The doctor’s clinic is often the dreaded destination for children. The unfamiliar environment, the foreign faces and memories of terrifying experiences all add to the ‘fear factor’ of visiting the doctor. How often we hear parents telling their children, “Continue to misbehave and we will get the doctor to inject you”. This role of the boogie man or punisher of bad behaviour is what pediatrician’s try to shy away from as much as possible.

So how should a visit to the clinic be made less frightful for the child?

child afraid of clinics and doctors

Visit to the Doc

  • Parents play an important role

You can read books together about going to the doctor or even role-play with doctor toy sets to get the child used to being examined by the doctor. For scheduled vaccinations, parents should think about the age of their child before deciding on when to tell the child about the upcoming vaccination. One or two days would be appropriate for the preschool age child.

  • Tell your children a week in advance

This should be done in a simple, honest way and with a calm demeanor. To the older child, parents can use ‘gentler’ words as opposed to ‘hard’ words as some words would sound scarier to the child. For example, parents can say “The doctor is going to give a medication in your arm to make you stronger” rather than “The doctor is going to inject you with a needle 💉”.

  • Note the timing of the appointments

It would be best not to schedule an appointment for vaccination at a particular time in the day when their child is typically sleepy or cranky.

  • Stay calm

At the clinic itself, a parent’s calming demeanor can also help their child to relax in a foreign environment. For children, ideally the clinic itself should look friendly and cheerful with bright colours and toys to distract and set the child at ease. The child should also be given time to warm up to the environment and to the doctor.

Tips From The Doc

Personally, I try to play and interact with the child in a way that is appropriate for his/her age. I have some brightly coloured toys, picture books, rattles and hanging toys that I use to distract the younger children while examining them. For the older ones, I try to engage them in cheerful conversation or I may also give them some toy cars or toy animals to play with.

Often I end up playing with the child before doing anything else as this really helps to set the child at ease. It is also important for me to establish good rapport with the parents so that each visit is made to be as calm and friendly for the child as possible.

All in, doctors should be viewed as trying to help the child stay healthy or fight off each infection that is making them feel unwell. Creating positive experiences at the clinic will make each visit to the doctor more like an excursion rather than something to be dreaded.

Related Read: Making Hospitals Less Scary For Kids

By Dr Kenneth Chua, Paediatrician, SBCC Baby & Child Clinic.

This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine

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