When you’re little, so many experiences are new. Because of the unfamiliarity factor, daily situations can be infused with intense emotions – excitement, delight, anxiety.
While kids can be notorious for throwing tantrums over things as bizarre as blueberries being blue or toast being sliced “too pointy,” perhaps no situation is as fraught with emotion as a trip to the doctor’s office.
We’ve compiled some guidance to prepare your children for doctor visits, so you can help them reduce their anxiety and build a healthy, trusting relationship with their healthcare professionals.
Take a moment to get on their level.
Getting down on a child’s level, making eye contact in a respectful way, and engaging with them can help a lot. Instead of towering over them and commanding their good behavior, you’re able to treat them with respect, acknowledge their concerns and prepare them for conversations with the doctor or medical professional.
And, getting on their level in an unfamiliar place like the doctor’s office or a clinic can also help you see through their eyes. Things look a lot bigger and scarier when you’re only 2 or 3 feet tall; looking at everything from their height can help you empathize with their feelings.
Explain what’s going to happen.
As an adult, you’ve been to the doctor dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. As a child, you don’t have a true concept of what might happen to you at a doctor’s office.
Typically, parents tell kids not to talk to strangers; at the doctor’s office, people your child has never met are poking things into their ears, putting cuffs on their arms to check blood pressure, and asking them to take all this treatment without questioning.
The biggest fear for about two-thirds of children is that they’ll have to get a shot. Even though they may only receive a shot once a year, the experience can linger with them and make them concerned about the visit if they don’t know what’s going on.
As the parent, preparing the child ahead of time can be very helpful in ensuring their cooperation during the visit. Toy doctor kits aren’t just for career day; they can be really useful in prep work – explaining what the medical professionals will be doing and why, then letting your child feel comfortable and role play at home can help.
Visit a doctor’s office when they’re not sick or getting a shot.
If your doctor or a clinic will allow it, it could be worth your while to plan a quick drop-in visit when it’s not necessary.
Visiting the waiting room, looking at the fish tank, seeing the nurses in their scrubs, maybe even scoring a sticker or a prize as a visitor perk – it can all be good preparation for the next appointment that’s not quite so carefree.
And, it doesn’t necessarily have to be their appointment.
If you’re visiting a clinic for a mild ailment, consider bringing your children and letting them watch you go through the process, from checking in to talking with the doctor to being examined. Giving good explanations along the way and showing them how kind the doctor can be – it’s a good way to slowly acclimate them in a low stakes situation.
Let them sit with you.
Sometimes holding your child in your lap during the visit, rather than making them sit on the table, can make everyone more comfortable. The reassurance of a parent’s arms can make a big difference versus sitting up on a table ledge alone.
Again, envision things from a child’s eye view – how would you feel going in for an appointment and being asked to scale a ladder to a 6 or 7 foot height? That’s how it may feel for them as well – a little unnerving and precarious.
Show them how it’s done.
Good doctors will take a moment to show and tell with little ones, shining the flashlight for them before checking their ears, explaining how to say ah before inserting a tongue depressor.
You can offer to perform some of the doctor’s orders yourself, demonstrating deep breaths or sticking out your tongue when asked. Your child may be more likely to follow the doctor’s instructions if they can follow your lead and see that you trust your medical professionals.
Validate their fears.
Instead of using language like, “Don’t be scared,” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” when trying to calm a frightened child, making a little tweak to your wording can make a big difference.
Saying, “I feel scared sometimes when…” can show them that you see their fear and empathize with it. You can also model good coping and fear management skills by pointing out ways you handle your fear.
A little treat never hurts.
Bribery isn’t necessarily a best practice in parenting; however, adding a little something fun after the doctor’s appointment can be a good way to build some positive associations. Your treat could be anything your child likes – a sticker, a balloon, a trip to the playground. By treating them, you start building pleasant associations with the visits instead of scary ones.
If you need to schedule an appointment for your child, Integra’s medical professionals are here to help. Urgent care isn’t just for grownups. At most urgent care clinics, doctors are trained to provide medical care for all. Physicals for school and sports are also an option at urgent care, as a way to continue to slowly build a relationship of trust between your children and medical professionals.
In particular, urgent care doctors are skilled help patients dealing with acute symptoms. They have a wealth of compassion because they want to make patients feel at ease in the moment and help them feel better. Stop in today and let our doctors help you manage your child’s fears.