While you wait: Tips to pass the time in the waiting room
Waiting rooms can be places filled with anxiety, discomfort, awkwardness and, of course, boredom. Quite often, they are very busy and over-crowded. None of our tips are going to make those things less likely. But we hope we can help with tips on how to cope with them. Depending on the interests of you and your child, you may want to adapt our suggestions. Why not go over them with your child and see if they have ideas for adaptations or alternatives of their own? Just having a conversation about preparing for waiting can have a positive impact on feelings during the wait period and opens the door to dealing with anxieties or frustrations ahead of time.
Bring a blanket if you think the seating may be uncomfortable or the area may be cold. Bring a handheld fan in summer if you feel it might be too hot. Make sure to keep hydrated and if you are waiting for long periods, stretch your legs (if there is a garden or patch of green space even better).
The unpredictability of waiting times can make us tense up. We carry that tension into our posture and our mood with knock-on effects to our physical and mental wellbeing. So practice deep, slow breaths and concentrate on finding a sense of calm. Sitting in worry will not change the outcome of a visit but will affect your ability to deal with information so, wherever possible, if your mind latches onto a negative or anxiety-producing thought, let it go.
Massaging your hands is an easy way to relieve tension and also to keep you awake, relaxed and alert. You can start at the fingertips and slowly knead your way down each finger. To massage your hand, push your thumb into your palm and push upwards towards your knuckles. Pinch the skin between your fingers. Massage the back of your hand with the thumb of the other. Compress and extend your fingers. You can show your child how to do this or massage each other’s hands. Touch can be a simple yet reassuring tactic in tense environments.
Getting lost in a story is a great distraction! Children and young people imitate those around them. If you use your phone a lot in downtime, they are likely to do the same. However, if you ‘role model’ reading they are more likely to give that a go themselves. For young children, having a story read aloud is often enjoyable. For older children, you might like to share a set of earphones as you both listen to an audio book.
Play and Make
Playing a game with your child is more likely to keep them engaged. Find something simple that you both enjoy. There are portable versions of lots of board games these days like magnetic chess, Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly Grab and Go etc. A pack of playing cards, puzzles, crosswords and riddles are all handy go-to activities. Old favourites like Hangman and Tic-Tac-Toe can be a lot of fun and just require paper and a pen.
Make a set of bingo cards about things that might happen in the waiting room. When you witness them, tick them off and see who might be the first to say ‘House’!
Here are some examples:
- Nurse enters room
- Someone forgets something
- Someone sneezes
- Someone brings an umbrella
- Someone asks for the time
- Someone drops something
- Someone eats something
- One patient asks another patient a question
- A clock ticks
- A chair with a broken or wobbly leg
- A magazine
- A baby crying
- A pair of glasses
- A picture of a landscape or fruit on the wall
Note: Daring players might decide to do some of these things themselves to get their card marked more quickly!
There are so many adult colouring books available these days – why not have a colouring session together where you and your child can both keep busy? Alternatively, bring along a sketchpad with blank pages and draw the waiting room around you. Paper is also handy for some impromptu origami!
Children under 12 could be encouraged to create puppets from simple art materials like lollipop sticks and felt or modelling clay, and decorative items like feathers, fabric and googly eyes. These puppets can accompany children on subsequent appointments. Shy children might even enjoy asking questions of the medical team via the puppet. For more inspiration, check out our Puppet Making Pack.
Rather than rushing off immediately afterwards, we recommend giving you and your child breathing space following the appointment to discuss the experience, process any information and answer any questions that come up.
We call the period spent talking over an experience ‘the processing time’. Never underestimate the value of simply spending time together processing, whether in a hospital cafe or on a bench in a nearby park. Assist your child to process by sharing your experience of the visit and asking if they felt similarly or differently about those same moments. Saying well done and acknowledging the achievement of fulfilling an appointment is always worthwhile before rushing on to the next task.
For some children, doctor or hospital appointments may be a regular occurrence. A creative way to understand how your child is dealing with the appointments is to make a health journal or scrapbook together. Depending on the age of the child, the journal could include a ‘smiley-face scale’ to gauge how the child is feeling before and afterwards, drawings, quote bubbles cut out of paper, collage etc. See, for example, the journal above from our Puppet Portal Project: here the children used the puppets to express their feelings.
Make sure your child has access to the journal so they feel empowered to use it as a reference and make their own notes, gradually taking more responsibility for their medical history as they get older. This journal could also have mementoes and photos from the times you attended that will bring back positive memories. Who will you meet on your next appointment? What will they look like? Guess and see if you are right! A journal can take many different forms – shape the journal in whatever way works best for you both.