When they know they're "going to the doctor," many kids worry a bit about the visit. Whether they're going to see their primary care doctor or a specialist 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 kept secret and remain unspoken. Here's how to help your child express these fears and overcome them.
Things that often top kids' lists of concerns about going to the doctor include:
Also, kids often have 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 also might believe that examinations and medical procedures are part of their punishment.
Encourage your kids to express their fears, and then address them in words that they understand and aren't likely to misinterpret. Here are some practical ways to do this:
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 non-scary language — that the doctor "needs to examine you to find out how to fix this and help you get better."
It's wise to prepare kids by giving them advance notice of a visit so it's not a surprise. When explaining the purpose of the visit, talk about the doctor in a positive way to help promote the relationship between your child and the doctor.
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 others have been through the same thing can help ease a 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, 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. Help 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.
Children learn best during play, and this may be a time when they feel most comfortable asking any questions regarding fears they may have. You can use a doll or teddy bear to show a young child how the nurse will measure height and weight or demonstrate parts of the routine exam.
Many children's books are available to help illustrate the doctor visit. It also helps to use role-playing to show how the doctor might:
It's important for parents to let their kids know that what they've taught them about the privacy of their bodies is still true, but that doctors, nurses, and parents must sometimes examine all parts of the body. Emphasize, though, that these people are the only exceptions. And reassure your child that you will be in the exam room with him or her.
If your child is going to the doctor because of an illness or medical condition or is going to visit a specialist, you might not even know what to expect during the exam.
When you're calling to make the appointment, you can ask to speak to the doctor or a nurse to find out, in a general way, what will take place during the office visit and exam. Then you can explain some of the procedures and their purpose in gentle language, appropriate to your child's age level. Your child will feel more secure understanding what's going to take place and why it's necessary.
Be honest, but not brutally honest. Let your child know if a procedure is going to be somewhat embarrassing, uncomfortable, or even painful, but don't go into alarming detail.
Reassure your child that you'll be there and that the procedure is truly necessary to fix — or find out how to fix — the problem. (Adolescents may prefer to be examined without a parent or with only a same-sex parent or same-sex chaperone present. That preference should be honored.)
Kids can cope with discomfort or pain more easily if they're forewarned, and they'll learn to trust you if you're honest with them. If you don't know much about the illness or condition, admit that but reassure your child that you'll both be able to ask the doctor questions about it. Write down your child's questions.
If a blood sample will be taken during or after the examination, be careful how you explain this. Some young kids worry that "taking blood" means that all their blood will be taken. Let your child know that the body contains a great deal of blood and that only a very little bit of it (usually no more than 1 or 2 teaspoons [about 10 milliliters]) will be taken for testing.
Again, make certain that your child understands that the visit, with its embarrassing or uncomfortable procedures, is not a punishment for any misbehavior or disobedience.
Because your doctor is your best ally in helping your kids cope with health examinations, it's important to carefully select a doctor. Of course, you want one who's knowledgeable and competent. However, you also want a doctor who understands kids' needs and fears and who communicates easily with them in a friendly manner, without talking down to them.
In the course of a physical exam, the doctor inspects, taps, and probes various parts of the body — procedures that may be embarrassing (or even physically uncomfortable) for kids. A good relationship between doctor and patient can minimize these feelings.
If your child's doctor seems critical, uncommunicative, disinterested, or unsympathetic, do not be afraid to change doctors. Ask for recommendations from other parents in your area or from other doctors whose opinions you trust.
If your child's illness or condition requires a specialist, ask your doctor to recommend someone who's knowledgeable, experienced, and friendly. After all, adults want these characteristics in their own doctors, so as a parent you should be your child's advocate in seeking medical care.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014
|American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) The ABP website offers verification of pediatricians' certification as well as other information relating to the practice of pediatrics.|
|American Medical Association (AMA) The AMA has made a commitment to medicine by making doctors more accessible to their patients. Contact the AMA at: American Medical Association|
515 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60610
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|American Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.|
|Adolescent Medicine Specialists Adolescent medicine doctors are specialists who have extra training in the medical and emotional issues that many teens face.|
|Questions to Ask Your Doctor You're probably used to answering your doctor's questions - not asking your own. But it's your body, so you should be able to ask your doctor questions about anything you'd like. Here are some ideas to get you started.|
|How to Shop for Health Insurance The government's healthcare marketplace, or exchange, is the new way to shop for health insurance. But just how do you find the best coverage and sign up? Get answers here.|
|Managing Your Medical Care Visit our center on managing your medical care for advice on how to get involved in taking charge of your health and choosing the right health care providers.|
|Going to the Doctor When you go to the doctor for a checkup, it's because your parents and your doctor want to see that you're growing just the way you should. Read all about what happens at the doctor's office.|
|Primary Care Doctors: Who's Who A primary care physician is your first stop for medical care. Find out more about the primary care doctors who treat teens.|
|Your Daughter's First Gynecology Visit The idea of going to the gynecologist may make your daughter feel nervous. Here's how to make her feel more comfortable.|
|Your Child's Checkups These age-specific guides can help you be prepared for and keep track of your well-child visits.|
|Finding Low-Cost Medical Care If you need medical care but don't think you can afford it, you're not alone. Get tips on finding low-cost or free care in this article for teens.|
|Health Insurance: Cracking the Code Health insurance has a language all its own. This article for teens explains what some key terms mean.|
|What Kids Say About: Their Health Are you health literate? That means you know how your body works and how to take care of it. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Talking to Your Doctor Your best resource for health information and advice is your doctor - the person who knows you, your medical history, and accurate medical information to answer your questions.|
|Talking to Your Child's Doctor Building a relationship with your child's doctor requires communication and reasonable expectations.|
|How Can I Find a New Doctor for My Child? Find out what the experts say.|
|Taking Charge of Your Medical Care Like learning to drive, figuring out health care is part of becoming an independent adult. Here are tips for teens on what that involves, and how to choose your own doctor.|
|Preparing Your Child for Anesthesia If your child needs to have an operation, you probably have plenty of questions, many of them about anesthesia.|
|Preparing Your Child for Surgery Good preparation can help your child feel less anxious about getting surgery. Kids of all ages cope much better if they have an idea of what's going to happen and why.|
|Giving Teens a Voice in Health Care Decisions Involving teens in their health care can help prepare them for managing it on their own as adults.|
|How to Find Affordable Health Care Finding coverage for your kids may be difficult, but it's not impossible. Many kids are eligible for government or community programs, even if their parents work. Learn what resources are available to your family.|
|The Medical Home A medical home is a new term in health care. But what does it mean? Find out what a medical home is and why your child needs one.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.