20 Things to Know Before Taking Your Child to the ER

Tips 11-20

11. Give the doctor the facts. Explain how and when the accident happened, and where your child has swelling or pain. If she's sick, describe each of her symptoms, and when each one first appeared. Precise information will help doctors diagnose and treat your child more quickly. If your child swallowed something poisonous, bring the container with you.

12. Be honest with your child. Don't tell him that a procedure won't be painful if you know it will be. "Lying will make the rest of the visit more difficult," Dr. Luten says. If your child asks whether a shot is going to hurt, for example, gently tell him the truth, and point out a positive: "It'll probably hurt a little, like a pinch or a bug bite, but then it will stop."

13. Ease your child's fears. Hold her in your lap, and speak in soothing tones. Remind her that you won't leave her and that the doctors are going to do everything they can to help her feel better soon. "Try to shield your child from any disturbing sights and scary instruments, such as suture trays and long needles," suggests Dr. Jackson.

14. Inquire about "ouchless" options. If your child is going to have a shot, stitches, or a blood test, speak up and ask to have numbing cream applied to the location as soon as possible, advises Dr. Jackson. These products usually take about 20 minutes to work. In the case of minor cuts, ask the doctor whether skin tape or glue might be an appropriate alternative to stitches.

15. Get his mind off the pain. During uncomfortable procedures, distract your child by looking at books or playing I Spy. Deep breathing and visualization techniques are often helpful for older kids, Dr. Zun says. Have your child picture his pain swirling down the drain, or have him flip his imaginary pain switch to "off."

16. Make her comfortable. If she's cold, ask for a warm blanket. If the room is too bright, ask to dim the lights. If your child's pain medication has worn off, let someone know. "You must be the advocate for your child," Dr. Jackson says.

17. Don't be afraid to ask questions. "Doctors and nurses get busy, and information isn't always shared the way it should be," says Dr. Luten. If you're not sure what the plan is for your child or why he needs a particular test, politely ask for an explanation. "Parents often feel that it's not their place to interrupt a busy doctor, but answering questions is a doctor's job," Dr. Luten says.

18. Bring change for the pay phone. Cell phones aren't allowed in many hospitals. Coins will also come in handy if you want to get a snack or drink from a vending machine.

19. Get clear discharge instructions. Make sure you know how to care for your child's injuries and what to do if his pain or symptoms don't improve or if they worsen at home. And ask for clarification if you don't understand the purpose of the medication or dosage instructions. "It's better to ask when you're there than to call and try to get information later," says Dr. Zun.

20. Follow up with your pediatrician. After the ER visit, call to let your child's doctor know what the diagnosis was so it can be noted in her medical file (many ERs will send a report to your pediatrician if you ask them to). Check to see whether the doctor has any further recommendations and whether your child needs to be seen for a follow-up exam.

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