6 Calming Strategies for Kids Nervous About Healthcare Appointments
Does anyone blame a child for their anxiety about health-related appointments? It’s understandable if you recall your own childhood fears. And it’s all the more reason to find and implement calming strategies for kids to help them cope with their visit to a physician or dentist.
Seeing the world through a child’s eyes perhaps prompts some childhood memories of your own. Remembering your own experiences helps you get on their level about the potential for anxiety.
- Children worry about separation from their parent(s) and being in the presence of a relative stranger.
- Children fear procedures (e.g. shots, etc.).
- Children can experience confusion about necessary physical contact required from a healthcare provider on occasion.
- Children’s anxiety can be heightened by a well-intentioned adult or parental conversation about medical or dental appointments.
These and more create a “perfect-storm” of sorts regarding a child’s nervousness and anxiety about a medical or dental visit. Setting them up for a lifetime of confidence about their healthcare starts early, by giving them the calming strategies to use when they feel anxious.
SIX CALMING STRATEGIES FOR KIDS EXPERIENCING ANXIETY ABOUT MEDICAL AND DENTAL APPOINTMENTS
1. Help Them Make-Friends with Their Feelings and Emotions
It’s natural to want to keep fear at arm’s length. What’s perceived as a threat or potentially painful is best avoided – in a child’s mind.
Kids aren’t wired to handle fear, anxiety, or whatever they believe to be harmful to them. So it’s best to help them accept fear as a normal reaction rather than giving the impression that it’s not real.
- Allow them to express their feelings about the approaching appointment or present situation.
- Avoid rescuing them and instead stand alongside them and together process their emotional response(s).
- Affirm your confidence in them but don’t “sugar-coat” their upcoming experience.
- Ask questions without fueling anxiety. Asking, ”How are you feeling about visiting the doctor/dentist?” is a better question than, ”Are you nervous about visiting the doctor/dentist?”
2. Lift (Rather than Lower) Their Expectations with Advanced Preparation
A brief explanation about what it’s like to visit the doctor or dentist helps frame a satisfying experience for a child and their family. It’s important that you avoid creating unrealistic scenarios that lowers their expectations to a negative level.
For example, promising that a doctor visit is “no-big-deal…” or that it won’t be painful is a promise that might be easily broken – and with it their trust.
- Frame possible scenarios. A useful phrase could be, “I’m not sure if you’ll get a shot this time…but if you do, it will be over quickly and feel like a ‘pinch.’”
- Reward their bravery after an appointment in a way that’s meaningful to the child.
3. Maintain Consistency with a Trusted Physician/Dentist
Overtime a child who sees the same professional will begin to trust them. And make sure your trust in your chosen physician/dentist is evident to your child.
Announcing an upcoming medical/dental visit will be less discouraging when a child can put-a-face with who they’ll see. The more personal your doctor/dentist relationship the better – for you and your child.
4. Use At-Home Role Play
Many kids play “doctor” on occasion. Role-play scenarios can help take the edge off of upcoming medical/dental appointments.
- Use play instruments to listen to your child’s heart, look into their ears, check their teeth, etc.
- Encourage your child to give a doll or toy an “exam.”
Playful routines can normalize what might be an anxiety producing experience.
5. Help Your Physician/Dentist Find Common Ground with Your Child
Provide your care provider as much information about your child as possible. What they enjoy doing, playing with, watching on TV, the sports they’re involved in, their hobbies, favorite foods/snacks, etc.
This information provides an opportunity to lighten the mood and establish a friendly relationship during an appointment.
6. Model Calm and Patience
Remember that anxiety or fear can be contagious. The opposite is true as well – if you’re calm, cool, and collected it’s more likely your child will be.
- Set a positive mood for their approaching medical/dental appointment. Again, be realistic rather than reactionary.
- Help your child relax with breathing techniques and the reassurance that helps take their mind off of their fear or anxiety.
- Know that some emotion is normal (e.g. crying, etc) and that time and trust are on your side as your child matures and grows.
Calming strategies for kids are supported by an equally calming environment that helps them overcome anxiety and have a positive experience with their care providers.
Outstanding patient experience for children and families begins with a kid-centric mindset and environment. Check out the following resources for providing anxiety-free medical/dental visits:
Valuing your patients and their families sets them up for a lifetime of positive health outcomes. And the environment you create can help you achieve a better patient experience.
- Reduce patient anxiety and enhance their relaxation
- Prime patients and families for their appointments
- Create positive medical and/or dental care experiences
Contact Imagination Design Studios (IDS) to get started transforming your office into an anxiety-free patient experience.