It’s not abnormal for children to fear visits to the doctor’s office. Despite many pediatricians’ best efforts to make their offices fun and inviting, kids know that scary things happen there. They go to the doctor when they don’t feel well, and sometimes kids have to get shots or undergo other unpleasant tests and procedures.
So what’s a parent to do? Although it is natural for kids to have some fear, there are a lot of ways you can help your child get through the visit. Read on to learn how to recognize and manage your child’s fear of doctor visits.
It’s important to recognize that a child’s level of fear and concern changes as he or she get older. Some common fears children (especially at younger ages) face include:
- The unknown
While parents typically remain in the room with younger children in order to answer questions and assist with the exam, kids may still experience separation anxiety if they have to sit on the exam table or go to another part of the office for a test or procedure without you. Separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood development, most common between 8 months and 2 years old. Older children may experience some anxiety if they are worried about what will happen at the visit.
Pain is a major reason children fear the doctor’s office. They get a number of vaccines during their first few years of life and may remember that pain from visit to visit as they get older. In addition to vaccines, your child may need to have blood drawn for lab tests or undergo other painful procedures.
In addition to separation anxiety, children may be scared of the unknown. For example, your child may know they sometimes gets shots at the doctor but other times they don’t. The fear of not knowing what will happen is very real for children.
Tips to Calm Your Child’s Fears
Luckily, there are a lot of strategies to help your child manage fears about the doctor. Children will watch how you behave and follow your lead. Do your best to remain calm, pleasant and relaxed so your child knows it’s okay to be there. Even if you have significant concerns about your child’s health, showing you’re anxious can make the situation scarier for your child. Instead, try one or more of these tactics to ease your kid’s fears.
- Read books
There are many children’s books specifically about visiting the doctor. Find an age appropriate book to read together. Relating to characters in a story will help your child understand what may happen when he or she gets to the doctor’s office. You can also take these books with you to the doctor’s or read books available at the office. Reading together is a great distraction and way to interact with your child while you wait.
- Role play
Take time to talk to your child about any upcoming visits or just play pretend to help your child understand what happens at the doctor’s office. You can play the part of the patient, and then switch and play the part of the doctor. Remember: Stay calm and stay positive.
- Validate your child’s fears
This is hard for many parents. We instinctively want our kids to be protected and may be inclined to tell them not to worry, that everything is okay and that there is nothing to be afraid of. But 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. If your child tells you they’re scared, explain why you understand. Talk through fears and offer support without telling your child how to feel.
- Offer something to look forward to
This could be as simple as a hug, a sticker or an ice cream treat when you get 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.
- Help build patient-doctor trust
If we don’t trust our health care providers, there is little they can do to help us. It’s important to show your child that you trust the person taking care of them. Interact with the doctor in a pleasant way so your child knows the health care provider is not someone to be feared.
- Don’t use shots or medical procedures as punishment
One of the most damaging things you can do is to tell your child that the doctor will give him a shot if he is bad or misbehaves. Not only is this untrue, it damages the doctor-patient relationship and creates more fear surrounding office visits.
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. You have the tools to help your child and make doctor’s appointments as pleasant as possible.