Any family with medically complex kids knows that there are TONS of doctor appointments. It really starts to add up fast. One way to start to lose your mind is to bring kids to these doctor appointments with you. So, what do you do when it’s your child that the appointment is for? You can’t leave them at home, but sometimes it’s so hard to hear and have an adult conversation with a doctor when you have kids in the room with you.
So, how do you bring kids to doctor appointments without going crazy?
- Bring snacks and drinks.
- Write down symptoms or concerns before the visit.
- Bring toys and separate them into different bags.
- If your kids are small enough, strollers can save you!
- Bring some form of technology as a backup.
1. Bring snacks and drinks
Snacks can go a long way toward filling little bellies and keeping kids busy chewing instead of screaming while you are trying to talk to the doctor. Bringing several types of snacks can give you options and can help buy you some time. My kids are also more prone to restlessness, fighting with each other, and full-on meltdowns when they are hungry.
However, anyone with a toddler knows that when you hand them food, it’s going to go all over the floor as well as in their mouths. I always try to remember (especially when we are seeing FPIES specialists) that there will be other families coming in for appointments behind us. I try to pack foods that aren’t top 8 allergens (so no peanuts, eggs, tree nuts, dairy, soy, shellfish, wheat, or fish). If you have kids with limited diets, this could seem really overwhelming, and possibly even impossible. Believe me, I’ve been there too. Keep reading for some non-food related tips that might also come in handy.
I also try to make sure to pick up any crumbs that have dropped before we leave, and I make my kids eat while sitting, either in the stroller or up in a chair. This helps cut down on the amount of food that gets strewn across the floor. I also make sure to wipe off my kids’ hands or have them wash in the sink with soap before they can get down or touch anything in the room.
I know that could seem over the top and excessive, but once you have a child who is sick and who can and will grab every tiny crumb off the floor, you realize what a huge deal it could be for the family coming in behind you.
2. Write down your symptoms or concerns before the visit
Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night with a really sick baby and have to head to the ER, especially with FPIES. There isn’t always time to plan ahead and write down your list of concerns. For larger appointments, or appointments were you really need to be able to sit and talk to the doctor and share feedback and concerns, it is really helpful to create a log or chart, or at least a handwritten list of things to discuss with the doctor. This can include new or unusual symptoms you are seeing, concerns that you may have, and any questions you would like to ask the doctor.
When you have everything written down, even if there is a worst-case scenario where your child is completely over it and won’t stop crying, or has to run to the bathroom in the middle of the appointment, or any number of other unforeseen obstacles, you can at least hand the doctor your list of concerns and questions to read over and review. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to yell back and forth with a specialist over my kids crying or asking me questions or just playing with each other loudly in the same small room.
I have found this also helps me clearly get my concerns across to the doctor. Sometimes when I am talking and the doctor is trying to make notes and listen, I can look back on the notes from the appointment and I realize we weren’t understanding each other very well or I maybe didn’t give enough information about one of the questions they asked.
There’s a reason that most doctor’s offices give you a printout at the end of the visit with information about what you went over and their recommendations for further treatment. Sometimes, when you are in that small office and it’s information overload, it’s hard to remember everything that you talked about. The same thing holds true for the doctor on the other end. When you are giving them information in rapid fire bursts, it’s easy to miss some of the information while they are taking down notes. If you give them a list complete with symptoms, all they have to do is make a copy of that and put it in your child’s chart.
It’s definitely more work up front, but it can make communication between you and your team streamlined and efficient. And let’s be honest, when you are trying to find answers and help for your child, every little bit counts.
One valuable thing we did for these appointments was bringing lots of toys and distractions. The test usually creates at least one itchy spot that you can’t touch for several minutes. Bringing along a variety of toys and books can help distract kids who just want to scratch those itchy spots.
3. Bring toys and separate them into different bags.
This is a great tip for anyone who has a child that doesn’t have any safe foods yet, or for those who can’t bring snacks to the appointment. My kids love the YouTube videos where people open blind bags of little toys. Even if it’s toys you already own, something about putting them in a bag that looks special for your child to find is amazing. I try to bring several small toys that are unrelated, for example, small books, crayons and coloring sheets, and then a few toys from different categories. I try not to just bring matchbox cars, or just art supplies, because I’ve found that each type of toy will usually buy me a few minutes of calm and then they want to see what else is in the bag.
Some ideas for bags can include Ziploc bags with washi tape, or stickers, Easter eggs with prize toys inside, or even reusable lunch containers that are different sizes or shapes.
You can also encourage your children to complete a task before they are able to open the next box or bag with a new toy. For older kids, you can let them do one page of homework or do a round of math figures or practice spelling new words before they open their next prize. For younger kids or toddlers you can have them practice walking in a straight line back and forth around the room, practice hopping on one foot or play following games like Simon Says. Anything that is silly or interactive where you are playing with your child will definitely help pass the time while you wait for the nurses or doctors to come into the room.
4. If your kids are small enough, strollers can save you!
If your kids are older, they are likely old enough to sit for small amounts of time and play quietly with toys that you have brought. If they are babies or toddlers though, it can be really frustrating to try to keep them in a small room quietly for a long time period. My kids are only a year apart, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to take a 2 year old and a 1 year old to several specialist appointments a month by myself. During those appointments, having a good double stroller that was roomy and fit both of my kids and all of their gear, toys, etc. was a huge blessing. As an added bonus, ours was the Contours Options stroller and I could turn the seats to face each other. This way the kids could play together while still being somewhat confined to one location.
There were times at the same doctors appointment, where I would switch the seats around several times because they were easy to unlock and rearrange. This gave the kids the option to play together and then when they got tired and started fighting, I would turn their seats around so they were no longer facing each other.
Once they got a little older, we traded out the heavy duty double stroller for a lighter weight double stroller. This time we went with the Joovy Caboose and it was also a real lifesaver. By this time, we had a two year old and a three year old, and my daughter was ready to jump in and out of our stroller when we went to fun places like the zoo or aquarium. Having this lighter stroller that had a place for her to sit or stand and ride was really helpful. It also still had a seat with a tray on the front, which was perfect for doctor’s appointments because I could strap in the child who wasn’t being examined. This made it easier to answer the doctor’s questions without having to guard one child from jumping off the exam table and worry about another child crawling around on the floor.
If you have smaller babies as well as older kids, using some sort of sling or body wrap carrier can be helpful so that your hands are free and your smaller baby is secure. Umbrella strollers are also a lightweight option for older toddlers, and this gives them the freedom to jump in and out when they are able to walk, yet still have a place to rest when they are tired.
5. Bring some form of technology as a backup if you have it.
We don’t normally give our kids tablets or our phones to play with, but they do each have a cheap tablet that we save for special needs (like doctor’s appointments and long car rides). I like to keep them charged and ready to go, so that if there is a middle of the night ER visit or one of those long days of specialist appointments I’m prepared.
We actually bought their Amazon Fire tablets as part of their two for one Black Friday sale over three years ago, and those things are still going strong. There are not as many apps on the Amazon app store as I would like, but it was definitely cheaper than buying iPads for my kids and they have been really durable.
I don’t think this is something you have to have – so if you don’t have any technology to bring with you or if your family doesn’t use tech devices for kids (good for you!) then don’t sweat it. You can definitely make it through just using the other tips above. I try to wait as long as possible to pass out the tablets, and there have been many appointments where we haven’t even needed them.
We typically use a combination of apps that are crowd pleasers in our house:
- Netflix – I download shows in advance so if there’s no wifi at the doctor’s office the kids can still watch several shows
- PBS kids – there are quite a few games within this app that you will need to download first in order to play. I recommend setting this app up at home before you get there so you know that everything works. Also some of these games require wifi so you may still be limited.
- Simple coloring apps/games
- Read aloud games where someone is reading a story and your kids get to interact with the pages.
Above all else, the most important strategy for making it through doctor’s appointments with littles without losing your mind is to keep breathing, and remember that no matter how crazy things got while you were in there, the doctor has probably seen worse.
Sometimes you just have to keep pushing through even when it’s one of those days where your nerves are frayed and there’s not a lot of energy left to make it home on.
For those days, there is nap time…. and wine.