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Helpful Hints for Preparing for Your Child's Doctor Visit

February 04, 2016

Bethany Mobley, MD

Many children are afraid of going to the doctor or afraid of what happens at the doctor's office. There are simple ways parents can help prepare their children and try to alleviate this fear.

Explain what they can expect at the visit

Even parents do not always know what to expect at each doctor's visit, and that's okay! In general, most visits to the doctor will consist of a discussion of any concerns, updates on ongoing medical issues, the physical exam and counseling. 

Of course, some visits may include administration of vaccines or blood draws for lab work. If your child is old enough, you can talk with them about each of these and let them know they can participate. For example, if your child has been having stomach aches, the doctor is likely to have questions about frequency, location and severity of the pain. Your child can help answer these questions. Pediatricians love to hear not only from parents, but from the children too!

Prepare them for the physical exam

A normal physical exam usually involves things that children may be afraid will hurt or that are a little uncomfortable. Looking in children's ears tends be one of the more unpleasant experiences for most children. 

A good way to prepare children for the physical exam, including the ear exam, is to use a teddy bear, doll or any stuffed animal. You can demonstrate the different physical exam components for your child and let them try it too! If you have a toy doctor set this task is made a bit easier; if not you can always improvise, but try role playing with it. Showing how the doctor will listen to a child's chest for heart and lung sounds can be demonstrated with household items like holding a cup to your ear and placing the other side on the child's chest and asking them to breath deeply. 

Although, this isn't exact it can give them an idea of what will happen. Explain that a blood pressure cuff may be used to obtain a blood pressure and it is like "a hug for their arm." As children grow older they will be more aware and may be embarrassed by the examination of their private area. 

This is an important component of the exam and can be reviewed with adolescents as well. It is also a great time to talk to children about safety and that only certain people should view their private area.

Tell them why we go to the doctor 

Surprisingly, many children think that having to go to the doctor is a punishment for something they have done. It is important to explain to them that visiting the doctor is not a punishment and there should be no guilt or shame associated with it. If children are having doctor visits for a specific illness, they may interpret this as punishment for having the illness. Generalizing the visit is helpful- for instance, letting your child know that all kids and even adults go to the doctor to stay healthy and strong.

Talk with your child and listen to his or her concerns. This will help guide the discussion, and everyone will be prepared. There are also children books available that may be useful to read to your children, about going to the doctor and about being sick.