Fred Rogers talks about
Going to the Doctor
"One of the most basic responsibilities of parenting is to see that our children are healthy. So when the doctor tells us that our child is "developing on track and thriving," that's a great reassurance that we’re “good parents.” …But, along with the worries about a child’s physical health, the words: “Something’s wrong” are too easily translated as "Something's wrong with my parenting."
Even though your child may have been going to the doctor since birth, and even though you have a caring doctor, there may come a time when a check-up becomes particularly upsetting. As children grow physically, they're also growing in awareness of their own bodies and their ability to remember painful past experiences. At the same time, in those preschool years, they have many fantasies and misconceptions.
Some parents have wondered why their children get upset when a medical professional looks into their ears with an otoscope or listens to their hearts with a stethoscope or takes X-ray pictures. Most likely it's because children often worry that doctors can see or hear what they're thinking and feeling when they look inside them or listen to their hearts or read their X-rays.. It's important for children to know that no equipment can tell what they’re thinking or feeling. People's thoughts and feelings are their own -- to share or not to share -- with whomever they wish.
A common childhood fantasy is that whatever is under the skin could all leak out if the skin gets punctured or cut. Some children worry that their whole "insides" will come out even if they get a tiny cut. We need to let children know that this can't happen. We also need to tell them that the doctor or nurse takes only a little bit of blood during bloodtests. Children need help in understanding that after a needle prick, there's still as much blood as a person needs left on the inside, and our skin heals and closes and won't let any more come out. They also seem to find little bandages reassuring. Children often find that bandages help bandages keep everything inside where it's supposed to be.
Children don’t like to be probed and poked, especially when the probing and the poking happen unexpectedly. And they certainly don't like to have painful or uncomfortable things happening to them. Injections ("shots") hurt, if just for a moment, stethoscopes are often cold on a chest, and blood pressure cuffs often squeeze an arm. Everyone is better able to manage if we're prepared by knowing what may hurt as well as what probably won't hurt.
When children discover that we've been honest with them in preparing them for experiences, they grow in their trust not only of us, but also of their doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. That trust will help them all through their life, as they begin to assume responsibility for their own health care needs.
Parents might have some anxiety, too, when they take their child to the doctor. One of the most basic responsibilities of parenting is to see that our children are healthy. So when the doctor tells us that our child is "developing on track and thriving," that's a great reassurance that we’re “good parents.” But there's also a chance that the doctor might find something to be concerned about. Along with the worries about a child’s physical health, the words: “Something’s wrong” are too easily translated as "Something's wrong with my parenting."
It's so important to have a trusting relationship with the people on your child's medical team. You need to feel comfortable with the way your questions and concerns are answered, and to trust that you’re providing your child with the best medical care you can.
Making Shots More Manageable
Parents often tell me that they dread their child's doctor appointment because their child may need an immunization. They may feel even guilty for cooperating with the doctor in inflicting that "pain" on their child. A lot of parents are afraid that their child will get upset if they talk about the examination, and particularly the "shot" beforehand. But there are ways to talk about such things, and there are ways to help children manage them. You might ask your child to try to think of ideas that might help make the “pinch” easier to take. Maybe by sitting in your lap, holding on to a “blankey” from home, singing a song really loudly, or taking along a stuffed animal or baby doll to get a pretend shot first! It may also help if you remind your child that the pinch of the injection puts medicine into our bodies and that certain medicines work better when they’re given that way. We take some medicine in our mouths, some with patches, and others with injections. Doctors and nurses know which kinds to give us to keep us healthy. Children don’t need elaborate explanations – they’re generally satisfied with simple, honest answers. It can be a good feeling to give your child some “tools” that make a difference in how he or she handles a difficult experience!
Of course, we can't anticipate all that will happen in a doctor's office, but we can be honest about what we do know. Our children trust us more and more each time they find that we're doing our best to prepare them for whatever they have to go through.
Before Going to the Doctor:
At the Doctor’s Office:
After the Doctor's Office:
This article is excerpted from “The Mister Rogers Parenting Book” the last book Fred Rogers worked on before his death in 2003. In this book he wanted to support parents in their most important work of parenting and to help them better understand their young children. As he wrote in the introduction to the book:
“.. if we can bring our children understanding, comfort, and hopefulness when they need this kind of support, then they are more likely to grow into adults who can find these resources within themselves later on.”