Did you know that during the first five years of your child’s life, you’ll be visiting the paediatrician at least 30 times for well, visits alone? And that’s not counting the inevitable sick visits. In other words, in the first few years of your child’s life, it seems there’s always another doctor visit around the corner! And I must admit, I dread these trips. The entire process of going, meeting and coming back from the doctor takes a toll on our patience, tolerance, strength and stamina. It’s much more difficult with my daughter. Think of that kid – howling, crying, banging their head on the floor and being literally dragged inside the doctor’s chamber – yes, she is like that! But, as they say, with kids, we parents also grow and learn new ways. And that’s how I and my husband have devised a few ways to make doctor visits pleasant for kids.
The Fears Associated With A Visit To The Doctor
It’s not abnormal for children to fear visits to the doctor. Some common fears children (especially at younger ages) face are:
- Fear of pain
- Fear of the unknown
- Separation anxiety
Although it is natural for kids to have these fears, there are a lot of ways we, as parents, can help our child get through the visit. Here’s how:
9 Ways To Make The Doctor’s Visit Pleasant For Your Child
1. Prepare For The Visit, Especially If It’s A Vaccination
Surprises like a doctor visit are a big no-no. Also, there’s no point telling your child a week in advance about the scheduled appointment. However, preparing the child a day prior is a good idea. “This afternoon we’re going to the doctor for a check-up.” or “Before going to the mall, we need to meet your doctor.”
However, try and keep the tone of communication subtle. Avoid words like “you have to go to the doctor today”; instead say “we’ve got to see the doctor today”. Sounds very trivial, but guess what, it’s the way we say that impacts those little ones more than the words we use! Try it!
2. Pretend Play
This is the most effective tool to prepare your child to go to the doctor and reduce fear, more so when you are heading for a painful vaccination or blood test. Children love imitating others and you can use this trait to make doctor visit a game. Introduce a mock play with your family.
We bought a doctor’s kit when our kids were 18 months old. In order to lighten up things, I would pretend to be a goofy doctor, using stuffed toys as dummy patients. In order to elicit laughter, we add funny sounds to the procedure of checking the heartbeat or giving a shot. Now when my kids are older, we have done a role reversal, where they act as the doctor and I am the patient. They experience victory by giving me a pretend vaccination.
Basically, anything that helps your child laugh during this role-playing will be helpful in reducing tensions and anxiety about going to the doctor.
3. Read Books
There are many children’s books specifically about visiting the doctor. Find an age-appropriate book to read together.
- Going to the Doctor by Fred Rogers
- The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor by Stan and Jan Berenstain
4. Avoid Waiting In A Confined Space
There’s something uncomfortable about compact and restricted spaces, especially for kids between 2 to 6 years of age. Once you have registered your name at the clinic and there’s a long waiting, step out and let your child loosen up a bit. This would help the child cope up with fears and anxiety. You can use this time to soothe your child and share what you plan to do or where you plan to take your child post the doctor’s visit.
5. Listen, Validate Your Child’s Fears & Be Honest
Let the child express without feeling humiliated. It’s important for them to express their fears and pain. However don’t try to shun the fears by saying “Don’t worry, nothing will happen, there’s nothing to cry, you are a brave baby!”.
As per my experience, too often telling our kids these things actually makes them feel worse because they think we aren’t listening to them or we don’t understand how they feel. Being allowed to cry freely will help your child relax. It will also help to prevent later nightmares and phobias that sometimes occur following trauma.
If your child tells you they’re scared, acknowledge it by saying :
“You’re feeling pretty scared. It’s okay to be scared about getting a shot. It might hurt a little, but it will soon be over”. Or if they are experiencing physical pain, you can say, “I know it really hurts. It’s okay to cry”, “I remember feeling afraid when I was your age. I took my doll with me and we both got a Band-Aid. It wasn’t so bad.”
Also, be honest about what to expect at the doctor’s clinic. If you are going for a vaccination, don’t say “you will not get a shot” or “don’t be afraid, it won’t hurt”. This way you will end up losing your child’s trust.
6. Stay With Your Child
It’s not very uncommon to see parents being busy on their mobile phones while waiting at the clinic being totally ignorant of the fears the child is fighting with. Part of children’s fear of doctors is a fear of being abandoned. It is therefore very important that you stay with your child at all times. Get close to your child and talk. If you are handling another baby, and if it’s possible, take help along. This way you can give undivided attention to the child who would be seeing the doctor.
I have seen a few kids clutching on to their favourite stuffed toy or doll while visiting the doctor. I think that’s a great way of helping the child feel comfortable and confident.
7. Offer Something To Look Forward To
A hug, a sticker book or an ice-cream treat on the way back home- Knowing there is a reward after a difficult situation makes it easier for your child to deal with more unpleasant parts of the visit.
8. Exchange Pleasantries With The Doctor
This is one great way to break the ice between the child and the doctor. So, the moment we step in the doctor’s chamber, we ask our kids to wish the doctor, say hello or shake hands. Basically, a pleasant interaction with the doctor would ensure the child that a health care provider is not someone to be feared.
Also, one of the most damaging things we end up doing, mostly non deliberately, is creating a fear of doctor or shots when our kids misbehave or don’t eat their meals. Not only is this untrue, but it also damages the doctor-patient relationship and trust making the experience of doctor visit unpleasant and difficult for your child.
9. Give Choices
Whenever possible, it is always helpful to give children choices, which will help to reduce feelings of anxiety and powerlessness. For example, you can let them choose which arm to have a vaccination in, or which finger to have pricked for a blood test. While administering medicine, you can ask them if they are comfortable taking in dissolved tablet or as syrup.
No matter how old your child is, working with him or her before and during a doctor’s visit will help tackle fears and decrease anxiety, making a doctor visit pleasant for your child. Simple praises coupled with a few hugs would help make the whole experience much easier for your child.