Richmond Practice - Preparing a child for a visit to the doctor

Preparing a child for a visit to the doctor
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For many children visiting the doctor is a fear-free experience and they will attend the appointment without a problem. However, when some children anticipate "going to the doctor" they become worried and apprehensive about the visit. A few children are frightened by or fear getting vaccinated or checked over. They may even feel guilty and cry before and during their appointment.

This fact sheet will help parents and carers prepare and involve young people for a positive encounter with their doctor.

reasons why children may fear a visit to the doctor:
  • A worry that parents may leave them alone in the doctor’s office
  • A part of the examination, or an injection, will hurt
  • That the problem may be much worse than their parents are telling them
  • Some suspect they may need surgery or hospitalisation
  • Some who are quite ill worry that they may die
  • They may believe their illness or condition is the result of something they've done or neglected to do and that examinations and medical procedures are part of their punishment.
  • They may simply fear the unknown
Here below some practical ways in which to prepare and reassure a child:

prepare for the visit

You can help prepare your child by talking about the purpose of the visit; you could say that the doctor will check on how the child is growing and developing and that all healthy children go to the doctor for such visits. If they are ill you could say that the doctor: "needs to examine you to find out how to help you get better.” Use simple words which they will understand and they aren't likely to misinterpret.

Allow your child to contribute to a list of symptoms that you create for the doctor. Include all symptoms you've observed, no matter how unrelated they may seem. Ask your child to think of questions to ask the doctor. Write them down and give them to the doctor. Or, if the child is old enough, they can write the list and ask the questions themselves.

address any feelings of guilt

Reassure your child: "This isn't caused by anything you did or forgot to do. Illnesses like this happen to many children. Aren't we lucky to have doctors who can find the causes and who know how to help us get well?" If you or someone the child knows has had the same condition, remind them. Knowing that you and many others have been through the same thing may help relieve any guilt and fear.

Be sure to explain, especially to younger children, that going to see the doctor is not a punishment. role play the situation and empathise

Children learn best during play. This is a time when they will feel most comfortable to ask questions about fears they may have. Many children's books are available to help: Topsy and Tim: Go To The Doctor by Jean Adamson is one example. You can also use a toy doctor's medical kit available from from the Early Learning Centre to role-play a visit to the doctors. After completing a "medical" on your child, it is now their turn to do one on you! This part is quite important and will help a young child gain a sense of control and understanding. If they are still scared, help them express their fears and empathise by saying that you understand that they are still worried/scared. It is best not to overlook their fear by saying that they have nothing to worry about.

avoid implying that a doctor’s visit is something to worry about

Avoid inferences or stories which will create the impression that a child should anticipate a visit to the doctor with trepidation. Parents and carers may sometimes unwittingly refer to a visit to the doctor as something children should be fearful of: Statements such as “there is nothing to worry about”, “don’t

be frightened” or “it won’t hurt.” implies that it might hurt.

Help us by promoting a positive relationship between your child and the doctor.

at the appointment

Be there in good time and remember to take a comfort toy/blanket if necessary and to have the required paperwork (Red book) with you. Make sure the child is rested and fed by offering food or a snack just before the appointment. Book the appointment so that their regular routine/sleep will not be disturbed by the appointment. Small babies will be calmer if they are breastfed or have their bottle, just before the consultation. Keeping them on your lap also helps them feel secure in the doctor’s room. It is sometimes better to have one child with the doctor at a time when siblings attend together for vaccinations or an examination.

at richmond practice

Our paediatrician, and other doctors, understand the needs and fears of children and relate well to them. They communicate easily with young people in a friendly manner and without talking down to them. The receptionists are experienced and particularly welcoming towards children.

The practice is located in a family home. There is a large play area next to our waiting room with toys and books. The doctor’s rooms also have toys and a television with a choice of distracting, child friendly films to divert the attention of young visitors who may feel scared.

There is breastfeeding and baby changing facilities on site. After their consultation the doctor will offer the child a packet of raisins, with their parent/carer’s permission and they will get a “I have been to see the doctor” sticker. Children may also be offered a sugary drink before a vaccination or blood test as studies have indicated that this raises a child’s pain threshold.

Our philosophy is to help children feel positive about their visit to the doctor. We want them to come away feeling empowered and to learn something from the experience.

For more information, or to make an appointment, visit or call 020 8940 5009.

We look forward to meeting you.


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