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The unruly dog I can handle... but what about the unruly child in your veterinary practice?

Posted in Guest Blogger @ Nov 1st 2013 - By Gillian Shippen Nurse Manager, Director Pets Need a Life Too
The Unruly Child

Crazy cats, disobedient dogs - no problems - but contrary kids? What do you do in your veterinary practice?

I am sure the scenario I am about to describe happens in so many places not just a veterinary clinic, but I want to know how do you deal with it?

A client recently came in with concerns about their geriatric dog. The dog is a little narky but nothing we cannot deal with, however the client also brought her toddler with her and, fortunately for us, the child's grandfather.

My boss was on annual leave and so we had a locum on. I heard a commotion in the consult room, which ended with the screaming child being taken out of the consult room by the grandfather. A temper tantrum in the waiting room ensued, making it difficult for me to have a conversation on the telephone, so granddad took the child outside and that was the last I saw of them during the extended consult.

As a single vet practice our clients are spoilt by the fact they get to see one vet and one vet only 99% of the time.  They have an established almost personal relationship with our staff of 3, including our Boss, who is very child friendly and tends to take unruly kiddies in his stride.  I'm afraid my  tolerance level is somewhat lower than the Boss but fortunately for me I don't usually have to endure the problem.

The locum however did not have any tolerance at all for poorly behaved children and the commotion I overheard was the locum reprimanding the child. Certainly I fel the dog owner was somewhat embarrassed by the whole ordeal, as her dog had also been playing up, although nothing we thought was exceptional. The locum had told me before that they had no tolerance for poorly behaved children and was more than happy to eject a naughty child from the consultation room.

Later in the afternoon, I am at pains to report, I took a very irate phone call from the livid husband who felt the locum had acted unprofessionally - both towards his child (the vet chastising the child, causing distress and the necessity to be removed) and the patient (the wife had asked us to clip the dog's nails, which we did successfully with firm restraint and what we considered to be minimal struggle from the dog, but as often happens, 2 nails did bleed which was unprofessional in the husband's eyes. During the nail clip the owner's distress hung in the air despite assurances that everything was ok.)

Having a child running amok and/or climbing the consult table trying to get noticed is down right distracting BUT it is also a safety concern. Every person (& animal) in that room is at risk from an unruly child, including themselves. The risks are huge:

  • The child could get bitten by the patient,
  • Dangerous instruments are everywhere and can cause injury or be damaged in some way,
  • Then there's that dreaded Sharps container,
  • And there is nothing worse than having a child jumping up and down on the $2000 set of scales!

I once outright said to a child, (after the parent did nothing to stop the assault on our scales) "Now don't jump on the scale because mummy won't really like a $2000 bill for the replacement."   It was amazing how quickly mummy stopped the child and made sure he stayed off the scales! So it's not just in the consulting room, the waiting room poses threats as well.

I understand children are great at picking the perfect time to embarrass their parents, they just know when a parent is not able to discipline them as they might normally (assuming of course they do), so is it ok for "us" to take charge and if so how do we do it? Is it worthwhile having a sign up asking parents to please control children as well as their pets? I am sure we do have a level of responsibility to keep all that enter the clinic safe and essentially we could be held liable, so how do we go about doing that?

I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts and methods for controlling unruly children in your veterinary practice - tell me in the comments section below.

Gillian Shippen is not only a Nurse Manager, but she has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs' AND she runs her online website 'Pets Need a Life Too' where she sells a range of enrichment toys for pets.

Click here to visit the 'Pets Need A Life Too' Page in the Vetanswers Business Directory



Chantal @ Nov 1st 2013 7:35am
I work in a business owned by two wonderful Vets, when designing the Clinic they had youngish children of their own and thankfully this gave them the idea to put in a Kids Corner, a fenced off area (pool gate) filled with toys. Distracting children can be enticed by toys that are not their own into this area allowing the parents and Vet to concentrate on the patient. It is awesome and return clients with their children head straight for it.
lisa blair @ Nov 1st 2013 7:55am
Great article Gillian, and a real problem in every practice. For example we woud love to have an urn in our client area for adults, but I am too afraid the uncontrolled children will fiddle with the tap and pour hot water on water it is. And has anyone else noticed that it IS almost invariably a training issue? If the kids are out of control I can guarantee the pets will be feral too (and conversely if the pets are really well behaved and the kids are being feral - we give the parents a break and assume it's one of those "I'm picking my moments Mum, b/c I can" things and it nearly always is). We do have some strategies to deal with it - we offer "drop off" appointments and they work particularly well in these situations - see our team, discuss their concerns, leave pet with us and we vaccinate/trim nails/whatever and they just have to pull up at the door later and we can put the pet in the car.... We have team members who will distract the children while the parent talks to the vet and I have been known to spend 30 mins in the client area reading stories when it was required. But it's not a great use of my time! Generally we try to reschedule so that the parent can come back at anor time to discuss the treatment options....either they do and are grateful or they just want to get it done, so they pull the child in long enough for us to deal with the issue today. Safety is first and foremost and feral kids are dangerous, to themselves, to us and to other clinic visitors. And honestly, I like kids in general. Honest I do.
Judy @ Nov 4th 2013 10:28am
Hi Chantal - our dentist has the same thing and my older kids loved going in there which was sometimes a little embarrassing! ;-) Glad to hear it's working well for you - it's a good idea to consider if building or renovating.
Judy @ Nov 4th 2013 10:31am
I often apologise as I think my kids are much better trained than my dogs! ;-) It's interesting (although I guess not surprising) that you've noticed such a strong correlation between behaviour of children & pets.
Vet Changes World @ Nov 5th 2013 11:54am
We have a "treasure box" full of coloring books and toys and other things to do. We try and distract them by letting them listen to the heart and otherwise participate in their pet's exam if safe. I find often the children act up most when their parents are giving us their attention. Sometimes I will discuss more with them on the phone later or write more information down in a handout format. We also have a fish tank in our exam room and sometimes staff will take kids out front to look at the fish and explain what is going on.
Judy @ Nov 8th 2013 2:10pm
Thanks for stopping by VCW! The fish tank sounds like a great idea & I like the concept of including the kids in the exam where possible. You might uncover some budding vets & vet nurses!
Gillian Shippen @ Nov 18th 2013 3:45pm
I love the Fish Tank Idea - I would love to do that (I would even find it theraputic) We did have a kiddie sized table and chairs with colouring in books etc but for some reason or other the boss didn't like them. I think he's gone a bit "OCD" in his age...likes things pristine! The drop off appointment is great too - although I suspect with this partiuclar client they would not take up that offer because they would feel their dog would not cope without them Some great ideas here I remember once I went into the consult room and told the parent (with a smile on my face) there must be something wrong with her two children who were sitting quietly readin their books in the waiting room......I laughed and told her they were too quiet and well behaved....she did see the funny side:o)
Christine Burke @ Nov 23rd 2013 6:52am
I bribe them with syringes. If they are going nut so, I show them a 10 ml syringe and say if their parent is happy with their behaviour then they get one as a water pistol and they can squirt in the bath for example. And if that doesn't work, we have paper app and fruit ninja on the work iPad. Sometimes, they just discover the photo library which is slightly disturbing but fascinating for some kids. We also have a vet trolley from target ( cost $12) with fake syringe, xrays etc which smaller kids love . As a mum, I know the stress when you have to take the kids but they can be ratty, tired, hungry etc but the appointment has to kept. So am sympathetic.

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