How to Prepare Your Child For a Medical Appointment

A pediatrician entertains his young patient with a pink clown nose at an appointment. Preparing children for medical appointments helps ease their worries and is a solid step in ensuring they have a positive and comfortable experience.

As adults, barring a significant health issue or need for treatment, going to the doctor’s office is a relatively benign and routine occurrence. You know what to expect and visits typically don’t “hurt.” So, it’s easy to forget that children don’t have that same framework. For them, going to the doctor can be downright scary if they don’t know what to expect.

 

Preparing children for medical appointments helps ease their worries and is a solid step in ensuring they have a positive and comfortable experience.

Heading to the Pediatrician? Ideas For Preparing Your Child

Each visit to the doctor can feel new or different because children are constantly growing up, with expanding levels of awareness. How you prepare a two-year-old is different from a five-year-old, which is different from your 13-year-old.

 

Here are ideas from our pediatricians to help parents and guardians prepare children for their visit to the doctor’s office.

1. Use visuals to support your words

Children are very visual. You may think you’re describing things accurately, but there’s no way to know what they picture in their minds. Using visuals to show what their appointment might be like gives them something more concrete to go by.

 

Visual tools, like symbol and picture cards, are exceptional tools for nonverbal children – including children on the spectrum – who can point to cards they want to hear about again or show you what concerns them most. The internet is full of picture cards and other visual images to support various experiences or activities, including taking a child to a medical appointment. Click Here to view examples.

2. Reassure them you’ll be with them every step of the way

Children often fear they’ll have to separate from their parents or be left alone during the appointment. Reassure them that at PANW, parents or guardians are allowed to be with their child every step of the way. For teens, there is an opportunity during well visits for them to speak independently with their provider. Also, they’ll be able to sit in your lap or hold your hand if they are feeling nervous.

3. Order books from the library

The Multnomah County Library has many books written primarily to prepare children for medical appointments and minimize their fear. Examples include:

      Leo Gets a Checkup

      Max Va al Doctor

      Vicky Goes to the Doctor

      Berenstein Bears Go to the Doctor

      And more, more, more

 

We recommend rotating these books into family reading time. In addition to preparing your child for a doctor’s visit, you can read them sporadically afterward, where they’re bound to connect with the characters and re-tell stories and impressions from their visit.

 

4. Age-appropriate vaccination information

Not surprisingly, getting shots is most children’s biggest source of fear when it comes to doctor visits. It makes sense. Shots can hurt. Children who’ve had vaccinations in the past know that their arm or thigh is sore for a few days afterward or that they don’t always feel so good in the day or two afterward, even though it means their immune system is doing its job.

 

At Pediatric Associates of the Northwest, we believe in “worry-free” pokes, and offer pain-reducing and distraction techniques so shots are as comfortable as possible. Ask us about our Buzzy Bees, Shot Blockers, and topical anesthetic creams. Our gentle team is specially trained in giving pediatric “pokes” so you can feel confident that your child is in good hands.

 

Read the CDC’s page on how to make shots less stressful. A parent’s energy is often the biggest predictor of how a child fares; scared or anxious parents can inadvertently create fear and anxiety in their children. The key is to share just the right amount of information but not too much.

 

Before your child’s well visit, you can check and see if any immunizations are recommended for your child’s age and see generally what will be covered at the appointment. Also, honesty is the best policy. Building trust requires children to know you tell them the truth to the best of your ability. We don’t recommend saying that something doesn’t hurt if it will probably hurt, just for a few seconds. You also don’t need to share any horror stories. Keep things straightforward and drama-free, and remind them that you are right there with them.

5. Ask them how they feel (and listen)

Resist the urge to fall back on unhelpful platitudes like “it’s going to be fine,” or “you have nothing to worry about.” Worries and fears are real. Honor those. Repeat what they just said to you about their feelings, then reassure them about how normal it is to feel that way. The more you hear and honor their feelings, letting them know that it’s okay to feel that way, the better.

6. Let our office know ahead of time if…

Inform our office beforehand if your child is scared beyond what seems to be normal, has extreme anxiety about their visit, has needle phobias, or has had negative pediatrician visits in the past. The more we know about their concerns, the better we can ease them during their visit. We may even schedule a telehealth appointment first so your child can meet us and ask any questions they have to feel more comfortable before an in-person visit.

PANW Makes Children and Parents Feel Welcome, Heard, and Seen

Patients and families at Pediatric Associates of the Northwest feel welcome, heard, and seen. This patient-centric approach to healthcare goes a long way toward helping young children have positive experiences. Contact us to schedule your child’s next exam and let us know if they’re feeling nervous so we can help you put their mind at ease.

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