When your toddler or young school-age child is afraid of going to the doctor, even a simple wellness exam can lead to over-sized feelings of anxiety — and major emotional meltdowns.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone: In a recent nationwide survey, half of the parents who responded say their young child is afraid of going to the doctor, and 1 in 5 parents say their child’s anxiety and emotional upset make it difficult to concentrate on what the pediatric care provider is saying during a visit. A significant number of respondents (1 in 25) also said their child’s medical anxiety is so severe it’s caused them to delay routine immunizations.
If your little one fears doctor visits, checkups, and shots, we can help. When you schedule a pediatric care appointment at Comprehensive Care Clinic in Spring, Texas, Tyneza Mitchell, FNP, and our expert team take your child’s fears seriously. We do everything we can to help them have a positive experience.
Here, we offer our top tips on what you can do to ease your child’s medical anxiety and set them up for the best possible office visit.
If taking your anxious child to the doctor makes you feel anxious, too, or if you harbor your own deep-seated medical anxieties, you may unintentionally transfer the same kind of worry or fear to your child. Small children especially tend to sense, absorb, and reflect their parent’s unease.
Before you can help your child feel more relaxed about going to the doctor, you must first find ways to contain or manage your own anxieties. This includes your parental worries about their medical fears and anxiety reactions, as well as any fears you may have about going to the doctor yourself.
Whether you just scheduled a same-day sick visit or your child’s annual exam is coming up, let them know they have a doctor’s appointment. Your timing matters. If you wait to tell them when it’s time to get in the car and go, they may respond to the surprise with anxiety. Or if you tell them a week in advance, it might give their fears too much time to build.
Instead, give your child the perfect amount of advance notice. Depending on their age and their type of visit, you may decide to tell them a few hours or a full day before the scheduled appointment. Giving your child just enough notice means they won’t have too much time to agonize, but they’ll have enough time — with your help — to mentally prepare.
Children tend to better cope with stressors and fears if they know what to expect. Using age-appropriate language, tell your child why they’re going to the doctor. Be clear, specific, open, honest, and positive.
If your child is ill, let them know their visit allows their care provider to figure out why they’re sick and help them get better as quickly as possible. If they’re going to a routine wellness exam, explain its purpose — to make sure they’re healthy and growing and developing as they should be. Let them know their care provider will:
Since they may be due for routine vaccinations, let them know that no one really loves getting shots, but everyone needs to get them sometimes to stay healthy. Help them understand that the fear of getting a shot is usually far worse than the shot itself, which causes only a tiny “pinch” that’s over in an instant.
For a toddler, preschooler, kindergartener, or young grade-schooler, role-playing a typical doctor’s visit a few times before their scheduled visit can go a long way. Using a toy doctor’s kit can show your child how a care provider listens to their heart with a stethoscope, looks inside each ear with an otoscope, measures blood pressure with an arm cuff, and gives a “quick and easy” shot.
Take turns by inviting your child to provide the same kind of gentle care to you or their favorite doll or stuffed animal.