How to have a stress-free pediatrician appointment with your kids

It is not uncommon for parents and children to experience some anxiety around visiting the pediatrician. Whether it is the first visit or the 15th, we as parents may not know exactly what to expect.

Sometimes a combination of factors play into how smoothly or rocky the visit goes. There are some ways we can ensure a smoother visit, and there are other tricks that we can use to help relieve the stress during and after the visit.

(Please note, however, that if your child has experienced an extreme medical procedure or you believe that your child has had medical trauma, then consultation with a mental health professional is recommended, as this would be beyond the scope of this article).

Before the visit

1. Choose the best fit

Taking advantage of the ability to meet with a doctor prior to even having your child, and finding out who may be a good fit for your family can help in the long-run. If you have already chosen a pediatrician, but then realized that the doctor is not the best fit, then you may want to either address your concerns or find a better match.

You want to make sure you feel good about the person providing information and guidance for your child’s medical care and can feel comfortable in asking questions and bringing up your worries. Doctors have spent years in training, but they too are human and can make errors, misdiagnose or give information that is not current.

So know that while your doctor may have a wealth of knowledge and give you certain directions, if you feel that this is not in the best interest of your child, you can at least request a second opinion.

2. Scheduling

This may sound obvious, but in the hustle and bustle of managing multiple responsibilities we may choose what is most convenient for us over what might be best for our children’s schedule without even realizing it… like scheduling the doctor’s visit right around nap time. (Uh-oh.)

Most of us, if not all of us, have tried to take our tired child somewhere near when they were due for a nap—it’s just not pleasant for either party involved. When possible, try to schedule the appointments for times you know your child will be rested and in a good mood. (Of course nap time can be unpredictable for some children as they are developing rather quickly and constantly changing, so just do your best.)

3. Breathe

Try to stay calm because your infant or child can sense your anxiety. Even the way we hold them can show them how much tension we are carrying in our body. Keeping positive thoughts in mind, while practicing some slow, deep breaths can help.

4. Explain

Be honest with your child and let them know what you will be doing. For example, “We are going to the doctor’s office, so that they can check your body to make sure you are healthy.”

Talking about vaccinations or having blood drawn with little ones can be tricky. I suggest using your intuition in addressing your child’s needs. For my daughter, I know that talking about it in advance and telling her how I can help her will prepare her recover more quickly and understand the purpose. For instance, “The nurse is going to poke your arm so that we can make sure you are healthy. I will be there to help you.”

Using a toy doctor’s kit can help them become familiar with the procedures that will occur (e.g., checking heart rate, breathing, ears, and mouth). There are books that review doctor’s visits. I love the chapter in the Daniel Tiger 5-Minute Stories book where Daniel visits the doctor and Mom and Daniel Tiger create a book and talk about the many things that will occur at the visit.

During the visit:

1. Remain present and attuned

Do your best to tune into what your child may be experiencing, whether it be stress or fear, and find a way to support your child through that experience. I know it is not easy to see your child cry and we want to help them stop, but we can’t control their feelings. We can only reassure them that we are there for them and will keep them safe.

2. Explain again

I love when I hear the pediatrician explaining what they are going to do and actually ask my child for permission before touching her body. This is like music to my ears as a psychologist, as I am working hard to teach my child that her body is exactly that, her body. (Note: this lesson is not unique to girls. All children need to be made aware of their rights, so that they can tell someone to “stop” when it is needed or when they feel uncomfortable).

Your child may be feeling a lot of stress as they are in a new place or seeing an unfamiliar face and being told they need to sit on a scale all by themselves, so let them know what is to come and what is happening in that moment.

3. Reassure

This will be in the form of your body language, such as hugs and rubs on the back, along with your words and tone. Your child will need you to help them co-regulate, as they currently depend on you to help them soothe their anxiety.

4. Address concerns

It can be easy to feel that the medical professional’s statements hold more weight than your thoughts or opinions, but remember, they are human too. You are your child’s biggest advocate, so be sure to ask questions and express your worries, even if you are afraid that you might sound silly.

Your child’s doctor should be able to talk you through their thinking and you should feel good with the decision. If you are getting a funny feeling in your gut, listen to it and just pause. Most decisions don’t have to be made that instant, so breathe and take a moment to decide your next steps.

After the visit

The process will even continue after the doctor’s visit, especially if something new occurred at your most recent visit.

1. Support

Continue to help your child express the feelings they just had and remind them of the positive factors, such as you being there to help them.

2. Validate

Validate the experience that your child expressed or is continuing to express, as your child needs to know that their feelings are okay and that they are not unlovable for having fears or crying.

3. Play!

Your child may play the day’s events out once you get home. If you tune in, you will see your cue to bring out that doctor’s kit or let them use whatever toys they wish so they can show you what happened from their perspective. You may be surprised by what they end up showing you and how they heard your voice all through those cries.

Dr. Azine Graff is a Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting, which is based in Los Angeles and offers groups, classes, therapy and consultation services informed by the latest research on child development.

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