My regular readers know my kids have some special needs. I write about the challenges involved in parenting them sometimes. We shuttle (mostly I to be honest) both girls back and forth to doctors and medical appointments and for assessments so much that I get tired and overwhelmed. So I imagine they must also. Which brings me to a tricky balance question. I was a child when I was sick with Crohn's disease. I was in hospital a lot and shuttled back and forth to doctors a lot and I never felt empowered throughout the process until I became an adult with a career. Honest To God. I never felt I had any say in what my treatment was and I certainly never had a voice with which I could challenge my doctor as a child.
Now, as a parent with kids travelling through the health care system, I believe that some of the process, and system has changed. But I know it is my job to help my kids feel safe within the health care system (which I absolutely still regard as the best in the world). So how do I do that? How do I give them the power?
Five Ways to Empower Your Child to Take Charge of Health Care.
1. My kids have the final say.
I've said it before and I will say it again. I am raising advocates. I am raising kids who empathize with others and speak up. Do they always? When it comes to others - yes. When it comes to themselves? Not always. This past week my oldest girl, with anxiety disorder was headed to her new doctor. We walked in and we were informed that a student doctor would be present at the session. "Is that alright?" Well, my normally forthcoming child shut down immediately, squeezed my hand so hard I could hear my knuckles cracking and stopped walking. Obviously it was not okay. I stopped her in the hall and told her she was in charge. Speak up and use your voice if this makes you uncomfortable. Finally she was able to state she was not comfortable with a stranger being in the session. I applauded that afterwards, publicly and privately. I wished I had the backbone to say the same thing when I was a kid. (At some point when you are a 14 year old girl and 4 people in a room are talking about your barium xrays and pressing on your stomach, you dissociate and leave the room entirely.) I don't ever want my child to feel powerless with doctors, therapists, nurses etc.
2. They get what they need, and if they don't then we need to move on or get a different expert/health care resource or opinion. It stuns me that I have to say this about kid's health or kid's education, or kid's welfare. All kids should get what they need. My kids get what they need. No questions. No excuses. You need more sessions of physiotherapy because of the broken arm, then someone will be providing that. You need to bump up therapy sessions because of a child who was being a total bully in class, then we are going to bump them up/increase them. End of story.
3. I believe my kids.
I believe my kids when they tell me something is wrong or isn't working. They don't always use those words. Payton had stomach aches for months from grade one on before everyone realized she was an anxious kid and school relationships especially with girls were very challenging to negotiate. There is always a reason for the ailment that is presenting itself. Listen and believe.
4. Ask Questions. (and Ask Your Child if they have any questions.)
Even when they were little, I would ask lots of questions of the doctors helping my kids. I would also then ask them if they had anything to add. I model that it's okay to ask and get answers to your questions when at the doctor. In fact, it's expected. Then I ask them if they want to ask any questions. I grew up feeling that doctors were very unapproachable. We never went to the doctor with a list. Your doctor was a demi-god. That what I was taught. You let them do what they needed because they knew best. I was not an empowered patient.
5. Be present. This one is the hardest actually
Be there with them. I have been in more sessions with my kids, and more doctor's appointments and more emergency rooms. I am there as their parent and their advocate too. I rarely leave the room. When my daughter is old enough to feel comfortable on her own, and when I know she is in a safe environment to be seen and respected and treated, then maybe I will be sitting in the waiting room letting her take the reins entirely. But not yet. I slept in the room the only time my daughter had surgery. I don't tweet and post and manage client accounts and take client phone calls when I am in the hospital with my child. It's important I am there for her. It's also important that I am understanding the process and the treatment.
How do you help your child feel like they have a say in their health care treatment?