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Is Your Child Afraid of Doctors? Here’s How to Help

Blog Is Your Child Afraid of Doctors? Here’s How to Help

At the end of the day, it’s important to get to the bottom of the issue, says Dr. Elkhamra. “Children can have anxiety for different reasons, and it’s very real for them,” she explains. “It’s something you have to talk about and handle, not hide from.”


When a child suffers from anxiety about visiting a doctor, it is usually caused by one of two reasons: the child has picked up on their parent’s apprehension or they are afraid of needles. Luckily, both of these problems have solutions.

“If a parent has doctor anxiety, I recommend they start by meeting the pediatrician before they have a baby,” advises Dr. Akaber Elkhamra, a pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. “Parents are often more anxious than children are about going to the doctor’s office. So, before parents visit for the first time with the child, they should do a meet and greet with the pediatrician to connect and make sure they are on the same page. It’s very important for the doctor to have the trust of the family. Once the doctor has earned that trust, a lot of the anxiety goes away.”

For a baby and young child, many well visits are simply to measure height/weight and answer questions. There is often no pain involved, she says. In fact, if parents follow the vaccination schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), then there are no vaccinations between the ages of 18 months and four years. This is a key period of time since it’s when children begin to remember doctor visits.

Still, shots eventually occur and how parents teach their kids to cope can be key. “For children who become really nervous, there are a lot of coping mechanisms parents can teach them,” says Dr. Elkhamra. “Self-soothing techniques such as deep breathing, and babies may use a pacifier, favorite blankie or teddy bear. Kids can also squeeze Mommy’s hand or blow bubbles. Nurses are great at distracting children, and before they know it, the shot is over. But if you have a super anxious young child, you can order EMLA cream to put on your child’s arm before shots. It is a topical cream that temporarily numbs the skin so they do not feel the injection.”

To help ease anxiety, parents can also schedule a well visit without shots, and afterwards provide the child with a reward for good behavior so they can associate positive experiences with visiting their doctor. Parents can also ask for extra time with the doctor so their child can become more comfortable. After the visit has ended, parents can treat the child to something special, such as a visit to the park or playing their favorite game.

At the end of the day, it’s important to get to the bottom of the issue, says Dr. Elkhamra. “Children can have anxiety for different reasons, and it’s very real for them,” she explains. “It’s something you have to talk about and handle, not hide from.”

-- By Gia Miller 

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