‘I’ll go! I’ll have my needles first! I want the first one in my left arm!”
That was my daughter when she had some needles at four years old. Most kids don’t react that way. By that age, they have already worked out that needles are scary, they hurt, and bigger people hold you down while you get them. That’s no walk in the park for a little kid, and it makes future doctor visits much scarier!
So why did my daughter so happily offer herself up for two needles?
If you have read my posts 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 using medical play, 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?
Play with needles
Ok, I’m joking about playing with needles… sort of. This is all about being familiar with the equipment and is one of the most important steps. Many children find the equipment scary, but by being familiar with the equipment, this fear subsides.
There are some wonderful medical play toys out there that you can add to your toy collection. Medical play toys are a useful tool as well as a toy so you will get your money’s worth. Here are a few of my affordable picks: this one, this one, and this one.
Sometimes when I have a child in the ER who is afraid of my little oxygen saturation probe, I will give them the probe to play with and encourage them to put it on their teddy/doll. I will even sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle little star’ while it is on to give them a sense of time (and calm) for how long it will be on them. This familiarises them with the very scary probe before I place it on them. Now, this brings me to my next tip…
Play out the doctor visit with Teddy
“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 in his book, Playful Parenting
Propose a game with your child and let the bonding, connecting and processing of fears begin! Your visit to the Doctor doesn’t have to be a time of disconnection and overpowering your child. You can use this time to bond with each other through play and honesty.
Start a role play where Teddy is going for his doctor visit. Think about what usually happens at the doctor’s- they will check their throat (every kid hates the stick in their mouth!), they will check their ears and they might get a needle. So in this game, one of you is the doctor seeing your patient (Teddy) and after a quick check over, it is time to get a needle. It is really important not to shy away from the pain of the injection or the emotions Teddy might feel. Teddy can say, ‘Ouch! That hurt!’ or ‘I’m a bit scared of the needle!’
When Teddy has the emotion, you are allowing your child the opportunity to troubleshoot for solutions or process their own worries about the pain of the needle indirectly. Watching another ‘character’ feel openly about the procedure helps your child feel less alone in their feelings.
But don’t push it!
If your child is not enjoying the play, the game is pointless. It doesn’t mean the game is over completely as you can always try again another time. You can open the play up to be about whatever they wish and come back to ‘medical play with a purpose later’. It is so much more important that you are present enough to follow your child’s lead than to force a game you want to play.
With enough preparation, your child too can be offering themselves up for their injections rather than fighting to get away.
Until next time…