I am a pediatric nurse, and I was just worrying the other day about the message I was sending to a four-year-old girl during a treatment. She very clearly said “no,” but of course it was necessary for us to treat her (nasal suctioning — totally not fun!).
I like the idea of explaining what is necessary and why, and also at the same time encouraging kids to voice their feelings and their needs. It’s really difficult to help patients, especially children, maintain their autonomy over their bodies in a hospital setting. But I sure don’t want the side effect of a prolonged hospitalization to be that a little girl learns that adults don’t listen when she says no.
I would love to hear more suggestions from parents about what works when it is necessary to overrule a child’s wishes about their bodies. -M
You are really in a tough position. I think as parents we can make choices about whether or not to grab or touch or commander our kids when we think it’s right, but you don’t have a choice about what you do to kids (which sounds harsher than I mean it).
I think that an important part here is the opportunity to process
After the procedure is over, giving her some time to both be mad about it, and to really explain why you had to do what you had to do. I think that sometimes a huge part of what drives kids “nos!” is fear. Once the situation isn’t so scary, they can understand why it had to be done.
And obviously not to minimize their own feelings about it
For example, if a kid is insisting that a shot really really really hurt, saying “it wasn’t that bad” isn’t going to help. And it just sounds like you know better than they do about what’s going on with their own body. Saying, “I’m really sorry, I really didn’t want to hurt you. It’s my job to keep you healthy,” explains why you did what you did while also acknowledging the child’s feelings.
Depending on the context, you could give them some secondary autonomy
For example, after you do the nasal suctioning, you could say “do you want me to help you wipe your nose, or do you want to do it yourself?” (If that’s even an option). If she says no to both, so what? She’s got a little snot on her face.
A lot of times we send mixed messages to kids. I know that my daughter feels mercilessly bossed around even though I try very hard to let her make independent choices around her own body. I think that, at the end of the day, if we give kids space to feel heard about being bossed around, sometimes that will have to do