I think as adults, we can all agree that no one loves going to the doctor. So it should come as no surprise that when it comes time to take your child to the doctor, there may be some resistance. When thinking back to my own childhood visits to the doctor, I distinctly remember stopping at the toy store on the way home. A bribe was necessary to get me through those visits.
And now as a mom myself, I’m more than happy to throw a little bribe at my child if it means she won’t have a complete meltdown each time we visit the doctor’s office. But sometimes, even a bribe won’t work to calm an anxious child. Thankfully, there are other ways to get your child comfortable with going to the doctor that do not involve a bribing (though, again, I’m not above it!).
If you have a doctor’s visit coming up (and, let’s be real, little ones require frequent visits), here are five simple tips to help your child through the experience.
There tends to be a lot of poking and prodding at the doctor’s office, so no wonder your kid might freak out. It’s all new and it is a bit scary when you have no idea what’s coming. Instead of everything being a shock at the office, do a little pretend play at home to help prepare them. Get your little one a doctor’s kit and take turns with them being the doctor and them being the patient. Show them how a doctor would listen to their heartbeat, will look in their ears and mouth, and so on. They can even role play with their dolls and stuffed animals.
We love the Melissa & Doug Get Well Doctor’s Kit Play Set that comes complete with 25 items including a play stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, hearing tester, syringe, scissors, thermometer, and more. The realistic pretend play set gives you everything you need to role play a doctor’s visit to ease any stress associated with an upcoming appointment.
At The Everymom, we’re huge fans of Melissa & Doug toys and love that you can view a “Countless Ways to Play” section of their site for each of their toys (scroll down below the product image to find this tab). While it might seem obvious how to play with toys, this section will give you new and unique ways to engage with your child and their Melissa & Doug products. For example, the Countless Ways to Play for the Get Well Doctor’s Kit suggests writing down different reasons to go to the doctor, mixing up the pieces, then choosing one at random and playing out that scene. This is just one of the ways they suggest playing with the kit, and we love referencing this section to keep play feeling fresh.
2. Create and stick to a plan
Kids often like to know what’s coming. This is why many preschools will start the day reviewing the schedule. Bring this into your own home by making sure your child knows what the day’s plan is, including their visit to the doctor. Give them the rundown of how it will work. Explain the process by saying you’ll go to a new place, spend some time in the waiting room, then meet with a nurse and doctor to talk about how you’re feeling. If you’re planning any fun outings after the visit, share those details too so they can have something to look forward to.
3. Give them a heads up
It’s best not to spring a doctor’s visit on your child the day of. I am definitely guilty of forgetting to do this, and on the day of the visit, I just sort of sneak it in there, like, oh, by the way, we’re going to the doctor—it will be fine! I highly recommend not taking this approach.
You don’t need to give your child a week’s worth of notice leading up to an appointment—a day or two is good. This gives you plenty of time to start talking about the visit and answering any questions your child may have. It might even give them some time to build excitement if the experience of going to the doctor feels new and fun to them. If you keep a calendar of events that your child can see, add it to the calendar and reference it a few times in preparation for the visit.
4. Focus on the fun
Don’t assume it’s going to be a scary experience. Just because you might be afraid of the doctor (hey, you’re not alone), don’t project that onto your kids. They might find the visit to be perfectly fine—maybe even fun! Some visits are pretty mild and don’t include vaccines or shots of any kind, so these appointments can actually be pretty fun for kids and can allow them to create a positive association with appointments. Don’t make it into a big deal by talking about how it’s scary and they need to be brave.
Instead, stick to the facts of what you’re doing and why visiting the doctor is important. Let them feel whatever emotions come to them, whether it’s fear, excitement, or anything in between.
5. Give a reward
I did start by saying you didn’t need to end your visit at the toy store. While I stand by that, it’s also totally fine to end your visit at the toy store, or perhaps a stop for a cookie or special treat is in order. Maybe the day of a doctor’s visit is the start of a special one-on-one date with mom. On the contrary, perhaps the fun Band-Aid and stickers they get at the office are reward enough. Make the doctor’s visit a part of something fun to give them a positive association with the visit.
As you’ve likely seen as a parent from the very beginning, visits to the pediatrician are a necessity and at times seem frequent. We can’t guarantee your child is going to hop in the car and beg to visit the doctor, but hopefully, with the right play and preparation, you can make it an easy part of your child’s healthy routine.
This post was in partnership with Melissa & Doug but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.