Despite the friendly atmosphere, doctors’ visits can be unsettling for
children. Children may not understand why they are being examined and
they typically have little say in the matter. To top this off, the visit
often ends with blood tests or shots.
How You Can Help
Children are sensitive to their parent’s emotional state, so a calm and
reassuring tone on your part helps tremendously. Let your child know she
is seeing the doctor before you leave for the appointment. This will
give her a chance to ask questions about what to expect. If your child
appears anxious, discuss a previous visit, emphasizing what she liked
about the doctor or the office.
The most important thing to do at a doctor’s visit is to tell your child
the truth. Above all, avoid the temptation to say something won’t hurt.
The reason for this is because “the truth” varies from person to person.
For example, even though throat cultures don’t bother most adults, they
can be distressing to children. It’s better to say a procedure may hurt,
but add that it will be over quickly and you’ll be there to help.
Plan Your Trip
Getting through a doctor’s appointment can be trying, so it’s helpful if
you plan your day carefully.
- If possible, do not schedule a visit during your child's naptime.
- Bring a bottle or snack to the office in case your child gets hungry.
- Take a favorite book or toy for your child to play with.
- Bring as few children to the office as possible.
- Don’t plan another activity right after the appointment in case it lasts
longer than expected.
Help Your Child Interact With the Doctor
Although pediatricians love children, the opposite is not always true.
That said, there are a number of things you can do to make the visit go
- If you are new to an area, make a brief “get acquainted” visit with the
doctor. This lets your child can meet the doctor in an informal way that
does not involve an examination.
- If your child is nervous before the appointment, read a book about
- Bring a lovey to the appointment—they are not only comforting, but they
foster communication between doctor and child.
- Bring a toy doctor's kit so your child can “examine” the doctor.
What To Say About Shots
Parents often ask if they should tell children about shots before the
visit. If your child has a specific appointment for a shot, you should
tell him before you leave home. Although this may make your child
anxious, it gives him a chance to prepare for the procedure. If your
child is having a routine checkup, the best approach is to say you don’t
know if he’s getting a shot. The reason for this is because it’s hard to
know for sure if a shot will be part of the visit—immunization schedules
change and doctors sometimes run out of vaccines that are given at
Techniques To Use Before and During the Shot
As mentioned previously, a calm and direct approach works best. It also
helps to give children some choices. Your child can pick which arm gets
the shot, which bandage to use, and whether you should rub the arm fast
or slow when the injection is over.
Here are some additional tips that you can use to help reduce shot
- Young infants: maintain eye contact, smile and talk to the baby, sing
- Older infants and toddlers: distract the child with toys, songs, a
story, car keys, blowing bubbles, or looking at interesting objects in
- Preschoolers and school-aged children: same as toddlers plus look at
family pictures, use electronic devices like a cell phone or Game Boy,
talk to the child, watch a video on a portable DVD player
Techniques To Use After the Shot
Some children will cry despite your attempts to ease their pain—I always
tell children that it’s okay to cry, but we need them to try and hold
still. Once the shot is over you can tell your child that he did a good
job getting through the procedure. Other things that help include hugs
and kisses, rubbing the child’s arm, and stickers. Finally, it may help
if your child knows he can do something special after the visit—a trip
to the park, extra TV or computer time or even going out for a treat.
Dr. Howard Bennett is a pediatrician in Washington, DC. He is the author of two
picture books for children, Lions Aren’t Scared of Shots and It Hurts
When I Poop.