Get On Their Level: How To Relate To Pediatric Patients (Especially When Peds is Not Your Specialty)
Every patient has his or her own personality. A big part of your job is being able to relate to those varying personas and shift your approach to cater to them. Making sure adults feel comfortable with procedures, treatments, and you as their doctor, is one thing. But kids are a whole different story. Here are a few tips to help you get on their level.
#1: Start with a smile
This should be how you start every appointment, but it’s especially important with children. If they sense your stress or anxiety, they’ll assume that even a routine check-up is something to worry about. If you come in looking tired or overwhelmed, they’ll assume you don’t want to be there. And they won’t want to either. Even if you need a few extra moments to collect yourself or strategize before you see a child, it’ll be worth it to ensure you’re going in with the right attitude – making the patient feel as comfortable as possible right from the start.
#2: Come bearing gifts
If you’re scheduled to see a particularly fussy child, this could be an invaluable tool to use at the start of the appointment. Kids don’t turn down gifts. They just don’t. So keep your prize box or drawer stocked with goodies – like squeeze toys and small plush pals for little patients, or fidget spinners for particularly anxious tweens. Use these giveaways as a way to introduce yourself and get the patient to relax. You’ll make your patients feel more comfortable and help distract them from their procedure or treatment.
#3: Leave the “baby talk” behind
You might feel compelled to talk to children at their age level, but kids understand a great deal more than you may think. How do you feel when someone speaks to you in a patronizing way? Those aren’t necessarily your most enjoyable experiences, are they? You’ll want to speak to the top of each child’s intelligence, and that will vary, but a safe bet is to talk to kids like how you’d talk to a good friend. Look excited to see them, tell jokes, catch up a bit. This will break down some barriers, making you seem less authoritative – which can be intimidating – and position you as someone who cares for them and wants to help.
#4: Set some ground rules
For younger children or new patients, the potential for pain can be a serious worry. Put them at ease by creating some ground rules:
- Allow anxious patients to choose any plush toy in the office to hold during the exam, so they feel more secure during treatment.
- Show patients which tools you’ll be using and the sounds they make so they’re not startled.
- Tell them at the beginning of the exam that if they feel uncomfortable they can let you know and you’ll take a break together.
#5: Take your time
You might notice that all these extra steps will stretch an appointment over the typical time. But if you position yourself as a family doctor who’s excellent with children, you’ll be gaining patients for life. It’s much easier to retain than to gain. And if you’ve convinced young patients – and their parents – early on that you’re trustworthy and great at your job, they’ll have little reason to go elsewhere.
Thinking about gifts for your pint-sized patients?
Whether they were extra brave or just need a pick me up, give kids a SmileMakers goodie bag filled with special treats at the end of their appointment. Great patients deserve great rewards!