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5 Ways to Put Children at Ease During Treatments

signs of anxiety in children

5 Ways to Put Children at Ease During Treatments

By Tiffany Aller

Children can experience difficulty during visits with healthcare practitioners for diagnosis or treatment, often out of fear. Children process anxiety differently than adults due to immature communication and reasoning skills. Try these strategies to ease anxiety in the children you work with.

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Easing adolescent anxiety during therapy

Some signs of anxiety in children in a medical environment include crying, screaming, inability to concentrate, unwillingness to make eye contact and physical manifestations like stomach aches and headaches. Frustrated or worried parents may interpret these reactions as behavioral issues rather than the beacons of fear that they are. Incorporate these five ideas into your practice so you can put children at ease as you’re facilitating therapy or treatments.

1. Communicate at the child’s level

Once you’ve identified the signs of anxiety in children as being present in your young patient, flip the switch on your communication skills to match their level. Communicate at their physical level so you don’t intimidate by towering over them, and use language appropriate for their level of understanding to limit confusion and fear.

Alex Tauberg, a Doctor of Chiropractic in Pittsburgh, advises commiserating that “going to a medical office can be scary and being in pain can be scary.” He advises going to their level by kneeling or sitting down next to them and then choosing words carefully. “Walking children through what is going to happen during the examination or treatment, in a way they can understand, helps to ease some of their nerves.”

2. Engage the child personally

Make a personal connection with a child in an appropriate fashion to ease anxiety. Dr. Kristen Fuller M.D. of the Center for Discovery reminds clinicians to “introduce yourself and ask the patient a few questions to try to gain their trust.” Jill Loftus, owner of Honest Occupational Therapy, adds to “encourage using first names instead of Ms., Mr., or Doctor.” A casual, comfortable environment can eliminate a child’s fear of being in a scary medical office. In fact, Loftus further advises families to discuss the appointment ahead of time in the framework of being a play date to further diminish anxiety and build the expectation of having fun during the encounter.

In many cases, you’ll work with the same child multiple times during their therapy. You can lay groundwork at the very start of your relationship with both the young patient and their family to build a friendly rapport based on casual relations and open communication.

3. Foster a fun environment

“The key,” says Dr. Fuller, to eased anxiety “is to engage with the patient to take their mind off what is happening.” She advises using props or distracting the patient with songs or movies on your mobile device. Jill Loftus concurs and recommends that parents “bring along favorite snacks, drinks and a couple of toys.” Those familiar objects help a child to feel more at home in what was formerly an unfamiliar or scary environment. When a child feels less anxious, the planned treatment or therapy may be more successful.

4. Validate the child’s emotions

Parents and clinicians run the risk of fostering anxiety instead of peace by failing to take a child’s emotions seriously or by minimizing them with platitudes like “calm down” or “don’t worry.” Dr. Nanika Coor Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and respectful parenting specialist based in New York City, says that “health practitioners who take children seriously and interact with them in ways that convey acceptance and respect for their bodies, thoughts and feelings are more likely to put their young clients at ease.”

Coor says that it’s important to be truthful if a test or treatment might hurt. “Empathize with the child’s feelings of pain or fear without trying to talk them out of being upset.” Professionals who do so “build a sense of trust and safety” that allows children to feel calm and at peace during their therapy.

5. Proceed at the child’s preferred pace

In healthcare, you can feel rushed to get through each appointment due to scheduling and billing concerns. Anxious children can put a large crimp in your pace of work. Ultimately, however, finding constructive ways to work with all your patients while reducing their anxiety is of paramount importance. Pacing appointments at the preference of your young patients can mean the difference between thrown tantrums and successful outcomes.

Dr. Coor recommends to “make it a priority to let a child know exactly what is about to happen, answer whatever questions they may have, ask their permission before touching their bodies, slow down and wait for them to be ready to begin.” Once the child is ready, they will let you know. This could mean scheduling a preliminary appointment before actual therapy begins to foster a feeling of calm within your environment. Parents could also contribute, Jill Loftus adds, by taking time in advance to “look at pictures of the building or office on the website. This can help kids feel more at ease” and allow interactions to progress more rapidly to therapy administration once at the appointment.

Responding to signs of anxiety in children

Working with pediatric patients means therapists must practice deep levels of empathy and patience to enable positive outcomes. Using these five methodologies to put patients at ease during treatments shows your respect for their emotional and physical needs and helps them more control over a scary situation. A young client who feels comfortable in your presence and environment is more likely to remain your patient and experience optimal healing.

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