What if my Child is Afraid of Going to the Doctor?

One of the troubling dilemmas a parent might deal with is the question of whether talking to their child about what will happen at the doctor’s office in the days before will just build more anxiety, or if it will help prepare them to be less afraid. While it can be detrimental to dwell on the worries of visiting the doctor before going, it can also be quite problematic if a child is brought to the doctor by surprise, or lied to about where they are going.  Several experts share the following advice on how to prepare your child for a doctor visit, without stressing them out even more.

  • One of the most important things parents can do is to be calm themselves. If a parent is anxious at the doctor, the child will get his cues from the parent and also be afraid. Find ways to deal with the apprehension you may have about your child’s doctor experience. Try not to let your child see these feelings.
  • Tell your child about the appointment a couple days in advance. Karen Stephens, director of Illinois State University Child Care Center, says, “A week’s notice is too long for young kids, because they forget easily, and a week gives school-age children too much time to fret and worry.”
  • Be very honest, but positive. Dr. Lindenberg, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center advises, “Never lie to a child and never make promises that may be broken during a visit. For example, you shouldn’t promise that a visit to the doctor won’t hurt, because there may be immunizations or blood draws. What you can say is, “I don’t know if you will get a shot this time. If you do, it will be over very quickly and will probably feel like a pinch.”
  • Fears can be eased by helping a young child become familiar with the experience of a trip to the doctor office. You might consider letting them perform role plays with toy doctor equipment at home, observing the doctor visits of older siblings, reading helpful books about visiting the doctor, and briefly going over what to expect when you are there. During these activities, take a chance to explain some of the equipment that the doctor uses. The Fred Rogers website has a video about going to the doctor from the Mister Rogers television show that may appeal to little ones and ease their concerns at http://www.fredrogers.org/parents/first-experiences/going-to-doctor.php.
  • “Research has shown that children who sit on a parent’s lap (rather than away from their parent on a table) while receiving a shot or medicine show less anxiety. (Probably because they feel more safe and secure)” (Stephens, K., 2007).
  • Make the trip a special and fun occasion. Allow your child to bring a special blanket or stuffed animal with them if it helps them to feel comforted. Avoid using bribes for children to behave, but it is helpful to make it a fun occasion by having a special activity afterwards or going for ice cream on the way home. Dr. Benjamin Kligler, an Associate Medical Director in New York City, says, “Instead of bribing or threatening a young child into going to the doctor, ask him what fun thing he would like to do afterwards. Use this as an incentive, rather than a reward for good behavior, because it’s normal for young kids to get upset during the visit.

One of the frustrating things about raising children is not being able to control the influences that come into their lives, sometimes creating false perceptions of the world. A child’s fear about going to the doctor is usually partially based on their observations of other’s reactions. An older sibling or neighbor might talk about being scared to get a shot at the doctor, and voila! Your younger child is likely going to be afraid too. Besides the influence of others, visiting the doctor is naturally a frightening experience for a child, especially on the first visit (at least the first visit they actually remember, that is).

Vaccines are often a cause of concern for kids and parents because they hurt and parents often don’t understand why it’s best that their children receive them. If you’re a parent with concerns regarding immunizations, click to view the ACPeds handouts on the Origin and Production of Vacciness in the United States and the Human Papillomavirus Vaccine.

For some more helpful tips and ideas on quelling your child’s fears (and any of your own) about doctor visits, view the following resources:







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