Tips For Making Doctor Visits Easier

I don’t think there’s a single child that likes going to the doctor. But some deal with it better than others. Livi doesn’t handle it so well.

In her defense, she had to endure quite a few doctor visits during her first year due to her reflux. Because of her high need nature, she is also much more sensitive and easily overwhelmed in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations.

We never had a visit without tears. They start rolling even when no shots are scheduled. And it has gotten worse every time.

At her 12 months appointment, things turned bad really fast. She was hysterical when she got her shots. She screamed and screeched and was holding on for dear life. It was heart-wrenching to watch and all I wanted to do was pick her up and run.

Last week, when Livi got sick, we were back at the doctor’s office for the first time, and while it certainly could have been worse, it was by no means an easy visit. Thankfully, this time she calmed down as soon as it was over.

Given how difficult these visits are for Livi, we have come up with a few strategies and ideas to make it easier for all of us. While she is now getting to an age where we can begin to explain things to her, most of the following tips can be used with younger toddlers and babies.

  • Explore the room: once we are in the examining room, we show Livi around and talk to her about all that’s there to see. She especially likes the mirror and we take turns making silly faces for her. That always puts her at ease.
  • Use a blanket: we usually bring one of her small blankets with us. Livi doesn’t really have a lovey or a blankie, but putting a familiar (light) blanket around her once she’s undressed, always calms her down.
  • Bring a toy or book: At times, we have to wait for a little while until the doctor shows up. Reading a book to Livi or looking at the pictures together keeps her occupied and calms her down.
  • Ask the doctor not to wear her typical white lab coat: This is actually something our pediatrician does on her own with smaller children. It seems to help Livi to see her in street clothes as opposed to the unfamiliar coat. The coat may also eventually be associated with shots and unpleasant doctor visits. We have asked other doctors to do the same and most of them were happy to do it.
  • If possible, bring the other parent to the appointment: With few exceptions, my husband has always made the time to come along for Livi’s doctor appointments. It makes things so much easier with little ones. One of us can hold Livi while the other one entertains and distracts her. This way, she can always see one of us and it is especially useful during examinations and when she gets shots.
  • Sing a song: When Livi gets really uncomfortable, I sing one of her favorite songs. Granted, I never planned on singing children’s songs in front of another adult, but it works and that’s all that matters.
  • Blow (lightly) into her face: This is actually something a friend suggested. When her kids get their shots, she lightly blows into their faces and distracts them from what’s happening. It doesn’t work with Livi (she gets mad when I try it), but it might work for you.
  • Do something special after the visit: We either bring along a snack or a favorite toy, go for a walk or stop for a snack on the way home. When Livi is actually sick, we go straight back home but we have a small new toy or book waiting for. This is something our parents did with us and we both still remember how comforting it felt.

Does your child dread going to the doctor? What do you do to make a doctor’s visit easier? Do you do something your parents did when you were a child?

Flickr Photo by Tom & Katrien

22 comments on “Tips For Making Doctor Visits Easier

  1. Nina says:

    I remember that the 18-month-old and 2yo appointments were the worst, because according to the pediatrician, that’s when they’re least likely to want strangers touching them, especially without permission.

    We relied on snacks afterwards. That really calmed the little guy down. We also bring his special lovey blankie to comfort him.

    I hope Livi’s next appointment goes well!

    • hnMom says:

      Her next appointment is the 18-month-old one and I really hope it won’t be worse than the last two times. But since there will be shots again, I am not holding my breath.

  2. Steph says:

    The last time my daughter was sick I literally sang “Going to the doctor and she’s going to look in your ears. Going to the doctor and she’s going to look at your eyes…” to the tune of “Going to the Chapel” for 30 minutes on the way there. All I heard was “More!” More!” from the backseat. We also rehearse what will happen when we get there. “You’ll get to stand on a scale all by yourself!” And we role play it. As long as our kiddo knows what to expect it’s going pretty well. Livi is a little young for that but maybe it’ll help when she’s just a bit older.

  3. the speech monster says:

    great tips! i brought benji in to the doctor’s yesterday as he is sick again. brought a toy in with me coz you never know how long you have to wait even with an appointment! i also use my iPhone – i know, controversial!! – sometimes to distract him. worked especially well as a distraction if doctor’s looking in his ears.

  4. the speech monster says:

    btw hope livi’s feeling better!!

  5. Great tips! It is funny, never had a problem with the doctor, in fact my son stares at the needle going in.

  6. Deni Lyn says:

    I hope Livi is feeling better now. Thanks for the great tips! We didn’t have a problem really with the Doctor until our last appointment. Mac wasn’t too upset by the Doc but he had to have some routine blood work. No obvious vein meant trying to squeeze a lot of blood from his heel. Ugh. It was awful. AND?! They didn’t get enough of the lab dropped it or something. . .So our next visit – about 3 weeks away he has to have the blood draw again. I’m DREADING it. I’m hoping he’s old enough they can find a good vein in his arm or hand. In either case, I’m keeping your tips in mind to hopefully help things go even more smoothly for all of us.

  7. Thanks for the great tips! I am going to try blowing in her face for her next shots! I find she’s okay in the doctor’s office, but as soon as I lay her down and her doctor starts to examine her, it’s game over. She’s okay with the female nurse taking her measurements, but her big, cuddly doctor freaks her RIGHT out. I’d love to have a beer with the guy, and he always puts my mind at rest, so we’re not switching any time soon, but I wonder if a female doctor would help. Actually, I know it would, so when we move, that will be my criteria!

    • hnMom says:

      Hmm, maybe he’s just too big leaning over her and that scares her.
      Livi starts crying as soon as we undress her, at the latest when we put her on the scale. I don’t know why she is so sensitive in that regard. But it is what it is, not much we can do other than help her through it.

      • I look at it this way – I don’t like the doctor or the dentist, and if I was young enough to cry about it sometimes, I just might. 🙂 So I guess we can’t blame them!! 🙂

      • hnMom says:

        You know, that’s a great way to look at it. I still wish it were easier sometimes. But I’ll keep it in mind next time. 🙂

  8. Glad she is doing better, was wondering what the update was. We don’t take our kids that often to the doc. We had an awesome doc back in our previous home town that always said, “if they’re not sick, don’t bring ’em. They’ll have a higher incidence for catching something at the doc office… ” We loved him. Very practical.
    Loved your tips. When we do go we always build it up as an adventure, plan a special treat afterwards – whether a homemade treat or one from the store, out to lunch… Etc. If the office has suckers we let them get one ahead of the visit. Anything to make it fun, not traumatic. Something for them to watch on the computer, anything.

    • hnMom says:

      “Anything to make it fun, not traumatic.” That sums it up really well. I also like the idea of making an adventure out of it. 🙂

  9. Keeping C in my lap rather than on the examining table helps immensely. There is almost nothing a doctor needs to do (speaking as a physician here for a moment) that cannot be done on a mother’s lap. I often do complete exams that way, procedures that way. I also play with the kids, let them touch the light and then put a “silly hat” on it, have them look in my mouth, make silly noises while looking in their ears, draw faces on tongue depressors (I rarely use them to press on tongues…most kids can do a great job showing the back of their throats with a little practice at home and often times will mimic their mom or dad doing it). I found with my son, talking continuously during the ear check works well. The one thing is that if you want to keep your child on your lap the whole time, you have to be able to hold them still if necessary. With a little practice, one arm around the body and both arms and one arm to hold the head still and their legs between your legs will more or less immobilize most children under 5.

    • hnMom says:

      You sound like a great physician!
      My husband always holds Livi during exams and I am thankful our pediatrician suggested it. I will have to tell my husband about the way you suggest to hold a little one. He sometimes struggles with keeping her still.
      Thanks for the great ideas. 🙂

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