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Baby Talk:

Effectively with
Your Pediatric
(and other kids)

Dr Varsha Atul Shah

What well talk about

Developmental stages
(please try not to yawn too loudly)

What parents like

Nonverbal communications
Tools, toys and tricks

Developmental Stages

Birth to 6 months
Infant is learning to regard the
environment, especially faces.
No stranger anxiety until late in this
Nonverbal communication is key
Facial expressions
Tone of voice

Parents warm to medical personnel

who treat their children as babies,
not patients. Make faces and talk
baby talk!

6 18 months
Stranger anxiety! Try to keep
the child with a caregiver.
Communication is still mostly
nonverbal but talk to the child
Development in motor skills is
often faster than communication

6 18 months
Use stimulating objects to catch
attention for distraction or
Use toe to head approach.

18 months 3 years
More explorative but still shelter
with parents.
Will understand more words
than they can say.
Constantly moving.
Play and curiosity are big

18 months 3 years
Use your tools and toys.
Toe to head approach.
Try not to hold them down but
dont wait forever for
cooperation with exam.
Toilet training often includes
lessons about modesty and
improper touching. Respect
these lessons; uncover child
selectively for exam.

3 to 6 years
Usually a great age to work
Learning to explore and be
independent. Very curious!
Can be very talkative and
verbally enthusiastic.
Are starting to understand about
being hurt or sick and that
people will try to help them.

3 to 6 years
Are starting to understand the
concept of the future.
May misinterpret words they
Have magical thinking.
Worry about being in trouble.
Like to have choices.

3 to 6 years
This flashlights DEAD.

Im going to TAKE your

Dont CUT OFF the
circulation with that strap.
Were going to have to TIE
YOU DOWN on this board.

3 to 6 years
I didnt put my seatbelt on, so we
got in a crash.
Put a bandaid on it! (and the booboo goes away)
I was bad in school so now I have
to get a shot.

Please dont ever threaten a child with

a shot or a doctors visit if theyre not
behaving right. This is sabotage!

3 to 6 years
Would you like your IV in this arm
or that arm?
Where would you like your IV?

6 12 years
Fear failure, inferiority. Want to
be treated as big kids but may
feel baby insecurities.
Want to be accepted and blend
Body-conscious and modest
May feel pain intensely
Feel comfort with touching

6 12 years
Question the child directly and
in simple but not babyish terms.
Use common interests to build
TV and movie characters

Treat them with respect.

Offer limited choices.

6 12 years
Dont embarrass them in front
of peers.
Dont tell them not to cry!

OK to touch in comfort.
Respect their modesty.

6 12 years
These are the

I have to pee!
Dont fall for delaying tactics!

12 years and up
Identity and peer relationships
are the key issues at this age.
Body image and future
deformities and dysfunctions are
very important.
Reactions can be under- or overexaggerated.
Regressive behavior is common.

12 years and up
Respect modesty and privacy.

Avoid embarrassing the child.

Direct yourself to the child as
you might to an adult, with an
adjustment in language.
Make eye contact but dont
force it unless you need to make
a point.

12 years and up
Touch cautiously until youre sure
touch is welcome.
Dont lie. Dont be condescending.
Dont try to be one of the group
unless you are. These guys can spot
fakes a mile away.

12 years and up
If drugs, pregnancy or other
sensitive issues are involved,
assure the child that your job is
not to judge or enforce the law
(unless it is).
Whenever possible, allow close
friends to maintain support roles
as socially-acceptable parent

Dont ever intentionally lie to a
child patient. If youre caught, it
blows the credibility of all
medical personnel.
Always tell a child if something
is going to hurt!
Explain procedures in simple
terms but not until its time to
do it. Anticipation is often
worse than the procedure.

What parents like

The hardest part of taking care of

kids is usually dealing with their
parents and guardians.
Whenever youre caring for a child,
you must consider the family
members to be your patients too.

What parents like and want

Treat children as people.
Learn and use their preferred name.
At least get the sex right!

Keep children as physically and

emotionally comfortable as possible.
Basic and advanced pain
management is important.
Try to relieve fear and anxiety as
early and as much as possible.

What parents like and want

Treat every child as if they were the
most special, beautiful, smartest child
in the world. A compliment to a child
is a complement to their parents.
Listen to what the child has to say,
even if it sounds like nonsense.
Every child has something you
should honestly be able to
complement them on, even if its just
that they have such good lungs for
them to be able to scream so

Romigs Rule of Smiling

If you can make the child smile first, the
parents smiles will follow soon after.

A smile is as calming for everyone on
scene as a collective deep breath.

Everybody up for a stretch!


Nonverbal communications

What your face and body

say are every bit as
important as what your
mouth says.

Nonverbal communications
Get to the childs eye level.
Try not to make the child look at
you at an awkward angle.
Make eye contact but dont hold
it in a challenging manner.
Use your eyebrows to
exaggerate your expressions,
especially for babies through
elementary-age kids.

Nonverbal communications
Use a soft voice with a moderate
pace and interrupt only when
Use noises like um-hmm and
I see to encourage children to
For preverbal children, use a
happy voice and bring the tone
up at the ends of sentences
(inviting a response from the

Nonverbal communications
Infants less than about 6 months
can be touched anywhere first,
but go to the most painful place

For children with stranger

anxiety, offer your hand or a
tool for them to touch and
explore first. Go for their heads
and trunks and any painful parts

Nonverbal communications
Touch school-agers in a playful
fashion. High five is often a
good way to start.
Tickling is good in young
school-agers but dont do it until
youve gotten your assessment.
Once a school-ager trusts your
touch, try to maintain some
contact while getting info from
the parent.

Nonverbal communications
Touch teens only as needed for your
exam, unless further touch is clearly
Try to always have a witness when
with a teen, especially a teen of the
opposite sex, in case one of your
gestures is misinterpreted.

Watch your facial expressions with

teens! If you look like you dont
believe them, you lose them.

Tools, Toys and Tricks

What can you do with this?

Test range of motion of joints,
mobility, and grip strength.
Check pulmonary function (blow
out the candle!)
Look in moms throat or show the
child your own.
Look for Mickey Mouse,
SpongeBob, etc. under clothes.
Make an ET finger

What can you do with this?

Check range of motion, etc

Let the child listen to

somebodys heart and stomach
Make a phone call to the

What can you do with this?

Pager/Cell phone
Check range of motion, etc
Get a page or call from Mickey,
SpongeBob, etc.
Play with the tones and/or
vibration feature
Try to keep it from being
thrown across the room
Please do not answer pages or
phone calls while with a patient
unless its urgent!

What can you do with this?

Stuffed Animals
Check range of motion, etc
Check cognition
Who/What is this?
What color is this?
What sound does he make?

Check gait
Will you pick that up for me

My toys!

Dr. Lous Bag of Tricks

Any toy or interesting tool can be
used to check the motor exam and
mental status of a child.
If you dont have a toy and want to
check neck flexion (nontraumatic),
ask the child to show you his/her
belly button. They almost always
look down as they pull up their
If they dont look down, ask
dubiously if theyre sure thats their
belly button.

Dr. Lous Bag of Tricks

Demo what you want to do on mom
or dad.
If you want a young school-ager to
do something, bet them that they
cant do it as well as you can.
To improve deep breathing for
auscultation, ask the child to act like
shes blowing up a balloon or
blowing out a candle, but quietly.

Dr. Lous Bag of Tricks

To check pulmonary function on
a school-age or older child, have
them see how far they can
slowly count out loud on a
single breath. Normally, they
should get at least into the teens.
Repeat to assess effectiveness of

Dr. Lous Bag of Tricks

Tell a preschool child that
youre going to give their arm a
hug when you take their blood

Have a child tilt their head back

if checking their throat. You get
a better view.

Dr. Lous Bag of Tricks

To help palpate a ticklish
abdomen, put the childs hand
under yours and palpate with
their hand.

To get your tool or toy back,

distract the child with something
else while you or the parent
retrieves it. Get it out of sight

Dr. Lous Sure-Fire Laugh Lines

When a childs done a good job at
deep breathing for you
Wow, youre a really good
breather! Ill bet you do it all the
time, dont you?

Dr. Lous Sure-Fire Laugh Lines

Does your hurt?
Mention normal painful body parts
and then start throwing in others

Hair, eyelashes, fingernails,

toenails, freckles?

Dr. Lous Sure-Fire Laugh Lines

To a school-aged child:
My goodness, youre so cute! How
many girl(boy)friends do you have?

Are you married? Have any kids?

Dr. Lous Sure-Fire Laugh Lines

If no girlfriend, whisper loudly,

Youre supposed to say your mothers

your girlfriend!
If horrified by the thought of a girlfriend,

Thats OK. Girls are yucky anyway.

Both are guaranteed to make the parents laugh!

The Rap-up

Getting along well with your
child patients often enhances
your communication with their

Developmental stages influence

your communication approach
but you should always talk to
your child patient, regardless of

Tell the parents what they want
to hear about their child. Then
tell them about the medical stuff.
Smiles are powerful
communication tools.
Sometimes its not what you say
but how you say it, with your
body as well as your words.

Never lie.

Shamelessly use any tools and

tricks you have to enhance
communications and build trust.
This can only make your job
Make em laugh!


Lou Romig MD