Whether it’s an illness or a well-child checkup that brings you and your child to the pediatrician, those appointments can be hard for everyone involved. The key to making an office visit as pleasant as possible is to keep the child engaged in some form of observation or activity. The first rule of thumb is to establish a connection with the baby or young person to progress toward the ultimate end goal: successful distraction and interaction.
Most pediatric offices offer at least a sampling of toys and books. However, some parents are hesitant to allow their children to touch these items because of the risk of acquiring germs from sick children who might have previously handled them. Keeping that in mind, here are some health-friendly, cost-effective ways to keep the little ones happy while visiting the pediatrician.
1. Disposable Puppets
Puppets are a time-tested, unique way to interact with children. However, like the waiting room toys or books, touching the child (as one usually does with a puppet), risks the spread of illness. Secondly, traditional puppets are typically made of materials that are neither disinfectant-friendly nor washable.
Catch your small patients off-guard with a handy scrub-glove puppet. Using non-toxic markers and masking tape, adorn your fingers with little faces and body parts. One hand can become a single puppet, or each finger could represent a character in your homemade, charming theatre company.
2. Age-Appropriate Books That Explain Physicians’ Appointments
Part of the stress experienced by the child is caused by fear of the unknown. Children of all ages pick up on their parent or guardian’s emotional state both before and during a visit to the doctor’s office or hospital. Additionally, after toddlers receive their first shots for illness or immunization purposes, they remember the pediatrician’s office, and not in a positive way; understandably, they become apprehensive at the prospect of another visit.
One way to nip a child’s anxiety in the bud is to have books readily available to share with them on topics such as office visits, operations and immunizations. Having a variety of age-appropriate materials in the office ensures the child knows exactly what is transpiring during the various stages and types of physicians’ visits.
Three of the pioneers of this concept entered the world of child education entertainment in 1969: Joan Ganz Cooney, Lloyd Morrissett and Jim Henson. As the creators and developers of the iconic Sesame Street production company, these individuals sought ways to introduce medical experiences (as well as other confusing realities: i.e., parents in prison) to children in a non-threatening, pleasant way. Much to their credit, the company recently even has made strides in assisting children with autism.
One way to ensure effective panic-diffusers are on-hand is to make them yourself. With a plastic three-ring binder, sheet protectors and colorful, creative pages, you can develop materials that are not only easy to disinfect but also simple to use. However, keep your patient roster in mind. If your patients comprise a significant percentage of non-English speakers, you may want to make multiple versions of your book in the relevant languages.
3. Report Cards
To build rapport with older children, especially those who require frequent visits to the pediatrician’s office, devise “report cards” for them to bring to each appointment. Create various categories: “fun and silly,” “giggled three times,” “stood on one foot,” “told a great joke,” “brought homework to finish,” etc. The key is to lighten the minutes the child spends in an intimidating environment by redirecting his or her mind.
4. Songs About Going to the Doctor
Along with books and videos about doctor visits, the Sesame Street developers created a catalog of songs that proved to have a calming effect on youngsters regarding their health care. Big Bird was famous in the late 1980s and early ’90s for his song, “You Must be Patient (to be a Patient)”. While no one expects you to become a composer, you can come up with catchy, clever jingles to teach to children at the pediatrician’s office.
5. Inexpensive Toys to Take Home
Even small towns have some type of dollar store where you can find safe, small trinkets to give to children when they arrive at the office. Every effort you make to ease the tension of a visit to the doctor will be appreciated by both the children and their parents. Keep in mind, however, that your mode of delivery is as important as that of an actor on a stage. You are creating an atmosphere of fun and learning. Children respond immediately to tone of voice, volume and enthusiasm. With minimal effort and calculated timing, turn a visit to the pediatrician’s office into something everyone can look forward to.