Preparing Children for Pediatric Visits: A Guide for Parents

August is National Health Month, presenting a perfect opportunity to consider how to help children prepare for visits to the pediatrician. It’s safe to say that a trip to the pediatrician rarely ranks high on children’s wish lists. Whether it’s a routine checkup or due to illness, pediatric visits often involve shots, examinations, or other less-than-fun procedures. Despite this, parents can do a lot to ease the potential stress children may feel before seeing a pediatrician. Here are some expert recommendations:

Inform Them in Advance

Let your child know you’ll be taking them to the pediatrician, but avoid notifying them too early; experts unanimously agree that a two-day notice is sufficient. Registered nurse Martha Delkin advises, “Let your child know a few days in advance that they will be seeing the doctor,” as “it can help alleviate their nervousness.” If informed too far in advance, they might perceive it as a more significant issue than it actually is and become anxious.

Explain What Will Happen

Explain to them what will happen during the visit to the doctor. “Providing children with specific details about what they will see and do in the doctor’s office,” says family therapist Rafi Blake, “can help them adapt better when they arrive.” Ms. Delkin also agrees, suggesting, “Providing children with as much information as possible about the upcoming visit to the doctor,” is most helpful for alleviating any fears or concerns they may have. She advises parents to describe the waiting room and examination room, as well as the tools the doctor might use and how those tools might feel. It’s crucial to let them know that some of the tools the doctor uses might feel a bit unusual; for example, the blood pressure cuff might feel tight, and the stethoscope might feel cold.

Prepare Teens for Privacy

For teenagers, be prepared for the fact that during the annual checkup, the doctor may want to discuss developmental issues with them privately, without you in the room. When you do this, emphasize openness. “Remind them that the doctor is someone we trust,” says pediatrician Dr. Julia Carlson, “and any information they share with the doctor is confidential.”

Discuss Why It’s Important

Also, explain to the child why it’s essential for them to see the pediatrician and use language they can understand. If it’s due to illness, let them know the doctor will help them feel better by identifying and addressing the problem. Ms. Delkin recommends saying, “‘The doctor needs to check your body to find out what’s bothering you and help you feel better.’” If it’s a routine checkup, explain that seeing the pediatrician is a crucial part of staying healthy. Child psychologist Dr. Julie Morrison suggests parents use examples like changing the oil in a car or getting a car checkup to illustrate: “‘Children know that parents take their cars in for an oil change or checkup; going to the doctor for a routine checkup is similar. We go to the doctor not necessarily because there’s a problem, but to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Answer Their Questions

If your child has any questions, answer them as comprehensively and truthfully as possible, including questions about whether they will experience pain. “While telling a child that a procedure won’t hurt may seem like it would make both of you feel more at ease,” says Ms. Delkin, “when they discover it’s not true, your child may feel deceived.” If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it. For example, Ms. Delkin suggests parents say, “‘I don’t know if you’ll need a shot. The doctor will determine what you need to feel better after examining you.

Keep It Positive and Calm

Children will mirror their parents’ emotions, so try to remain calm and positive. “If you are anxious about this appointment,” says Dr. Carlson, “your child can and will pick up on that anxiety.” However, it’s crucial not to offer too much reassurance. Child psychologist Dr. Nina Kaiser says, “That, in itself, may convey that it’s more worrisome than you’re presenting.”

In conclusion, discussing pediatric visits with children doesn’t have to be stressful. Following these expert recommendations can make the experience smoother for both parents and children. Keep the conversations age-appropriate, provide honest information, and maintain a positive atmosphere. By doing so, you can turn a potentially anxiety-inducing event into a manageable and even educational experience for your child.

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