The first step to non-traumatic doctor visits is to choose a doctor who relates well to kids. You want someone who’s knowledgeable and competent, but who understands kids’ needs and fears. He or she should also be friendly and communicate easily with children, without talking down to them.
If your child’s doctor seems indifferent, uncommunicative, unsympathetic, or critical, feel free to change doctors. Ask for recommendations from other parents or other doctors whose opinions you respect.
Many kids are apprehensive about “going to the doctor.” When fears and guilty feelings readily surface, they can usually be discussed openly. However, some feelings may be harbored secretly and remain unspoken. Parents must help uncover these fears so their children can express them and overcome them.
A Child’s Common Concerns about Medical Exams
- Separation − The fear of separation from the parent during mysterious examinations is most common in children under 7 years old, but sometimes linger in children as old as 13.
- Pain − Kids aged 6 through 12 worry that a part of the exam or procedure will hurt, and they especially fear the possibility of an injection.
- The doctor − Children may misinterpret the physician’s mannerisms − haste, efficiency, or an impersonal attitude − as harshness, dislike, or rejection.
- The unknown − Kids naturally apprehend the unknown. When it concerns medical conditions, they may worry that they’re worse off than they’re being told, that they may need surgery, or that they may even die.
- Guilt − All too often, children believe their illness is punishment for something they’ve done or neglected to do. They may even perceive that medical examinations and procedures are part of their punishment.
Help Your Child Express Their Fears
Here are some practical suggestions to help children address their fears without misinterpreting them:
- Before going into the doctor’s office for diagnosis or treatment, explain in non-threatening language that “the doctor needs to examine you to find out how to help you get better.”
- Discuss the illness in a calm, neutral tone, reassuring your child that “this isn’t caused by anything you did or forgot to do. Illnesses like this happen to many kids. Aren’t we lucky to have doctors who can find the causes and know how to help us get well?”
- If anyone you know also has arthritis or a similar condition, share this with your child. Knowing others who have been through the same thing may relieve your child’s guilt and fear.
- Emphasize that going to the doctor for an exam is not punishment.
- Be sure your child understands that adults go to doctors just like kids do, and that the doctor’s job is to help people stay healthy.
- Call ahead of an appointment and find out what to expect so that you can explain some of the procedures and their purpose in gentle language, appropriate to your child’s age. Use a doll or teddy bear to show a young child what the doctor or nurse might do.
- Let your child know if a procedure is going to be embarrassing, uncomfortable, or painful; but do not go into detail or it might become too scary. Reassure your child that you will be there and that the visit is truly necessary to help fix the problem. Kids generally cope better if they’re forewarned, and they’ll trust you if you’re honest with them. If they feel betrayed or tricked, you may never earn their trust again.
- Involve your child in making a list of questions to ask the doctor. If your child is old enough, have him/her write the questions, ask the doctor directly, and give his/her own feedback about how well the treatment is working. Practice going through the questions together until your child is confident about speaking up.
- If a blood sample will be taken, reassure your child that his/her body contains a great deal of blood and that the nurse will take a very small amount.
- Children need to know that what they’ve been taught about the privacy of their bodies is still true, but that doctors, nurses, and parents sometimes examine all parts of the body. Emphasize that they are the only exceptions to the rule.