Children learn quite young (within the first moments of life, actually!) that doctors can cause pain. The astute infant and toddler knows that a visit to the pediatrician can mean that someone will be prodding, poking, touching sore spots and giving injections – ouch! The whole ordeal is sometimes followed by having to swallow some nasty tasting medical concoction for a week or longer. Moreover, many children are not fooled by the doctor’s friendly banter or even “prizes” that might be forthcoming – they want no part of it. These kids can become medical protestors, refusing to cooperate when it’s time to go to the doctor or receive their treatment.
If your child has issues with doctors or medical treatment, consider the following tips:
Some Children are More Sensitive to Pain
Avoid discounting your child’s reactions to medical examinations and interventions. Try not to to tell him that “it’s not so bad” or “it doesn’t hurt that much” or “you’re making a big deal out of nothing” or anything similar. Instead, use Emotional Coaching (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice) to acknowledge your child’s feelings. For instance, say things like, “I know you don’t like it,” or “I know it hurts you,” or “I know it’s uncomfortable.” Acknowledging the child’s pain does NOT mean that he doesn’t have to go see the doctor or take his medicine! The child will have to do that anyway. It simply means that you understand his predicament. You understand his reaction. You’re sympathetic to it. You accept it as true for him. Again, all this doesn’t change the reality that he has to go to the doctor. However, it lessens his resistance somewhat and it even helps to release some of his upset (you know how much better YOU feel when someone understands you!). When using Emotional Coaching, remember to name your child’s feelings in one sentence (i.e. “I know you hate the taste of the medicine”) and give him the facts of the matter in a completely new sentence (i.e. “It’s unfortunate that they can’t make it taste better.” or “You have to have one dose now and another before bed.” or “After you have it, you can have your cookie.”). The important thing is NOT to join these two aspects (feelings and facts) using the word BUT as in “I know you hate the taste, but after you have it you can have your cookie.” The reason we don’t use the “but” word is that “but” discounts the acknowledgment of feelings that you just offered. It’s as if you’re saying, “I know you feel upset, but I don’t care!”
Reward Compliance When at the Doctor’s Office
Once you’ve arrived at the doctor’s office (however you managed to get there), try to make the experience as positive and rewarding as possible. For instance, bring food treats, games or books for your child to enjoy while waiting, and similar treats and/or activities for the way home “for being brave.” Read stories to your child while waiting to be seen. If your baby, toddle or older child is nervous, rub his or her back or – better still – offer a little hand-reflexology (detailed massage of the hand and fingers). Reflexology not only feels pleasant but actually calms the nervous system, reducing fear and anxiety. If the doctor’s office doesn’t provide prizes, stickers and the like, buy your own to give your toddler or young child on the way out of the examining room. The more you can pair fun, comforting and pleasant experiences with the painful and scary experience of visiting the doctor, the less resistance your child will have on future visits.
Some Children are Very Fearful
If your child suffers from anticipatory fear (worrying excessively about what’s going to happen) or if he has an actual phobia (like a needle phobia), you can offer him fear-reducing techniques according to his age level. You can also consult a mental health professional who can teach you the techniques to teach your child or who can treat your child directly. Some tools for reducing fear and worry include learning to make positive pictures instead of scary ones (visualization), learning how to slow down the breath to foster deep feelings of calm and relaxation, learning how to use acupressure techniques like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to calm or even remove the fear or phobia, learning how to use distraction and other mental tools effectively and so on.
Some Children are Very Strong-willed
Some kids just don’t like going to the doctor. In this group are those who don’t do what they don’t like to do – at least not without a battle. Gaining cooperation can involve using techniques like the CLeaR Method of positive reinforcement and the 2X-Rule for discipline (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details of both approaches). Discipline, for instance, might look like this: if your child refuses to cooperate with his medical treatment (taking medicine, therapy or injections), you can explain why it’s important for him. If he continues to balk, you can explain it a second time and add a warning such as “…and if you don’t cooperate with your treatment here at home, then (name a consequence such as the following) we will have to take you to the doctor so she can treat you in the office, because one way or another, you must have that treatment.”
Foster Cooperation with Grandma’s Rule
In Grandma’s Rule, the parent does not give an option to the child. Avoid telling your youngster “If you go to the doctor you’ll get a candy.” The word “if” structures a bribe strategy that is unhealthy. Instead you can say “When we get back from the doctor you can have a candy.” or “As soon as you’ve taken your medicine you can play on the computer.” Grandma’s Rule put the parent in charge rather than the child, which is as it should be.
Find Ways to Help your Child be More Involved
Have your child be as involved and in charge of his treatment as possible. If he needs to take medicine in the evening, let him decide what time in the evening he will take it each day. If he needs to get cast or a bandage, let him select the type and color of it. When your child feels less like a victim, he’ll may cooperate more and be happier.
Consider Bach Flower Therapy to Help Reduce Fear
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. Every health food store carries Bach Remedies, and especially the pre-mixed one called “Rescue Remedy.” Rescue Remedy is a potent mix of a few different flower remedies, useful for times of panic, injury or hysteria. You can give your child Rescue Remedy as you leave home for the doctor’s office, as well as right after he or she receives any uncomfortable or painful medical intervention. To help prevent anxiety and stress related to future doctor’s visits, you can provide regular Bach Flower Therapy. This involves selecting a few remedies that your child might benefit from and mixing them together in a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle. You give this mixture to your child daily until doctor-related distress has diminished totally. Some useful remedies for this purpose include the following: Mimulus, which helps all fears and phobias, Rock Rose which helps feelings of panic, and Cherry Plum, which is used for loss of control (as when your child has a meltdown). Consider the remedy Vine if your child is very strong willed and refuses to cooperate with the medical visit. The flower remedy White Chestnut is useful for those children who worry obsessively in advance of the visit, especially those who lose sleep due to an overanxious mind. To mix your selected remedies together in one treatment bottle, fill the Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the fear has dissipated. Start treatment again, if the fear returns. Over time, Bach Flower Therapy can help the fear diminish completely.
Consult a Mental Health Professional
If you’ve tried all of the above suggestions and your child is still suffering intensely from fears of doctors or medical treatments, consult a mental health professional. Ask your pediatrician for a referral. Mental health professionals may be able to give you added strategies to try at home and they can also treat your child directly, using specialized interventions that can help the child overcome anxious feelings. Often, a child only requires a short course of treatment for a specific phobic reaction like fear of doctors or medical treatment.