As a pharmacist and a mom, I understand the difficulty and the stress related to medication-time for children and parents from behind the counter, as well as in front of the counter. This dual perspective encourages me to empathize more with sick children and better understand and support frustrated parents.
According to Medline Plus Health Topics: Stress in Childhood, “Pain, injury, and illness are major stressors for children… Medical treatments produce even greater stress.” It is no wonder sick children rebel, fight, and are upset by having to take medicine. Not only do they not feel well, but they feel helpless and out of control. Being forced to take medicine simply compounds this stress and positions them on the defensive even more. I know my role as a pharmacist is to provide patients with their medication, educate them about the importance of taking their medication, and encourage them to complete their regimen exactly as directed. But as a parent, I know that navigating the often stressful situation of medicine time is easier said than done. So what advice can I offer parents from both a professional and personal level?
As pharmacists, we can help children respond to stress in healthy ways. Intuitively, we know that allowing kids to make choices leads to cooperation. When we offer children choices, we are promoting independence and responsibility, and frankly being autonomous and in control feels good. Children behave better when they feel that they have some control over their circumstances and actions; Feeling in control helps minimize conflict and minimize stress.
This concept should not be too foreign of a notion for us to understand, as health-related stress is not just a ‘kid thing’. According to a recent nationwide poll about the effect of stress in adult Americans' lives, health-related problems were the most common source of stress. Twenty-seven percent of the adults polled cited illness and disease as the most stressful experiences of the past year and people who identified as being in poor health were more than twice as likely (60%) to report experiencing a ‘great deal’ of stress within the past month.
Unfortunately I think as adults we don’t always recognize that the burdening and stressful feelings we experience when we are dealing with our own health issues or the health of loved ones can be just as difficult for children, but will manifest differently. Whereas for instance an adult can process and understand the need to take or administer medicine for the improved health and well-being of themselves or others, young children’s minds don’t work that way.
We must all recognize, as healthcare providers and parents, that a child who is sick tends to feel sad, overwhelmed, and out of control. Offering children a simple choice in a “no choice situation” like how their medicine will taste or where they would like to sit when they take their medicine, will boost a child’s feelings of control and cooperation, which is good for the child as well as the parent. This is particularly important, because research shows that the more people feel they have control over a situation, the better their response to stress will be. Medication time becomes less stressful for everyone involved, and I think we could all use a little less stress in our lives!