Kid Central, Parent Central

Prepping Your Child for a Doctor’s Appointment

First thing is first – who actually enjoys going to the doctor? I am guessing not many are thrilled about this outing. Most people would rather be nearly anywhere else. Yet, when it comes to our children, we often have grandiose expectations that they should carry themselves in a certain way while venturing to this fantastic, fun setting.

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Sure, we want them to listen. And sit still, and quiet down, and look the doctor in the eye, and… the list goes on. We always want and expect what we know our children are capable of, but we also need to pause and hit the breaks and consider elements from their tiny points of view. It wasn’t long ago that we were in their shoes; little bodies ourselves. We’ve heard it all before from our own parents that we never acted “that way”. But, can we all agree it is a bit of a different world, and one driven by technology, sensory overload, and new rules and ideas as time moves along?

With that being said, kids will be kids. That’s true for both then and now. Kids often have their own agenda, and depending on the age of the child, that is exactly how it’s supposed to be. Children do not want to go to the doctor. And, they certainly don’t want to be poked and prodded in a paper gown. Plus, they may not even feel well going into the appointment. All of this is a given.

But what about you, parent? How are you feeling? Are you nervous, anxious, or stressed due to your child’s typical behavior? Most likely, because you are only human after all. The good news is, there are a few simple things you can do to help prepare your child for their impending visit. And, when I say simple, I mean it! I’m a parent too, and the last thing you need to do is to jump through hoops at this point. Let’s take look at some ways to ease your journey to the doc.

Explain the Concept of a Doctor

Talk highly of the adventure you will take to the doctor’s office! If you don’t acknowledge it, or rather speak ho-hum about the event, your child cannot expect to enjoy this trip. If your little one is not familiar with the doctor, or it has been some time since the last visit, try to find a photo of your doctor online so your child can become familiar, or simply talk about the role of a doctor, and how thankful we are for our doctor’s help.

When in Doubt, Make it Fun

Your child would much rather be playing with toys, outside, reading, probably even doing chores than stranded at an appointment! Think from your child’s point of view and consider how you could make this somewhat enjoyable for you both. A great way to do this is a scavenger hunt. You can make a short list (bonus for generic pictures printed from the web) of common items at the doc’s office, such as a nurse, a children’s book, a stethoscope, a scale, and whatever else you’d like to include. If a scavenger hunt sounds too complex, pack a special toy that your child rarely has access to.

Run Down the Obvious Steps of a Routine Visit

You, as a parent probably have an idea of what to expect, but does your child? Consider yourself walking blindly into a meeting or an event. That idea may make you feel threatened or uneasy since we (as adults) almost always know what we are walking into. If your child has great receptive language skills, inform him of what to expect. Examples include the waiting room, triage room, and actual appointment room. Also include the action items such as changing to a gown, playing while waiting, greeting the doctor, checking the body, and so forth.

Consider a Token System for Difficult Behavior

If you are expecting the worst, but hoping for the best, consider a token system for the doctor’s visit. Depending on your child, this may be a reward of an ice cream date after the appointment, or a special toy/book.  It is important to pick a reinforcing item or special outing that your child can have immediately after the appointment. You should aim to always build trust with your child(ren) and therefore it is important to follow thru after the visit is complete. I am a big proponent of rewarding with praise and small tokens/tickets during the visit to keep the great momentum going. This means, if you catch your child sitting still or behaving to your liking, this is an opportune time to verbally praise your child and remind him of the reward coming soon (or even give a ticket or token piece). The idea would be if your child gets or keeps 3 or so tokens/tickets, they will earn their reward. Only you know your child’s likes, their capabilities, and what motivates him, so consider this element wisely.

It’s a great idea to test the token system before the doctor’s appointment with a smaller objective (picking up room/toys or completing a task). That way, you can assure your child is familiar with the process and how the outcome/reward system looks.

Hopefully, these ideas help lessen the stress for your child’s next doctor’s appointment. The biggest tip of all is for you parent, to take a nice deep breath. Don’t forget to roll with the punches – you know by now that children love to throw curveballs at any given chance! No worries, you are going to blink and your child is going to be a pro at doctor’s visits before you know it.


Amy Douglas is a Certified Sleep Consultant at Baby Sleep Central. Recently named as one of the Best Sleep Consultants in the United States, Douglas works with parents of children from Birth – Age 6. Help your baby, toddler, or child sleep more independently, starting tonight.

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