Preparing Your Child for Visits to the Doctor (page 2)
When kids anticipate "going to the doctor," many become worried and apprehensive about the visit. Whether they're going to see their primary care doctor or a specialist — and whether for a routine exam, illness, or special problem — kids are likely to have fears, and some may even feel guilty.
Some fears and guilty feelings surface easily, so that kids can talk about them. Others are harbored secretly and remain unspoken. You can help your child express these fears and overcome them.
Common Fears and Concerns About Medical Exams
Things that often top kids' lists of concerns about going to the doctor include:
- Separation. Kids often fear that their parents may leave them in the exam room and wait in another room. The fear of separation from the parent during mysterious examinations is most common in kids under 7 years old, but can be frightening to older kids through ages 12 or 13.
- Pain. Kids may worry that a part of the exam or a medical procedure will hurt. They especially fear they may need an injection, particularly kids ages 6 through 12.
- The doctor. Some kids' concerns may be about the doctor's manner. A kid may misinterpret qualities such as speed, efficiency, or a detached attitude and view them as sternness, dislike, or rejection.
- The unknown. Apprehensive about the unknown, kids also worry that their problem may be much worse than their parents are telling them. Some who have simple problems suspect they may need surgery or hospitalization; some who are ill worry that they may die.
In addition, kids often harbor feelings of guilt: They may believe that their illness or condition is punishment for something they've done or neglected to do. Kids who feel guilty may also believe that examinations and medical procedures are part of their punishment.
How to Help
You can help by encouraging your kids to express their fears and by addressing them in words that they understand and aren't likely to misinterpret. Here are some practical ways to do this:
Explain the Purpose of the Visit
If the upcoming appointment is for a regular health checkup, explain that it's "a well-child visit. The doctor will check on how you're growing and developing, and also ask questions and examine you to make sure that your body is healthy. And you'll get a chance to ask any questions you want to about your body and your health." Also, stress that all healthy kids go to the doctor for such visits.
If the visit is to diagnose and treat an illness or other condition, explain — in very nonthreatening language — that the doctor "needs to examine you to find out how to fix this and help you get better."
It's a good idea to prepare kids by giving them advance notice of the visit and thus not a complete surprise. When explaining the purpose of the visit, talking about the doctor in a positive way also helps to promote the relationship between your child and the doctor.
Address Any Guilty Feelings
A child who is going to the doctor because of an illness or other condition might have unspoken feelings of guilt about it. Discuss the illness or condition in neutral language and reassure your child: "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 who know how to help us get well?"
If you, your spouse, other relatives, or friends had (or have) the same condition, share this information. Knowing that you and many others have been through the same thing may help relieve your child's guilt and fear.
If your child needs a doctor's attention because of a condition that resulted in ridicule or rejection by other kids (or even by adults), you'll need to double your efforts to relieve shame and blame. Head lice, embarrassing scratching caused by pinworm, and involuntary daytime wetting or bedwetting are examples of conditions that are often misunderstood by others.
Even if you've been very supportive, you should reassure your child again, before the visit to the doctor, that the condition is not his or her fault and that many kids have had it.
Of course, if your child has suffered an injury after disregarding safety rules, it's wise to point out (as matter-of-factly as possible) the cause-and-effect relationship between the action and the injury. However, you should still try to relieve guilt. You could say, "You probably didn't understand the danger involved in doing that, but I'm sure you understand now, and I know you won't do it that way again."
If your child repeatedly disobeys rules and becomes injured, speak to your doctor. This sort of worrisome behavior pattern needs a closer look.
In any of these cases, though, be sure to explain, especially to young kids, that going to the doctor for an examination is not a punishment. Be sure your kids understand that adults go to doctors just like kids do and that the doctor's job is to help people stay healthy and fix any problems.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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