Visits to the pediatrician have become a nightmare since our little one has entered toddlerhood, a stage in which he's old enough to remember past experiences (particularly painful ones like shots) yet still too young to comprehend everything and be reasoned with. From the moment we enter the waiting area until we leave the building, he is in hysterics, occasionally resulting in an incomplete exam. Anxiety over visiting the doctor is common for kids, but can become stressful and troublesome when it is so severe that it interferes with the doctor doing his/her job. Here are 9 ways we've been working with our toddler on reducing anxiety around these visits:
1. Simulate through reading. Reading simple, age-appropriate books about going to the doctor can help your child understand why these visits are necessary and what to expect during routine exams. In my house, we use the Bubble Guppies book, The Doctor is In!
2. Simulate through play. Playing with a toy doctor kit at home and/or running through a doctor's visit with a teddy bar as patient can familiarize your child with the process and instruments.
3. Take a practice run. If your pediatrician's office is amenable, consider scheduling a desensitization visit to expose your child to the office and staff prior to his/her visit and enable him/her to become more familiar with the setting. It's helpful if the visit can include exposure to not just the waiting area, but also the exam room.
4. Time it well. Try to avoid scheduling appointments that overlap with naptime or mealtime. Anxiety and tantrums will be ten times worse when your little one is hungry or overtired.
5. Assure your child. Assure your child that the doctor is a safe figure and that you will be right there with them (have them sit on your lap if need be). When Christine recently took her two-year-old Violet in for a checkup, she used simple language such as "doctor safe" and "doctor helps Vivy" before the visit.
6. Bring comfort items and distractions. A favorite comfort object can be helpful, as can distractions such as a fun toy or a kid's app on your phone.
7. Bring a sibling. If your child has an older sibling (who doesn't have doctor fears!) bring them along so the doctor can demonstrate instrument use on them first, or simply provide comfort of familiarity.
8. Be calm. Many adults feel somewhat uneasy in a medical setting. Children can sense when their parents are nervous and use these cues to determine how they will react to a new situation. So try to remain calm even if your child is melting down. It will help diffuse the situation quicker.
9. Consider a treat. If your child has to undergo something particularly stressful (e.g., shots), consider offering a special treat (snack, new book, etc.) or outing after the appointment to give your child something to look forward to while acknowledging his/her bravery in a positive way.
I hope these tips are helpful to you! If you have other great tips for reducing anxiety around doctor visits, feel free to share in the comments below!