As parents, we all know how it feels when our child is upset at the doctor’s office. Our hearts drop when we see the look in their eyes once they realize where they are, or when they ask the question, “Will I get shots or blood taken today?” The good news is there are things we can do to make going to the doctor a better experience for our children and ourselves! Here are 13 tips to help your child if they’re scared at the doctor.
1) Prepare your child beforehand. Sometimes children need time to process that they are going to see the doctor. Tell them ahead of time that they will be going to the doctor, and when you do, let them know what the visit will entail. If you know that your child will get an immunization, it is important to prepare your child for this.
For example: “Tomorrow we are going to see the doctor because you are 5 years old now! The doctor wants to see how well you are growing and how well you are doing. After we visit with the doctor, the nurse will have to do two small pokes in your leg or arm. You can ask the nurse if you can sit on mommy’s lap during these pokes. Remember, your most important job is to not wiggle. It is okay to feel scared or to cry, but just try to hold your leg still.”
2) Be honest with your child, always. Honesty is the foundation of a trusting relationship for children. Make sure you tell your child they are going to visit the doctor and if they will be getting any procedures or immunizations during the visit. If you do not know, it is okay for you to say, “I don’t know, but we will ask as soon as we get there.” Some children may cry knowing they will be getting a shot, but continue to remind the child that it is okay for them to be scared and you will be with them throughout the visit.
3) Validate their feelings. Many children are scared and feel very worried about doctor visits because they may associate them with getting poked. It is helpful for children to know that it is okay to feel scared or worried and that you will tell them everything that will be happening.
4) Bring comfort items along. Offer your child the opportunity to bring their special blanket or stuffed animal with them to the doctor. Let them know that they can use that something special during the doctor’s visit if they are feeling worried.
5) Have your child bring an activity to keep them distracted. Many kids love to color a picture for their doctor and give it to him or her during their visit. This can also help your child to be distracted leading up to the time for immunizations or procedures.
6) Offer choices (when available) throughout the visit. Offering choices can give your child a sense of control in an uncontrollable environment.
• If your child is getting an immunization, ask the child which leg or arm (if this is a choice) they would like the poke.
• If the child must take medicine, ask the child if they would like to take the medicine in a syringe or a cup.
• If your child is getting a procedure and both parents can come with, ask the child which parent’s hand they would like to hold during the procedure.
7) Practice playing doctor at home. Many children master life experiences through play. Purchase a doctor kit and have your child practice playing doctor. During these play sessions, offer coping ideas for your child that they could use in the future.
For example: “Tell the dolly to take five deep breaths for her poke, and try not to wiggle!”
8) Provide distraction during procedures or immunizations. Keeping your child’s mind on a positive stimulus can be very helpful during procedures or immunizations. Offer a choice of distraction to your child.
• Watch a video on your phone or tablet
• Read a book
• Play “I spy” or “20 questions” with your child
• Count to 10
9) Empower your child with a coping tool. Procedures can be difficult for a child of any age. If a child is 3 or older, offer a coping tool for when they must have a procedure or an immunization.
• Counting to 5
• Taking deep breaths
• Using guided imagery and/or squeezing your eyes shut and looking away
10) Avoid shielding your child from the procedure. Many children over the age of 3 or 4 may cope best if they have the choice to watch. It is always okay for your child to watch if they want to, but also remind your child that they have to hold very still. It is also okay for your child to shut their eyes and look away.
11) Ask your nurse if you can safely hold your child during the immunization or procedure. Some children feel more in control when they are not laying down and may comply better with a procedure if they can sit on a parent’s lap. This may be helpful for a child of any age.
12) Talk to your doctor about numbing cream for pain management prior to injections or blood work. Some doctors can prescribe a topical numbing cream to help with the poke prior to a vaccine or blood work. The child may still feel the medicine going in, but it may help with the pain of the initial poke.
If your child is scheduled for vaccinations, Prevea Pediatrics does not recommend giving children any medication, including Tylenol or ibuprofen, prior to the appointment – unless the child is in pain or has a fever before the appointment. Talk to your child’s doctor at the appointment about how to treat if pain or fever occurs after vaccinations are given.
13) Talk to a Child Life Specialist at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital. If your child is extremely fearful of going to the doctor, consider talking to a Child Life Specialist for more ideas and tips to help your child through a doctor visit. Feel free to call Child Life at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital at (920) 433-8641.
Have any questions about these tips to help your child if they’re scared at the doctor? Leave them in the comments!
Author: Ashley Thompson, Child Life Specialist
Prevea Health and HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital
Child Life is a free service available to patients – with certified Child Life Specialists who are trained to help children, teens, young adults, and families cope with a variety of health care experiences at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital and in some clinic settings.
To learn more about Child Life Specialists, visit https://www.hshs.org/StVincentChildrensHospital/Services/Child-Life