Going to a doctor's office or a clinic for a check-up is a normal part of everyone's life. Whether you're feeling well or feeling sick, it's important to take regular care of your health.
Many children know their doctors well and talk with them easily. Perhaps your doctor is a family friend, or someone you have known ever since you were a baby. If so, you're lucky. You probably don't need to learn how to communicate with that person. You already know how.
But other kids may not be as fortunate. They may go to busy clinics where the doctors and nurses are rushed and may forget to take time to talk to their patients. They may be part of families who move often and never get a chance to develop close relationships with the people who help keep them healthy.
These children may find that their meetings with doctors are confusing or unpleasant. They may come home from their appointments feeling angry, frustrated or scared about what happened at the doctor.
It doesn't have to be that way, says Judith Igoe of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Since 1972, thousands of children in the United States have taken part in a program developed at the school where she teaches. The program is called PACT, and it's designed to teach kids how to take an active part in their own health care.
PACT stands for Participatory and Assertive Consumer Training. Those are a lot of big words, but their meaning is simple. They mean that PACT teaches you to speak up and take part in your own health care. The program teaches five pointers for kids to follow. If you use these suggestions, talking with the people who help you take care of yourself should be easier. Before you go to your next doctor's appointment, try talking about your health with your parents.
These are the PACT pointers:
* Exchange information about yourself. You are the only one who really knows how you feel.
* Learn new ways to take better care of yourself. Ask your doctor to tell you about your body and how to stay well.
* Ask questions when you don't understand.
* Help to decide what to do. The doctor needs your ideas in order to help you get well and stay healthy.
* Follow up. You have a responsibility to yourself to take care of your own health, even beyond the doctor's office.
The people who started PACT got advice from lots of kids as they worked on their program. You can help, too, says Judith Igoe. She conducts research on how children feel about their contacts with health care providers. Sometimes she asks children to draw pictures of what happens at the doctor. Sometimes she asks them to write their experiences down. You can take part in this research by sending pictures or stories to her. Mail them to: Judith Igoe School Health Programs University of Colorado Health Sciences Center C-287, 4200 E. Ninth Ave. Denver, Colo. 80262
If you write in, they'll send you a comic book. It's about an extra-terrestrial creature named Zy-exelon who visits Earth to learn about how to talk about his health. Tips for Parents
"Our research has shown that as early as first or second grade kids already feel that they have no role in their health care," says Judith Igoe of the University of Colorado. "That's what we're trying to counteract."
Many of the pictures drawn by children Igoe has worked with show a high degree of fear, anger and frustration with the experience, she says. Drawings may show doctors and nurses as large figures holding even larger hypodermic needles. When the kids put themselves in the drawings, they are usually represented as very small and frequently in prone positions.
Parents can help children avoid such feelings by taking time to practice communication skills before going to the doctor. When you get to the appointment, let your child tell the receptionist his or her name. When the doctor asks questions, let your child answer them. You can always add to what is said. Help your child become a participant in health care.
"Even the youngest children can get involved," says Igoe. "Let's say your child is having an eye screening. Even if she's 3 years old, she can hold the occluder to cover one of her eyes. Getting physically involved gives her some control over the situation."
PACT training seminars have been held in many parts of the United States to familiarize health professionals with the procedures the program recommends. In Puerto Rico, a Hispanic version of the program is flourishing. Igoe estimates that thousands of children have been reached through public school health programs that use the University of Colorado materials.