Friday, October 17, 2014

How to Keep the Waiting Room Stress-Free for Kids: A Guide for Parents and Medical Staff


“We're going to visit your pediatrician today.” A statement no kid(or parent, if we're just being honest) likes to hear. Many children immediately imagine scary monsters in lab coats chasing them with big syringes anytime they hear words like “pediatrician” or “doctor's office.” Many children are frightened of what may or may not happen once they leave the waiting room to enter an exam room. Other children, especially those with special needs who have unfortunately grown used to the inside of doctor's office, are simply bored and grow restless while waiting. Luckily, there's several ways both parents and medical staff can alleviate the stress children feel in the waiting room and we've compiled advice and methods from experts across the country into one handy guide.

For the Parents

What to Bring, What to Talk About, and Games to Play
If you're taking your child to a pediatric clinic, hospital, or ward, it's highly likely the waiting room will be equipped with kid-friendly items like books, games, or sensory toys. But just in case you visit a clinic or hospital that doesn't offer these items or your child is highly contagious and can't touch or interact with the toys or other children, here's a few items Children's Specialized Hospital suggests parents bring to the waiting room:

    Favorite hand held games, books, or magazines. Highlights, American Girl, and Lego or Lego, Jr. are all wonderful children's magazines that offer fun games and engaging stories, some offering free subscriptions, which makes them perfect to keep on hand for waiting room days or long car rides.
    Favorite blanket, small board game, dolls or action figures, or small puzzle. Bringing a comfort item such as a favorite blanket or doll gives the child something to “squeeze out their anxieties with.”

Another great way to distract your child and relieve their anxieties is to create and tell a social story about their trip to the doctor's office. You can do this by drawing or taking pictures that document your child's trip, beginning with when you are preparing to leave your home to go to the clin

ic. Draw or take a picture of your child putting on his coat or hat, followed by a photo of you and your child in your car preparing to travel to the doctor's office, and so on and so on. Then, while you are sitting in the waiting room, you can tell your child their own story of visiting the doctor and what they can expect. This is a great way to both pass the time and prepare your child for what comes next.

If you forget to bring a game, toy, or story to occupy your child with in the waiting room, you can always turn to tried-and-true games like I-spy or Simon Says for distraction. Children's Specialized Hospital also suggests bringing headphones and a listening device such as an iPod, Mp3 player, or even your phone loaded with your child's favorite music. Music is such an amazing tool that comforts and soothes stress for pretty much anyone, including kids.

For the Medical Staff: 

What You Can Do to Make Your Waiting Room Stress-free and Kid-friendly. 


If anyone understands the stressful environment of a medical waiting room, it's the staff that works in it. The Healthcare Group provides some information too good not to share on how medical staffs can make their waiting rooms better for children and their parents. Here's some of their advice and methods:

If possible, provide separate waiting areas for the sick and the well children. It is not always available so if not get sick children into their separate room quickly and have them wait there instead of the general waiting area. It can help prevent the spread of viruses to well children.

Provide an open, airy, light waiting area and office space. Keep wall colors bright and consider having a fun mural such as an animal scene or even favorite cartoon characters visiting the doctor painted on a wall. 


If it's in the budget, invest in setting up an aquarium filled with bright, colorful fish. Children are usually mesmerized with marine animals, which is why an aquarium is a great distraction and stress-reducer. By focusing their attention on the fish, kids forget about their doctor visit worries and remain tantrum-free.

Many clinics do not like to provide toys because they are concerned about keeping them clean and they are concerned about theft or rough play. However, researchers have found that by providing a play area actually encourages cooperative play and reduces stress so that kids are less likely to complain or climb on the furniture. As for theft or cleanliness, making sure you select all-in-one toys or wall toys that cannot be easily removed (but can be easily wipred down) solves these issues with ease.


Another great solution to waiting room management are adding an area for books and magazines. Earlier in the article, we mentioned Highlights magazine, which such a great children's publication filled with brain-stimulating games and exciting stories. Provide children's tables loaded with crayons, magazines like Highlights, and coloring books or pages. Some staffs even hand out coloring pages and a small pack of crayons to children upon arrival, with the promise to hang their artwork on the wall at the end of their visit. Make sure the books and magazines are accessible and easy to see by adding a book case that displays the front cover of the books to draw children’s attention and keeps them engaged.

The Healthcare Group also advised physicians to make regular appearances in the waiting room. This gives parents a chance to point out their child's doctor and put a face with the name.

If you decide to equip your waiting area with a television or other media-playing device consider keeping it tuned to shows like “Doc McStuffins” or other children's movies or programs that feature doctors and nurses. Kids will associate beloved characters like Doc McStuffins with their own pediatricians, alleviating fears of what will happen during their doctor's visit.

We hope this article has provided insight to both parents and physicians and medical staff alike that will make any medical waiting room a stress-free, peaceful environment for all.