Author: Carolyn Snell

5 things you can do to help your child cope with needle phobia

needle phobiaIt’s 4 p.m., and it’s standing room only in the Outpatient Blood Draw area. Some children are sitting in the waiting room with their parents, quietly playing games on their electronic devices or watching cartoons on the large TV overhead. Others seem less relaxed, either sitting in tense silence or walking all around the room.

And I am here with Kaitlyn*, a 10-year-old girl with a fear of needles and blood draws. As soon as we enter the waiting room, Kaitlyn turns to her mother and whispers, “How soon until we leave?”

Kaitlyn’s needle phobia had been a persistent problem, and it started to interfere with her medical needs, which is why she came to see me, as a child psychologist.

But many children are afraid of needles to a lesser degree, and may become anxious in the days leading up to a medical visit or take longer to get shots or blood draws because of their fear.

Here are five things parents can do to make the medical procedure go more smoothly.

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5 ways to help prepare your child for a hospital stay

Snell_CarolynWhether it is for an overnight stay or a longer admission, preparing a child for a hospitalization can be stressful for families. Parents often are unsure how much to tell their children in advance and may worry about increasing children’s anxiety by providing too much or the wrong kind of information. They may worry about how to keep children as calm and comfortable as possible while they are in the hospital, or how to keep them connected to family, friends and school during that time.

However, the good news is that medical teams, including mental health providers, who work with hospitalized children on a regular basis, have learned some important lessons about preparing children for a hospital stay.

Hospitalization is challenging for children for a lot of reasons: it involves a loss of privacy and independence, disruption of daily routines and some separation from caregivers. Even for the most resilient and high-functioning children, these are significant stressors.

Providing children with information about what to expect in an age-appropriate and specific manner can help with any anxiety they may be experiencing and reduce their distress. This reduced anxiety and distress can, in turn, be associated with positive outcomes for children, such as improved sleep and decreased pain while in the hospital. It can also improve children’s confidence and correct any misconceptions they might have about the hospitalization process.

These five tips can help you prepare your child.

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Ask the expert: How to prevent and respond to bullying


October is National Bullying Prevention Month. It brings a flood of anti-bullying postings on social media, as well as anti-bullying banners and signs in schools and the community.

National Bullying Prevention Month reminds us bullying is common; one out of four students report they were bullied during the last school year. Bullying involves a difference in social or physical power between the child who is doing the bullying and the child being bullied; it can be verbal, physical or emotional bullying and is often a pattern of behavior.

The increased awareness that comes with Bullying Prevention Month can encourage schools and communities to develop programs to promote an anti-bullying culture. In today’s world, bullying is rightfully treated as serious business — there are increased efforts to encourage bullying to be reported and anti-bullying laws to prevent and address bullying when it occurs.

Bullying prevention efforts can have a number of different focuses, such as campaigns to turn children from “bystanders to upstanders” or encouraging children to “Shake it off” as in the Taylor Swift song. But what can parents do to prevent bullying, and what can they do if their child is being bullied?

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Dealing with back-to-school jitters

KIds getting on school busThe beginning of the school year can be a stressful time for many children and parents with new routines, new surroundings and new people. Last month, I talked about ways to talk to kids about the first day of school and help them prepare. But what about kids who, even after some preparation about what to expect, still feel anxious?

It can be helpful for parents to strike a balance between empathizing with the child and also focusing on the child’s ability to cope. Parents can let kids know that their nervous feelings are understandable and normal and in fact, many of their friends and classmates probably feel the same way as they do. Asking children what they have heard about the year ahead and what their worries are, allows you to talk things through. While some worries may realistically reflect uncertainty, other worries can be unrealistic and represent worst-case-scenario thinking. Parents can help with this second type of worry by going through the facts and reality of the situation with the child, which can ease some of the anxiety.

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