Parents of children with any chronic disorder or illness have some things in common. Eventually, your child becomes terrified of labs, blood draws, doctor offices, and medical professionals (lab techs, doctors, and nurses). At my house, we call this Scrub Phobia. Children who endure repeated blood draws go through a period of time where they become so terrified that they often will cry as soon as they see the lab or outside of the hospital building. My sons would begin melting down at home when we applied the EMLA (lidocaine cream). I have shared with you my Top 5 Tips for Surviving Blood Draws. However, it’s not just blood draws children fear. They often begin to fear regular doctor appointments as well. Today, I want to share with you my tips for handling fear of doctors and nurses aka Scrub Phobia. Oh, and yes, those are my sweet boys in the picture!
Thyroid Mom’s Top 5 Tips for Battling Scrub Phobia
1) Accept that this is a phase. Most children will do this and it is totally normal. Here’s the good news: they will grow out of it. I promise. It may seem as though they are never going to grow out of it, but they will. You need to accept and acknowledge that it’s going to happen and then begin to focus on what you can do to help them. Do not punish them for behavior that is beyond their control.
2) It’s all about attitude. Stay calm. If kids sense that you are nervous, they will be nervous. That’s why it’s so important to begin with No.1 above (acceptance). Once you accept that there are going to be tears (and maybe even kicking and screaming), you are letting go of your own fear of what’s going to happen and can do a better job of staying calm. If your kids perceive there is something to be anxious about, they will follow suit. Let the doctors and nurses know that your child is anxious. Then, they can move a little more slowly and cautiously when examining your child. The nurses we see at our pediatric endocrinologist’s office take time to chat with my kids. They will tell them and show them what they are about to do. For example, they will say “This machine takes your blood pressure. It will hug your arm, but it will not hurt.” or they will say “our thermometer goes beep beep under your arm. Can I go beep beep under your arm?” Our doctors often begin by asking my kids what sports they are playing, how school is going, etc. They have, over time, built a rapport with our kids to help our kids feel more comfortable. We also goof around while we are in the waiting room by blowing up a glove and tying a knot in it, using silly voices to read books while we wait, etc.–all to ease nerves during the sometimes terrible waits.
3) Practice. Often, what the child’s fear is based on is not knowing what to expect. Purchase a pretend Dr kit and take turns taking care of each other or a beloved stuffed animal. I even role play by saying, “when you go to the doctor, the first thing that will happen is that they will have to measure your head, weigh you and see how tall you are” and show them what that looks and feels like. Then, I let them do the same to their doll or stuffed animal. Another great tool is the Disney Junior show Doc McStuffins. If you can get access to a few of these shows or something similar, I really think it will help. On the show, a young girl cares for her stuffed animals. There are often scenarios where the patients are tentative about visiting the doctor. One big tip, though, do not tell your child that something won’t hurt when you know it will because this can undermine their trust. Also while it’s important to explain what the doctor WILL do, try to avoid saying what the doctor WON’T do. In other words, I made a huge mistake once by saying the doctor would ONLY peek in my son’s ears and not “dig” in them, but the doctor ended up having to remove some wax. The process was painful for my son, and he was very upset because he felt as though I had broken a promise to him. Lesson learned. It’s important to explain as much as possible (given their age and ability to comprehend) that doctors and nurses are there to help us feel better. Sometimes they have to do things that hurt a little, but provide long term feel betters. Practicing at home by role playing with stuffed animals and having discussions after relevant TV shows is a great way to accomplish this.
4) Incorporate fun. I know that we all feel differently about bribing our kids, so take this for what it’s worth. I think all people deserve rewards for overcoming fears. So, perhaps go somewhere fun after the appointment. You could head to a favorite play space, restaurant or some other fun tradition that the child knows accompanies the visit. I have even used this with my older son. For a while, he received outside services from a speech and occupational therapist and he hated going. So, I started picking up his favorite fast-food lunch on the way to pick him up from school for the appointment. Yes, it was totally a bribe, but he began to enjoy our Subway lunches in the parking lot prior to therapy.
5) Bring Reinforcements. If you have tried all of this and nothing else works, then you just have to wait for your kid to grow out of it. In that case, bring help either in the form of older siblings to help distract and occupy during the wait (if you have one old enough to actually help) or bring a family friend, relative or pay a babysitter so that you have an extra set of hands. Once the exam is over and you and your kid are toast, you may still have more to discuss with the doctor, so it is helpful to have someone walk your child back outside to the waiting room. If you can’t get help, ask the nurse to stay in the room until the exam is complete so that you have one more set of hands.
Those are my Top 5 tips. I hope they help get your family back on track for your next doctor’s visit. If you have other tips, please share them!