A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Child having doctor visit

Helping Your Child Be Brave for Doctor Visits

Whether they have a well-child visit or they’re sick, kids can be scared about coming in to the doctor’s office. They may be afraid of the blood pressure cuff squeezing their arm, or think the otoscope (ear flashlight) might be hot. They might not understand what their parents and the doctor are talking about. There’s also that little issue of shots!

So what’s the best way to help them through the process? Some preparation can make doctor visits go smoothly – you can talk them through it ahead of time!

If you know your little one is likely to be scared or nervous when they’re at the pediatrician’s office, sit with them the night or morning before and describe what will happen. You can explain that the visit begins with sitting in the waiting room until the medical assistant comes and calls your name. Then explain that the nurse will likely:

  • Ask them to take off their shoes.
  • Weigh them.
  • Measure how tall they are.
  • Take their temperature (usually by touching a thermometer to their temple and behind their ear (it doesn’t hurt!).

Sometimes our medical assistants need to do a few more things, including:

  • Take their blood pressure. Describe how the cuff wraps around their upper arm and the machine pumps air into the cuff. Then it squeezes (but never hurts) while it measures how strong and fast their heart is beating. It’s cool!
  • Put a gentle clamp or plastic wrap (like a band aid) around their finger to measure their oxygen level (that tells us how well their lungs are working).
  • Check their vision and hearing.
  • Get a urine sample.

Then you’ll sit in the exam room and wait (hopefully not too long!) for your doctor. When the doctor comes in, they’ll talk with both of you, listen, and ask questions. Your child can have a chance to ask questions too!

Then they’ll examine your child by looking in eyes, mouth, nose, and by feeling their neck, abdomen and other places. They listen to hearts and lungs with a stethoscope – and maybe your child will get a turn too!

The ear exam usually scares young kids the most. I’m convinced that it’s because they think the light is hot! Getting to touch the light and hold it can help them learn it doesn’t hurt and helps them feel brave.

Sometimes doctors do need to examine private parts. This happens during many checkups and visits for concerns that involve their genitalia or any discomfort there. Talking about this possibility ahead of time will make it go much smoother! Please remind them that only certain people are allowed to do this, for example doctors if a parent is present.

And what about those shots? Please never promise there won’t be shots! The vaccine schedules are complex, and your child may actually need one! Or there may be a lab test your child’s doctor recommends. You can explain that sometimes shots and tests are needed. Shots keep us healthy and they hurt, but only a little. After the shot goes in most kids will agree it was pretty easy! You might also remind your child that the last time they got a shot they were fine right afterwards!

Here are a few more tips to help with shots:

  • Do what works best for your child. You know them well. Some kids get more scared if they have time to think about shots. Some do better with warning and preparation. But if they’ll be better off not knowing they need a shot – it’s okay not to tell them until it’s about to happen.
  • Check in with our staff. If your child will be scared during the entire appointment, ask your doctor’s nurse if the shots can be done first thing, even before the doctor comes in.
  • Let them choose. When it’s time for shots, your child may feel better if they have a little control over the situation – perhaps let them pick which arm the shot goes in.
  • Use distraction. You can help calm and distract your child while they get shots or blood draws. Try singing a song, blowing make believe bubbles, or showing them a picture.
  • Hold it together. Your attitude goes a long way. Be calm and matter of fact to show that shots are a part of life; they keep you healthy and safe and they aren’t worth getting too worried about. Taking this approach can calm and reassure your child!
  • Bring along a favorite stuffed animal or doll for the doctor to practice on – and it may even get a sticker at the end of the appointment!
  • Read books about doctor visits and shots ahead of time. There are lots of good ones out there!
  • Give them a reward. I’m not against a bit of bribery. If the promise of a treat helps your child get a shot – then go for it! My needle-phobic first child was much braver once I started promising a small toy or book after he got a shot.

Resources for parents

Kids Health from Nemours:
Why Do Kids Need to See a Doctor? This is written for kids and explains everything about basic doctor visits step by step.

Medline Plus
Preschooler test or procedure preparation. If your child needs surgery or another procedure, this article is a good way to help prepare them.

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