The Doctor’s Office Blues: How to Reduce Your Child’s Anxiety

The truth is, not many people actually look forward to going to the doctor. But when it’s your child who’s scared, even a standard well-child checkup can result in a traumatic meltdown.

Luckily, there are things you can (and should!) do to calm your child’s fears and help them feel more comfortable with these routine visits. Our team has compiled some tips to help. Keep reading to learn how to ensure your family’s next visit to the doctor goes smoothly.

 

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Clearly explain what to expect

Kids often conjure up terrifying images of needles and other scary medical tools. They may be worried the whole experience will be painful, or the reason they have to go to the doctor is because they’re sick.

Similarly, when a child doesn’t expect a shot, medicine, or having to sit on the table, it can lead them to get even more anxious than those who had time to prepare. The next visit following this type of experience will surely be difficult.

Helping your child understand step-by-step what will happen during the appointment will help manage expectations and lower anxiety. The trick is to avoid vague explanations.

For example, instead of saying, “the doctor is going to give you a checkup” you might say, “the doctor is going to look in your mouth and listen to your heartbeat using a stethoscope, which looks like this…” and so on.

 

Don’t lie

As you explain the appointment to your child, chances are they will likely fixate on one big question: “Do I have to get a shot?”

While your first instinct might be to give a vague answer, or maybe even lie, being honest is your best bet. Instead, try out a response like…

  • I don’t know, but we can ask the doctor once we get into the checkup room
  • Yes, you will need a vaccination, but I’ll be there with your the whole time and your doctor is very kind and gentle

 

Avoid scary words

In an effort to assure your child, you might say something like…

  • It won’t hurt!
  • Don’t worry, I promise it won’t’ be scary!
  • It’s just a little needle!

But using words like this can actually have the opposite effect. A great example of this is the child who falls down on their bike but doesn’t start crying until their parent runs over and makes a big deal about the accident.

Do your best to avoid negative or scary-sounding words when talking about the doctor and explaining what to expect. Some words to avoid include…

  1. Hurt
  2. Pain
  3. Sick
  4. Shot
  5. Needle
  6. Scary
  7. Afraid

 

Validate feelings (but don’t use fear as a motivator)

There’s a reason your child is anxious of the office. Whether or not it’s true, to them, the experience feels scary and unknown. Brushing over their comments with a , “It will be fine! There’s nothing to be afraid of!” can actually amp-up their emotions even more.

Instead, help your child feel listened to and validated. You might say, “I understand how you feel and I’m going to be with you the whole time to make sure you’re safe.”

Another method is to offer up yourself as an example that it’s going to be okay. For instance, “I know how you feel. I was nervous before my last doctor’s appointment but i’m really glad I went. My doctor was so nice and she made sure I stay healthy!”

One more thing: Never use fear as a motivator. If your child is nervous about getting a shot, never threaten getting sick or having a medical issue to encourage then feeling better about the process. You have good intentions, but it will only serve to frighten them more.

 

Keep your own anxieties in check

Ofen your own anxious energy about the appointment can rub off on your child and make matters worse. It really is amazing how quickly a child may pick up on your behavior and suspect something is wrong.

Help keep spirits high by keeping your own emotions in check. Stay positive and upbeat, and if your child doesn’t seem to be too worried about the appointment, avoid focusing on it more than you need to.

What should you do if your child goes into tantrum mode in the waiting room? Remember a few things:

  • No one will judge you — office staff is used to dealing with scared children
  • Stay calm and try to keep your voice down to avoid amping up the situation
  • Give your child time. Often they need to let out some of this anxious energy before they can take in the situation more calmly
  • Use comforting words, back rubs, or hand squeezes to help calm them
  • Deploy the use of distractions like toys in the waiting room or a personal belonging you’ve brought along

That brings us to…

 

Bring a favorite toy or personal belonging

It can be helpful to bring along a comfort item like a stuffed animal, toy, or blanket. Yes, the doctor’s office will have a few distractions may be interesting, but in these “scary” situations, a friendly reminder of the safety of home can be extremely comforting to children.

 

Help the doctor help you

Lastly, know that your child’s doctor wants to help make the appointment as smooth and stress free as possible. Giving useful feedback to your doctor on how to approach and deal with your child can be incredibly helpful.

For example, while your doctor will likely have some great tricks to help kids feel relaxed, it probably doesn’t work on every single child — everyone is unique, after all! So help by letting the doctor know what has worked for your child in the past and what hasn’t.

Some other types of helpful feedback to the doctor might be…

  • Ask the doctor to explain a process or tool the child is particularly fearful of
  • Encourage the doctor use kid-friendly language, so they can understand everything that’s said
  • Request the doctor demonstrate something on you, first (for example, looking in your ears)
  • Ask the doctor to allow you to be a helper during the appointment, like holding the otoscope or stethoscope

 

Oregon Pediatrics is here to help

Most important through all of this is to have a pediatrician who will help make your child’s appointment stress free. Choose a pediatrician office that specializes in providing a positive experience.

At Oregon Pediatrics, we’re known for our kid-friendly environment. Patient doctors, and friendly, gentle staff. We are dedicated to helping children enjoy their visits and are here to help make the experience positive for you, too.

If you are worried about how your child will react to the appointment or need some help calming your child, contact us. We’re here to help.

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