How to Help Your Child Deal with Fear and Anxiety at the Doctor’s Office

by | Jun 28, 2018

Preparing for an upcoming doctor’s appointment can be a frightening experience for a child. Heck, even adults can get a little bit nervous sometimes. Fear of needles, fear of strangers, fear of getting sicks, fear of what the doctor might say and what you might have to do … it’s understandable that a child might get a little overwhelmed.

That said, you can’t put off going to to the doctor forever! Many childhood foot problems need professional treatment. Ingrown toenails, sore heels, or flat feet (to name just three common examples) can cause long-term problems if not addressed quickly and appropriately.

That said, simply telling them isn’t likely to make the situation any better.

If your child is more than a little anxious about coming in for a visit, it’s worth it to try to make them feel as safe and comfortable as possible. The more comfortable they are with seeing the doctor, the easier it will be next time, and the next time after that. We’re not kidding when we say the benefits can be lifelong.

Here are a few suggestions.

Practice, Practice, Practice

For many kids, fear of the unknown is a big part of the problem. They simply may not know what to expect.

It may be helpful to pick up a couple of easy kids’ books about going to the doctor and reading them with your child. You might even consider picking up some doctor toys and perform a pretend checkup on your child, or maybe on a stuffed animal. Getting familiar with the process and even being able to role play can help everything feel more normal and ease the anxiety.

And don’t hesitate to give us a call ahead of time and ask us any specifics about the process, so you can talk to your child ahead of time. We’re happy to assist!

Be Honest, Sympathetic, and Constructive

Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to lie to your kids or make promises you aren’t sure you can keep. Not sure whether or not junior is getting a shot today? If you’re not sure whether your child will be getting a shot, don’t tell them they won’t or that it won’t hurt! (Better yet, give us a call ahead and ask.)

In our experience, it’s also usually best to avoid telling your child what not to do or how not to feel. If you tell your child “don’t cry” or “there’s nothing to be afraid of,” you risk setting your child up for feeling like a failure. Plus, it makes you seem less caring or credible,

Instead, be sympathetic and constructive. You know your child is scared. You know the experience feels unpleasant. It’s best not to deny these things, but be honest and validate them. Then, provide something positive and constructive.

For example: “I know that you’re scared, and I know it might not be fun, but this is something important that protects you and keeps you healthy. It’ll be over soon, and I’m going to be there with you the whole time.” Set realistic expectations and be honest, but also supportive.”

Bring Along a Comfort Object

If your child still sleeps with a special blanket or favorite stuffed animal, tell them they can bring it along. We don’t mind! You can even encourage your child to introduce their stuffed friend to us. It gives them something familiar and secure to connect to.

Of course, when it comes to bringing stuff from home, distraction can also be a worthy goal. If your child is reading a book or watching a show on a phone or tablet in the waiting, they have less mental capacity to worry!

Help Them Create a Safe Home Environment

Always Have a Trusted Adult Accompany Your Child

By “trusted adult,” we don’t just mean somebody that you trust. It’s important that the adult is someone that the child knows well as a caregiver and feels secure with. And by “accompany,” we mean be present and close by throughout the entire appointment.

Ideally, that person would be mom or dad, or maybe both. But it could potentially be a grandma, grandpa, or even very close uncle, aunt, or family friend—provided that said person is a regular caregiver and has a strong bond with your child.

For a nervous kid who may not like being handled or touched by a strange doctor, it’s important to have a trusted caregiver in the room, so they can see that person being calm and comfortable. If you are relaxed and show your trust in the doctor, it makes it easier for your child to do the same.

Kids are perceptive. They’ll pick up your cues.

Give Positive Reinforcement

No, we’re not saying “bribe your kids,” although that is a tempting route to take. We’d also recommend against offering “conditional” rewards predicated on good behavior, since this has a good chance of making the experience even more stressful.

But it’s important to reinforce good behavior. This can be done through kinds words (“You were so brave!”), some quality play time or family activity after the appointment, a small treat—you get the idea.

Even if your child’s anxiety got the better of him or her, try to stay calm and positive. Highlight the things that did go well, even if it’s just “you got a cool sticker.” Let them know you love them, are proud of them for getting through it (even if it was difficult), and encourage them to do “even better!” next time.

Choose a Good (and Friendly) Doctor’s Office

Like it or not, as much as you try to prepare your child, the doctor and staff tend to set the tone for the entire appointment. And some are definitely better than others at responding to kids, making them feel comfortable, and “rolling with the punches” when the tears start coming.

So, do your research. Ask around. It’s important to find a doctor and staff that you and your little one trust and feel comfortable with.

When it comes to your child’s foot care, we hope that you’ll entrust Dr. Timothy Dailey and the team at Freeland Foot & Ankle Clinic. We love spending time with kids and their parents! More than that, treating every patient like part of our family is a core value we strive to live out each day, with every interaction.

If your little one is “walking funny” or showing signs of foot pain, give us a call today at (989) 695-6788.

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