Doctor PhobiasJanuary 12, 2017
Being scared of the doctor (even the doctor’s office!) is a normal developmental phase, but dealing with a fearful child can be difficult.
Here are a few PARENT tips to help:
1. Try to understand that visiting the doctor can be a difficult experience.
- Figure out if you think your child will feel better if they are prepared for the visit, or will react better if they don’t know in advance.
- Depending on their personality, some children get nervous to discuss events in advance while others feel more prepared and can ask questions.
2. Pretend play can help children ages 18 months and up to deal with their fears.
- Get a simple doctors kit or use household items (such as a thermometer, popsicle stick, band aid and straw) to “play doctor” at home. Let your child pretend to listen to your heart, take your temperature or look in your ears – this will help them to work through some of what scares them and get them prepared for what happens in the office.
3. Bring some support from home.
- Carrying a favorite blanket, toy or special item from home can make the doctor’s visit less frightening. Try bringing your little one something they like to play with at home and see if it can help to calm them.
4. If your child is upset, remind them that you are there and that they are safe.
- Saying “I know you don’t like this, but your doctor is making sure you are all healthy and then we will go home” can help explain to your child what to expect and can help remind them that you are there.
5. Get close.
- Having a small child sit on your lap can make them feel more secure in a strange or scary place. For older children, try holding their hand or sitting to face them (and make eye contact). Knowing you are with them can make a HUGE difference.
6. Let your child know how well they did.
- Saying something like “Awesome job calming down and letting the doctor examine you. We are all done and can go home.” Make this praise even more special by adding a hug or high-five.
Here are a few PROVIDER tips to help:
1. Know what is normal.
- From 8 months till 2.5 years children routinely experience high anxiety visiting the doctor. This is a normal part of their development, and caregivers should be reassured that this behavior is normal and expected.
2. Plan your visit accounting for the child’s and caregiver’s discomfort..
- Use quiet moments to talk to the caregivers and don’t try to examine while you talk if the child is crying (remember that caregivers have trouble attending to crying and listening!).
3. Look away.
- Avoiding eye contact with a scared child can help to hold off any tears.
- Talk to caregivers with a happy cheerful voice and keep your eyes off the little ones until it is time for the exam.
4. Be playful!
- Make the exam as fun as possible (for example, “I’m looking to see if there are bubbles in your ears!”) and play “peek-a-boo” (besides entertaining patients, this helps them to learn object permanence – the idea that disappearing things come back – and helps with separation anxiety)
5. Use the visit to teach!
- Use the names of body parts while you are examining them and ask children if they can point to where they are.
6. Try starting with toes
- Toes are further away from the baby’s face, and a tickle can provoke a laugh.
- Use a very gentle touch and try to warm up your hands (while washing them) before.
7. Remember to praise as much as possible.
- Saying “Dad, you did a great job keeping the baby calm” makes a big impression on parents and can help them build self-esteem and confidence.
- To the patient, your compliment will also help them to know what to do next time. Try saying “You did a terrific job taking big breaths, thank you” to help teach kids what to do again at the next visit.