If there's one trip that doesn't feel like Disneyland to children, it will be a visit with the doctors. In a 2018 survey among over 700 parents, around 50 percent of kids between 2 and 5 are afraid to see the man or lady in the white coat.
That's not all. When kids are scared, parents feel anxious too. Because children cannot regulate their emotions properly yet, moms and dads have to learn strategies to make them feel safe and calm.
Here are a few ideas to make the kids feel relaxed during a doctor's appointment:
1. Prepare Your Child Before the Appointment
When you tell children that they will go somewhere after school, it helps them feel less confused and stressed if you give them some information beforehand: “After we come home from school, we'll go to see Dr. Jenkins, who is going to help us make our ears better.”
Another helpful hint is to give children a choice: “We can either go and see Dr. Jenkins, or we can play board games.” Emphasize, however, the benefit of seeing the doctor first.
2. Reschedule if Necessary
If your child gets sick the day before an appointment, you should reschedule. You do not want them to be too tired or too stressed during medical procedures. In fact, research indicates that kids who are anxious about the doctor might have more severe illnesses because their immune system will react less effectively to treatment.
However, if the condition needs immediate attention (e.g., the child sprained their ankles from playing), you have to bring them to an immediate care pediatric clinic, which specializes in the little ones' medical needs.
3. Bring Snacks from Home
When they get hungry, kids often forget everything else and become quite grumpy or whiny. If you bring a few healthy snacks with you during appointments, your kids will feel less threatened by this experience.
Furthermore, kids might behave better if they know that you will not remove them from the waiting room because of their tantrums.
4. Explain What Will Happen Beforehand
Young children cannot differentiate between past, present, and future. They tend to think that everything happening now is forever.
It might help them feel more secure if you explain why you have to go somewhere with Dr. Jenkins: “Dr. Jenkins needs to see how your ears are doing.”
If possible, give kids a chance to express themselves too during this explanation: “I want you to come with me, but you can stay here if that makes it easier for you.” Being honest about why people need to go places where they might be exposed also helps small children cope with anxiety.
5. Encourage Your Child to Ask Questions
When kids are not accustomed to the environment, they often keep quiet and try to process all information they see or hear. Because children learn about their world through asking questions, parents should encourage them to express themselves.
Questions are a sign of curiosity, which is good for learning. Furthermore, children who feel in control will likely experience less fear or stress during an appointment.
6. Be Honest About Feelings
When you tell children that you are stressed because you have so many things on your mind at work, they might also feel anxious because mom or dad need to take care of things here too.
It's better to be honest about why you can't pay 100 percent attention to what your child is saying. However, you should also let your children know that they are the most important thing to you at this moment.
7. Prepare Younger Siblings Before an Appointment
It might be helpful to prepare your small children for an upcoming doctor's visit so that they don't feel left out by their older brother or sister. If possible, try to bring some activities for them with you.
Young kids cannot sit still very long, so keep things interesting with games and arts & crafts projects. With these enjoyable activities, your children might forget why they are at the doctor's office.
8. Make Sure to Take Care of Yourself
Being a parent is hard work. If you pay attention to signs that indicate that you feel stressed, take some time for yourself before an appointment.
This way, you will be able to manage stress better and show your kids how important taking care of oneself is. You can't be there for them if you need help as well.
9. Keep Appointments Short
Remember to ask questions about whether your child feels comfortable during medical procedures so that you can stop if necessary. However, even when everything runs smoothly, keep visits relatively brief (30 minutes or less) so that your child does not get too stressed out.
Adults do get stressed visiting a doctor, so you can imagine how your child must be feeling. These ideas will help them manage their anxiety and even look forward to seeing the doctor.