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5 tips for helping your child cope with clinic visits

Learn how you can make your child's next outpatient clinic visit earlier with tips from child life specialists from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Today's guest bloggers are Katie Scarlett and Sara Fisher, Certified Child Life Specialists at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. March is Child Life Month. Child life specialists have a background in child development and family systems to assist children and families cope with potentially stressful situations in health care and hospitalization. 

Telling your child, "We're going to the doctor," may be a phrase that they are not happy to hear. It is common among children of all ages to have a fear of visiting the doctor. This fear alone can cause your child not to respond well to the doctor, and most importantly effect the child's emotional response to the medical experience.

As child life specialists, we work to empower children and families in a health care setting through mastery of challenging events. When children know they are going to see the doctor, they often worry about what is going to happen.

Every child approaches stressful situations differently, but following these suggestions could potentially help your child cope more effectively with their outpatient clinic appointment.

1. Ask what bloodwork, tests, or procedures to expect at your child's appointment. Then you can have a discussion with your child about what to expect prior to their appointment. Use honest, yet gentle language about where they are going, what will happen, and why. If they ask a question that you do not know the answer to, it is okay to say that you do not know and that you will learn together at the appointment.

2. Develop a coping plan with your child prior before the appointment. Providing your child with realistic choices, such as holding your hand, sitting in your lap, taking deep breaths or looking at a book, will maximize your child's sense of control.  Parents may act as a "coach" for their child by helping them to remember these coping techniques.

3. It is often helpful for your child to rehearse the anticipated sequence of events for their appointment. This can include the coping plan established by you and your child. For example, allowing your child to play with a toy doctor's kit can foster exploration and familiarization with unfamiliar medical equipment. Practicing the coping plan can help develop confidence and a sense of mastery in an unfamiliar situation.

4. Bring activities or comfort items for your child. Familiar items from home can provide a sense of comfort and normalization for your child, as well as provide as a great distraction from long wait times or unfamiliar medical situations or discussions.

5. Ask questions and seek advice during your appointment. Children of all ages can have an active role in medical discussions, decisions, and procedures. Parents know their child best, so it's important for you to be an active participant. At CHOP, you and your child are considered part of the healthcare team, and are encouraged to take part in your child's care.

We hope that you will find these tips helpful for future clinic visits. Child Life Specialists at CHOP and other health care providers are also available to assist with helping your child understand what to expect, provide preparation, and supportive activities to minimize stress and help patients and families cope positively with their healthcare experience. Discuss with your child's doctor if a child life specialist is available to be involved in your child's care.​

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