A pediatrician speaks: 7 tips to ease a child's fears about checkups

March 13, 2019 Swedish Blogger

Preparing a child beforehand can help ease anxiety about doctor’s appointments.

Tell the pediatrician if there are any concerns your child has so they can be addressed during the visit.

A positive attitude from parents goes a long way.

Chances are, if you’re a parent who’s ever spent time in a pediatrician’s waiting room, there’s been a child — either yours or someone else’s — who’s frightened about their checkup. If you’ve got a toddler who’s feeling skittish or scared about being at the doctor’s office, Emily Ferrell, MD, a pediatrician at Swedish Pediatrics-West Seattle, has some suggestions on how to put your child at ease.

1. Be a role model for your child.

If you have a positive attitude about doctor’s visits, your toddler is more likely to follow suit. “Parents should feel comfortable with going to the doctor and try not to act nervous or worried because kids can pick up on that,” Dr. Ferrell says. A positive mindset can be especially helpful when a child is sick and doesn’t want to be doing anything, much less going to the doctor.

2. Prepare your little one in advance.

“Talk with your child about how going to the doctor is a normal part of growing up — that doctors help us all, making sure our bodies are healthy and growing well, and that they will be going to the doctor even as adults,” Dr. Ferrell says.

3. Use pretend play to practice.

It can help a young child get a sense of what a checkup is like if you let them act it out beforehand. Dr. Ferrell recommends using a toy doctor’s kit and letting the child practice on a stuffed animal. “There are also great books and TV shows (if your child is old enough for limited screen time) about going to the doctor, such as Doc McStuffins, Daniel Tiger or the Berenstain Bears, ” she says.  

4. Be honest about shots.

Shots probably cause toddlers the most anxiety about a doctor’s visit. Some kids may want to know about shots in advance so they can feel more prepared, while other kids may be too anxious, so it’s best to bring it up at the end of an appointment. It’s always good to emphasize that shots are meant to keep the child healthy. It’s also important to not sugarcoat things and acknowledge that a shot may hurt for a short time. “Don’t say it’s not going to hurt, because it probably will, and the child may lose trust in either the doctor or the parent,” Dr. Ferrell says. She adds that, because young kids get a lot of shots, it could be a good idea to schedule a visit to the pediatrician that doesn’t involve needles so that the child doesn’t always equate the doctor’s office with shots.

5. Surround the child with love at the doctor’s office.

At the appointment, let your child bring in a favorite stuffed animal, book or other comfort object to help ease fears. As a parent, if you sense your child is scared, offer plenty of love by holding the child’s hand or letting her sit on your lap and snuggle with you. “Just being comforting and relaxed is important,” Dr. Ferrell says.

6. Try to get your child to verbalize her fears.

Sometimes Dr. Ferrell will ask her young patients what they are nervous about to see if they can articulate it. As a parent, you can do the same. “Try to validate how your children are feeling and acknowledge that they are worried or scared, but you can also reassure them” she says.

7. Communicate with your doctor.

If your child is frightened about a checkup, or a particular aspect of it, let the pediatrician know. For instance, Dr. Ferrell says many toddlers don’t like getting their ears checked with an otoscope, especially because it looks pointy. “Sometimes what I’ll do is use the otoscope on the stuffed animal the child brings in or pretend to look in the parent’s ear, and sometimes that works,” she says. “So, if you prepare the doctor and tell them there’s something your child doesn’t like, a little more time can be spent getting them used to it. And don’t be afraid to ask the doctor if your child can sit on your lap during the exam if she is scared, or if she can leave her shoes on if she doesn’t like taking them off. Every child is different, and it’s helpful when parents are able to relay how their child is feeling,” Dr. Ferrell says.

Do you have more questions about raising healthy kids? Download the Circle by Swedish app, which gives you handy provider-approved advice on parenting topics, as well as health-tracking tools and checklists.

Subscribe to the Swedish blog for monthly health tips from our medical experts.

Recommended for you:
5 ways to be a more positive parent
Maintaining healthy eyes in children
Girl power: 6 ways to raise strong daughters


Previous Article
Is elderberry the tool you need to fight the common cold?
Is elderberry the tool you need to fight the common cold?

Learn more about this popular ingredient in over-the-counter cold treatments.

Next Article
Talking with your children about cancer
Talking with your children about cancer

Cancer affects the entire family, and telling your children you have cancer is not easy. We are here to help.