There are few things that sound worse to a kid than an appointment with their doctor. Whether it's a check-up or a sick visit, as a mom, you could probably use some tips for making your kid's doctor appointments easier.
Trust me, I know that feeling of dread that comes over you when you realize you have to take your kid to the doctor. My toddler was great with doctor visits until she hit 11 months. Since then, she screams bloody murder every time a doctor talks to her, every time they touch her, and every time they ask me a question. Frequent visits because of ear infections has made me more than eager to get her past these fears and make her doctor visits a little easier on all of us.
Babies and toddlers have enough of a challenge, but older kids may also have some reservations and anxieties about heading to the doctor. To find out the best way to make doctor visits easier on kids of all ages (and their mamas), I spoke with Dr. Chrystal de Freitas, a pediatrician based in San Diego. She has recently written a book, Jake's Kindergarten Checkup, as a way to help kids get over their worries about seeing a doctor. With her 34 years of experience, she gave me 15 great tips on how to make your child's doctor visit easier on everyone.
1. Prep Your Kid In A Way That's Best For Them
When it comes to your child, you know them better than anyone and de Freitas believes this is extremely helpful in preparing your child for their appointment. "If a child is anxious, only a mother knows if telling a child too early creates more anxiety. And that is not helpful. But some kids need at least a day to prepare themselves. It's very individualized; some kids will agonize over a pending appointment and it's just not worth it."
2. Make A List With Your Child
"Tell your child that you're going to make a list of things to ask the doctor, things you are both worried about," de Freitas suggests. Before heading off to the appointment, make a list with your child of things to ask the doctor and be sure to keep it lighthearted.
3. Let Them Play Doctor
You can prep your child for their appointment in fun ways, too. Spend time playing doctor with them, recommends de Freitas. When your little one gets to practice with their dolls or on you, they'll learn to feel more comfortable with their own pediatrician.
4. Get To The Appointment A Little Early
If your child is already feeling anxious, showing up frazzled and in a rush to the appointment isn't going to help. "Make it a more relaxed setting by getting there a few minutes early," de Freitas says. "Give yourself time to fill out any paperwork and so the kids can play or read a book."
5. Validate Their Feelings
Your kid's going to be nervous and worried about their appointment, and you can't control that. But what you can do is validate their feelings with de Fretias's "power of three" rule.
"Ask them, 'You are really afraid to come here, aren't you?' They will say yes. Then ask, 'You think it's going to hurt, don't you?' Again, they will say yes," she says. "Then finally ask, 'You wish you could go home right now, don't you?' They will answer yes. Pause for a moment and then tell them that you know they are afraid, you know that they think it will hurt, and you know that they want to go home, but if they'll let you finish the appointment, then you two can go have a treat. After that, stop talking. Too much talking can make them more anxious and by letting them answer your questions, you're validating their feelings and letting them know that they are heard."
6. Use The Number Scale To Talk About Pain
The number scale is used in the medical field to describe everyone's pain, and de Freitas thinks it can be helpful for your own kiddo. Ask them what they think their pain is going to be, and then let them know that vaccines and shots are actually only a one or a two on the pain scale. When they have a number to think about, it gives them something to hold on to and expect.
7. Remind Them That We All Have To Do Things We Don't Want To
Going to the doctor is no fun, but it's something that has to be done, and you can remind your child of that. There's no need to get anxious about it or paint it as a big deal, but de Freitas recommends explaining to your child that we all do things we don't want to do, but sometimes they are necessary, like going to work or seeing a doctor.
8. Keep Calm
It's hard to keep calm when your child is freaking out, but it's a must, especially if you're having to hold a kid down for shots or force them them to do something for the doctor. "You're the parent, you're in charge," de Freitas says. "Tell them three sentences: It's going to be OK. Mommy loves you. This is safe and it's going to keep you healthy. When you have a calm demeanor, your child will realize this is nothing to be scared about."
9. Don't Apologize
de Freitas says one of the worst things you can do to your child at an appointment is tell them you're sorry. "It's not necessary to apologize," she says. "That just increases your child's anxiety because if you're saying sorry, then something must be wrong." Continue to keep calm and remind them of how the visit keeps them healthy.
10. Encourage Your Child To Ask Questions
Especially if you're asking some, too. You can lead your child into ideas de Freitas says, by reminding them about when they fell and hurt their knee last week. "Tell your child, 'Why don't you ask about your knee? I know you were worried about it the other day.' Or suggest to them that they ask about healthy foods they might like to try or even how to make better friends at school if they've been having a hard time with a classmate."
11. Get Excited For Them During The Appointment
de Freitas says that she tries to be excited for every one of her patients. "I want them to realize that I am a person not in their family that is excited to see them, to talk to them, and to know about them." She recommends that parents follow her lead in the appointment. When you hear how tall your child is or how healthy they are, congratulate your child and get really excited. By putting a positive spin on the appointment, your child learns that going to the doctor can be exciting.
12. Let Your Child Feel In Control
By letting them ask questions, help make a list, and have their feelings validated, you're letting them have some control over the appointment. "Tell them, 'Is it OK if I talk to the doctor for just a minute? Then we can go,'" de Freitas says. "It's not deceitful to give them what they want in their imagination. You're just letting them think they are the ones in control and call the shots here."
13. Have A Reward For Them
de Freitas is adamant that a child should get some kind of reward after an appointment. "We all get rewards, even adults. We go to work and what do we get? A paycheck," she says. "So you should always have some kind of reward for your child. Make it something special, not a treat they get every day, and they'll connect that positive, fun thing to a doctor visit."
14. Brag On Your Child After The Appointment
Bragging on your child can make them realize that their doctor visits aren't always so bad. Brag on them to your partner when you get home or even the person working at the ice cream shop you take them to for their reward. "Brag about how brave your child was, how tall they were, and how the doctor said they were so healthy," de Freitas says.
15. Think Of The Visit As A Way To Boost Your Child's Self Confidence
When you think of a doctor visit as a way to help your child feel good about themselves, it can make it a little easier to handle. "A doctor visit is a time to let your child know how much you appreciate them," de Freitas says. You're learning about how big they're getting, how healthy they are, and how smart they are. When you focus on those results, your kid will start to feel happy about visits because they know they're going to hear how great they are and how proud everyone is of them.