Thursday, March 6, 2014

Waiting with Kids

When DS2 was just a baby, his health challenges began appearing.  Things that necessitated regular doctor visits, and added in specialists by the time he was nine months old.  Which meant I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms with DS1 (a preschooler), and DS2 (an infant), and through the years added in a few more infants (DD1, DD2, and even sometimes an infant nephew who was in my care on that particular day) on through toddlers and preschoolers and elementary age.  In fact, for nine years straight we had regular allergist visits, sometimes twice a week, often once a week, and sometimes every two or three weeks depending on which concentration of allergy serum DS2 was currently on and where in that bottle of serum he was.  At age four, DS2 could clearly pronounce very large words  that most preschoolers have never even heard; words like 'dermatologist' and 'allergist', 'nebulizer', 'prednisone', and 'albuterol'.

DS2's health care regimen gave me lots of opportunity to fine tune my parenting-at-the-doctor's-office skills.  In other words, how to alleviate the fears of a nervous child, how to deal with a child not feeling well while waiting, how to entertain a bored child, and how to keep a whole troupe of little ones in line so as to not get kicked out of the waiting room.

What about just hiring a baby sitter to deal with the extra ones and leave them at home while taking only the patient to the doctor?  I'm sure you are thinking this would have been an easy, logical thing to do.  Easy only when we lived near enough to relatives who didn't work during the day that it was possible to leave the children who didn't have an appointment behind.  Paying for a babysitter on a weekly basis just so that it was easier to go to the doctor for an hour or two, well, that was not in our budget. Especially back in the day when our yearly medical co-pays ran in the thousands. We have just about always had a very tight budget.   Kind of like tourniquet tight.  But that uber tight budget has kept us out of the poorhouse (or from defaulting on loans and other bills) more than once through the years.  It even allowed us to pay off DH's student loans three years early, while buying our first house in our mid-twenties, and adding babies #3 and #4 to the family. . . So hooray for tight budgets that made me haul all my progeny wherever I went.

Back to the subject at hand: how do you deal with taking children to the doctor's office?

Mostly you want to keep the kids busy in the waiting room.  For very little kids, who can't read or do math yet, there are several techniques I employed.  Probably the most popular one was playing I Spy.

No, not on a tablet.  Geez, tablets weren't around back when my kids were little.  I think I had two kids graduated from high school before tablets became mainstream.  We don't even own one now, let alone then.  We played I Spy the old fashioned way: with our eyes and mouths.  You can I spy a lot in a doctor's office waiting room.  Ceiling tiles, carpet, chairs and end tables, magazines and books, plants and planters, artwork on walls, other patients, shoes, coats, purses.  The possibilities are pretty endless.  Just try to spy something that isn't going to be gone before it can possibly be guessed, so fixtures are better than other people and their belongings, unless those other people are with you (as in your kids).

Don't be afraid to bring along a small tote bag with coloring books and crayons, or even blank paper and pencils or markers.  Let small children (and even not so small children) color and draw while waiting.  Better yet, get them interested in making tracings by laying the paper over a surface and rubbing crayons across it.  How does the tracing of a chair seat differ from that of a table?  Of a window blind (gently, please!)?  Of the carpeting (or floor tiles if you can find a waiting room that still is uncarpeted!)?  Of jeans?  Of t-shirts or sweaters?

As the kids get older, you can use the paper to play tic tac toe or connect the dots.  You can do math games.

Even if the waiting room doesn't have magazines at the children's reading level, you can still make use of them.  Give each kid a magazine and instruct them to find a certain something in it. Maybe it's a car, or a cat, or a dog, or a woman with blonde hair, or a house or a cake.  Again, endless possibilities, just tailor your search list to go with the focus of the magazine (as in, don't look for tractors in People magazine!)

Books are great.  Many doctor's offices stock a few books for little kids.  Or bring your own selection of picture books and easy readers along.  Older kids can be instructed to bring whatever they are reading at the time.  Here is where I say don't bring computerized entertainment.  Really.  Kids can read, they don't need to constantly be watching digitized images moving across a screen, or blowing up things in a game.  Besides, usually they don't want to watch or play with the sound off, and trust me, nobody else in the waiting room wants to hear it, no matter how many polite smiles they try to paste on their faces.

One doctor's office we went to on a regular basis (allergy shots) had a big chalkboard hung on the wall at elementary school age height.  My kids loved to play on that chalkboard.  Sometimes I would whisper a word in their ear and then they would draw that item for their siblings to guess, Pictionary-style.  Sometimes they would divide the chalkboard into sections, one for each child (and redividing if another youngster arrived in the waiting room) so each kid could do their own thing on their own piece of the board.  Sometimes we did math races, with me writing a math problem for each kid, then handing them the chalk and saying "Go!" Sometimes, when they were old enough to have a good grasp on spelling, we played hangman (which can also be done on paper).

To ease the anxiety of a kid seeing a new doctor for the first time, I would often distract them in the waiting room with a sort of guessing game.  We wouldn't know the answer until we went back to the exam room and met the doctor, but while waiting we would make a guess at what that doctor would look like when he or she walked through the door.  I would ask questions like "Is the doctor a boy or a girl?"  "Is the doctor tall or short?"  "Does the doctor  have hair (for a boy)?"  "What color hair do you think the doctor has?"  "What color eyes does the doctor have?"  And the child would get so caught up in the guessing game that they became excited to see the doctor, rather than apprehensive.  They wanted that doctor to come close enough to them to see if they were right.  Was the doctor a tall, thin man with grey hair, glasses and blue eyes?  Or was the doctor a woman with brown hair?

Waiting.  It's all in how you play it.  Interact with your kids.  Engage their minds.  Focus their attention on something other than how slowly the minutes of the wait are going by.  Ease their apprehension.

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