"The right to the best possible medical treatment is a fundamental right, especially
for children." - UNESCO
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
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 difficult.
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
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
Related Internet Sites:
- Holistic Dental Association
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.
- Health World Online Referral Network
The most complete online resource for practitioners of alternative and complementary medicine and
integrative health care, with searchable referral databases.
- Charter 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.