Help, my child is afraid of the doctor!

If your child has a meltdown when it’s time to see the doctor, there are ways to soothe their anxiety and make it a smoother visit.

A visit to the doctor or to hospital can trigger feelings of anxiety in many adults, but it can be even more confronting for children.

Half of parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers told a US children’s health poll their child was afraid of going to the doctor.

A fifth of parents told researchers from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital they find it hard to concentrate on what the doctor or nurse was saying because their child gets so scared or upset.

Unsurprisingly, the most common root of children’s fear of seeing the doctor is injections.

One in 25 parents say they have postponed their child having a routine vaccination because of their little one’s anxiety.

“Regular check-ups are vital during early childhood, not only because of important preventive services like vaccinations, but because they provide parents an opportunity to discuss health concerns with their paediatrician,” says Mott Poll director Sarah Clark.

“If a child fears the doctor’s office, health visits can be a challenging experience for the whole family.

“We found that children’s anxiety can negatively impact parents’ interactions with providers during visits and even causes a small proportion of families to postpone or cancel appointments.”

Tips to help children overcome their fear of doctors

Be honest about what is going to happen

About a quarter of parents admit they tell their child they won’t have a needle, even if they knew it is likely to happen.

But Sydney GP Dr Michael Fasher says honesty is the best policy.

In the case of a vaccination, parents should emphasise the process only take a few seconds.

As well as talking to your child about what will happen, you can encourage them to play with a toy medical kit or read a book or watch a show about what happens during a GP visit.

Keep your own anxiety under control

“Parents need to monitor their anxiety and make sure they are not passing that on to their child. Be aware of your own actions and tone of voice as a parent,” Dr Fasher says.

Advocate for your child

“Parents who are aware their child is anxious should make it plain to the doctor or nurse that their child is really worried,” says Dr Fasher.

“If you know why your child is anxious, explain that context to the health professional.”

Use distraction

Let your child bring something that comforts them to their medical appointment.

“They might want to bring their teddy bear, for example,” Dr Fasher says.

“You can also use distraction during the visit.

“During a vaccination, for example, get a child to blow a plastic windmill and see how fast they can make it spin.”

Written by Sarah Marinos.