your little one is on edge or upset but your anxiety can easily add to or rub off on your kids. If your child sees that you are comfortable in the location and trust the personnel, they will feel more secure.
Be clear and honest. Children who aren’t expecting a needle and end up getting one are more likely to be upset than those who’ve had time to prepare, not to mention it can lead to a lack of trust or feelings of betrayal.
Let your child have some control by giving them little choices where you can. Ask which chair they’d like to sit in or which arm they’d like to have their blood pressure taken on. See if the doctor is willing to demonstrate a procedure on you or your child’s stuffed animal first to show them what’s going to happen.
Be their advocate. Tell the doctor what has, or hasn’t, helped in previous visits. Maybe they really enjoyed being an assistant or holding the stethoscope last time or didn’t like sitting up on the examination bed.
What happens after each medical visit can help set up a more positive experience next time. When you leave the appointment, shower your little one with hugs, kisses, and specific praise such as, "You did such a good job sitting in the big chair while the dentist cleaned your teeth, I can't wait to tell Grandma or Daddy how brave you were." Or take them for a fun outing, just don't make the treat a condition of ‘good behaviour’, it has to happen regardless. Point out any pleasant things that happened during the visit (maybe they got a sticker or heard your heartbeat using the stethoscope).
Each positive experience will help you and your little one manage and navigate the feelings that come about the next time an appointment is coming up or needed.
This is the first of ten visual tools from my free resource -
⬅️ Impactful Visual Tools to meet Parenting Challenges.
Follow A2D2 on Facebook for lots of upcoming content like this!
Information on visual tool number 2 from the resource will be on its way soon.