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Helpful tips for medical trips

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Stephanie McNaughton, Child Life Specialist Brittany Spah, Child Life Specialist

It’s common for children to worry about a visit to the doctor. Here are five ways that you can support your child before, during and after a medical appointment.

1. Prepare your child for what to expect before an appointment.

    • Use a toy doctor kit or things you have around the house. This helps a child get familiar with what happens at a visit.
    • Allow your child to role play being the doctor.
    • Read books about visiting the doctor.

2. Listen to your child’s fears or concerns.

    • A child may worry about a visit being painful. If your child asks about whether or not he/she will get a poke, be honest. If you aren’t sure of the answer, tell say the doctor will decide whether or not an injection or a blood draw is needed.
    • Give a simple explanations to your child for shots or blood draws. Use phrases like “medicine to help you stay healthy,” “checking a little bit of your blood to make sure it is healthy,” or “checking a little bit of your blood so we know how to help you feel better.”
    • Brainstorm with your child for ways to make the appointment a little easier. Offering choices helps the child feel in control. Examples of choices may include which ear is examined first or sitting on your lap during a poke.

3. Provide comfort and respect feelings.

    • Avoid saying things like “Don’t cry,” “Be a big boy/girl,” or “The shot won’t hurt.”
    • Reassure your child that you’ll be right there.
    • Your child will sense how you are feeling. Staying calm helps your child stay calm.

4. Bring comfort and distraction items.

    • Blankets or pacifiers may help calm your child.
    • A favorite stuffed animal, doll or action figure can be examined first to help your child feel at ease.
    • Having activities to distract your child will lower the anxiety level while waiting or during procedures. You also can try playing a game of I Spy, singing songs or telling stories.

5. Have something fun to look forward to.

    • Give plenty of praise to your child or have a fun activity arranged for after the visit.
    • The positive encouragement should be given regardless of a child’s anxiety level during the appointment. If the child was unable to control his/her anxiety, missing out on a fun experience that was planned for after the appointment will make it even worse.
    • Celebrate after an appointment to help pave the way for future visits.