9 Simple Tricks to Avoid the “Sick-Kid Meltdown”

Keeping your child healthy is probably the most important job you have as a parent. But as every mom knows, it often requires asking your little one to do some of her least favorite things, like getting a shot or swallowing a spoonful of medicine. And that can make your life, well, challenging. But you can cut down on those tears and temper-tantrums with a few clever parenting moves. These expert-approved stay-happy tricks will keep your sick kids smiling during even the most difficult situations.

Meltdown trigger: Going to the doctor’s office

  1. Give your child advance notice. “Resist the urge to wait until the last minute to tell your child about a doctor’s visit,” says Bette J. Freedson, a licensed independent clinical social worker and parenting expert in Lynn, Mass. “Letting her know on the way to an appointment can create a sense of panic.” Instead, give your child at least a day to process the information and ask questions.
  2. Read her a story. “Books are a terrific way to ease your child into a new or uncomfortable situation,” says Freedson. “They’re more likely to discuss how their favorite characters handle going to the pediatrician than talk about their own upcoming visit.” Try reading The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor or Biscuit Visits the Doctor. Or, make up your own bedtime story, says Freedson. “That way, you can write the script for the lesson you want to teach.”
  3. Have a role-playing session. A few days before the appointment, give your child an old white shirt to wear as a doctor’s coat and ask him to give you a “checkup.” Then, reverse roles, with you as the physician. “Rehearsing the scenario is a gentle way of allowing him to play out his fears,” says Freedson. “It’s also an ideal time to teach him that it’s OK to be a little scared.”

Meltdown trigger: Getting a shot

  1. Numb the area. Bring an ice pack — or ask the pediatrician for one — and place it just above the injection site right before she administers the shot. “Cold can help overwhelm the pain,” says Dr. Amy Baxter, a pain researcher in Atlanta and mother of three. One product to consider: Buzzy ($35; Buzzy4Shots.com), a bee-shaped vibrating ice pack.
  2. Give her a mini-massage. No ice on hand? In a pinch, use your own fingers to move your child’s skin on their arm above the injection pre-shot. “That wiggling sensation confuses the nerve, which cuts down on the amount of pain your kid feels,” says Baxter.
  3. Provide a distraction. Give your child an age-appropriate task that he can easily master to divert his attention. “Don’t give him a task that’s too hard, like specific math facts,” says Baxter. “That can add pressure to an already stressful setting.” Instead, ask him to name two things in the examination room that are yellow, or have him point out four objects that are circles.

Meltdown trigger: Taking medicine

  1. Make it fun. Instead of telling your little one that it’s time for medicine, pull out his favorite novelty spoon and ask him who he’d like a visit from — Bob the Builder or Buzz Lightyear? Another kid-friendly tool: Ava the Elephant ($10; AvaTheElephant.com). In a modern spin on the “here comes the airplane” trick, Ava dispenses the medicine through her trunk. Measure the proper dose first and then help her take her medicine, adding your own elephant trumpet noise to make your child laugh.
  2. Chase with a treat. When your child is particularly stubborn about taking her medications, a fun bonus may help the medicine go down. Heather McCarron, a mom of three in Jackson, N.J., gives her daughters a liquid medication and promises that she’ll refill the empty medicine cup with a favorite healthy drink, like chocolate milk or fruit juice. While you never want to make medicine seem like candy, McCarron still finds “that small incentive makes my girls feel like they’re getting something special.” You could also reward them with a favorite activity, like a game or extra playtime.
  3. Mask the taste. To make the medication more appealing, mix it with a sweet food like applesauce, yogurt or a fruit smoothie. You can also ask your pharmacist about FlavorX ($2 per prescription; FlavorX.com), a product that’s added to medication to make it taste like one of eight kid-friendly flavors, such as bubblegum or grape. Just make sure you use a child-safe bottle and store it in a safe place, so your kid won’t reach for it like candy.


One Response to “9 Simple Tricks to Avoid the “Sick-Kid Meltdown””

  1. Rosie Reeves Rosie says:

    Good tips! When my child had to do a swallow study we read and reread Curious George Goes to the Hospital. George swallowed a puzzle piece and had to get pictures of his tummy taken. The machine in the book looked a lot like the one they used for the test! She was still terrified, but I hope it helped her get through it. And she still asks me to read that story to her – over and over again!!


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