By now, you’ve probably seen the enchanting video of a pediatrician distracting a baby from his injections by playfully poking and running the syringe (with the cap on!) over the baby’s body.
It’s cute, adorable, and clearly effective. The baby is relaxed and the doctor is able to smoothly administer the injection.
This runs totally contrary to our script for how an immunization should work. That script has the baby howling like mad, the dad struggling to control the baby, and the doctor calling someone else in to help with the injection. Yet, by making the unfamiliar and scary into something familiar, this particular pediatrician has turned this script upside down.
Scripts refer to our expectations of stereotypical experiences. We have scripts for birthday parties, office meetings, and first dates. Sometimes they come from personal experiences. Other times, our scripts are written based on cultural knowledge and media exposure. Scripts help us make predictions about the world around us and help us navigate possibly new situations by trying to fill in the blanks.
Scripts have their negative sides, too. Our script about injections helps build up our anxiety and makes us fearful even before something has happened. Scripts can stop us from trying new experiences – you’ve probably heard yourself say, “Oh, I know what’s going to happen if I try that.”
Our kids’ lives are full of scripts and some of their anxious reactions can be tied to the script that they have developed. It might be a fear of getting on the bike because the script in her head says that she will fall off or a fear of putting his head under water because the script says that he will get water up his nose. The challenge for us as parents is figuring out how to break the script.
Learning by Asking and Observing
You probably also have a script for how an MRI scan should be. It should be loud, clanky, and sterile, right? And for kids, it should be absolutely terrifying. But what if the MRI looked like this? Crazy, right?
Doug Deitz and his team at General Electric developed the “Adventure Series” of MRI machines after talking to child life specialists in hospitals, visiting daycare centers, observing kids going into an MRI, and even visiting children’s museums. What they created was an experience that broke the script of going to have an MRI scan is like.
We can work on breaking the script for our kids by thinking about what is triggering their anxiety or fear. This is more than just bribing them with ice cream after a vaccination; it’s encouraging them to view the experience in a different light.
We can change the experience, even just slightly, to reduce their anxiety. You might bring a silly hat to a doctor’s appointment or jump into the pool with your clothes on or have them ride on the grass instead of the street.
Improving our kids’ experiences during moments of anxiety is a great way to use the tools of innovative parenting. Observe, brainstorm, implement, and reflect with different strategies to see what will change the experience from fear to something more positive.