Five ways to prepare for your child’s doctor visit

This morning I put on my mom “hat” and took my little guy to see his pediatrician for his two year old well child visit. Doctor visits can be difficult for the toddler age group. So, before today’s visit I spent some time thinking about how I could make this visit easier for my son. Here are a few tips that can help make young children’s check-ups a little less painful for all involved.

1. Prepare your child. Talk to your child about going to the doctor. Tell them that someone will measure their weight and height. Explain to them that the doctor will examine their body in order to make sure that they are healthy and growing well. Read a book about going to the doctor or buy a child’s “doctor kit” and practice listening to their heart and lungs and checking their temperature. The more they understand about what is going to happen, the better the visit is likely to go.

2. Tell your child the truth about immunizations. Please don’t tell your child that they won’t be getting shots if you know that they likely will be due for vaccinations or are unsure of what testing or shots might be necessary. This just serves to decrease the child’s trust in parent, physician, and nursing staff when it turns out to not be true. Explain vaccinations or routine blood tests much like you would any other part of the visit. Tell your child that they may need a shot, and that it may hurt for a minute, but that they will be okay. Explain to them that vaccinations are an important part of keeping them healthy and strong. Let them know that you’ll be there to hold their hand or give a hug when they need it. Finally, don’t use vaccines as a punishment. Too often I hear parents tell their child (or even a sibling that is tagging along) that if they misbehave the doctor will give them a shot. This isn’t fair to the child. They may require vaccinations regardless of their behavior. Instead, consider telling them that after the visit you will spend some time with them at the park or reading a few favorite books together because you are proud of how well they did.

3. Make a list of questions. Think of a few things that you’ve been wondering about your child’s health and write them down so you can make the best use of the short time you have with your child’s doctor. Confused about the new child car seat regulations? Have a picky eater? Ask your child’s doctor for their opinion or their favorite resources on the subject.

4. Bring a few essentials. Your child’s immunization card. A favorite book or small toy to distract your child while waiting or to comfort them after shots. An extra diaper and wipes. A cup of water or piece of fruit in case the wait is longer than expected.

5. Prepare yourself. Sometimes a visit to the pediatrician, with associated exam, immunizations, and blood tests, can be just as traumatic for the parent as the child. But, remember, young children are experts at reading your emotions and mood. If you seem scared or upset, they may well follow suit. If you are able to remain calm and explain the visit step-by-step in a matter of fact way, they will often do better.

Do you dread, or perhaps look forward, to your child’s well visits? What strategies have you used to help everyone get through it?

11 thoughts on “Five ways to prepare for your child’s doctor visit

  1. A few tips I have learned…..First I learned not to necessarily use the word ‘shot’. When I was explaining to my five year old (now 17 year old) that he was maybe going to be getting shots. He was quiet for a LONG time and then asks “why was the doctor going to shoot me?” My heart nearly broke because he was so serious. I had to rethink my explanation. I don’t really know how he knew what shooting was because he was never exposed to guns.

    The second thing is I always made sure to have a pen or something to write with. While waiting for the doctor to come into the exam room I usually would put them on the table, lay them down and trace their body on the paper that usually covers it. They could then add a face, hair, clothes…etc. or just color. It would pass the time.

  2. Heidi– we are in sync here. I’ve been working on a post for families coming to a subspecialist visit. A little preparation is really helpful for families going to the doctor regardless of the context.

  3. Pingback: A Parent’s Toolkit for the Specialist Visit | Craig Canapari, MD

    • Thanks so much Marita. I love your post about your own experience with these issues, and the social story link is so cool- this is exactly what I’m talking about. Clear, honest discussion with kids about potentially scary things (with pictures and everything)! Such a great resource.

  4. Pingback: Travel with Toddlers | My Two Hats

  5. Pingback: When Your Child Is Afraid | My Two Hats

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