Whether it’s a routine visit or a more urgent concern, visiting the doctor can be stressful for children and parents alike. However, there are ways to prepare your child for a doctor’s visit that can help alleviate your child’s fears and anxieties. Here are some tips to prepare your child for a doctor’s visit.
Discuss the reason for the doctor’s appointment
A day or two beforehand, have a conversation with your child about the appointment. This way, your child won’t feel taken by surprise on the day of the visit. If you’re going for a routine checkup, you might say, “The doctor is going to check to see that you’re healthy, and you can ask them any questions you might have.” If the appointment is for a particular issue, you can say something like, “The doctor is going to see what’s going on and how you can get better.”
You may feel anxious about how your child will react, but resist the urge to talk about the appointment too much, or too early. Help your child see that the doctor is a normal part of life that isn’t scary.
Be honest about the experience
You can answer your child’s questions about things that will happen at the appointment, such as checking inside your child’s ears and mouth, but it’s important to be honest. For example, if your child asks if a booster shot will hurt and you say no, they might feel doubly upset when they discover that there is some pain. They might also begin to associate the doctor with pain. Instead, honestly tell them that the shot will feel like a little pinch just for a second, but it’s one way that doctors and nurses help your child stay healthy and strong.
Try pretend play to help your child understand
In order to help your child see that the doctor’s office doesn’t have to be scary, give them a sense of how the appointment will go with pretend play. Whether a stuffed animal is the patient or you are, let your child play with toy doctor’s equipment and take your temperature, listen to your heartbeat with a stethoscope, and look inside your mouth and ears. This will help give your child a sense of control, and may help them to feel less confused during the real appointment.
Come up with coping strategies together
If your child has a specific anxiety about visiting the doctor, such as anticipating pain or a fear of needles, you can come up with coping strategies together. Ask your child what would help them feel better, such as you holding their hand or having them sit in your lap. You can also consult your doctor, who may have knowledge of what calms other children in similar situations.
Do something fun afterwards
Making a doctor’s visit just one part of a pleasant day can help your child form more positive associations. After the appointment, you and your child can visit the park, or enjoy their favorite snack together. However, it’s important to make this fun event just one element of the day. Resist using it as a negotiation tool, or even telling your child ahead of time that it will happen. This will help ensure that it isn’t used as a direct comparison to the experience of visiting the doctor.
Going to the doctor can be a stressful experience for many children. However, by keeping calm, validating your child’s concerns, having an open discussion, and giving them some form of control, it can become a more pleasant experience for both your child and yourself.