Children and Fear of Doctors: How You Can Help
For many children, the prospect of seeing a doctor is a cause for concern. This fear of doctors is common and can stem from a variety of factors, from worries about shots to fear that a medical exam might reveal scary news about a child’s health.
If your child is nervous about seeing the doctor, it’s important to take her feelings seriously. Talk with her about why she’s concerned, what to expect and why seeing the doctor is important. Simply having a conversation can go a long way toward easing your child’s fears.
Why Children May Develop a Fear of Doctors
Immunizations are a staple of many early childhood doctor’s appointments. As a result, some children may develop a fear of needles and come to expect that every visit to their doctor will include a shot. However, nervousness about potential shots isn’t the only reason that a child may get butterflies in their stomach ahead of a doctor’s visit.
For some children, a medical appointment represents a great unknown. This is especially true if parents don’t take time to talk with their children about what to expect. Children may fill this information void with worries about receiving a diagnosis of illness or needing to have a procedure.
Fear of separation from their parents for a medical exam may fuel some children’s concerns about doctor’s appointments. Other children may be nervous about interacting with a doctor, especially if they’re meeting for the first time.
Calming Concerns Begins at Home
To help your child become more comfortable with going to the doctor, begin by talking about the upcoming visit in the comfort of home. Steps you can take include:
- Listen up. Listening is a key part of healthcare. As a parent, allow your child to explain why she’s nervous about seeing the doctor without dismissing her feelings.
- Set expectations. Days before the appointment, talk about why your child is going to the doctor. Explain that all children see the doctor as an important part of staying healthy. Discuss what the visit is likely to entail.
- Talk things out. Explain to your child that she isn’t seeing the doctor because she did anything wrong. Emphasize that the doctor’s job is to help her feel better and be her healthiest self.
- Write down questions for the doctor. Feeling involved in preparing for an appointment can help your child overcome her fear of doctors. One way to include her is by writing down any questions she has so she can ask them during the visit.
Facing Fears at the Doctor’s Office
When you’re at the doctor’s office, you can continue to put your child at ease with these steps:
- Bring a cuddly friend. Let your child bring a doll or stuffed animal from home for comfort. Your child’s doctor may be able to demonstrate some parts of a medical exam, such as using a stethoscope and checking blood pressure, on the toy.
- Encourage questions. Remember that list of questions you and your child made? Let your child go through it with the doctor—it’s a good way to help her get comfortable talking with a medical professional.
- Entertain to distract from unease. While you wait, read a story to your child, draw pictures together, provide a snack or play the “I spy” game. These distractions will help take her mind off of seeing the doctor.
- Take some of the sting out of shots. If your child needs a shot, ask the doctor to apply numbing cream before the jab, if possible. Distract your child during the shot by allowing her to watch a video on your phone.