Did you know that during the first five years of your child’s life, you’ll be visiting the pediatrician at least 12 times for well visits alone? And that’s not counting the inevitable sick visits. In other words, you and your child will go to the doctor a lot! While there are certainly some children who come skipping into the doctor’s office eager to show off their latest developmental accomplishments, others find these visits significantly more stressful. A good pediatrician will try to put your child at ease; however, there are many things parents can do before, during and after a doctor’s visit to help lessen their child’s fears.
Following are a few tried-and-true tips for parents to reduce the stress of going to the doctor for their child.
1. Choose your words carefully. Rather than telling your child she has to go to the doctor, make it a point of saying she gets to go to the doctor. I’m a believer in the power of words, and there’s a big difference between having to do something and getting to do it for children. This positive approach also works well for discussing other routine activities, including everything from seeing the dentist or trying new foods and taking a nap!
2. Take an age-appropriate approach. Consider your child’s age when trying to alleviate doctor-related fears. While infants are too young to understand the details of a pediatrician visit, they often experience “stranger anxiety” – an emotion that can just as commonly be directed at pediatricians as it is towards actual strangers. A baby’s anxiety can also be magnified if she senses that you are stressed, so remember to stay calm, talk in a soothing, reassuring voice, and hold her close during the appointment to make her feel safe and secure.
Preschoolers, too, can be leery of unfamiliar adults; though they typically like to be in charge, do things themselves, and understand what is going to happen next. Therefore, providing preschoolers a chance to read, talk about, and even play doctor can increase their comfort level and make subsequent visits less daunting.
3. Keep it positive. Explain to your child that the pediatrician’s goal is to help him feel better when he is sick and to keep him healthy when he is well. Never use a trip to the doctor (or getting shots, medicine or any other unpleasant but necessary aspect of going to the doctor) as a threat of punishment. Avoid comments like, “If you don’t behave, the doctor is going to give you a shot,” which does nothing for creating positive attitudes about going to the doctor.
4. Read all about it. Our overall role as parents is to help our children feel safe and learn about the world around them. Books written for young children are particularly good at doing both. There’s no shortage of books about going to the doctor that can help your child better understand who pediatricians are and what they do, as well as what to expect from doctor’s visits. Here are a few you might consider:
Biscuit Visits the Doctor by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
My Friend the Doctor by Joanna Cole
Max’s Checkup by Rosemary Wells
Let’s Get a Checkup! By Alan Katz
Max and Zoe at the Doctor by Shelley Swanson Sateren
5. Model the right attitude. On a closing note, always remember that children learn more from what we do than what we say. In the case of going to the doctor, take a moment to consider your own attitude. If you’ve had some less-than-pleasant experiences or are afraid of needles, try hard to not only keep these fears from rubbing off on your children. Just remember that you and your pediatrician have the same goal in mind – keeping your child healthy!