Adults have enough trouble with painful medical procedures. Think about what kids face . . . How can we help them cope?
here; the article is called "Vulnerable Patients.")
Psychologist Keith Slifer (Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University) helps children with sleep apnea, who may have to wear an uncomfortable breathing mask at night. By gradually introducing the mask--watching others use it, for example--and rewarding the children for making progress, the youngsters have less trouble adjusting to wearing it.
What reinforcers are used in this sort of work? Praise is pretty universal, but beyond that, not surprisingly, they vary. While stickers work for many kids, they don't work for all. One youngster hated getting wired up for an electroencephalogram (EEG). Slifer's team ended up using the chance to toss a ball as a very effective reward.
One successful innovation also used elsewhere is "break cards." Children undergoing a procedure can give these to the nurse when they need a break--getting immediate reinforcement by escaping the discomfort, plus the benefits of control. (Not a bad idea for adults either.) Do the kids ask for too many breaks? No, says Slifer, they're generally reasonable--a real win-win situation.
The rewards for the psychologists? Seeing their patients cope better, with less pain and frustration. Successfully thinking up more ways to ease the process. And, not least, the fun of coming up with creative rewards for their patients.