1.3 Your own childhood experience
Activity 1:1 Thinking about your own childhood experience
Think back to when you were a child and try to remember a situation when you visited a doctor, a health facility or a hospital.
What was your experience like? Did the doctors or nurses you met ask you questions? Did they listen to your response? Did they explain what was happening to you? Did you have an opportunity to ask questions? Did they involve or encourage you in any other way?
How did your experience make you feel?
It is a very common experience of children that adults make decisions about them without explaining why that decision has been made, asking what he or she feels about it or enabling them to influence that decision.
For some children, not being listened to can have a harmful effect on their health, as this quote highlights:
At school I got a sudden headache. I went to the nearby school but they ignored me thinking I was playing truant. When I went home to inform my mother, she was out. As my condition was getting worse I had to go to my sister. When I told her she took me to the hospital run by nuns who admitted me with serious malaria. My sister then called my mum to tell her I had been admitted. What would have happened if I did not have a sister? Since mum is at work, I could have died. Just because they ignore children.(From the consultation undertaken in Tanzania for the development of this module)
When you recalled a memory of childhood, perhaps you remembered how vulnerable you felt when you had no control over what was happening to you. Maybe you felt upset because the nurse did not take account of your understanding of the situation. This might have meant she/he gave you the wrong treatment, or was unable to make an effective diagnosis. It might also have made you feel humiliated and frustrated. If a doctor or nurse imposed a treatment, for example, an injection, without discussing it with you or addressing your fears, you might have experienced more distress or pain than was necessary.
If the doctor or nurse explained what was happening to you, then you may have felt reassured and less fearful. They may have been particularly kind and spoken to you in a gentle way, encouraging you to be brave or telling you that the treatment would not hurt and that it would not be long before you could go back home. As a result, you may have felt valued, and even have positive memories of a time visiting a clinic or hospital.
All of us want to be respected and recognised when decisions are being made that have important implications for our health and well-being. This applies as much to children as to adults. It is important to remember these feelings when you are working with children: you can then respond to them as you might have liked to be treated when you were a child.
As health workers you need to put yourselves in the shoes of the children you care for in order to understand their feelings, anxieties and expectations. You can explain why you are making decisions and involve them in that process. They are then in a better position to understand the reasons for the treatment, are more likely to be open about their condition and symptoms, and are more likely to cooperate in any treatment.