Helping a child to talk about their health to a medical professional can be difficult. The simple reason is that it can be intimidating for any of us. This is the same for children, therefore through role play and support we can teach them how to do it. As the internet generation, they are likely to go online to self-diagnose, but this is obviously fraught with issues. Children need to be able to communicate their concerns clearly and concisely without feeling embarrassed. It is also important to find ways to introduce health into conversations, for example can ear buds damage your child’s hearing?
Research shows Only 31% of children worldwide would generally turn to their parents regarding issues about their health. According to a study by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, 59% of secondary school students thought that internet sites they visited for medical information were accurate on the whole. The same research showed that over half the information on these sites was wrong. A general discussion of internet safety is here.
Helping Your Child Use the Internet
You can’t regulate your child going to the internet for information, but you can influence your child’s choice. One of the ways you can do that is by letting them know the importance of accurate information, especially when it has to do with their health. We have an article here on how to develop the skill of critical thinking. For example, deciding on some reliable websites, such as WebMD and NHS, means that at least the information is correct. However, it won’t help hypochondria. Again this is why it is important that children feel comfortable talking about their health.
Helping Your Child Feel Comfortable Talking to a Medical Professional
A clear explanation of why being expressive about their health can help children get the help they need. Some children fear the doctors, the hospital, or specific things like injections or medications. For those in this category, you can see them shutting down with fear when doctors approach. They would rather either hide their symptoms away, hoping you would never notice. Or they just don’t know how to communicate what they feel. We look generally about helping your child speak to adults here.
As parents, we must talk to our children about how medical professionals are only there to help. It is not their role to judge. I often use the analogy of seeing a mechanic for a broken-down car. I don’t know how to fix the problem, so I go to an expert who does. Doctors only really specialize after about a decade of training, so we should trust their judgment. As they deal with these cases every day, they will not be embarrassed to participate in the discussion. Mental health issues can be more difficult so we have an article dedicated to this topic here.
Why Your Children Should Be Able to Talk to Doctors Themselves
You might be tempted to explain all symptoms by yourself, it is far better for a diagnosis if the child can talk about their health themselves. Here’s why:
- Clear explanation of symptoms. When the doctor knows what exactly is wrong, they know the precise kind of treatment to give. For example, you might be aware that they have a fever, but you can’t say if there’s a specific part of the body where they feel pain. If a child has food poisoning, maybe they ate something when you were not watching, and talking to a doctor can help discover other factors causing discomfort.
- Children want to feel heard. They want to know they are, in some way, in control of what is happening to them. Including them in the conversation lends a certain amount of validation. Not just idle participators anymore. When there is a free flow of back and forth between the child and the doctor, they understand what is going on.
- It takes the fear off. It removes the anxiety that comes with each hospital visit. They get to see that doctors are just human and can be trusted. Aside from getting a clear perspective on what to treat, good communication creates trust. We talk about anxiety in children here.
- It makes treating them easier. A frightened or panicking child would be a lot more challenging to treat than a calm child. Unlike adults who can sometimes explain what they are going through, some children can’t. They can’t get past the shame or the fear, or they just can’t simply bring themselves to get past the discomfort of being in a hospital. A visit to a pediatrician is never a fun affair after all. Some children do not know how to communicate in this locked stage—they find themselves stuck and frustrated. You can help. You, as the parent, can show them it doesn’t need to be difficult.
- They can take their time, no rush. Let them know there is no rush to find the right ways to say what they want to say. They can describe the feeling and where they hurt. They can say it in whichever way they find it easiest to say. Children have their individual communication levels. Some are pretty much expressive, and others need time to talk.
- Body language. While communication is mainly verbal, it can often be non-verbal, especially in a situation where the child is either afraid or ashamed. When your child is equipped with the skill of sharing information with subtle body signals and movements, those can help. You can teach your child this by introducing it at home, and it can quickly become a second language for them. Asides from being a tremendous help in communicating with their doctor, it makes relating to others a lot easier.
- Remind them they don’t need to be anxious or ashamed, it’s not their fault. Children take embarrassing situations particularly hard. For children, unlike adults, these moments are familiar. If a child has hurt themselves by being foolish, they are understandably embarrassed to talk to a doctor about it. It falls on the parents to help them get out of this bubble. Dwelling on embarrassing moments can lead to shame, a reluctance to try new things, and social anxiety. All you have to do is show concern, listen, and calmly correct them. Let them know that when it is their fault, they can come to you. And when they sit in front of the doctor, reassure them to be open and honest about their feelings.
Final Thoughts on How to Help a Child Talk About Their Health
It is a disturbing reality that there are children—teenagers and younger—who find it hard to communicate their health issues to their doctors. However, it is also important to note that most children are being exposed to the importance of putting their health first, which involves being vocal about their medical care. A lot has changed in the medical world, and frankly, in the individual space as well. Parents are more aware and ready to listen and, hopefully, equipped to teach. It is important, as in all parenting, to make sure that all parents are on the same page. If one parent tell the child to ‘suck it up’ while the other takes them to the emergency room every time they trip up the child is getting mixed signals.