First things first, when I say medical I mean anything from a dentist to a doctor or hospital consultant, optician… you name it.
Whenever you need to take your highly sensitive child (HSC) somewhere for the first time many parents are faced with an unpleasant scenario; sometimes there are tears, tantrums, and silence to battle through and other times there is just a complete lack of co-operation – a refusal to lie on the dentist’s chair, or read the eye test chart at all for example. You certainly wouldn’t be the first parent of a HSC who has to abandon the dentist or doctor’s office without any check up taking place at all. Been there, done that.
If you go back a second or third time, if you are lucky, the situation is less dramatic.
HSCs do not like the idea of that first visit to the dentist, doctor or paediatrician because they simply have no idea what to expect. They are faced with not only an unfamiliar situation but an unfamiliar person, an unfamiliar place and have no idea what will be expected of them or what they will face.
I’m a 40+ (you don’t need the specifics) highly sensitive person and I still have to battle with anxiety if I need to go somewhere I have never been before. It’s something that gets better over the years but a child needs to learn to cope with unfamiliar situations, little steps at a time. So try and see the situation through the eyes of a young child and certainly don’t dismiss their fears as irrational or petty. HSCs think and reflect deeply so they have already pictured numerous potential outcomes of that dentist or doctor visit before you have got to the end of your sentence telling them about their upcoming appointment.
Here are a few ways you can help them successfully get through that first appointment.
- Do your research when finding a dentist/doctor etc for your child. Those with a child friendly manner will put a HSC at their ease quicker than an abrupt business like medical professional – and believe me they exist everywhere. Get recommendations for practices which specialise in the care of children, that are great with kids not just in the treatment room but in the waiting room too. First impressions count and if an unfriendly receptionist is the first to greet your child it certainly won’t help get them calmly into the treatment room.
- If necessary talk to a potential dentist or doctor about your child’s anxieties in new places and explain the likely scenario. Ask them how they would handle the situation.
- Your HSC needs to feel safe. It’s a great idea to take your child with you to the dentist, for example, before they are actually the age when they need to go themselves. This way the environment and the faces are familiar before they need to lie in the treatment chair themselves. Let them watch you with the dentist – that way they will know it is safe. Just make sure it is only a check-up and not major root canal treatment…..
- Our local hospital holds an annual open day and we make a point to go. That way my children are familiar with the environment, some of the rooms and wards and even some of the faces before they ever even need to go for an appointment there. They can explore the inside of an ambulance, dress up like a surgeon and get a plaster cast on their arm – they come into contact with a medical establishment in a fun way.
- Each of my sons came with us to the dentist appointment before they turned three when they were due to start check ups themselves. The dentist then suggested that they lay on top of ‘mama or papa’ on the dentist’s chair so the dentist could count their teeth. They each felt safe because they were with one of us, and they knew nothing was going to happen beyond opening their mouths and having their teeth counted. The next time they went they were already familiar with what would be expected.
- Role play going to and being at the dentist or doctor with your HSC so they will know at least a little about what to expect.
- Suggest their favourite cuddly toy accompanies you to the appointment. The doctor or dentist can then show your HSC what they are going to do using the cuddly toy as a prop.
- Talk to them, prepare them in advance (but not too far in advance to avoid unnecessary stress) for an appointment. Give them details and age appropriate information. Read books together about going to the dentist and doctor – anything to make the situation feel more familiar. Don’t spring an appointment on them on the day – that is generally setting you both us for a disastrous consultation.
Over to You: How have you prepared your HSC for medical visits? Share your successes and tips – or those nightmare first appointments that you learnt from.