How Can I Connect With Kids?

Sheila M. Bigelow, DO


August 07, 2012


I'm nervous about my pediatrics rotation. Any recommendations on how to connect with children rather than just give them good care?

Response from Sheila M. Bigelow, DO
Resident Physician, Pediatrics, UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio

Working with children is one of the most rewarding things you will do in medicine. However, it can also be one of the most challenging, and even intimidating.

Depending on what your past experience is with children, your pediatrics rotation might be the first time you're holding a newborn or giving a 4-year-old her vaccinations. Just the fact that you are wondering how to connect with kids shows that you have the best interest at heart for your pediatric patients.

Most important, when you begin pediatrics you will need a lot of patience, both for yourself and for your patients. Newborn babies -- and sometimes their sleep-deprived new moms -- can't tell you why they keep crying. Likewise, an adolescent may need to feel comfortable with you before they tell you the real reason that they are in the office today.

If you try to rush to save a few extra minutes, your patients and their parents will pick up on this, ultimately causing your history to be inadequate.

Take a minute to coo over the baby and ask mom how she is doing, talk about a new animated movie with the 5-year-old, or ask about the latest sports game with the teenager.

Look at the patient. Does she have on a ballerina T-shirt with matching barrettes? Is he wearing his team baseball shirt from last year? Picking up on children's interests is not hard to do and doesn't require any medical knowledge, but it can help you quickly build patient rapport and can even contribute to your history-taking.

For example, the boy in the baseball shirt from last year is having asthma symptoms, so you ask him about his baseball season as well as if he had any shortness of breath or needed to use albuterol while playing. During that interaction, you've bonded with him over his passion for baseball while assessing his asthma control.

One of the best parts about pediatrics is the variety. In a single day, you might take care of a 2-day-old girl and an 18-year-old young man. However, this means that you will use various techniques to get a high-quality history and physical from the very different age groups.

In infants and younger children, allowing mom to cradle the baby while you listen to the heart can help avoid making the baby cry and heart sounds more difficult to hear. Sit down while you talk to and examine children; it will help you appear less intimidating and let them feel more comfortable.

Depending on the age of the child, you can try to make the examination a little more fun with them while gaining useful information. For example, while listening to a preschooler's belly, you can play a game and try to guess what they ate last. Sometimes you might even be right! But more important, you might get them to giggle, and you've just opened a discussion about the child's diet.

Be honest with the child during your examination and let them know what you're going to do next. Show them the otoscope and let them see that it's a tiny flashlight. Don't lie about shots or other uncomfortable things. Instead, tell them that you know it isn't any fun, but they are so brave and they can handle it with help from their parent.

If you can, carry a few fun stickers, Silly Bandz, or a bottle of bubbles that you can either give to the child after a tough examination or use to distract him or her during the examination. At the end of the visit, be sure to tell the child how well they did, and point out a specific example of something they did that impressed you, such as letting you look in their ear or drawing you a picture of their mother.

If you want to really connect with kids and give them great medical care, being fun, creative, and open is truly key. In what other field of medicine can you joke with a patient about finding a puppy dog in their ear or carry around a koala bear on your stethoscope?

Take your time, be observant, and have fun with your pediatric patient. No matter what field of medicine you eventually pursue, these skills will serve you well. Maybe you'll even have a patient tell you that they want to be a doctor just like you when they grow up. That's when you'll know you have truly succeeded!


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