6 Tips for Working with Kids
Big kids, little kids, well-behaved kids, and tired kids — one way or another, sticky fingers are in your future. With some respect, humor, and crayons, you can make everyone’s experience more enjoyable and promote a healthy outcome. Here are six tips for healthcare professionals working with children.
1. Create a kid-friendly space
If you work specifically in pediatrics, you might have the luxury of colorful walls, fish tanks, and soft, kid-friendly chairs. Even if your office isn’t designed for children, a few fun additions can make your space warm and welcoming for your youngest patients.
Create a “kids’ corner.” Include an activity table for toddlers, a basket of plastic dinosaurs, a stack of picture books (“I SPY” books are always popular), and keep paper and crayons on hand at all times.
2. Communicate on the child’s level
Communicating to children about their health means putting yourself in their shoes.
- Learn the child’s name in advance. A friendly “Hi Grace, it’s great to meet you!” can help put a suffering child at ease.
- Introduce yourself. Kids are more comfortable if they can see you as a person rather than a lab coat.
- Physically get down to the child’s level. Squatting or sitting at eye level demonstrates that you’re listening to them, which makes them more cooperative and comfortable.
- Smile! This is especially important when first meeting the child or entering the room.
- Enlist the parents’ help. For many procedures, it’s okay if the child sits on their parent’s lap or holds their hand, which can be very comforting.
- Give kids a helping role. Children love to help! Having a job can take their mind off being scared. Distraction is a go-to tool in pediatric care. Ask the child to hold a sealed alcohol pad until you need it. Phrase instructions as “helping.” “Can you please help me by moving your leg?”
- Be honest but upbeat. If you tell a child something won’t hurt when it will, the child will not trust you in the future. Kids — like most adults — appreciate being approached directly with the truth.
- Avoid high or singsong voices. Kids hate being patronized, and they can spot it a mile away. Don’t talk down to them.
3. Recognize kids’ bravery
Going to the doctor is scary. Even a checkup can be intimidating for a child, but if the child is sick or injured, it can be terrifying. It may be an act of bravery just to hold still.
Acknowledge the child’s bravery as you interact with them. Use supportive language that affirms their position, such as: “I’m sure that hurts. You must be very strong,” or “I don’t like shots, either. Great job holding still.”
Related resource: What You Need to Know About Pediatric Occupational Therapy
4. Explain before you touch
It’s a good policy to explain what you’re doing before you do it with any patient. Use vocabulary that is appropriate for the age of the child you’re treating and explain what you’re about to do before you touch them.
5. Involve the child and the parent or advocate
A child has the same right to be involved and informed in his or her care as an adult. Our youngest patients might not be able to understand the terminology or implications, but they want to, and should be, involved. They usually have questions, too.
When communicating a treatment or getting health history, address your questions to both the child and the guardian. A zealous parent may try to step in and answer for their child, and the parent’s answer is certainly important; but children have valuable information about themselves as well. Be sure to give the child a chance to answer for themselves on their terms.
Kids are empowered when they are involved in their own care, just as adults are.
Related resource: Signs You Could Be a Great Pediatric Medical Assistant
6. Educate yourself
To appeal to children, it helps to have common points of reference. If you’ve ever gotten advice that involved a “Perry Mason” analogy, you probably had a blank stare, too. Kids are more plugged into pop culture than ever, with favorite YouTube celebrities, gaming characters, and musicians.
Familiarize yourself with the culture of our youngest generation. Watch an episode of the “Octonauts,” check out a 5 Seconds of Summer song on YouTube, and if you don’t know what Roblox or “Adventure Time” are … well, perhaps you’ll become a fan, too.
Promoting a good relationship with young patients fits into Ameritech’s holistic nursing philosophy, whether you’re a medical assistant, nurse, occupational therapist, or other healthcare professional. Compassion and respect for patients of all ages is a cornerstone of care. To learn more about our programs, visit our website.