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Your Anxious Child And Medical Procedures: Soothe The Panic

I've only had two Covid-19 tests during the pandemic, and neither were much fun. But what if you weighed 45 pounds and had three adults holding you down to shove a sharp object up your nose for a reason no one bothered to explain to you? I assure you that this can lead to lasting trauma. Here are some tips to help your little one get through it.

The first time that I remember my father swearing at me was when I was eleven years old and my mother told him I had cried hysterically at the orthodontist. The next morning he stomped into my room yelling at me that he didn't want to hear about that kind of s--t anymore. He shouted a lot then he assured me that he would beat me within an inch of my life if I did it again. I believed him.

The orthodontist in question had, without saying a word to me, forced my mouth open and shoved a tray full of cold, dripping plaster of Paris into my mouth to take a mold of my teeth. It was forced in my mouth until I gagged and felt as though I couldn't breathe. Giant hands held me still and scolded me to stop wiggling. I couldn't stop crying. And everyone was angry at me for crying. My mother was impatient and angry. I had inconvenienced everyone by my "misbehavior". These are some very tough childhood memories.

Medical procedures of any kind were always traumatic to me. There were scowling adults who did not notice me except to hurt me and then snap at me if I dared to protest. My mother sat by with an impatient and irritated expression that offered no compassion whatsoever for a 50 pound girl who was outnumbered three to one and outweighed by 250%. I felt as though I had to fight for my own safety. I was genuinely afraid.

I am proud to be a cycle breaker of these "parenting techniques" that were not all that uncommon when I was a child. Even though my upbringing was far more stark than many of my peers', it was still fairly typical to simply take a child to a medical professional who then did whatever was necessary without any effort to connect to the child whose body was being looked at, stuck with needles, or probed. Our culture had not yet learned the value of children. Pediatric medicine has come a long, long way. So have most parents.

Maybe your child is anxious about medical procedures. The thought of getting vaccinated brings on a level of fear that seems out of proportion to adults who know that it's over in a moment. Or that it doesn't hurt that much. Or that it is simply something that must be done so let's just get it over with.

Some children can deal with these things. The world is a pretty safe place for them and they can take it all in stride. Besides- you get to pick a sticker of your favorite superhero when you are done. My son was like that. He didn't like going to the doctor, but he didn't get ripped about it. My daughter was more anxious.

Because of my childhood memories, I was determined to do the polar opposite of what had been done with me concerning medical visits. I learned a lot by just doing what I wanted to be done for the frightened child in me.

Trust me: I received plenty of criticism for "spoiling" and "pampering" her instead of making her "suck it up" but I honestly did not care what anyone said. My daughter was going to be treated with compassion and dignity. So here is what I did and it worked beautifully. We are all better people and our past pain is healed when we break painful cycles,

If your child is afraid of medical visits, shots, blood tests, etc. try these techniques:

  1. Honesty is the best policy. In a matter of fact but compassionate tone, tell your child what procedure is needed and why. Then be quiet and listen. Answer the questions patiently. Give them a bit of time to wrap their mind around it. Do not surprise your child unless you were surprised too. Then you be the grownup and make sure that your child understands what is going on. Ask your child if they understand. Unless it is a true emergency, patiently help your child get settled about the procedure.

  2. Be in very close proximity. For shots, blood draws, finger sticks, Covid testing stay very close to your child. Lock eyes with them and whisper words of encouragement and assurance. Hold them on your lap as long as they fit. Sing a song, read a story, recite a poem. Whatever lets them see that you did not abandon them and that you are on their side, do it. Once a nurse wanted to strap my daughter to a board with velcro tie downs on a device called a "papoose board". I pointedly told her that would not be needed and to give me a moment to calm my child. I did, and blood was drawn with no incident. Your child can be calmed with your patience and compassion.

  3. Treat time! A treat following an unpleasant procedure is non-negotiable. It must be done and it must be meaningful. I treated myself to a full mani-pedi after getting my Covid booster and flu shot last week. Let your child know that you understand how tough these things can be. Let them recount their experience to you.

Although I don't think that there are many of these old school pediatricians or dentists left, if you happen to find one just leave the practice. You don't have to subject your children to care that is lacking in any of the healing arts, including compassion. If a nurse or other care provider is unkind or apathetic to your child, speak up. You get to choose how your child remembers medical care.

I hope that the memories you are making with your child are filled with compassion, laughter, connection, and joy. Continue to create a Harbor Home for your family. It is worth the time and effort you invest.

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