The average child will have nine well visits in their 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 overwhelming. But there is good news! There are a few things you can do to calm the fears of your child who has an upcoming check-up.
Discuss with your child what will happen. Prior to the doctor’s appointment, talk to your child about what to expect. Be open and honest about what will happen at their 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.” After sharing what to expect at the appointment, ask your child if they have any questions or concerns. Be honest and tell them the truth so they know what to expect, even if it is something unpleasant, like getting a vaccination. “We encourage our kids to ask us, the nurses, or doctors in order to get the information they need to feel comfortable,” says Sinani. The more information your child has, the more comfortable they will feel the day the check-up arrives.
Role-play. Playing ‘doctor’ is not only fun for kids, it’s also a great way to get kids 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 prior to someone else using the equipment 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.
Come prepared. When the day of the check-up arrives, try to be as prepared as possible. Pack items that will entertain your child if they have to wait such as books, small toys, or coloring books and crayons. Include any comfort items that may help your child relax if they are nervous or upset. Check with the doctor’s office beforehand to see if snacks or water are allowed in the waiting room (some offices do not allow snacks due to risk of allergies in other patients). If your child is getting vaccinations at the check-up, you might want to consider bringing pain medications to give to your child after their 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 prepare themselves to be calm and supportive throughout the check-up.
Children can sense our fears and nervousness. When mom or dad is calm and comfortable during the appointment, the child will most likely feel the same way.
Plan a treat. Prior to the visit, set up a treat, big or small, for your child and let them know what to expect. Having something to look forward to after the check-up can make even a reluctant child more willing to cooperate during their time with the doctor. Choose something that will motivate your child. Going out to the park, pool, or an opportunity to invite a friend over to play are some good ideas. Some parents may also decide to purchase a small toy or a 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 they will earn it. After the visit, tell them you are proud of them for their bravery and talk about how they felt during the appointment. When a child knows they can talk about their feelings honestly, they are usually more likely to discuss other fears in the future.
10 children’s books about doctor visits
Books can help kids understand what to expect from an upcoming doctor visit and help them work through their fears. Check your local library for these titles to read with your child:
1. A Visit to Dr. Duck by Rosemary Wells
2. How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon? by Jane Yolen
3. Nervous Nellie: A Book for Children Who Worry by Dr. Urmila Pai, MD
4. Biscuit Visits the Doctor by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
5. The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor by Stan and Jan Berenstain
6. Corduroy Goes to the Doctor by Don Freeman
7. Froggy Goes to the Doctor by Jonathan London
8. Doctor Maisy by Lucy Cousins
9. George Visits the Doctor by Nicola Smee
10. Sarah and Duck Visit the Doctor by Sarah Gomes Harris
Sarah is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom of six children, including triplets.
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