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Preparing for Your Visit
Visiting the doctor or going to the hospital can be a confusing and stressful time for children, adolescents and their families. Preparation and education help children cope. As a parent or caregiver, you play an essential role in helping children and adolescents handle healthcare experiences.
- Talk to Your Child or Adolescent
Tell your child where you are going and why. Then, ask them about their feelings and why they think they need a doctor visit. Example: We are going to visit the doctor for a check-up. Do you know why you need to go? How do you feel about going? Allow a few minutes for your child to think about the questions and respond. This helps you hear what your child understands, and allows you the opportunity to answer any questions. Many children view a doctor or hospital visit as a type of punishment, so it is important to reassure your child that he or she did nothing wrong. Below are some suggestions of what you might say: Routine Exam: This is something everyone needs to do. The doctor wants to see that you are healthy and help you to stay healthy. Special Test: This is a special test to find out what is going on inside your body so the doctors can help you feel better. Procedure or Surgery: The doctors are going to try and fix your tummy (or other body part) to try and help you get better.
- Top 3 Things You Can Do to Be an Advocate for Yourself and Your Child
Being prepared for a doctor or hospital visit reduces stress for children and adolescents, and also for parents.
#1: Understand your child’s medical needs
Tell the doctor and hospital staff about any sensitivities or allergies to medications, foods or latex products and any medications your child is currently taking
#2: Understand you have a right to know
Don’t hesitate to ask the doctor or hospital staff for information. You should not be afraid to ask questions. This helps you gain a sense of what is going on with your child’s care, and will better prepare you to offer explanations to your child. You have the right to information about the purpose of a test, medication or treatment.
#3: Ask certain questions when visiting the doctor or hospital
How can I help my child if he or she is in pain? What are the risks and benefits of the procedure, and how long will it take? May I stay overnight with my child in his/her room? What are the visitation policies for siblings and family members? Is there a playroom for my child to use? Is there a Child Life Specialist available to help my child and me cope with this experience?
- Age-Appropriate Preparation
Infant/Toddler (up to 3 years)
Keeping normal routines and continuing to be involved in playtime, bath time and other daily activities provides your child with a sense of normalcy. This age group benefits from physical comfort, such as cuddling and holding. Toddlers may also benefit from preparation that is half a day or one day before the appointment.
Preschooler (3 to 5 years)
This age typically fears separation from family, so tell your child when you are going to leave them, where you are going and when you will be back. Children in this age group experience “magical thinking” and often create their own reasons for going to the hospital. You can help by being honest and giving simple answers and explanations. This age group benefits most from preparation a few days in advance.
School-Age Child (6-11 years)
This age group tends to fear anesthesia. Assure your child that this is a special “sleepy medicine” that helps their bodies go to sleep so that they do not feel anything. When surgery is finished, your hild will be given special medicine to help him or her wake up. Children in this age group are more aware of their bodies and how procedures or surgeries can affect them. They benefit most from detailed preparation that is given at least a week before the appointment so that they can ask questions and process the information.
Teenager (12-17 years)
Encourage your teen to bring his or her own clothes and activities. This will help your child be more comfortable during the stay. Physical appearance and socialization are important to this age group. Remember to respect their privacy and encourage support from their peer group. This age group benefits most by being involved in their care, so encourage them to:
- Ask their doctor/nurse questions
- Write down things they want to ask, or may forget.
- Express their feelings/concerns
- Participate in discussions
- Important for All Ages
- Bringing your child’s favorite comfort item (stuffed animal, blanket, toy, pacifier, movie, etc.) offers security while in an unfamiliar place.
- Being honest with your child about what will happen during his or her visit/stay helps them gain a sense of trust. If something is going to be painful, tell your child the truth, but redirect his/her attention to the positive. Example: Before having a shot, explain that it “may hurt, but just for a second, and Mom will be with you the whole time.”
- Listening to their questions, feelings and concerns can offer you insight into their understanding and fears, and also shows them that you care.
- Children learn best through their senses and will want to know how things taste, sound, smell, feel and look. Since children learn through play, it is often helpful for them to see a demonstration on a stuffed animal of what a doctor may do. A medical play kit is helpful for the child to understand what will happen.
- Younger children are often more worried about separation from home and family, whereas older children may be more concerned about the details of procedures.
- Allow your child choices when possible to help them have some control over their circumstance and be involved in the doctor or hospital visit.
- Visit Kit
A coping or “visit kit” is a great thing to have ready for doctor, emergency room or other hospital visits. Emergency rooms are often busy places, so expect to spend some time in the waiting room or exam room. Suggested Visit Kit Items:
- Favorite stuffed animal, small toy or blanket
- Story, picture, seek-and-find books
- Books about doctor or hospital visits
- Coloring books and crayons
- Tablet or other learning game
If your child is coming to Niswonger Children’s Hospital for a special procedure, test or surgery, and you would like assistance on how to prepare your child, call the Niswonger Children’s Hospital Child Life Program representative at 423-431-6872. A child life specialist may have insight into age-appropriate preparation for your child. They can even provide a tour or other specific preparation.
NurseLink is available 24 hours a day for your health questions or concerns. Call 1-800-888-5551.