A visit to the ER
If an emergency visit to the trauma department of a hospital is scary for you, imagine how it must make your child feel. Luckily, you can help make it better.

Red lights, sirens, the smell of antiseptic cleaner in white corridors, shining instruments clattering in metal bowls, welllit rooms with white clinical sheets over small beds and your child lying on one of these beds, crying and reaching out to you.

Stop and think for a moment: what feeling does this description evoke in you? Do you experience a heart-racing, head-spinning kind of I-want-to-runaway anxiety? Do you kick into protection mode with an I-will-not-let-them-hur ther is trying to do because going to the emergency room surely isn’t that bad!

A child’s point of view

Your reaction towards your child’s emergency dictates the way she is going to experience it. This
about a child’s visit to the emergency room. However, there is a lot that you can do to make this visit as untraumatic for your child as possible.

Trauma is processed not in the experience itself, but in the way a person interprets that experience. And because children don’t always know how to interpret a situation, they watch the adults around
them closely to determine whether this is a “bad” or a “good” situation.

Children are excellent readers of our body language, facial expressions and tone of voice and therefore we must try and stay as calm as possible in an emergency situation. Even getting angry at the circumstances can be very frightening for a small child. If the careless actions of another person were the direct result of your child being hurt, wait until your child is not present before you take it up with the other person.

Creating calm

Take some valuable time to calm yourself first of all. When you receive shocking news, your body tries to protect you from further negative input by shutting down the more developed areas of your brain (those parts that you need for thinking and rationalisation).

That is why we find it very dif cult to think straight during stressful times. Take some deep breaths and do an exercise like counting to ten so that you can get the rational part of your
brain to focus again.

You will not only be able to think more clearly about what to do in the crisis situation, but you will
also be able to be the pillar of emotional support that your child so desperately needs in a crisis situation.

In an emergency

Whether an accident occurred at home or on the road, here are some tips that you can use during the experience to help keep your child calm:

  • Make sure that other children on the scene are being taken care of and that the current accident does not lead to other accidents, such as a small child being left alone in the bath, for instance.
  • Keep the injured child warm.
  • Remember that when your child has had a big shock, her brain functioning and cannot register long explanations. Because of this, what you do now is more important than what you say. Be as calm and reassuring as possible and try to slow down your actions, as rushing movements can be interpreted by the child as panic.
  • Use a soft, calm, con dent voice to talk to your child and always use positive statements. Say things like: “I am here for you,”’ and “They are going to help you,” rather than “Don’t be scared” when it comes to being treated by emergency medical personnel or medics. The child may only hear the word scared and this may trigger her to become even more scared.
  • Take your child’s favourite soft toy or blanket with her in the car or ambulance so that she has a familiar item with her throughout the emergency room experience.
  • On your way to the hospital, talk to your child about her feelings and assure her that they are all quite normal, won’t last and that she will soon feel better. You can say things like: “This shaky feeling is normal. Your body also got a big fright and it is shaking to get rid of the scary feelings.” Give the feelings names and see who can come up with the most original description of the feeling. Remember that humour is an excellent way to defuse a situation and to help you both relax.

If you need more information or help on this topic, feel free to contact the Organisation for Paediatric Support in South Africa (www.opssa.org.za), a non-profit organisation with the aim of empowering children and families in healthcare. 

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