Going to the doctor can be scary for anyone and is something that a lot of people will try to avoid at all costs if possible. For parents of children, reducing that fear and anxiety can be quite the challenge. From regular checkups to vaccinations, the common cold or flu, or another illness, it is not uncommon for a trip to the doctor’s office to result in a major meltdown for a young child.
So just how do you ease your child’s fear of doctor visits?
Ali Ghahary, a physician based in the city of Vancouver who currently practices at a combined walk-in and family practice, recommends preparing your child prior to the visit. If they are old enough to understand, explain the reason why they are seeing the doctor, what they are seeing the doctor for, and why it’s beneficial to their health. Also be open and honest. If your child is seeing the doctor for a vaccination, explain that it may be an unpleasant and slightly painful experience, but let them know that it will only be brief. While the child may still be fearful, this fear may actually slightly diminish if they are aware of what they should expect.
For younger children, try taking their favourite book and read to them while they are in the waiting area – this serves as a good distraction from the overwhelming sense of dread they may be feeling. You can also bring their favourite stuffed animal or toy. For children, familiarity often equals comfort. A doctor can also do a “practice exam” on the stuffed animal to help ease the child’s fear. After your child’s check-up, reward them. Let them know how proud you are of them, and perhaps buy them their favourite treat or toy. This will make the child happier, and knowing that they can be rewarded for their good behaviour will ultimately help them feel less fearful of doctor’s appointments in the future.
Unfortunately, visits to the doctor are not the only thing children are fearful of. As viral and bacterial infections tend to be quite common in children – especially those who are school-aged – medication is something your child may require. Getting them to take it, however, can be a very difficult task for parents. While almost all children’s medication comes in liquid form and is usually masked with flavour (grape, cherry, strawberry, banana, etc.), the word “medicine” can be enough to scare a child. While it can be frustrating, Dr. Ali Ghahary says it is important to stay calm, as children often react to emotions. Explain to your child the benefits of the medication. In some cases you can also mix the medication into food – for example: Yogurt or ice cream. When your child does take their medication, reward them with visual gifts, such as stickers.
While going to the doctor is inevitable, hopefully these tips will help make it a happier visit!