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Social Stories :: Helping Kids Cope in Stressful Situations

My kid hates doctor visits. He has major anxiety about getting shots. And in his limited experience, going to the doctor pretty much always means getting shots. So he’s on edge before we even get into the waiting room. And the anxiety escalates quickly. By the time the nurse comes in with the needle, we’re both ready to meltdown—him about getting his shots and me over the awful experience of holding down my screaming, terrified child as he begs me to make it all stop.

So you can imagine my joy when I had to book an appointment to get my son’s blood drawn for allergy testing. I mean, at least a shot is over quickly. Drawing a couple of vials of blood takes several minutes. Which equates to an eternity in holding-down-a-terrified-kicking-screaming-crying-child time.

social stories coping mechanisms kids stressful situations help

I sought the assistance of a child psychologist to help get us through this. She recommended using a Social Story. I describe social stories as kind of like low budget, custom comic books (lots of pictures, not a lot of words) that explain a specific situation or event in very basic terms. They can be used to show how to act in certain social situations—or, as in our case, explain what happens, step by step, when you get your blood drawn.

A quick Google search led me to the exact social story I needed. I printed it out, put it in a binder, and left it out for my curious boy to find. Upon finding it, he asked, “What’s this?” I told him it was a book I made for him about going to the allergy doctor. Together, we read the whole story about the process of getting blood taken. We looked at all of the pictures that showed what each step would look like.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that everything was perfect. Though well prepared for our doctor visit, my son did not gleefully go through it without tears. He’s a needle-hating little kid who had to face his nemesis—and not by his own choice. He was very unhappy. And he made sure everyone in the building knew it. But being familiar with the process and talking through it and referring back to the story throughout the experience helped tremendously. He accepted that the nurse would poke his arm a bit just to look for a good spot to place to the needle, and he knew what the alcohol and gauze were for and that it might feel cold on his skin. He knew that these steps were normal and wouldn’t hurt.

We didn’t actually reach total freak out terror level until the needle was unsheathed and ready to pounce. Considering that previously we would hit that mark well before the needle was even in the room? We considered that a major improvement. We plan on continuing to read the story and talking about our experiences and what to expect. Hopefully, next doctor visit will be even less stressful as a result.

It wasn’t long after this experience that I was surprised to discover I had already been using some Social Story techniques!

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