Aug 11, 2020
Communication is one of the most common and important healthcare “procedures” performed in any facility. The ability to communicate well can set a nurse or physician apart from others, and it’s a vital skill that can not only be taught, but perfected. When it comes to patient communication, few things are more complex than communicating with a child.
Pediatric patients encapsulate many of the well-known challenges of patient communication. They often have limited capacity to understand, they are emotional, impulsive, and anxious, and they cannot always communicate back in a way that is easy to understand. To complicate matters further, providers must also include the parents of pediatric patients, adding yet another variable to a complicated process. Despite the challenges, communication with pediatric patients remains one of the most important facets of healthcare, which is why care teams must be prepared to confront the challenges, meet the patient’s needs, and communicate effectively to their younger patients.
It’s easier said than done, but there are a few ways that can make the communication process easier for all parties involved.
Children are small, and hovering over them can cause them to feel anxious and intimidated. When providers sit, kneel, or crouch down (lowering themselves to the child’s level), they appear more open and friendly. It also places them on a closer level with the patient, allowing for a more personal conversation to take place.
Most children react and engage more effectively with visual aids. It’s why picture books play an important role in their development. Visual aids allow children to connect what they are hearing with what they see, allowing them to better absorb and understand the information they are being told. These visual aids can include pictures, medical text, communication whiteboards, charts, and many other tools. Healthcare whiteboards can also be used to leave information that children and their families can refer to later.
The most important person in the room will always be the patient, but their parents can be a great aid in helping communicate effectively to children. Children may be too nervous or intimidated to interact with care teams, so directing questions to parents and allowing them to pose them to children can often break through the guard being put up by the young patient. Parents may also be able to better explain their child’s symptoms as well as know how to communicate most effectively to their child.
Whether they are a toddler or a teenager, children want to feel connected with the person they are speaking with. A toddler may better relate by talking about a cartoon or book they like. A teenager may relate by talking about their favorite music or celebrity. Getting to know a patient before getting down to business can build trust and foster a relationship that makes communication easier.
Like any other patient, children want to feel like their decisions matter, like they have some level of control over their healthcare. This is especially important for younger patients. Letting them help by holding medical supplies, using a stethoscope to listen to the doctor’s heart first, or writing on the whiteboard in their room can go a long way towards making them feel like what they are doing matters.