There is not a child in the world that enjoys going to see the doctor or the dentist. Having to sit or stand in a doctor’s office and be poked or prodded is one thing, but for children, it comes with a lack of control. It’s this control that makes them freak out and panic in some cases, and understanding why children are afraid when they visit a medical professional is so important. Children are very much all about their parents, grandparents and familiar relatives. Any strangers to them are to be feared. This is a good thing, of course, as you need to teach your children about stranger danger as it is. However, you don’t want to have a screaming child who is terrified of a dental check-up or a doctor’s appointment.
Some children remain perfectly calm and unfazed in the wake of an appointment, but you need to think about why your child is scared and worried in the first place. Before we get into how to help your child’s fear of the family dentist or the doctor – or even the hospital – let’s take a look at three compelling reasons your children are feeling afraid.
- Some children are worried about the pain that they may experience when they go to the doctor’s office. They expect shots of some kind, or when they go to the dentist, they get worried about fillings and pulled teeth. Even if there is no such poking and prodding about to happen, they can associate the hospital or the dentist with the pain they may have had before. Fear can be debilitating. Trying to assuage their anxiety and make them feel better can also make them feel worse, so you must help them to own their feelings.
- Fear of pain is one thing, but anxiety about the unknown is quite another. Children often have concerns that are entirely unrelated to procedures that are about to happen. They can also be afraid of the unknown. Just like adults, children do not like being unprepared for what’s ahead. If they know what to expect, they are better able to feel satisfied that there is a good reason for attending a health appointment.
- Lastly, a real fear for children is the person who they are going to see. If a doctor or dentist makes a child feel anxious and afraid, they will fight the fact that you have booked a health appointment for them. It’s ideal for you to find a doctor or dentist that is family-oriented and make them feel more comfortable.
Doctor and dentist visits are not something that anyone can miss. Adults miss them due to fear, but they understand the consequences of their actions. As parents, we have a lifelong battle with teaching our children bodily autonomy while also teaching them to let the dentist touch their mouth. It’s a battle that most don’t consider until they have children, and even then, it’s a difficult battle to face. Dentist and doctor visits are so crucial for preventative medicine. You don’t take your kid to the dentist for fun, but for their health. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make it fun! Younger patients may resist going to these appointments, but that doesn’t mean that you stop going.
Soothing the nerves of a child that is melting down at the idea of going to the dentist or the doctor is difficult for a parent. You’re torn between not understanding why it’s such a big deal while feeling the impatience that we all face in the light of a screaming child. However, you need to get into the world of your small child and feel what they’re feeling. As far as they are concerned, they do not need this appointment. They do not want a stranger to come near them, and they certainly don’t want any medicine. They know you’re going to make them go, and they don’t understand it. It’s a big ball of emotional distress that you have to untangle and soothe to make this experience an easy one.
Considering everything that we’ve said so far, we’re now going to explore ways you can make a child’s visit to the doctor or the dentist much less scary.
Preparation Is Key
The worst thing that you could do is spring a visit to the family dentist on your child. Education is the key to understanding, and preparing your child is so important. You need to alleviate their fears with books, TV shows for kids about visiting the dentist and – if you have the money – a toy medical kit to play pretend. If children fear the thing that they don’t understand, then the key is to help them to understand what will happen or why. Exposing them to the medical world like this from a young age is so important, and that’s on you as a parent to make sure that you have prepared them adequately for their next appointment.
No Jokes, Please
You cannot joke about the dentist to your child. No teeth-pulling jokes. No needle jokes. No jokes about teeth rotting and falling out at any point. You want your children to feel secure and happy, not terrified and unable to move through fear. You may be joking, but children don’t understand the concept of humour in that way. Jokes can inadvertently cause a phobia of needles, so don’t use a trip to the dentist or doctor as a way to coerce your children into behaving. Shots and dental appointments are not a punishment, and they shouldn’t be used as a bargaining tool. You’ll create a negative association with a place you are trying to encourage them to visit!
Never Promise What You Won’t Deliver
If your child hates going to the dentist, the worst thing that you could do is tell them that there won’t be anything but a look. If you promise your child that they won’t have to have a tooth pulled or a filling, and then the dentist decides that this is precisely what your child needs, they will feel betrayed. Keeping your child calm by lying about what to expect is not the way to alleviate their fears. It would help if you kept your child trusting you, and so it’s important to answer honestly. Tell them you’re not sure what they should expect and that no matter what, you will be there to make them feel happy and safe. As a parent, all you can do is make them feel confident and assured, and then hold them if they can’t yet manage that. You can also give the office a call and ask what to tell your child about the appointment ahead. This will help to reassure them that they will be just fine.
Distraction Can Help
When you have to take your child to an appointment, standard rules need to be suspended. If you only allow screen time for an hour a day, then they can have that screen time as unlimited when it comes to a doctor’s appointment. Let them watch a movie or their favourite video, and let them play games. When they get into the office, let them keep watching the screen or playing with their favourite toy. If it’s going to keep them calm, then do whatever it takes. Children are easily distracted with treats and extra screen time, so it can serve as an excellent way to keep them calm throughout their appointment.
Comfort & Hold
You will naturally want to hold your child and protect them from any hurt and pain when they are at the doctor’s office. Hugging a child is always better than restraint, which can be traumatic for your child. Comforting positions for your child in the doctor’s office or dentist can help to make them feel safe. Murmuring words of love and comfort to your child while the dentist or doctor is working will also help. Your own anxiety can also rub off on your child, so as much as possible, be aware of your own actions and feelings, and when they have procedures don’t pull faces or breathe sharply.
Reward Their Bravery
For a child to overcome their fear, sit still and let the dentist work is a big deal. You need to reward their excellent behavior, and you can tell them that if they are brave, they get a treat afterwards. The promise of a toy or an ice cream cone is one that will make your child feel reassured and focused. They will know that after the appointment, they have something to look forward to at the end. There is nothing wrong with a little fun after the appointment has passed, and you can then help your child to feel gently more confident with each visit to the dentist or the doctor.
Your actions will rub off on your kids, so if you’re concerned about their fear, help them to own it while you mind your own actions, too.