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6 Ways to Help Reduce Doctor Visit Fears

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  • Dr. Emily Smith
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Let’s be truthful: no one really looks forward to going to a doctor appointment, even if it’s just routine. But, when your child is afraid, you’re more than aware that a standard yearly check-up can result in a major meltdown.


In Friday’s episode of Arkansas PBS’ “Blueberry’s Clubhouse” featuring Arkansas Children’s, we’ll see how Camp Counselor Carol fears doctor visits. We’ll address the issue by discussing how kids and parents can take control of their health (and feelings) by doing pre-checkup “Self Checkups.” If you missed it the segment sneak preview, you can watch it here[CK1] [KC2] , or tune in Friday, Aug. 6, at 9:07 a.m. for the full episode! We’ve also provided a few tips below to, hopefully, make your next visit easier.


1.  Be upfront. 


Kids’ imaginations can really run wild, so knowing exactly what to anticipate at a doctor visit is often a huge help. They might worry that they’re going to get a shot or that everything the doctor does is going to hurt. Preparing your kids for an appointment can go a long way to easing their fears. Instead of saying, “You’re going in for a well child visit,” be more detailed.


Say: “Once we get in the room, Dr. Davis will look in your ears with something called an otoscope. She’ll also use a stethoscope to make sure your lungs and heart are healthy.” Showing photos or videos is helpful, too.


2.  Don’t be dishonest.


If she’s obsessing over the biggie — You know the question: “Will the doctor give me a shot?” — you might be tempted to try and gloss over the question to soothe her nerves. But it’s always best that you’re upfront and tell the truth.


Say: “Honestly, I really don’t know if you’ll be getting a shot during this visit, but we’ll ask Dr. Davis once we’re there.” Being honest will go a long way toward building trust and help make sure your child doesn’t feel deceived if you just say, “No.”


3.  Validate their feelings.


When our kids have anxiety, it can be easy for us to be dismissive and say, “Oh, don’t worry, everything will be okay!” But doing that invalidates your child’s very real feelings. Instead, model a healthy way to handle anxiety by using yourself as an example.


Say: “I totally understand! Do you remember when I had my checkup last month? I was nervous before I went, but I’m so glad I did. Visiting the doctor helps us stay healthy.”


4.     Talk about their concerns.


Take some time and talk through which parts of the visit are making your child nervous. If they have a tough time finding the exact words, ask questions that can help them verbalize their feelings.


Say: “Let’s talk about what I think will happen at your appointment Wednesday. If I say a thing that sounds super scary or makes you nervous, say ‘Stop!,’ and we’ll talk more about that one.”


5.  Help the doctor.


Your child’s doctor wants everyone to be comfortable at an appointment. Most pediatricians have little tricks of the trade they can use to help put a nervous kid at ease. For example, some will ask your child to be their helper by holding tools like the otoscope until it’s time for them to be used. Remember, doctors aren’t mind readers, so you need to let them know your kid is anxious.


Say: “Dr. Davis, Ella is really nervous about her visit today. Can you please include her in the conversation and explain what’s going to happen step-by-step?”



6.  Bring distractions.


You’ll probably be spending some time in the waiting room and exam room, which can worsen your child’s nervousness. Most pediatricians’ offices have some toys and books but, if your kid is highly anxious, bring a favorite toy or snack from home to keep them occupied. 


Say: “I know you’re super nervous about your appointment this afternoon. What if I let you bring some Goldfish crackers and your Baby Yoda with you?”


The bottom line:

Going to the doctor is a necessary part of staying healthy throughout life, so it is helpful to validate and work through your child’s worries. This allows them to view their visit as a positive experience. Helping them develop the tools needed to manage anxiety will make future doctor visits less stressful for everyone involved.

Dr. EmilySmith
About the author: Dr. Emily Smith is a general pediatrician at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where she sees patients in the Circle of Friends Clinic and General Pediatric Clinic. She is a graduate of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and served her residency at Arkansas Children’s.