How to keep healthy relationships among parents, children and their health care provider
A visit to the doctor should be a positive experience. While some children or even parents may experience some anxiety about the visit, there are ways to make the visit more comfortable for everyone. Routine checkups and doctor appointments in times of illness are important for healthy development from infancy through adolescence. It is helpful to consider some tips even before you and your child step into a doctor’s office.
- Parents and children should have a positive relationship with a provider they trust. If this is not the case with your provider, it is completely acceptable to seek a change in provider.
- Children should be taught about appropriate boundaries between people and that certain types of touching is bad. Parents should help children understand that some physical contact that may seem intrusive is necessary for a physician to be able to make sure everything is OK. This may include examining areas of the body such as the genitals.
- Parents should talk to children about what to expect before an examination. This may be as simple as looking in ears or listening to the child’s heart and lungs. It also may include something that seems intrusive like such as a throat culture or something that is uncomfortable such as checking areas of the child’s body such as the genitals.
- The provider should explain what the exam or procedure will entail and should respect the need for modesty by providing appropriate draping and allowing privacy while changing. The provider should be reassuring to the child and parents.
- In the case of a genital exam, the actual exam should be very brief unless the patient is specifically there because of a genital problem or something is found that requires further evaluation. It is important that parents and the child understand what is happening.
- Some teens may prefer privacy. In this case, the parent may move to a dressing cubicle and remain out of site for the exam, or the teen may prefer the parent to leave the room altogether. In the latter case, having a chaperone is an appropriate option that parents or patients should feel free to request. The provider should make a chaperone available whenever one is requested.
- In puberty, it is common for patients to prefer to have exams performed by someone of the same sex. It is reasonable to make this request, and should be honored if feasible. If the patient must see an opposite sex provider, he/she should be reassured that his/her privacy will be respected as much as possible. If the child objects to a sensitive part of the exam and it can reasonably be postponed, the request should be accommodated.
- Talk with your children following any visit to see if they are comfortable with what happened. If they aren’t, try to find out why they were uncomfortable or if something happened that was concerning or frightening.
- If there are ever concerns about an exam, report them to the hospital or clinic patient advocate. If you believe the concern is dire, call law enforcement.
See tips about talking to children.
Resources for patients and families:
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
National Child Protection Training Center
National Child Abuse Hot Line
Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota
Mayo Clinic Child and Family Advocacy Center
Information courtesy of Daniel Broughton, M.D., pediatrician and child safety expert at Mayo Clinic.
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