Doc Talk: Calming Your Child’s Fears

By Alan L. Nager, M.D., MHA

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Work with your doctor to use your child’s natural talent for distraction and imagination to comfort them. PHOTO BY DAVID CASTILLO DOMINICI/FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET

When you bring your child to the emergency department or the doctor’s office, you are there to get help. But children in these situations face many common fears.

Hospitals and doctors’ offices have lots of ways to comfort kids, and you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for this help. You can help as well. Kids live in a world of distraction and imagination, so use that to comfort them.

Doctors and hospitals can use creams and sprays to numb your child’s skin before painful procedures such as injections, blood draws, IVs, stitches and draining of abscesses. Studies have shown that ice cubes work as well as some of these, and every hospital has them.

A lot of our nurses wear bubble necklaces so they can blow bubbles to distract kids, and you can bring your own bubbles for your child. Music, videos, singing and reading to your child are also great distractions, and we’ve even studied origami as a distracting tool. I think every parent knows how to make a paper airplane.

If nothing else is at hand, ceilings are kind of interesting, so I always have the child look at the ceilings. They can count the tiles or the lights. I give them a task.

Undressing, and even wearing an open-backed hospital gown, makes kids feel uncomfortable. We use pajamas instead, but you could also request a sheet or blanket (or bring your child’s favorite with you), and ask that your doctor expose only the areas she or he needs to examine.

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Alan L. Nager, M.D., MHA

Some doctors still ask parents to leave the room for some procedures. The parent, in most cases, should insist on staying in the room, because they are going to be the most supportive person for their child.

Next time you are seeking medical attention for your child, remember that simple comfort measures can go a long way, and that you are your child’s best advocate.

Alan L. Nager, M.D., MHA, has been Director of Emergency and Transport Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for the past 18 years, and is a professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

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