Does your child run when you say the word “doctor?” Doctors can be a source of fear, apprehension, and even guilt for youngsters, causing many parents to wonder what the big deal is. Here are some reasons why your child may feel iffy about the doctor and some helpful tips for putting your child’s mind at ease the next time they need a checkup.
Separation is one of the most common fears children face, and it comes into play in a big way at the doctor’s office. Little patients often fear that their parents may leave them in the exam room to be subjected to mysterious examinations alone. While most common in kids under 7 years old, this can be frightening through ages 12 or 13. To combat this fear, ensure your child that you can stay or go as they would prefer – maybe work out a secret signal, like a touch of the nose, to indicate that they’d rather have you in the room.
It’s a good idea to prepare kids of all ages in advance of their visit so there are no surprises that day. Be honest with your child about what their visit will entail – the needle will hurt a little, the blood pressure cuff will not. Talking about the doctor in a positive way can alleviate some of the anxiety created by perceived “stranger danger.” Remind your child that the doctor’s speed, efficiency, or detached attitude doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t care for them. If the upcoming appointment is a regular health checkup, explain that it’s a “well-child” visit: “The doctor wants to see how you’re growing and developing, and ask questions to make sure your body is healthy.” Encourage kids as they get older to ask any questions they have about their body and health.
Stress that all healthy kids go to the doctor; it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. However, if your doctor visit is, in fact, to diagnose and treat an illness or other condition, explain that the doctor “needs to examine you to find out how you can get better.” Apprehensive about the unknown, some kids worry that their health problem may be much worse than their parents let on. Some who are going for a checkup suspect they will be surprised with surgery or hospitalization; some who are ill worry that they may die. In addition, they may harbor feelings of guilt, or believe that needing to go to the doctor for an injury or sickness – and making their mom and dad worry – is their fault. Kids who feel guilty may also believe that examinations and procedures are part of their punishment. Again, be as open as possible in communication with your child, and realistically assuage any fears they may have.
It’s important to remember that not many people look forward to going to the doctor or dentist – not even parents – so your child has a lot of company in their apprehension. But instilling the responsibility to take care of one’s body early and positively is important. Accepting the doctor as a helpful and caring figure is a meaningful step toward that goal, and a great start to a lifetime of healthy habits.