We presented to the Doctors’ surgery right on time. Both of my daughters were having their injections. Neither of them showed any sign of being nervous and immediately entered the play area to pass the waiting time.
I noticed one little boy, about 4 years old, was sat next to his mum with his head lowered. He seemed worried and unable to relax. When his name was called, his tears finally spilled over and he attempted to run for the exit. His mother, also getting upset, was forced to drag him into the room. As the door closed, I heard him wail, ‘I don’t want a needle!’
Have you ever wondered what influences a child’s response to getting a needle? Why do some children put up very little fight while others can only be held tight while kicking and screaming?
If you read my previous post explaining how needle phobia can begin, you will understand the brain’s response to this stressful time for the unprepared child. By preparing your child, you are giving them the opportunity to be a willing participant in their own healthcare and reducing their risk of developing a lifelong needle phobia.
When we allow a person the time to process a scary prospect, it gives them the opportunity to ask questions and iron out their fears safely.
So how do you do this?
1. By Being Familiar With The Doctors’ Equipment
First, it is important that they are familiar with some of the equipment the doctor will use. Many children find the equipment just plain scary but by being familiar with the equipment, this fear subsides. You can pick up some great medical toys from your local toy store that will encourage some wonderful role play.
2. Roleplay With Teddy
“Play is the language of children.”
– Dr. Judi Parson
Many play therapists and child life specialists use calico dolls or trauma dolls to explain procedures to the child patient. They are a great tool for the child to express their emotions and to see what will happen to their body so that they have time to process it.
If you don’t have a trauma doll, you can use a favourite teddy. Start a role play where one of you are the doctor seeing your patient (Teddy). Remember not to shy away from the pain of the injection or the emotions and feeling scared – Teddy can say, ‘Ouch! That hurt!’ or ‘I’m a bit scared of the needle!’ By making Teddy have the emotion, you are allowing your child the opportunity to console Teddy or process their own concerns about the pain or the needle indirectly. When Teddy is scared or upset about the pain, your child feels less alone in their feelings.
“Every child has an instinct for play…
for adults, play means leisure
but for children, play is more like their job.”
– Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen
The more animated and engrossed in the role play, the more your child will enjoy this time of bonding and connection with you. It is also really important that you are present enough to follow your child’s lead. If they are not enjoying the play, the game is pointless and attempting at a later time when they are open to medical role play would be better.
If you have trouble focussing on play time with your child then setting a 10 minute timer can make the world of difference for your full attention. It made the world of difference to my focussed attention during playtime with my children.
For more information about the best ways you can prepare your child, support them, and hold them, check out Brooke’s eBook Supporting a child through injections.
Brooke Batchelor is a paediatric registered nurse who currently works in an Emergency Department in Far North Queensland. She is also a parent coach, qualified primary teacher and student Play Therapist. Brooke sits on the Board of Directors for the Association for the Well-being of Children in Healthcare, Australia. She created ‘The Paed Nurse’ with an aim to support parents & healthcare providers working with children.