As a family, we all need to visit a variety of healthcare institutions. During the early years, there is the yearly check up and immunisation shots for baby and toddler with the paediatrician or the doctor at the polyclinic. Later, your child will encounter others such as the dentist or the general practitioner (GP). How do you and your children experience these visits?
These are often new and scary encounters for children, just as any other new experience such as going to childcare for the first time. The child might feel scared, anxious and fretful because he doesn't know what to expect.
It would make it all a bit easier for you and your children, if you explain to them what is about to happen. In this way, your child is prepared for the new encounter and he knows to a certain extent what will happen and what is expected of him.
You can teach him how he can best help you or the doctor to make the visit successful and less stressful. If you talk about the visit, your child has the opportunity to ask questions, and you can deal with his fears or misconceptions right away.
A child's perception is different from that of adults'. The cognitive skills of children are not yet fully developed, and this might result in misunderstandings or misinterpretations. This needs especially to be taken into consideration with very young children.
Your explanation needs to be adapted to your child's cognitive and emotional development. Every child is unique and handles stress in his own way. These are some general guidelines.
Use very simple books with pictures of the dentist or doctor, the room, the equipment and what your child is expected to do. Exercise at home, or do some role-play.
A way to help your toddler understand is to explain the procedure by showing it on a dolly. The child can identify with the dolly who also needs to visit e.g. the dentist. Because the explanation is supported by visual action, it is easier for the young child to understand.
Children in general, love to play with a medical toy set. Have one available so your child can be a doctor or nurse in order to explore their roles and express themselves.
Basically you can use the same materials with more verbal explanation on the reason of the visit and the result of the treatment. You can help your growing child to cope by explaining how he can help, and by taking control together by counting numbers or singing a song. Books can be more detailed as well as your explanation of the visit.
Older children can be prepared up to one week in advance. You can just mention the visit and await your child's reaction. If he is keen to know more, you can give some more details. This gives your child time to process the information and ask questions.
Younger children don't have a clear concept of time. They may become confused and scared if you tell too early. It will be okay if you mention the visit a few days before and explain a little more the day before the actual visit.
As a parent, you know your child the best and therefore are the most appropriate person to decide how you can best prepare your child for the encounter with the healthcare professional.
Most importantly, remember to prepare yourself for the visit. You can find out more information through your doctor or nurse, in books or via the Internet. If you are prepared you can support your child with confidence. This increases your child's trust in you.
These guidelines may help you to decide on the best action to take. While preparing together, you can both have fun and it can be a great learning experience for you and your child.
We often think that children "do not understand what is happening" and therefore we don't have to explain. As adults, we often do not know how to explain painful or scary matters to our children. We do not want to cause unnecessary anxiety or fear.
The best way to help is to be honest with your child about what is about to happen.
In this way your child will trust you and will learn to cope with difficult or painful situations. Provided with the right materials such as books, videos and puppets, you can prepare children as young as 2 years old for their visits to healthcare professionals.
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