Positive distractions help reduce stress: 5 activities for long wait times

Have you and your child ever had to wait a long time at the hospital or doctor’s office? Places like the emergency room, doctor’s office, or a clinic may have you wait before you can see a nurse, physician, or someone that will address your child’s medical needs. The long wait can be due to various reasons – sometimes it’s because they have many patients to see; in places like the emergency room, the need to wait may be caused by a medical emergency that someone is having in another room and in this case, all staff members are needed to help provide support.  

Waiting can be tough for any child or youth, especially when they’re trying to cope with medical issues that can be painful, uncomfortable or distressing. Long wait times can cause frustration and increased anxiety and stress, especially if pain is an issue. For this reason, positive distraction is important. It can shift individual focus from negative thoughts and feelings to create a more positive experience overall. By using positive distraction activities during wait times, you can reduce stress, increase your child’s cooperation and offer some fun to help children and youth cope with medical issues, procedures and illness so that their healthcare experience is the best it can be.

If you find yourself having to wait, check out these easy distraction activities to help keep yourself and your child entertained and distracted:  

  1. Talk!
    • Waiting rooms present the opportunity to be fully present and engaged with your child. Never underestimate how valuable this time can be to just talk with them. This could be a great opportunity to talk about your child’s medical issue/concern; ask your child how they are feeling, validate their feelings, and clarify misconceptions they may have about their visit; let them know what to expect and offer them a chance to process that information. It’s also an opportunity to connect with your youth; ask them how they are doing, if they have anything on their mind, how school is going, how their friends are doing. You can also share favourite memories or family stories with them. 
  2. Play a game
    • Mind games like ispy, would you rather, and two truths and a lie are easy and fun to play and don’t require any materials. A quick search on the internet will offer you some ideas – let your child choose the game!
  3. Get up and get moving
    • Long waits can be difficult to sit through. If you and your child are able, try to get up and gently stretch your muscles or go for a short walk. If you are leaving the waiting room, make sure you let a staff member know.  
  4. Pull out your phone
    • In a world where we are surrounded by technology, pulling out your phone could feel like defeat. However, use your phone for a bonding and learning opportunity; listen to an audiobook or podcast together; watch a YouTube video or TedTalk; take a virtual tour of a museum. You could also use this time to call a family member or friend together, or send them funny photos. 
  5. Grab a pen and paper
    • Using minimal supplies that are probably in the office can also be used to stay entertained. Grab a pen and paper if they are available to play Pictionary or X and Os. You could also write someone a letter.   

Hopefully with these activities in mind, your next waiting room experience can be a little less stressful and a little more manageable. It’s important to continue to model the behaviour you want from your child; stay positive and understanding. The health care team is working as fast as they can, and they appreciate your patience! What an awesome opportunity to connect with your child.

Written by Sophia, an Intern at Upopolis, who is also completing part of her internship in the Emergency Department at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

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