Written by Sara Lyons
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. There are a few things parents can do to calm the fears of kids who have an upcoming checkup.
Discuss What Will 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.” After sharing what to expect at the appointment, ask your child if they have any questions or concerns. Be honest and tell the truth so they know 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 they will feel when the day of the check-up arrives.
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 that 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 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, coloring books and crayons, or a tablet if wi-fi is available at the doctor’s office. Include any comfort items that may help your child if he is nervous or upset and a cup of water. 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 prepare themselves to be a calm and supportive through the check-up. Children can sense our fears and nervousness. When mom and dad are calm and comfortable, the child will most likely feel the same way.
Plan a reward
Prior to the visit, set up a reward, 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. Some ideas could be a treat like ice cream, a candy bar, or going out for lunch or a trip to the 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 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.