With any medical condition, be it injury or illness, it's natural to attempt to shield children from suffering. If the child is the patient, perhaps we tip toe around the severity of their injury or illness. And if they're not the patient, we could leave any explanations as the family's responsibility or speak at the level we believe is above their ability to understand. Unfortunately, children are perceptive and readily sense the discrepancy between our words and our behaviors. As Dr. Ersilia DeFilippis laments:
"We have a desire to protect the young and innocent from catastrophes. We are tempted to use words like “lumps” and “bumps” to avoid the dreaded “C” word. We resort to vague descriptions, or we hide the cancer altogether.
But children often suspect something is wrong before they are even told. They notice nonverbal cues, see clues in our body language, overhear conversations between adults."
Whether your a pediatric doctor/nurse or not, practicing trauma informed care will help you care for children and / or their caregivers. How? When utilizing the DEF Protocol for trauma informed care, the "D- Distress" reminds doctors and nurses to provide accurate information in basic words (developmentally appropriate) and to address the child's concerns or worries. Trauma informed care also recommends screening for and referral to mental health professionals for additional support.
Does this actually make a difference for children? Trauma informed care can positively impact care in the present moment and in the future. For non-pediatric physicians, Dr. DeFilippis explains, "Studies show that levels of anxiety are lower in children who are told of their parent’s diagnosis, even if it’s cancer." In pediatrics, when left unaddressed, anxiety and post-traumatic stress reactions resulting in avoidance symptoms are associated with non-adherence with medical care. And in studies of injured children, teens, and adults, post traumatic stress symptoms are key predictors of poorer physical and functional recovery (lower health-related quality of life, more missed school days) over the months and years following an injury. Practicing trauma informed care gives physicians and nurses a frame work to address anxiety, avoidance, and other post traumatic stress symptoms in children and adults.
Interested in learning more about trauma informed care or the DEF Protocol? Make sure to register today for free online continuing education courses!