It’s only natural for children to feel anxious the first time they come to see us to have an eye fitted. They’ve often been through a lot of treatment and procedures in hospital, and now face yet more attention. The place is unfamiliar, they’ve never met us before, and they’ve had enough of people touching their eyes and sockets.
Parents have such an important role to play here, but are probably more anxious than their kids. Their child has been through so much already; all they want to do is make things better, and take away any discomfort or fear. The best thing they can do is hide their fears and concerns and show total calm. Its so important not to give any attention to what’s going on because this will only heighten children’s fears.
We see a lot of children in our line of work. Through experience, we’ve come up with the best way to lower any anxiety and fear, and to help kids make friends with their new eyes. Our secret is to be direct, not waste time in removing and inserting eyes, and most of all, not to fall into the negotiation trap.
What do we mean by this? Here’s an example.
I saw a three-and-a-half year old boy in Bahrain recently for the first time. As I couldn’t speak his language, I asked his parents to tell him that I was now going to take an impression of the eye socket. This procedure is often done under a general anaesthetic for young children. They did this immediately, keeping their voices normal so as not to make a big thing of what was about to happen. The boy didnt’ react at all andI was able to do his first fitting easily.
Now if his parents had negotiated with him, promising him McDonalds if he was good, the result would have been quite different. The mere fact that a bribe has been offered immediately signals that what lies ahead won’t be nice. The effect is that he begins to conjur up scary images of the experience and to imagine how it might feel. He’d then tense up, shrink away, or start protesting.
The same thing would happen if I’d left time between the explanation of what I was about to do and my actions. The bigger the gap, the more room to invent horrifying scenes. As it was, I was already beginning to remove the shell before his parents had finished the translation.
We’re not saying that it’s a bad move to offer kids a treat after they’ve been for their eye fittings. Just dont’ tell them about the icecream or giant-sized lollipop until you’re heading out the door.
When kids come for the first time, they are understandably reluctant. But by the second or third visit, they come running down the hall with smiles on their faces. The toy box in our waiting room gets a great working over. Best of all, the kids are glad to see us. By seeing kids regularly, we build up a relationship of trust. Such a relationship is essential for stress-free visits and to help kids feel comfortable with their artificial eyes.
Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule. Some kids just won’t settle. They act up no matter what anyone does to pacify them. In these situations we wait for that magical day when they suddenly change. And yes, it does happen. For reasons that are beyond us, these kids become co-operative overnight and accept their eyes.
One little girl who came to us a couple of years ago fitted this category. She hated her eye, wouldn’t touch it and didn’t want us to touch it. Her parents decided to get help and took her to a paediatric psychologist. The psychologist helped her to make friends with her eye by having her narrate a story about a lion called Leo who had lost an eye. Through being in charge of helping Leo with accepting his eye loss and getting a new one, this little girl shed her fear and dread. Within a short space of time, she came back to see us, eager to get her new eye and to handle it herself.
If you have a story of how your child reacted to his/her new eye and what you found worked, we’d love to hear from you.