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Health Information For Parents
When they know they’re “going to the doctor,” many kids worry a bit about the visit. Whether they’re going to see their primary care doctor for a routine checkup or a specialist for a problem, kids might have fears or even feel guilty.
Some of these feelings surface easily, so that kids can talk about them. Others are kept secret. Here’s how to help your child talk about and overcome any worries.
Things that kids worry about when going to the doctor include:
Also, kids often have feelings of guilt: They may believe that their illness or condition is punishment for something they’ve done or should have done. Kids who feel guilty also might believe that exams and medical procedures are part of their punishment.
Encourage your kids to express their fears, and then address them in ways they understand. Here are some practical ways to do this:
Prepare kids by giving them advance notice of a visit so it’s not a surprise. When explaining the purpose of the visit, talk about the doctor in a positive way.
If you’re going to a regular health checkup, explain that it’s a well-child visit: “The doctor will check on how you’re growing and developing, and also ask questions and examine you to make sure that your body is healthy. And you’ll get a chance to ask any questions you want to about your body and your health.” Explain that all healthy kids go to the doctor for such visits.
If the visit is to diagnose and treat an illness or other condition, explain — in non-scary language — that the doctor “needs to check you to find out how to fix this and help you get better.”
If your child goes to the doctor because of an illness or other condition, discuss the health problem in neutral language and reassure your child: “This isn’t caused by anything you did or forgot to do. Illnesses like this happen to many kids. Aren’t we lucky to have doctors who can find the causes and who know how to help us get well?”
If you, your partner, other relatives, or friends had (or have) the same condition, share this information. Knowing that others have been through the same thing can help ease fears.
If your child sees a doctor for something that led to ridicule or rejection by other kids (or even by adults), work to relieve shame and blame. Problems like head lice, embarrassing scratching caused by pinworm, and daytime wetting or bedwetting are often misunderstood by others. Stay supportive, and keep reassuring your child that the condition is not his or her fault and that many kids have had it.
If your child was injured while disregarding safety rules, point out the cause-and-effect between the action and the injury, while avoiding blame. You could say, “You probably didn’t understand the danger involved in doing that, but I’m sure you understand now, and I know you won’t do it that way again.” If your child repeatedly disobeys rules and is injured, speak to your doctor. This sort of worrisome behavior pattern needs a closer look.
In every case, though, be sure to explain, especially to young kids, that going to the doctor is not a punishment. Help your kids understand that adults go to doctors just like kids do and that the doctor’s job is to help people stay healthy and fix any problems.
Young kids learn best during play, and this can be a way to answer any questions and talk about fears they may have. You can use a doll or teddy bear to show a young child how the nurse will measure height and weight or demonstrate parts of the routine exam.
Many children’s books are available to help explain a doctor visit. It also helps to use role-playing to show how the doctor might:
It’s important for parents to let their kids know that what they’ve taught them about the privacy of their bodies is still true, but that doctors, nurses, and parents must sometimes examine all parts of the body. Emphasize, though, that these people are the only exceptions. And reassure your child that you will be in the exam room with him or her.
If your child is going to the doctor because of an illness or medical condition or is going to visit a specialist, you might not even know what to expect during the exam.
When you make the appointment, ask to speak to the doctor or a nurse to find out, in a general way, what will happen during the office visit. Then you can explain this in gentle language, appropriate to your child’s age. Be honest if you know that a procedure might be somewhat embarrassing, uncomfortable, or even painful, but don’t go into great detail. Your child will feel more secure knowing what’s going to happen and why.
Kids can cope with discomfort or pain more easily if they’re forewarned, and they’ll learn to trust you if you’re honest with them. If you don’t know much about the illness or condition, admit that but reassure your child that you’ll both be able to ask the doctor questions about it. Write down your child’s questions.
Reassure your child that you’ll be there and that the procedure is truly necessary to fix — or find out how to fix — the problem. (Teens may prefer to be examined without a parent or with only a same-sex parent or same-sex chaperone present. That preference should be honored.)
If a blood sample will be taken, be careful how you explain this. Some young kids worry that “taking blood” means that all their blood will be taken. Let your child know that the body contains a great deal of blood and that only a very little bit is needed for testing.
Again, be sure that your child understands that the doctor visit is not a punishment for any misbehavior or disobedience.
It’s important to choose a doctor carefully. You want one who’s smart and competent. But you also want a doctor who understands kids’ needs and fears and who communicates easily with them in a friendly manner, without talking down to them.
During a physical exam, the doctor inspects, taps, and checks various body parts — some of this can be embarrassing (or even physically uncomfortable) for kids. A good relationship between doctor and patient can help ease these feelings.
If a doctor seems critical, uncommunicative, disinterested, or unsympathetic, do not be afraid to change doctors. Ask for recommendations from other parents or other doctors whose opinions you trust.
If your child needs to see a specialist, ask your doctor to recommend someone who’s knowledgeable, experienced, and friendly. After all, we want that in our own doctors, so should seek the same for our kids.
Visit our center on managing your medical care for advice on how to get involved in taking charge of your health and choosing the right health care providers.
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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