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Issue: 65 - May 15, 2014
“I Do Jumping Jacks On The Bench!”
By: Dana L Durrance, MA
Dana Durrance, M.A.

I do jumping jacks on the bench…I do jumping jacks on the bench…” In a very loud, very monotone voice, the 4-year-old boy repeated this chant while jumping up and down on the bench in the exam room. Sitting right there, his mother happily cheered him on saying “good for you honey!” While this charming ritual is occurring, the veterinarian is crouching down, trying to examine the terrified, fear-biting Chow-Chow cowering underneath said bench. Here’s a clue mom…it’s NOT “good for you honey” when freaked out dog bites veterinarian in the face.

Such an appointment would earn the top spot in the “unruly child-in-room exams. "Don’t you just love it when the parent not only fails to discipline the child, but actually encourages the behavior?" Extra points are earned when the child only adds to the pet’s anxiety. Unfortunately, ill-mannered children can go with the territory and can make your job not only difficult, but sometimes hazardous.

Your response? Remove the disruptive child from the equation. If a parent is unwilling to control a difficult child, you need to have a calm, yet direct conversation about how the child’s behavior creates potential danger for everyone in the room. You don’t have to sound punitive, you just have to be clear about what you and can and can’t tolerate in order to do your job effectively (and safely). In these cases, your best allies are your staff. Ask another staff member to entertian the child for a few minutes or ask the child to draw a picture of his/her pet for you. Make sure to keep a small toybox in your lobby filled with kid-friendly items such as books, art supplies, puzzles, stuffed animals, and other assorted goodies. You can even include a toy doctor’s kit!

If the parent still refuses to cooperate, you must inform him/her about your liability issues. Many pet owners do not realize that if their frightened pet harms anyone in the exam room (including themselves) you are the one who will be held accountable. While it’s true that you may risk offending them, that’s small potatoes compared to the dangers of situations like these and your liability exposure.

My only other suggestion?  Consider installing trampolines in all your exam rooms!