How Humor Helps: Pediatric Patients

"You either love working peds or you don’t work peds." I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this nursing 'wisdom.' There’s more than a grain of truth to it: generally nurses who specialize in pediatrics tend to love their work passionately.

However, enjoying what you do doesn’t mean that you don’t have challenges on the job – and if you’ve never attempted to make a bed with one hand, while holding a baby in the other and figuring out dosages by weight in your mind, you don’t know challenging! (And if you can master that, try finding scrubs that don’t show formula stains!)

Luckily, humor can help ease some of the challenges of pediatric nursing. Here are three ways humor helps make life with pediatric patients easier:

Humor Help Make The Medical Environment Less Frightening For Our Patients

"Can you make my nose stop running?" Tyler looked up, wide eyed. "Because I’m tired of boogers." The poor kid was sixty-nine hours into a twenty-four hour bug that had been going around town, and looked it. Being stuck in an ER that was busier than usual – and that’s pretty busy in this part of the city – hadn’t made things any better for the little guy.

"Sure! All you’ve got to do is stick out your foot and trip it!" I demonstrated the technique with a little of my own slapstick style. Tyler burst out laughing. "No problem!"

The hospital isn’t a lot of fun for anyone. Humor is one of the quickest and easiest ways to introduce a note of normalcy into unfamiliar surroundings. A chance to laugh is a welcome respite from tests, waiting rooms, and the sense that something’s wrong. A little humor goes a long way: it’s important to keep things from getting too silly, unless you wind up with a patient who’s not going to listen no matter what you say. Experience levels – both you and your patient’s – can go a long way in helping you find the right balance between silly and serious.

Humor Helps Put Parents At Ease

"You can just put that needle down!" Six year old MattieAnne shook her finger at me with all the authority only a first grader can manage. She thrust a paper in my face. "I already drawed my blood!" There on the paper was a carefully crayoned image of a syringe, filled with red ‘blood’. "So get out of here!"

MattieAnne’s mother looked at me, and I looked at her. We burst out laughing, just in time to cover up the quick flash of tears we were both struggling with. The tension in the room melted away: all of a sudden Mom and I were on the same side. "I wish it worked that way, honey," Mom said, giving her daughter a squeeze. "I really, really do." It was the quickest stick I’ve ever managed, thankfully.

Parents are in a complex emotional place when we see them. Depending on the circumstance – which can range from the most routine well child visit to the hushed tension of the intensive care unit – we’re faced with people who feel fear, judged, intimidated, angry, or some combination thereof. The medical setting can cause anxiety in and of itself, and then you have to factor in the other pressures – financial, logistic, and familial – that those parents are under. It’s no wonder that many parents are on edge, sometimes to the point where we see aggressive and combative behavior from the very people we’re there to help. Humor can help nurse and parent find a place where they’re more alike than not. Establishing a common point of connection reduces parent anxiety and makes them more comfortable about what’s happening with their child. Anytime the parent feels calmer and more at ease, there’s a benefit to the child, who has less stress in the healing environment.

Humor Helps Put Us At Ease

"Did I make it eight seconds?" Ronnie was the biggest nurse that worked in our pediatric practice and even she couldn’t compete with Mitchell, a very determined two year old who was needed immunizations. Mitchell wasn’t having any of it and put on a performance worthy of any bucking bronco. We wound up winning that rodeo – but it took Ronnie’s good humor and ability to hang in there that made it happen.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working in pediatrics, there are going to be kids that you just can’t connect with. There may be back story involved: children who have had traumatic medical histories, for example, aren’t going to welcome the sight of anyone in scrubs with open arms. You get wary watchfulness at best, outright screaming from the moment the door opens and full-body flailing at worst. Humor helps us remember that even though we may doing our best as nurses, there are things that are beyond our capacity to change. We laugh and move on…at least until the next rodeo!


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