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2023 Apr

Prepping for the Doctor's Visit

Take these steps to reduce stress when your child visits the doctor.

I recently attended a conference for the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, where it was mentioned that immunization rates fell during and after the COVID pandemic. Of course, at that time, folks were concerned to go anywhere that may increase their child’s risk of becoming ill, especially to the doctor’s office. Thankfully, it is finally a better time to get your child back into the office to see your pediatric healthcare provider and get those life-saving immunizations. But what if your child is afraid to go to see their pediatric healthcare provider?

Kids often fear the unknown or unfamiliar. It is helpful to talk about upcoming provider visits in terms that they will understand. Keep these conversations short and positive. “You have a doctor’s appointment this week. The doctor is a friend that will help you stay healthy.”

Prepare for the visit by reading books such as “Leo Gets a Checkup” or “Going to the Doctor: A Toddler Prep Book.” Watching a show such as Doc McStuffins is a good way to bring the topic up.

Talk about what to expect. “When we get to the office, we will wait in the waiting room a few minutes, so we will bring a coloring book for you.” Then say, “After we get called back, you will need to remove your shoes to get weighed and measured. We can see how much you have grown.”

Add “After that you will take off your clothes (except your undies), and put on a paper gown to cover up. If you get cold, we will wrap your sweater around your shoulders or we can take your blankie. Next your favorite pediatric nurse practitioner will come in to see you. She may ask you some questions about your sleep, your pee and poop, what you eat, your exercise, and ask if we have any questions. Next she will show you all of her toys: a stethoscope to listen to your heart and lungs, an otoscope to check your ears (it may tickle but does not hurt), and she will feel your belly.”

Please add, “I will stay with you during this visit, so you do not have to be afraid. I will be right next to you.”

Sometimes your child may need a shot that you were unaware of. Please do not promise, “No shots today.” Even if you think your child will likely not need a vaccine at the visit, please do not make this promise as they may need a vaccine. You may not be aware of the current vaccine schedule, which are updated frequently. If you cannot just avoid the topic (which is preferred), I would suggest you say, “I don’t know if you will need a shot or not, but I will be right there with you.”

If we give the child the perspective that shots are punishment, who would want to be punished? Please avoid statements such as “If you are bad, the doctor will give you a shot.” Immunizations are not punishments, but disease prevention. Instead, if we explain that vaccines are important and necessary to “keep us healthy,” then children will have a better understanding.

Be honest. Do not lie and say, “Shots don’t hurt.” Kids are smart. They know shots hurt a bit. Instead, tell them, “Although you will feel the tiniest pinch, it will not hurt badly. It will just be for a minute and then it will feel better.” We need to be honest with kids so that they will trust us. You would want us to be honest with you as well.

Pair the provider visit with something more enjoyable. “In the morning, you have a check-up with your favorite pediatric nurse practitioner, but afterwards we are going for lunch and to the park.” If the child knows that there is a reward afterwards, it makes the less pleasant part of the day more bearable.

It may be helpful for your child to role play the upcoming visit. It’s a great time to utilize that doctor play kit that Grandma gave your child.

You can first allow your child to be the provider and you pretend to be the child, and then switch roles. You can laugh when the otoscope “tickles” your ear. You can smile when your child squeezes your belly. All of this preparation will make that next visit to your pediatric healthcare provider so much easier!

Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP

Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP, is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner as well as core faculty member at Walden University. Her book, Raising Today’s Baby: Second Edition, is available on Amazon.com.

Website: www.RaisingTodaysChild.com

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