Medical Language vs. Child and Family-Friendly Language

Explaining the medical environment and medical procedures to children and teenagers can feel very challenging for families, as well as medical professionals.  With medical professionals immersed in the medical environment, the language becomes normal everyday language for them.  However, children and families are receiving new information that is often difficult to understand and process.  One mom described it best when she said to her school-aged son, “They speak a different language don’t they.”

How can we communicate medical information with children and families in a way that is easy to understand and helps to reduce fear and anxiety?  Try making these small, but extremely effective changes in how you explain common medical information.

Common Medical Language: IV
Child/Family Friendly Language: Small plastic tube or medicine straw to give you medicine while you are at the hospital

Common Medical Language: Stitches
Child/Family Friendly Language: String Band-Aids

Common Medical Language: Leads
Child/Family Friendly Language: Stickers that go on your chest to monitor your heart rate (for young kids: your heart beat)

Common Medical Language: Tourniquet
Child/Family Friendly Language: A rubber band that goes around your arm to help your veins (for young kids: your blue/green lines called veins) to show up better

Common Medical Language: Need to stick you
Child/Family Friendly Language: Need to check your blood or place an IV straw

Common Medical Language: Give you drugs
Child/Family Friendly Language: Give you medicine

Common Medical Language: It’s going to sting or feel like a bee sting
Child/Family Friendly Language: This may feel warm and tingly

Common Medical Language: Give you a shot
Child/Family Friendly Language: Give you medicine under your skin

Common Medical Language: Incision or cut you open
Child/Family Friendly Language: The doctor will make a small opening to help your body and then close it

Common Medical Language: Put you to sleep
Child/Family Friendly Language: Give you medicine to keep you asleep so you don’t feel anything or remember anything when the doctor helps your body.

As you use these child and family-friendly words and phrases you will begin to see the positive impact they have.  Consider what other medical words and phrases you can adjust to be softer and more supportive for children and families.

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2 thoughts on “Medical Language vs. Child and Family-Friendly Language

  1. I love your child and family friendly language. I am curious what you feel is the best explanation for rectal or pelvic exams. Children are most likely told that those are private parts, so when a doctor needs to look there that is extremely uncomfortable. What are your suggestions?

    • Great question! This is a challenging topic because you are exactly right we typically teach kids that this is their private area. Here are a couple thoughts for how to start the conversation. We always want to start small and let the kids lead the discussion with their questions, so we follow their line of thinking.

      You can adjust these suggestions depending on the age of the child. In general, you can tell kids as young as preschool that when that area of our body is hurt or if we need the doctor to help that part of our body, then sometimes the doctor needs to check that area (or their “private parts”).

      For children who need a rectal exam or a procedure that involves that area of the body such as a colonoscopy, we can talk about the rectum as the place where your poop comes out. If a child is in need of a procedure that requires the use of a urinary catheter, you can describe that area of the body as the place where your pee comes out. You can also describe the urinary catheter as a tiny tube that goes in the place where your pee comes out. For a pelvic exam, you can use the explanation above about the doctor needing to check that part of the body to make sure it is okay.

      For teenagers, privacy is also a big concern. We would want to let a teenager know that for a doctor looking at those parts of the body is like looking at an arm or a toe because it is something they help people with all the time. We would also want to reassure the teen that they will be covered up as much as possible for the procedure.

      Again, these are suggestions for initial discussions, depending on the medical need and age of the child further conversations with kids would need to occur to help them better understand exactly what the doctor is going to do and why. I hope this helps!

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