Parents looking after their children’s welfare often have to deal with tears and rebellion when it’s time to visit the doctor. Many children develop a fear of doctors, for whatever reason, which can make routine check-ups and medical visits a daunting experience for all the parties involved.
Unfortunately, the impact of a child’s anxiety during a doctor’s visit can be far-reaching. In fact, it can affect their overall well-being and even the quality of care they receive. The good news is that there are numerous strategies you can employ to help your child overcome their fear of the doctor and turn those anxious tears into smiles of confidence.
Understand the Roots of Fear
Before diving into particular strategies, it’s essential to understand why many children fear doctors. In a national survey by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan, United States, some of the most common reasons cited by children who are afraid of the doctor are: fear of getting the jab, stranger anxiety, and memories of getting sick. Other causes can be fear of the unknown, separation anxiety, and negative portrayals of medical procedures and doctors in the media.
As a parent, it’s important to recognise and pinpoint the cause of your child’s fear and anxiety to properly address it. By acknowledging these fears with empathy and understanding, you can help your child feel more at ease.
Choose a Child-Friendly Doctor
One of the most significant factors in alleviating your child’s fear is choosing a paediatric clinic with a doctor who has a way with kids. A paediatrician or family doctor who specialises in working with children can make all the difference. Aside from their medical skills and credentials, these doctors are trained to create a welcoming and reassuring environment for your child.
Prepare Your Child for the Visit
Before the doctor’s visit, it’s essential to explain the purpose of the visit to your child. Use simple and reassuring language to help them understand that the doctor is there to keep them healthy. Moreover, be honest about why they need to go to the doctor. If your child asks if they would be receiving another shot at the arm, answer truthfully. After all, the more they understand, the less anxious they are likely to be.
Engage in Pretend Play
Pretend play can be a powerful tool to demystify the role of the doctor. Engage in pretend play at home, where your child can take turns being the doctor and the patient. This playtime can make the doctor’s role seem less intimidating and even fun.
Read Books About Visiting the Doctor
Children’s books about visiting the doctor can be a fantastic resource to prepare your child for their doctor’s appointment. These books are designed to be engaging, relatable, and make the doctor’s visit feel less mysterious.
Use Simple and Neutral Words
The words you use can have a significant impact on your child’s perception of the doctor’s visit. Avoid using words that might scare your child, like “pain,” “shot,” or “hurt.” Instead, use neutral or positive terms to describe the experience. For example, when describing a vaccine shot, you can say “gentle poke on the arm” or instead of “painful,” you can say “uncomfortable.” Aside from substituting words, you can also focus on the importance of staying healthy or trusting the doctor to help make them better if they are not feeling well.
Employ Positive Reinforcement
Praising your child for their bravery during the doctor’s visit is a powerful tool to boost their confidence. Offer small rewards or treats as a positive reinforcement when the visit goes well. To give you some ideas, you can promise to buy them ice cream after the appointment or go to their favourite park. Eventually, this positive feedback can help them associate doctor visits with positive experiences.
Stay Calm and Composed
Children often take cues from their parents. Thus, if you’re anxious or nervous about the doctor’s visit, your child may pick up on these emotions. Try your best to stay calm and composed to reassure your child and make the visit less stressful for both of you.
Accompany Your Child
Whenever possible, stay with your child during the examination. Your presence can provide comfort and security, which remind them that you’re there to support them.
Apply Distraction Techniques
If they won’t get in the way of crucial procedures, bring along a few favourite toys, books, or electronic devices to occupy your child during the appointment. These distractions can help keep their minds off any anxiety-inducing aspects of the visit.
For children with severe anxiety or fear, consider making short visits to the doctor’s office for non-invasive procedures like weighing or measuring. This gradual exposure can help acclimate them to the environment and reduce their anxiety over time.
Helping your child overcome their fear of the doctor requires understanding and patience. Hopefully, with these approaches, you can help your child build up confidence and resilience against their fears and anxiety.
Experts recommend that parents acknowledge and validate their child’s emotions. This would enable you and your child to move forward and find a solution that works best for them. In the end, when they’ve overcome their fears, their healthcare needs can be fully met without the need for tears and stress.