Pediatric ODs Share Best Tips for Effective Parent Communication

ODs need to include pediatric patients in their conversations to succeed in getting the message through to their parents.
Photo Credit: Johner Images, Getty Images

We specialize in pediatric optometry at Little Eyes Pediatric Eye Care in Carmel, Indiana. As ECPs who primarily work with children, we’re always working to perfect our conversations with parents, ensuring we communicate and educate properly. Now, we want to share our expertise to help the optometric community hone their skills when communicating with parents inside and outside the exam room. 

Get on Your Patients’ Level
When it comes to communicating with pediatric patients and their parents, we work to bring the children into the conversations as much as possible. 

It can’t hurt to be a little silly with children, because you never want to approach them with lights and lenses and be serious on top of that. It’s not uncommon for us to wear out the knees in our scrubs trying to get on our patients’ level. We try to use simple terms to communicate with young patients. Then, with parents it is important to emphasize the education surrounding all of the brain and visual development that occurs in the young years of life. This way they value the importance of regular check-ups regardless of whether or not the child needs glasses.

As ODs, it’s important to remember that children still want to understand, so bringing it to their level is the best way we have found to keep them interested. It can be helpful to use comparisons throughout the exam, such as telling patients their eye is like a soccer ball and the optic nerve is like the cord that plugs it into your brain. Then, at the end of the exam, we give a synopsis to the parent as well. For an adult patient, we wouldn’t explain the eye and optic nerve this way, but we would communicate the same concepts.

What Works Best? 
Simplicity and trust are the backbones of effective parent communication. If you’re struggling with parent conversations, or don’t know where to start, keeping things simple is key. 

We try to use terms and examples that are easy to understand. We’ve found that there is a big misconception among parents that they don’t need to bring their kids in for an eye exam until they’re 9 or 10 years old, because parents say this is when they got their first glasses. However, much of the brain and eye development has solidified by this age. So, for the patient population that would’ve needed glasses to help that development, waiting until 9 years of age is simply too late. We could have helped much more at 3 or 4 years old. When talking to parents about this, using examples can be very helpful. We tell them that in the same way we start teaching kids colors, speech, numbers, and feelings at a young age, we need to ensure the part of the brain development associated with vision is also developing properly at a young age. 

Another big component of these conversations is ensuring both parents and children trust us as health care providers. In a timid or scared pediatric patient, we might let them look at our eyes through the 20D lens, so they know what to expect during the exam. When talking with a parent, making eye contact is important, as is thoroughly listening to any concerns or worries before beginning the exam. We always want to make sure both the patient and parent feel comfortable, and they know that we have the child’s best interest at heart. Whether it is a routine exam, a first pair of glasses, or an unexpected diagnosis, having the patient and parents’ trust lays the foundation for successful ongoing care.

Including the Patient in the Dialogue
While some ODs may want to talk directly to parents, we recommend including the child in your dialogue. This helps them feel connected to you as their doctor and involved in their care. 

The child is usually more interested in how the examination findings change their current situation, while parents want to know the long-term implications and growth expectations. Therefore, it’s important to cater to the questions each asks. We always make sure to give both the patient and parents the opportunity to ask questions, and we speak openly to both when responding. It’s helpful to address children directly and give them options during the exam in an exciting and fun way. In our experience, this helps them to feel important and respected, gaining their trust

When working with children, it’s also important to be communicating throughout the whole exam process so everyone feels comfortable. We may try to mix some silly sayings with simple terms to cater to both parents and children. Pediatric patients are much more capable of understanding than we might give them credit for. We often hear parents say they’re embarrassed to bring their children when they are young because they feel they won’t cooperate. However, we usually find young kids cooperate much better and understand much more in a new environment due to curiosity than we might give them credit for. Their brains are inquisitive and constantly going.

Practice, Practice, Practice
When all else fails, prioritize practicing your communication with children and parents. 

Try to communicate as clearly and concisely as possible. Children and their parents may come in unsure of what to expect, so explaining each part of the exam and each instrument is important to them. For example, when examining the anterior portion in the slit lamp, we might tell the child that they have so many eyelashes that we lost count, or that they look perfect. By communicating this to the child, the parent also understands things are healthy. Every parent wants the best for their children. Explaining what we are doing, with support of why we are doing it, helps everyone to understand. Spending the time communicating and educating will only help with trust and rapport going forward. 

Pediatric care may not always be sunshine and rainbows, but we’re caring for a population who is constantly growing and learning. Children are so smart, so adaptable, and so capable. You have the opportunity to help a child develop skills and ensure growth that will impact them for the rest of their lives. We are examining, diagnosing, treating, and preventing so that their lives can be more successful. 

Bonus: Children are so appreciative. There is nothing like being able to help a child see – especially when they didn’t know anything other than blurry vision before coming into your office. 

  • Frances Fiechter, OD

    Dr. Frannie Fiechter received her BS in Biology, cum laude, from Butler University. She then attended Indiana University School of Optometry, where she received her Doctor of Optometry degree. To foster her care for those with specific vision needs, she has enjoyed volunteering her time at the Indiana School of the Blind and Visually Impaired, organizing activities for the children in the residential program. As she has always had a passion for working with children, she has spent lots of time participating in vision screenings, and she loved to serve in iTown Church’s infant and youth programs before having children of her own. Continuing on in her love for children and the pediatric population, Dr. Fiechter spends a good portion of time at Little Eyes taking care of the needs of the younger individuals. She had the privilege of training at one of the top referral centers in Indianapolis, where she gained extensive knowledge in management of cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration. In her free time, Dr. Fiechter loves to run, bake, enjoy time with her family, and vacation anywhere warm.

  • Kennedy Neukam, OD

    Dr. Kennedy Neukam graduated from Indiana University School of Optometry and is an optometrist at Little Eyes Pediatric Eye Care. In addition to pediatric primary care, Dr. Neukam has a passion for myopia management and is certified in orthokeratology and MiSight lenses. She genuinely adores working with kids and spends her spare time actively volunteering with the pediatric community in her area.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Copyright © 2020 Jobson Medical Information LLC unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.