Child Scared of Doctors? One Pediatrician Shares Her Trouble-Taming Tips
Six tips from Dr. Wiese for a smooth visit to the doctor's office.
Does your child have a major meltdown before check-ups? They’re not alone. Whether it’s a fear of shots or of being handled by someone other than their parents, pre-visit anxiety is common among kids, explains Danielle Wiese, MD, pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Here, she offers smart and simple ways you can help your child feel more comfortable.
Tell them what to expect
Instead of springing the doctor’s visit on your child a few minutes before you walk out the door, give them a heads up that it’s coming. Be sure to discuss why check-ups are important (“they keep us healthy”) and which body parts the physician will check. Your child might also benefit from playing “doctor” on a stuffed animal or doll using a toy doctor’s kit beforehand. During the exam, try taking your child through each step so they’re prepared. Keep your dialogue simple and age-appropriate—“The doctor is going to check your eyes and ears with a special flashlight.”
Let them practice stepping on a scale
Before your child enters the exam room, the nurse will weigh them. While stepping on the scale is probably no big deal for you, it can be a major source of stress for some children, Dr. Wiese says. “Usually, when kids walk into a new environment, they cling to their parents for comfort,” she explains. “To be weighed, they have to let go of their parents’ hands and stand or sit on their own. This is where the anxiety comes from.” If you have a scale at home, let your child practice stepping on and off before the visit so they feel comfortable when the moment arrives.
Time your shot talk
There’s no official script you should follow when it comes to prepping kids for immunizations. Whether you should give plenty of advance warning that they’re due for one will depend on your child, Dr. Wiese says. “If you know your child is particularly anxious about shots, sometimes it’s better to wait until right before the shot to tell them about it so they have a shorter time to build anxiety,” she suggests.
Keep shot talk positive
Whenever you do broach the subject of shots, be sure not to frame them as a punishment. Telling your child they’re going to get a shot because they’re misbehaving just sends a negative message about vaccines. Instead, focus on how everyone needs shots because they help keep us strong and healthy.
Explain that the doctor will look at their private parts
School-aged children may understandably feel uncomfortable having an adult look at their genitals. Before the appointment, talk to your child about why doctors sometimes need to check all of our body parts, even the private ones. “If the child is prepared for this before the visit, it’s less of a shock for them,” Dr. Wiese says.
Don’t stress about tears
All of the preparation in the world won’t guarantee that your child will sail through the doctor’s visit without crying. Don’t fret if they have an in-office meltdown—that’s perfectly normal, Dr. Wiese says.
-- By Bonnie Vengrow