Pediatric nurses: 4 ways to improve your communication skills

Pediatric nurses must put emphasis on their communication skills in order to effectively keep their young patients calm and their patient's parents informed. At times, it can seem like a precarious balancing act – focus too much on the parents, and the child may feel excluded and bored; focus too much on the child, and the parents may feel out of the loop.

Here are four practical tips to help you communicate efficiently with pediatric patients and their parents:

1. Brush up on your improv skills

Humor may not be the most practical form of medicine, despite popular colloquialisms, but the methods used by improvisational comics could help nurses communicate with pediatric patients. It's all about staying light on your feet, conversationally speaking. Health Leaders Media reported that the tactics can help nurses develop soft skills for communication, leadership and teamwork.

Improvisation is all about being able to assess a situation thoughtfully and react in a manner that moves the conversation forward. In comedy, that means moving toward a punchline. In a healthcare setting, it means moving toward a better understanding of the patient's needs. The next time you're interacting with quiet pediatric patients, try using the "Yes, and …" method to get more information from them.

For instance, if you're trying to learn more about a patient's symptoms and he or she is shy, acknowledge that you've heard what the patient has said, then ask for follow up information.

Example: "Yes, your stomach hurts … and how about your back?"

Toys can help pediatric patients feel more comfortable during an examination. Toys can help pediatric patients feel more comfortable during an examination.

2. Build a relationship

You'll likely see the same pediatric patients again and again as they grow older. When you're first introduced to new patients, focus on building a relationship with them and their parents. The more you see them, the more comfortable the children will become with you.

Baylor College of Medicine suggested using preferred first names with patients and parents to quickly build rapport. Finding common interests and looking for ways to get a laugh out of patients can increase their comfort level. It can help to have a passing knowledge of popular children's TV and movie characters. If a patient has a character on his shirt, you could start a conversation about a movie he loves. This can break the ice and allow for a more effective healthcare conversation.

3. Create a comfortable environment

The cold, sterile environment of an examination room can be quite intimidating to young children. It's best to have an environment where pediatric patients can feel comfortable and safe. Place a few toys around the room to engage the patient while you speak with his or her parents during a consultation. If you cannot control the examination environment, it can help to carry a small toy with you. Have the child hold the toy while you perform the exam or administer medication.

Skills Cascade recommended asking patients where they feel most comfortable sitting. Do they prefer a chair or would they rather sit on a parent's knee?

"Parents are eager to lend a helping hand."

4. Ask the parents for assistance

Make the child's parents key allies during the visit. Parents want to feel that they are helping their child, but often feel powerless to do so. Don't shy away from asking for help during a visit – parents are eager to lend a hand. This can be especially useful when doing anything that may cause the patient discomfort.

The University of Arizona noted that it's good for parents to hug and hold their child to calm him or her down. This reassurance that everything is going to be OK will help the child to relax. Afterwards, give the child lots of positive encouragement – it'll benefit everyone the next time the child needs to visit the doctor.

Example: "Hi Brian! Good to see you again! I remember how brave you were the last time I saw you!"

Building your communication skills takes practice. Keep these tips in mind as you see pediatric patients and you'll likely see an improvement in the comfort levels of patients and their parents.

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