Effective communication with pediatric patients isn’t always easy, but it’s a challenge worth overcoming if your goal is to improve patient outcomes and provide more holistic care. They may find medical procedures and those performing them to be intimidating, which means you must be attentive to the nuances of attending to the needs of younger patients. Below, learn how to communicate effectively with children at all developmental stages.

Understanding the Unique Needs of Pediatric Patients

Handling kids at your practice requires special care. They’re much smaller than doctors, who may come across as overbearing giants. This is especially true for children with special needs.

You’ll have to brush up on your interpersonal skills to avoid frightening little ones during medical encounters. Here are some tips that can help.

Building Trust With Young Patients

The world of a young child is a rather small one. They know their parents and grandparents, of course, and perhaps their preschool teacher and a few friends. Anyone outside of their circle can seem scary to them.

As with any relationship, building trust is key. Finding common ground, such as TV shows or activities the child might be interested in, is helpful. Talk about lighthearted, fun things before attempting to gather information. This shows the patient you’re a friend and not someone to fear.

Creating a Comfortable Environment

The cold, sterile environment of a hospital or doctor’s office can terrify young ones. Even if you’re an excellent doctor with an Ivy League medical education, that does nothing to appease a nervous pediatric patient.

What does work is turning your office or children’s hospital into a comfortable environment where all kids can feel safe and secure. Providing age-appropriate toys is one of the best ways to do this. In the exam room, place a chest filled with dolls, action figures, and other popular toys the child can play with while they wait. Video game consoles are always a big hit.

Coloring books and crayons are effective as well. They’re great for keeping a child’s mind and hands busy while waiting for their physician.

You may also want to consider painting your waiting room and exam rooms a more inviting color, such as soothing blue or sunny yellow. Some physicians paint murals or mount decals depicting popular cartoon characters.

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Techniques for Effective Pediatric Patient Communication

When communicating with children, do you use fancy jargon about medicine or explain medical information in a way they can easily understand? Explaining topics in a way that’s appropriate for a child’s developmental level is key if you wish to improve communication skills.

Using Age-Appropriate Language

As the saying goes, you need to know your audience, and that’s especially true for nurses, medical students, and each physician who interacts with children in a healthcare setting. Failing to understand the importance of healthcare communication in patient care could lead to poor health outcomes.

Very young children are challenging to work with as they haven’t yet developed key communication skills. You can’t talk to such a patient about their medical history, and they can’t give informed consent.

If you have a patient at a young age, such as a toddler, you can help them feel at ease by acting silly. Make funny faces, smile widely, tell jokes, and speak slowly so the child can understand you. Whether you’re a doctor at a hospital or a physician at a family medicine practice, you’ll find this communication tactic works wonders with young children.

With older children (ages six to 12), try to get on their level. Talk to your pediatric patients about what they like and don’t like. Discuss their favorite hobbies, games, and sports. This nursing communication strategy is helpful for medical students and experienced physicians.

You don’t have to adjust your communication strategies as much when talking to teens. Talk to a teenager in a healthcare setting as you would an adult. This kind of communication shows you respect them and helps them feel in control of the situation.

Avoid using confusing jargon when discussing medical care with all age groups. Use simple terms that are easy for the child and their family to understand.

Nonverbal Communication Strategies

Sometimes, it’s not what you communicate but how you communicate it. Your tone of voice is a big part of doctor-patient communication. Don’t talk loudly to avoid scaring kids and diminishing patient satisfaction.

Facial expressions matter, too, and you don’t need communication skills training to understand how they work. Smile and make goofy faces if your patient is a young child. Don’t worry about offending their parents with your antics. Most parents will be pleased you’re taking the time to communicate well with their child.

Maintain eye contact unless the patient seems shy or overly afraid of you. Some children find direct eye contact from their physician to be frightening.

If a young patient won’t tell you what’s wrong, you might have better luck asking them to write a story or draw a picture about how they feel. Some small patients feel much more comfortable with this communication tactic.

Involving Parents in the Communication Process

Pediatric visits have a triadic nature involving parents, healthcare providers, and the child. In addition to physician-patient communication, you must develop effective communication skills for speaking with a child’s parents. Below, find essential elements of communication strategies for children and their parents.

Balancing Communication Between Child and Parent

No matter how rigorous your medical education was, it probably didn’t quite prepare you for working with small patients while their parents watch over your shoulder.

You must take care to address both patients and their parents. For child patients, it’s disheartening when a physician ignores them and talks solely to their parents instead. Giving as much time to the patient as you do their parents is a good way to communicate that you respect them.

Communication with parents is important if a patient won’t tell you what’s wrong. The child’s family can tell you about any symptoms and behavioral changes they’ve noticed. For instance, they might note that their child isn’t eating well or is sleeping more than usual. This can help the physician come up with a diagnosis.

Parents can also inform you of their child’s personality so you can adjust your communication strategies accordingly. For instance, if a child is shy and takes time to warm up to people, you might talk in a quiet, reassuring tone. For kids who fear the doctor, you can guide them through every step of the encounter so they’re not left wondering what will happen next.

As helpful as many parents can be, some are anything but. Here’s a scenario that’s probably played out in your office: Little Susie comes in for her MMR vaccine. She’s reasonably calm, and you’ve been able to develop a good rapport with her. So far, so good, you think.

Her mother, on the other hand, is incredibly anxious. She paces the exam room, wringing her hands, worried that her “little baby” will break out in a tantrum at any minute. Young Susie sees her mother and thinks, “If she’s scared, maybe I should be, too.”

It’s best to get ahead of situations like these by talking to the parent before working on young ones. Explain everything you’re going to do beforehand to provide closure and ward off surprises.

Handling Sensitive Topics With Parents

One of the hardest parts of a pediatrician’s job is communicating with patients and parents about sensitive subjects. For instance, if you’ve discovered that a child has cancer, breaking the news to their family can be heartbreaking for all involved.

Try to discuss sensitive subjects with parents out of earshot of the child. A parent may react poorly, further frightening the child. This is the last thing physicians want when their patient isn’t feeling well.

Overcoming Common Communication Challenges

Certain pediatric patients and their caregivers can be challenging to work with, including those grappling with misinformation and fears regarding doctors and their procedures. We’ll provide strategies for handling both below.

Dealing With Fear and Anxiety

It’s a struggle to get anxious young patients into the doctor’s office on a good day, and when they’re not feeling well, you could have a real battle on your hands.

But the patient-doctor relationship doesn’t have to be a combative one. A good way to calm anxious patients is by using simple language that makes what you’re doing sound less frightening.

For instance, if the child needs a flu shot, you might say it’s “just a little poke” and “it will be over in a few seconds.”

Don’t tell a child to be brave or not be scared. Being frightened is natural, and they can’t help it. Instead, tell them it’s okay to be scared and that you understand why they’re feeling that way. Let them know you and their loved one will be right by their side the whole time.

It’s important to offer kids choices whenever you can. For example, if your patient needs a cast, let them choose their favorite color. If they need a vaccine, you could let them pick which arm they prefer to get the shot in. Offering choices goes a long way toward putting fearful youngsters at ease.

For more information on managing patient anxiety, see our free ebook here:asset image

Ebook: How to Manage Patient Anxiety in Healthcare

Addressing Misinformation and Misunderstandings

With healthcare information freely available online, it’s little wonder that many caregivers read and hear things that aren’t quite accurate. As their child’s doctor, it’s your job to correct this misinformation as best you can.

The “Three C” approach works well here. It emphasizes compassionate understanding, connection, and collaboration. For instance, say you have a parent who’s reluctant to give their child the COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s how a conversation with them might play out:

  • Compassionate understanding: “Can you tell me why you’re afraid to give your child this vaccine? What worries do you have about it?”
  • Connection: “I see that you deeply care about your child’s health. Would you mind if I shared my take on the scientific evidence regarding the safety of the vaccine for children?”
  • Collaboration: “I know that we both want your child to be as healthy as can be. Can I give you my honest recommendation?”

Learn How Weave Helps You Boost Patient Satisfaction

Communicating with pediatric patients can be a struggle, but following the above tips should help you navigate even the trickiest exams and encounters.

Want to take your practice to the next level? Try Weave! Our clinical management software comes packed with features to keep your office running smoothly, including appointment reminders, convenient payment options, online scheduling, and so much more.

If you’d like to take Weave for a test drive, book your free demo today.

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