Recently I have had several clients with significant fears of going to the doctor or the dentist, to the point of major meltdowns. And really, who loves the idea of getting a shot or your blood drawn or having the dentist poke around. I cringe just thinking these thoughts. But, we all have to do it. So, how can you help your child?
- First, make sure to meet the doctor or dentist first and ensure that you think their demeanor will click with your child’s personality. All professionals have differing styles, so you want to make sure that there is a good fit between your child and their doctor or dentist. This relationship will help ease your child’s anxiety.
- Make sure you attend the appointment. Yes at times it is necessary for a grandparent or a nanny to take your child to an appointment yet when your child is fearful, it is important for them to have their primary support/attachment figure (i.e. you) with them.
- Keep in mind timing when scheduling an appointment. You do not want to schedule at a time that is typically mealtime or naptime. It is difficult enough for children to regulate their emotions, being hungry or tired will not help.
- Call ahead and let the staff know of your child’s fears. Pediatricians and pediatric dentists are use to working with children, so your child is most likely not the first patient they have had with significant fears. This will help them know to interact with extra care and support.
- Reads books and role-play to prepare. This minimizes the unknown and can help diminish fears. Try The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor; Say “Ahhh!”: Dora Goes to the Doctor; Behold No Cavities! A Visit to the Dentist (Spongebob Squarepants’); Show Me Your Smile!: A Visit to the Dentist (Dora the Explorer).
- Validate and explore the fears and do not lie. Rather than tell your child, “Don’t be afraid,” say “I know you are scared” and ask them what they are worried will happen. If they express that it might hurt, do not say, “It won’t hurt a bit” rather say, “Yes, sometimes shots hurt yet it will be quick and I will be right with you the whole time.”
- Bring along a comfort item. Let your child bring their favorite blanket or stuffed animal. It’s called a “comfort item” for a reason.
- Work on age appropriate coping skills, talking about “what do we do when we feel scared.” Talk about how they can take deep breathes, think about their favorite thing, or squeeze your hand.
- Praise their efforts and focus on the positives, even if small, even if it’s only that they cried a bit less than the previous visit.
- Check your own anxiety. Children are masterminds of picking up on nonverbal cues. If you are worried about them getting shots, then you are indicating to them that there is something to worry about.
“As a child, I was more afraid of tetanus shots than, for example, Dracula.” Dave Barry