The average child will have nine well visits in her first two years of life, and at least one checkup every year after. For kids who tend to worry and even fear going to the doctor, this can be scary. There are a few things parents can do to calm the fears of kids who have an upcoming checkup.
Discuss what can happen
Prior to the appointment, talk to your child about what to expect. Be open and honest about what will happen at the appointment and why. “We talk about everything that may happen, good and scary.” says Sara Sinani, mom of three boys. “I feel it helps them prepare emotionally and keeps the image of the doctor as a ‘helper’ rather than someone to be feared.”
Dr. Robert Drumm, a pediatrician at The Baton Rouge Clinic, shares that for some patients, allowing him or her to sit on the parent’s lap will help make things more comfortable for the child. He adds, “If possible, mom or dad should try to be present at the appointment, at least until a good relationship has been established between the child and the doctor.”
Also, ask your child if she has any questions or concerns. Be honest and tell the truth so she knows what to expect, even if it is something unpleasant, like shots. “We encourage our kids to ask us, the nurses, or doctors in order to get the info they need to feel comfortable” says Sinani. The more information your child has, the more comfortable she will feel.
Playing doctor is not only fun for kids, but it’s also a great way to get themselves more comfortable with the idea of visiting the doctor. Tara Sayers, a school nurse and mom of two says, “I always buy kids ‘doctor kits’ for their first birthdays.” She also suggests letting them touch the equipment themselves prior to someone else using it on them.
Becky Asher, mom of triplet boys, suggests checking out library books about visiting the doctor or watching children’s videos like Daniel Tiger or Doc McStuffins to help kids learn what to expect from a doctor visit. Role playing helps kids act out their fears and concerns as well as become more comfortable with new situations.
When the day of the checkup arrives, try to be as prepared as possible. Pack items that will entertain your child if she has to wait, such as books, small toys, coloring books, and crayons, or a tablet if WiFi is available at the doctor’s office.
Dr. Drumm says, “Let your child bring his or her favorite stuffed animal. Usually, I will do the exam on the stuffed animal first to help alleviate any fears. Or, if an older sibling is there, I will do the exam on the sibling first so the child will feel more comfortable.”
You can also check with the office to see if snacks are allowed before bringing one. Some offices to do not allow snacks due to risk of allergies in other patients. You might also consider bringing pain medication, like Tylenol, to give after shots are administered. It’s best to wait until after the visit because an accurate temperature must be recorded prior to vaccines, and painkillers mask a fever if your child has one.
It’s also important for the parent to be
calm and supportive through the checkup. Children can sense our fears and nervousness. Dr. Drumm shares, “Parents should be calm and reassuring during the visit. Also, don’t say things like, ‘If you’re bad, you’re going to the doctor’ or ‘If you’re bad, you’re going to get a shot.’”
Plan a reward
Prior to the visit, set up a reward–big or small–for your child, and let her know what to expect. Having something to look forward to after the checkup can make even a reluctant child more willing to cooperate during her time with the doctor. Choose something that will motivate your child. Some ideas could be a treat like ice cream, a candy bar, or going out for lunch or a trip to the park, pool, or an opportunity to invite a friend over to play. Some parents may also decide to purchase a small toy or book their child has had their eye on. Whatever you decide to choose as a reward, explain to your child what it will be and how she will earn it. After the visit, tell her you are proud of her for her bravery and talk about how she felt during the appointment. When a child knows she can talk about her feelings honestly, she is usually more likely to discuss other fears in the future. ■