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When it comes to interacting with children at the doctor’s office, it is important to remember that kids aren’t just pint-sized adults. Kids do not have the same life experiences or perspectives as adults and because of that they may view things quite differently. Their perceptions, if negative, can cause long-term fear, anxiety and undue stress.How we communicate with children in the healthcare setting can set the stage for how they feel about healthcare visits not only today, but in their adult life as well. If your practice sees pediatric patients, this article may provide you with some helpful tips to connect with kids and put them at ease.

Communication tips
Youth can be very keen and attentive when it comes to observing adult interactions, which is why it is important to pay special attention to both verbal and non-verbal communication. It also may be beneficial to enlist the help of some child-like thinking. Here’s how:

  • Be positive: Try to maintain positive body language—even if there is cause for concern. Frowning or sighing can cause a child to feel worried, tense and scared, but a warm smile can go a long way in putting a child at ease. Pay close attention to the words you are using—replace words with a negative connotation like, “worry” with “wonder” or “problem” with “finding.” Also, be mindful of words that may have a confusing, literal meaning. For example, instead of saying you’re going to “shoot an x-ray” you could say you’re “taking a picture.”
  • Be fun: Sometimes a little silliness can go a long way in engaging and relaxing pediatric patients; laughter is the best medicine. Instead of saying you’re taking blood pressure, you could describe the process as an arm hug. Or, if you’re attempting to get deep breaths out of a child patient, give him a bottle of bubbles or a pinwheel he can blow on. Allowing the child to have fun while performing an exam creates a win-win situation.
  • Be prepared: Communicating ahead of time what can be expected at an appointment allows parents to prepare their children for the visit. Mail an appointment reminder that outlines what will be covered at the upcoming visit. You may even want to provide an opportunity for the child to come in for a brief, fun visit ahead of time. Perhaps she can come in, meet a nurse, take a spin in the doctor’s chair and leave with a colouring book.
  • Be patient: Sometimes, rushing right in to the exam portion of an appointment can be intimidating and scary. Talk to your patient about what you will be doing. Perhaps perform the exam on a doll or stuffed animal first and let the child help. For example, give her a tongue depressor and let her practice being doctor on the doll or animal. If a child seems particularly nervous, try speaking to him with a hand puppet or in a whisper. Children sometimes can become so intent on hearing what you have to say that they forget all about their worries.
  • Provide a reward: Remember to provide kids with a little prize after the appointment is over. Allow patients to pick out a tiny treasure such as a temporary tattoo. A little reward can go a long way, and who knows, it may even provide some incentive to look forward to future visits.

Remember, a doctor’s office can be a scary place for kids. Some encouraging communication techniques, a little patience and a lot of fun can put kids at ease and set the stage for a lifetime of positive experiences.

Kutner, Dr. Lawrence. “If Your Child Is Afraid of the Doctor | Psych Central.” Psych Central.com. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 12 Sept. 2013.

Purvis, J.M. “The Challenge of Communicating with Pediatric Patients.” The Challenge of Communicating with Pediatric Patients. N.p., Feb. 2009. Web. Retrieved 12 Sept. 2013.

Osborne, Helen. “In Other Words…Start Where They Are…Communicating With Children and Their Families About Health and Illness.” Health Literacy Consulting. N.p., March 2001. Web. Retrieved 12 Sept. 2013.

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