"The right to the best possible medical
treatment is a fundamental right, especially for children."
1. Well before treatment is needed, help your
child to prepare emotionally for medical procedures. Play
"dentist", "doctor", or "hospital', read
relevant books about children having medical treatment. To help
your child become familiar with medical instruments before
treatment is needed, find real instruments (such as a rubber pick
and plastic dental mirror) or create "play" ones (such
as using a piece of fabric as a blood pressure wrap). Medical
treatment can be frightening to a child, especially if there are
too many new and strange things to learn about all at once.
2. Find respectful, kind, and skilled caregivers now,
and ask for your family to be accepted as their patients. If there
is an emergency, you won't have time to check out recommendations.
Ask your friends, other parents, La Leche League leaders, and
anyone else whose opinions you trust, to recommend professionals
who genuinely like children and respect their needs. Holistic
medical personnel such as naturopathic dentists and pediatricians
are usually patient and kind with children. It can be well worth
the extra effort, such as driving to another town, to avoid
traumatic medical experiences.
3. Be aware that most adults, regardless of their
profession, do not "get it" that children deserve to be
treated with dignity and respect (most likely because they were
not treated respectfully in their own childhood). "Drive
defensively" when medical treatment is needed. Don't assume
that because someone went to dental school, nursing school, or
medical school that they understand the critical importance of
early childhood experience. This essential topic was almost
certainly not covered in their classes. (A pediatric
dentist once criticized me for nursing my son in toddlerhood, even
though one of the many benefits of nursing is to help set the jaw
properly, and help prevent the need for braces later on.)
4. Remember that medical professionals can be very
intimidating. The usual argument for parent-child separation
is that medical personnel can "better get their work
done". A helpful reply is that you also have work to do - to
provide critically important emotional support - and that with
both of you doing your respective jobs, your child will receive
the best possible care. You might remind them that everyone -
child or adult – recuperates better and more quickly if given
strong emotional support, and that someone closely bonded to the
child can best provide this. The "Charter of
Rights for Children in Hospitals" includes
recommendations that also apply to office visits (you have our
permission to print and share this article).
Be aware that children - like the elderly - often receive less
pain medication than do adults. A child can experience great pain
but feel powerless to ask for help. Stay on your child's side by
validating their experience, and never hesitate to ask the staff
for immediate pain relief to be given to your child.
5. Unless you have an emergency situation, always
meet the staff well in advance before scheduling an appointment.
Even so, be aware that no matter how cordial the staff may seem
during a preliminary meeting, that may say little about how they
actually see children.
To find a professional who will work in close partnership with
your child as well as with you, always bring the child with
you to see how they interact with him/her. Relying on even a
glowing recommendation without first meeting the
dentist/doctor/nurse may not be enough. Another family may have
had a good experience because of numerous factors that do not
apply to you or your child: the doctor may have had more personal
rapport with the other family, he or she may have been in a better
mood at the time, their child may have been older, more outgoing,
or have had previous positive experiences with medical/dental
visits. The procedure may also have been different and not as
6. Ask for a detailed, step-by-step description of what
will happen during the entire appointment. If the staff is
reluctant to give this information to you, go elsewhere. When my
son needed surgery, I asked for and received a very detailed
description of the procedure. Unfortunately, I was not told
that they would take him forcefully from my arms and rush him into
surgery, locking me out of the room, and ignoring my protests.
7. All too often, medical personnel can be intimidating
and critical when their procedures are questioned. And when a
child needs medical treatment, the parent is naturally distracted
and worried, making communication more difficult. For these
reasons, it can be very helpful to bring along an ally – a
spouse, friend, or relative with similar views, to step in if you
are having difficulty communicating your wishes, and to show that
your views are not unique or odd. Your friend may also have
creative solutions you may not have considered, such as having the
child on your lap during a dental appointment. Whatever you
suggest, be polite but assertive: "I'll be staying with
her," or "I'd prefer to stay, thank you," and walk
in as if they have given permission.
8. If the procedure is an elective one, remember that
your legal consent is needed. If all else fails, and your child's
critical needs for support and comfort are being ignored, make it
clear that you can and will withdraw permission if necessary. If
you find yourself in a really difficult situation, ask to speak to
the head nurse, department head, or hospital administrator. Don't
be deceived by a nurse's claim that there is "no one
higher". Again, having an ally present can be very helpful if
the situation requires such a confrontation. Remember that you owe
far more to your child than to a stranger, regardless of their
9. Be especially careful about making promises to your
child that you may not be able to keep. For example, before
promising to be present in the recovery room, be sure that this is
possible and that all relevant personnel are informed of this
plan. Although I had permission from my son's doctor to be present
when he awoke, the nurses on duty that day had not been informed.
Broken promises endanger the trust between parent and child, and
should always be avoided.
10. Finally, send a letter after the procedure, letting
the staff know what worked and what didn't. This type of feedback
is essential for effecting positive changes in our medical
institutions. And don't limit such letters to negative
experiences. Applauding the efforts of staff members who were
particularly supportive can be the most helpful feedback of all.
Even the most meticulous planning won't guarantee that you
aren't surprised by dental/medical procedures or policies. If
something goes amiss, be prepared to validate the child's feelings
of being abandoned or betrayed. Accept the anger and allow it to
be expressed safely (such as by providing pillows for pounding),
and accept and express your own anger and disappointment. Tell
your child how you feel, what you wish you had done, and what the
child deserved to have had from you and from the doctor.
Apologize, and reassure him that it was not deliberate on your
part. Show with your words and actions that you are on his side,
even though things went wrong. We can only do the best we can,
learn from our mistakes, and hopefully, do better next time.
Related Internet Sites:
This site on "Complementary and Alternative
Dentistry" includes a search form for locating dentists
in specific areas, as well as a "Public Information
Exchange" where visitors can post messages and requests.
World Online Referral Network
The most complete online resource for practitioners of
alternative and complementary medicine and integrative health
care, with searchable referral databases.
of Rights for Children in Hospitals
A ten-point charter adapted by the European Association
for Children in Hospital (EACH).
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (U.N.)
The Convention reaffirms the fact that children, because
of their vulnerability, need special care and protection. It
is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.