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When Parents Say "Behave or that person's gonna stick you!"

What to do when parents use phlebotomists to scare their children.

by Dennis Ernst • September 10, 2021


screaming child

One of my subscribers wrote: "Just today I was in the admitting area of our hospital when a mother pointed to me & told her son he needed to behave or I would give him a shot. I looked at the boy & told him I had no needles. The mom proceeded to tell him that they were in my pocket & that I would use them for him. How do you properly respond to this type of threat? As a mother myself and health care worker I am appalled that a parent would use this as a discipline tool. I hate to see it done as it makes the kids afraid of healthcare professionals."

I suspect many of you have experienced the same threat. We all can understand how offensive it is.Sadly, this is not uncommon. For a parent to suggest to her child that you are their accomplice in delivering punishment is profoundly inappropriate. It teaches the child that strangers can be easily recruited to dole out punishment, that healthcare professionals are to be feared, and that those who carry needles would gladly use them to make children behave. None of these are true, of course, but to the child, they may all seem to be entirely possible.

There are many ways to handle this situation. As you might imagine, the correct reaction for a phlebotomist is one that is civilized and professional. Even though inside we might be tempted to be sharp, snarky to the parent, or alt least give them the stink eye, the offense we take has to be muted. The mother and her child are guests in our workplace, and professionals aren't sharp, snarky, or shoot stink eyes to their guests.

It does no harm to ignore the comment and continue with our day. As much as we reject the mothers' attempt to use us to modify her child's behavior, coaching mom or dad on a better approach to the child's behavior is out of line. No parent welcomes parenting advice from strangers no matter how sound the advice. Objecting to her tactic might make us feel better, but it won't likely change her modus operandi.

We might suggest to the child in a playful, sing-song voice that "Don't worry. I'm here to help people feel better, not worse." This would not only indicate to the child healthcare professionals are not ogres who punish other people's unruly children whenever invited, but would send a signal to the parent that we are not a reliable partner in disciplining his/her child. Either way, a good bit of tongue-biting is required.

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child discipline needle YouTube threaten


The Magic Needle

I was going to have to stick a 6-7 year old child and he was obviously nervous. I explained that it was a magic trick, and I would show him afterwards, but he would not see a needle. (I was using a "magical disappearing needle" that retracted into the hub upon activation of the safety.) So he agreed to look away, and when it was over, I showed him that there was no needle. He did wonderful, and was very curious and amazed when I showed him that there was no needle. He asked where it went. (Obviously he must have been pretty sure that there was a needle involved in the procedure) I said "I don't see one, do you" and he smiled and said no. That is when one of his parents piped up and informed him that the needle was broken off in his arm. Talk about biting my tongue!!! That is when I had to show the boy how the device actually worked and that the needle was inside the hub. He seemed much relieved by my explanation and he got his bandaid and off he went smiling.

Anonymous, 09/10/2021 13:56:04

The Magic Needle---UGH!

What a thing to tell the child who tolerated the procedure so beautifully! Your heart must have just sunk. Sounds like you handled it perfectly, before and after, though. Kudos to you. Your patients (and employer) are lucky to have you!

Dennis Ernst, 09/10/2021 14:02:25

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