Who’s afraid of the big, bad doctor?

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Jill Amsberry, DO

“I need to get shots? But, I don’t want to get shot!”

It’s normal for children to worry about a visit to the doctor. Here are some common fears and how to help:

“Don’t leave me!”

  • Separation is a common fear that children face prior to their visit. This fear is most common in children under the age of 7 but can affect children as old as 12 and 13.
  • How to help — Talk to your children before the visit. Let them know that you will be with them the whole time. Stand by them during their exam to ease their worries.

“Will it hurt?”

  • Children often fear that part of the exam will be painful. They are especially anxious about the thought of an injection.
  • How to help — Don’t lie to your children. Tell them that immunizations may hurt a little bit, but the hurt will go away. Explain to children what the vaccines are for so they have a better understanding of why we give them. 

“Am I OK?”

Children may worry about why they are sick. They may think their illness is worse than a parent is telling them.

How to help — Be sure to tell your child that they will be OK. For an illness such as a cold, ear infection or sore throat, be sure to talk with the doctor about how long the symptoms may last. This helps them know they should feel better soon.

At the doctor

  • Help your child have a positive interaction with your health care provider by explaining what is happening throughout the visit. Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor some of the worries your child may have. They often will tailor the visit to ease these specific concerns.
  • Throughout your experience, use terms that your child will understand:
    • “see how big you are” (height and weight)
    • “give your arm a hug” (blood pressure)
    • “listen to what your heart is saying” (check of vital functions)
    • “see what color your eyes are and check for any monkeys jumping in your ears” (vision and hearing screening)
    • “make sure your body is healthy” (comprehensive physical exam)
    • “give you medicine to keep you from getting sick” (review and update of immunizations)

As a parent, your child’s well-being is your top priority. While your little ones may not yet know the importance of good health, building a positive relationship with a physician is a great first step and can give your child the tools needed to make healthier choices in the future.