Top 3 Ways to Relate to Difficult Pediatric Patients


Communicating effectively with pediatric patients is not the same as with adults. Although children used to be seen as small adults, psychologists now know they have their own unique developmental and psychological needs. Those very differences mean your pediatric patients will likely react differently than adult patients when exposed to some of the same stressors. Too often, this comes across as a child who’s being difficult, when in fact they are scared or nervous and acting in the only way they understand. There are several ways to communicate with a pediatric patient who comes across as being difficult that will help you provide care without causing more distress.

It’s All About Relationships

As with any individual, building relationships with a pediatric patient and their parents goes a long way toward reducing difficult communication and improving your ability to provide care. Try greeting the child first, since this helps them to feel important in your eyes. To get the greatest amount of compliance, you need your patients’ trust. After greeting the child and engaging in a short conversation, then speak with the parents.

Being interactive during this initial stage also helps the child develop a bond with you. For instance, before jumping into a physical assessment, allow the child some interaction. If you need to listen to the lungs, let the child listen through your stethoscope. Practice taking deep breaths together before you put the stethoscope in your ears and allow the patient to listen to their parents’ or their own lungs before you listen to theirs. While this relationship-building may make the process a little slower, it ensures greater cooperation and compliance and fewer problems down the road.

Use Their Language

Depending upon the age of the child, you will want to communicate at their developmental level. Pediatrics encompasses a wide range of ages, from newborns to young adults. Young children enjoy professionals who can be a little silly, while school-age children may do better when you find some common ground, like a popular television show or music group. When talking with teenagers or young adults, it’s important to show them the same respect you would an adult. Using this technique can also help when communicating with a child becomes difficult, as it helps distract them from fears and anxieties. Remember that communication is multifaceted, so your patient may connect with you based on a warm expression or tone of voice.

Explain and Give Them Choices

All too often, children are in a position of being out of control in their environment. When they’re sick or in need of medical care, this lack of control becomes a greater issue and may lead to feelings of fear and anger. As much as possible, explain what’s going to happen and what’s going on at their developmental level and then offer them choices. If you have to do an ear exam, allow them to choose which ear you examine first or whether they have their examination sitting down or lying down. Talk through the entire exam and explain everything you’re doing, even if you’re just washing your hands.

Children are more than just small adults. They see the world through a developmental lens most adults have outgrown years ago. In order to deal with difficult pediatric patients, it is important to remember their behavior is likely triggered by fear and anxiety. When you can allay their fears, build trust and communicate with them, it often goes a long way towards reducing behavioral challenges and increasing your ability to provide quality care.

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