Cutting the stress for kids in emergency

December 19, 2016|

Having to take your child to the emergency department is undoubtedly a stressful experience. But there are ways to reduce the stress, for all of you.

When your child is very unwell or injured and you need help right away, the nearest hospital emergency department is the best place to go. While a trip to emergency is not something we can (or would ever want to) plan for, understanding a few key things about the experience might go some way to easing the stress. 

Why am I here?

Children end up in the emergency department for a wide variety of reasons. 

The emergency department top ten

  1. Broken bones and fractures, especially of the extremities like wrists and ankles. 
  2. Soft tissue injuries like sprains and strains. Frequently sports-related. 
  3. Upper respiratory conditions such as  pneumonia, asthma and croup or breathing difficulties.
  4. Ear infections.
  5. Fever, particularly unexplained fever. Often accompanied by dehydration or loss of appetite. 
  6. Cuts and lacerations.
  7. Burns. 
  8. Abdominal pain caused by appendicitis, gall stones or hernias.
  9. Vomiting and dehydration, often as a result of gastroenteritis or food poisoning.
  10. Allergic reactions. 

What can you expect?

Most emergency departments care for all ages and patient types however some departments have a dedicated pediatrics ward to provide specialist emergency services for children. 

The good thing about being in a children’s emergency room is that your child won’t have to deal with adult emergencies, which may be confronting. It’s also likely there will be toys and other entertainment options to distract them. 

The first person you’ll see will be the triage nurse who will assess both your child’s condition and the priority of his or her care. This may involve taking your child's temperature, weighing them and talking to you and/or your child about their condition. 

The length of time it will take for your child to be seen will depend on who else is there. Your child will be treated as soon as possible, but someone who arrives after you with a more serious condition is likely to be treated first.

Your child’s condition may require an admission to the hospital but less than half of the patients who present to emergency departments internationally are admitted to hospital so there’s a good chance your child will receive treatment in emergency and be sent home, possibly with a referral. 

What can I do to help?

“When a parent brings their child to emergency it’s understandably a stressful time,” says Meredith Elliot, Paediatric Nurse Unit Manager at Epworth, Richmond.

“It’s hard to just tell parents to ‘be calm’ when there’s an emergency situation involving their child,” she says. “Everyone reacts differently. What I would say is to try to remain calm and to have confidence that your child will be treated promptly.”

Meredith's tips for a trip to the Emergency Department:

  • Limit the number of people you bring along. Mum and dad are ok, but the extended family can build noise and add to the stress. 
  • Trust the staff. They may have to do things to your child that are going to hurt like put in a drip, a catheter or a nasogastric tube, but they will only do this because your child really needs it. If you think you’re going to get upset it might be better to step away briefly.
  • Bring comforting things from home like a favourite book or teddy.
  • Bring an overnight bag for yourself and your child with some basic toiletries and pyjamas in case they need to be admitted.
  • Bring information about any medications, medical or behavioural conditions that might be relevant.


What should I tell my child?

Take a moment when you first arrive, and before your child has had any contact with a doctor or nurse, to explain to them where they are and what they might expect while they are in emergency.

You will be surprised at the difference it makes to their attitude if they are aware that:

  • Someone may look in their ear or mouth with an instrument.
  • They may see different medical instruments and equipment but each of these things will help them to feel better.
  • They will meet a nurse and possibly a doctor who will ask them a few questions and take a look at the wound/area that hurts.
  • They may need to go to a different area for tests like X-rays or maybe a bit of blood may need to be taken. 

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