Helping Children Get The Most From Their Doctor’s Visit –
Do you remember being afraid of the doctor when you were a child? Most children are, and there are good reasons for their anxiety if you look at the world through their eyes. Children worry about being separated from their parents and left with strangers. They worry about experiencing pain from shots and other procedures. Raised to be wary of inappropriate touching, many children may also be confused about why it’s OK for their health care provider to look at their entire body, touch their tummy, and ask lots of questions. Sometimes they worry that they will say or do something wrong.
Unfortunately, and despite their best intentions, parents can inadvertently increase their child’s anxiety instead of reducing it.
Here are some tips for helping your child learn to visit the doctor’s office without undue worry or anxiety, and lay the groundwork for a lifetime of better mental health.
- Teach them how to cope with feelings. Instead of trying to banish fears, accept that they are a normal reaction. Focus on helping your child learn to cope with their feelings.
- Help them work through the situation. Remember that whisking children away from stressful situations when they cry or avoiding conversations they find “scary” can teach them that expressing emotional distress is an effective way to avoid uncomfortable situations.
- Express confidence that they can handle what’s coming up. Affirming your confidence in them, without sugar-coating what they might experience, will help build their self-confidence.
- Validate their feelings without increasing their anxiety. Tell them it’s ok to be afraid, and let them know you will be there to help them.
- Realize that you can increase anxiety by the way you ask questions. “Are you nervous about visiting the doctor?” suggests that they should be nervous. The question, “How are you feeling about visiting the doctor?” lets them express a range of emotions without leading them to any specific thought.
- Keep the anticipation to a minimum. With small children, there’s no need to mention the visit two hours in advance. We all know that worries are often worse than what we experience. As Mark Twain so eloquently put it, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually”
- Work through “what-ifs.” If your child says they’re afraid of getting a shot, for example, you might ask them how much they think it might hurt. How long do they think it will hurt? Strive to work together through the issues in advance because dealing with the situation realistically will help reduce uncertainty, and that reduces anxiety.
- Be a good role model. The way you handle fears and anxieties can teach children a lot – both good and bad.
This article has been adapted from an article posted on Childmind.org by Dr. Clark Goldstein, a child and adolescent psychologist specializing in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. Childmind.org is an excellent resource for more tips and recommendations.