What to do if the child is afraid of the doctor and hospitals

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Catherine Le Nevez
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What to do if the child is afraid of the doctor and hospitals

There is the pediatrician, the dentist, the doctor who takes care of the visit for sports fitness and the one who does the vaccination, there is the ophthalmologist. The figure of the doctor is already present in a child's life when he is healthy as a fish.

To routine visits, which already represent one of the most classic fears of children, can be added checks, exams or real hospital admissions due to the need to investigate a diagnostic question or because a surgical intervention was necessary: ​​in these circumstances the figure of the doctor can instill an uncontrollable agitation, a lot of worry up to even giving rise to avoidance, rejection and panic behaviors, with consequences even in the long term due to the traumatic experience.

The parent can do a lot to mitigate common fears and make the time of the medical visit, or hospitalization, less traumatic. We talk about it with Milena Rota, psychologist at the "Centro Elpis. You can feel good" in Ivrea (Varese).

In this article

  • How to prepare the children before the visit
  • Words and gestures to use with a kindergarten child
  • The words and gestures to use with a primary school child
  • How to prepare babies for nasopharyngeal swab
  • What to do if the child is afraid of hospitals
  • Readings and materials to overcome the fear of doctors and hospitals

How to prepare the children before the visit

"First of all, we must always be sincere when we tackle the issue with our children, without however increasing the fear already inherent in the child - the psychologist said -. Never lie by omitting or saying things that won't happen. Take for example the sting: to say that it doesn't hurt at all is wrong, more honest is to anticipate that you will feel a little annoyed by reassuring that it will pass quickly and that it will be a moment. It is important to prepare the child for what will happen during the visit, the control or examination to which he will have to undergo: this must always apply ".

At the right moment.

We also choose the right time to talk to the children. Let's not anticipate the times too much because we would risk generating excessive anxiety leaving a lot of space for the child's thoughts and fantasies, which can increase fear, worry and anguish.

Better get closer to the topic the day before or in any case not too early with respect to the visit in a welcoming, peaceful atmosphere, where you can respond with care to the questions of the little ones, doubts, fears and many emotions. It is also important to always use language appropriate to the child's age, so as not to create further fears for lack of understanding. Avoid complex, technical and difficult terms ".

In case of complex exams.

"If it is a more complex examination, let's think of an ultrasound, the adult can explain to the child how this visit will take place and what tools will be used to the doctor to check if the little heart, for example, is working well or if it is a little tired. We choose well understood words not even lingering on the purposes so we are taking our son to the specialist. This, always within the limits of what is useful to say and not, what we can anticipate and what we do not know. Let's not invent, let's just tell the truth in a way that is not distressing ".

Read also: Fear of the dentist in children: 10 ways to avoid it

Words and gestures to use with a kindergarten child

  • "With the little ones it is very useful to experiment with these themes of the how and why of the doctor's appointment through play - continues Rota -: the doctor game played in couple with mom, dad or grandparents, or with puppets can help. Here the child identifies himself: he can be the doctor and we adults could take the opportunity to express the doubts we know, assuming the position of those who are afraid or the position of the patient who is being treated. The child can then meet again and seek solutions. Or on the contrary, the adult can impersonate the doctor who responds and takes care of the little patient, reassuring him of any fear by staging what could potentially happen during a real visit. In play, children experience emotions and re-elaborate them, play is a training ground for life.

  • Another useful tool is the drawing: it may be suggested that you try to portray the doctor or make a drawing to take to the doctor's office. This will help normalize this figure and make it more familiar.

  • For the same purpose it is also effective tell who the doctor is and what he does: the specialist, in particular if it is an unknown person and not the pediatrician who sees himself cyclically, must always be told as a positive figure who supports, to whom we can ask all the appropriate questions, who has experience with many children and who its purpose is to do them good and help them. We also avoid instilling that skepticism towards the professional by saying phrases like 'I'll check the doctor, I'll take care of him' or other words that could lead to the idea that the doctor may do something unknown, something "wrong" and that he must be checked. Parents must show the doctor as the one they can trust and entrust ".

Read also: What to do if the child is afraid of the dentist

The words and gestures to use with a primary school child

  • "With older children the explanation can be more in-depth but always in the choice of understandable terms. We avoid technical language, which can make scary concepts simple. We reassure you that it is normal to be afraid of something you do not know, for example if we do not know why we have a cough or why our chest hurts, but for this reason it is important that the doctor investigates in order to help us get better. The important thing is to prevent the child from having unfounded and threatening fantasies about what a medical consultation could represent ".

  • "During the visit the parent should maintain a confident and calm attitude towards the doctor, without getting too involved in the doctor-patient dialogue. At this age, children certainly notice tensions between adults and if the doctor has good skills with little ones, she will be able to establish a relationship that makes the child feel directly involved. Furthermore, the parent can always look and smile (as far as possible with the masks) in order to reassure the child while the examination is taking place, she can hold his hand if the situation allows. If the child wishes, he can bring with him an object, a toy or a puppet to comfort him ".

  • "If the parent and the doctor need to talk to each other between adults, it is better to prevent the child from listening and not pretend that he is not there: a misunderstood word could be very frightening and lead to avoidable misunderstandings. doctor is important: it should be a professional trained to work with children, capable of asking questions that can dampen the tension, reassure and explain in turn what the visit or examination that will be carried out will consist of ".

Read also: Nursery rhyme of the mask

How to prepare babies for nasopharyngeal swab

"Also in this case it is good to explain in simple terms what the swab is and what this test will consist of. It can be described as the insertion of a kind of cotton swab into the nose, it will last a few seconds and you will feel a little discomfort but that it is normal to feel it. We normalize without diminishing the importance of the test and we anticipate what could happen. If children are worried about feeling pain we can give some advice, offer possible solutions such as suggesting, for example, to think about a beautiful thing while does the tampon so as to feel less discomfort or look with the child for something to do immediately afterwards to chase away the discomfort, as a sort of little "playful ritual". The game is always a beautiful powerful weapon. We are first and foremost we value their feelings, without emphasizing them too".

What to do if the child is afraid of hospitals

"Once again the explanation can mitigate many fears - explains the psychologist of the Elpis center -. If the child has to carry out a scheduled operation, for example, it can be done. accompany you to see the hospital, even if only from outside, talking about what will happen when you bring him into the building. It can be explained that there are many people who work in the hospital and who carry out different activities taking care of making sure that the patients get well and are well. In the hospital, he will find other children like him who need treatment. Also in hospital wards often they are found drawings of children who have been hospitalized: it can be suggested to prepare a beautiful drawing that will remain in memory of the people he met in the hospital, figures that the parent will have presented as positive ".

Readings and materials to overcome the fear of doctors and hospitals

"There are subsidies for different age groups - concludes Rota -. Some, just as an example, are:

  • "Lupetto goes to the doctor". Amico Lupo, ages 3 and up.

  • "Aaaah! At the dentist no ". Babalibri, from 3 years and up.

  • "The Plush Doctor", TV series.

  • "That's how we are done", TV series, for primary school children, which shows in a simple and fun way how our body works and makes us understand the importance of treatment and prevention

  • Charter of the rights of the child in hospital (for parents)

The interviewee

The interviewee is Milena Rota, psychologist and sports psychologist, at the "Centro Elpis. You can feel good". Rota works with children and teenagers in dealing with the dynamics and difficulties related to the age of development.

  • child and doctor
  • child to the doctor
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