How can I teach my child not to be afraid of going to the doctor?
Whether they're going in for a routine check-up or visiting a specialist for a specific problem, children often have fears about going to the doctor. A child’s reaction to a medical visit can vary widely depending on their age and temperament. For some kids, a doctor’s visit can be a pleasant experience while others are afraid to even walk into an examining room. But because doctor’s visits are such a routine part of childhood—involving everything from vaccinations to wellness check-ups—here are some tips and suggestions for adults and caregivers to help make their children feel safe and secure when it’s time to say “ahhh.”
Watch what you say about doctors. The main reason that a child may suffer from anxiety about a doctor’s trip is typically because they have picked up on that fear from their parent or caregiver. That’s why it’s important to tell kids that everyone—from babies to grandparents—go to the doctor, even when they are healthy. Mentioning that you and other adults also get annual check-ups can calm a young child and help them understand that a doctor’s visit does not always mean that something is wrong.
Just as you should not be negative about things like shots, a parent or caregiver should also be positive about visits to the doctor. Tell a child that going to the doctor is a good thing, and that it will help them stay healthy and avoid sickness so there is plenty of time to play or do other routine things. If the subject of shots does come up, be honest and say that a shot is only a poke in the arm that will only sting for a minute and that they help make people healthy and strong like “superheroes.” As the visit is winding down, remind your child about the fun parts of the visit and all the new friends they have met. It will help set the stage for the next visit and help reduce anxiety in the future. Also, don’t forget to praise a child for being brave and give them positive enforcement like a hug or kiss.
Prepping at home
One of the ways to help ease the anxiety of going to the doctor is to teach kids about the medical tools they may see on their visit. A toy doctor kit can be a fun way to introduce a child to the idea of a doctor’s visit. And, there are also many books available on preparing a child for their first doctor’s visit, including such titles as Corduroy Goes to the Doctor or Doc McStuffins Doctor Bag.
When you schedule a child’s visit to the doctor, make sure it doesn’t conflict with meal or nap time. A well-rested and fed child will most likely behave much better at the doctor than one who is tired or hungry. Because doctor visits can sometimes last a long time before being seen, make sure you bring along healthy snacks, small toys and coloring books to keep the child occupied if the doctor is running behind schedule.
Stay close for comfort
A toddler may feel scared and vulnerable if she or he is lying down on an examining table while being examined by an unknown adult. Ask your pediatrician if it’s all right to hold your child in your lap while they are being examined. Most medical providers have no issue checking vitals while you hold your child and the child will feel safer—especially if it’s a first visit.
Allowing a child to have a pacifier or blanket may be calming enough, but don’t forget the importance of a beloved stuffed animal or doll. Having that extra “support” can soothe a child and ease anxiety. You might even ask the doctor if she is willing to demonstrate a procedure on your child’s stuffed animal first so that your child can see exactly what’s going to happen.
Shots and needles
One of the biggest things for a parent or caregiver to remember is to not create fear or jokes about needles—especially when it’s vaccination time. Even if joking about a shot is done playfully, a young child can create a negative association with needles that can last a lifetime. Instead, remind your child that shots are a positive procedure that can help people from getting sick.
When choosing the right pediatrician for your child, remember that personality is as important as professionalism and medical degrees. Some children will be afraid of any doctor, but if your child truly seems afraid of the doctor you have selected, ask him or her to explain why. If your child’s fears seem valid, look for a new doctor and ask for recommendations from your friends and family members.
By ABC Quality Team on May 31, 2021