Rx for easing doctor’s office anxiety

My 5-year old son gets very anxious during visits to the doctor, and he has a hard time sitting still while he’s being examined. What can I do to calm him down?

Many children are fearful of a trip to the doctor’s or dentist’s office. A frightened, squirming child can make the visit uncomfortable for both the parent and the doctor. If your son is too frightened to follow the physician’s orders, it might even affect the quality of care that he receives.

There are a couple of simple things that you can do, both before and during a doctor’s visit, to allay a child’s anxiety. Prior to the visit, it helps to regularly engage your child in a role-playing game during which one of you pretends to be the doctor, while the other is the patient. This will familiarize the child with the process, which in turn helps him to become more comfortable with seeing an actual doctor.

A few days before the appointment, simply tell your son that you’ll be visiting a doctor who can help him stay healthy, and that you’ll be there with him during the visit.

When the day of the visit approaches, try not to discuss it too much with your son. If you constantly mention that he’ll be going to the doctor, it may increase his anxiety.

On the day of the visit, make a point of bringing your son’s favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or book to distract him while he’s in the waiting room. A favorite snack, like pretzels or crackers, can also keep him occupied. If he begins to grow anxious, offer some type of reward, even if it’s buying a small toy from the drug store on the way home. This can be a good incentive for him to relax.

Above all, no matter how frightened your son becomes, attempt to stay calm. Children can easily read and pick up on other people’s emotions, so if you remain composed, your son is less likely to panic.

If you’ve tried all of these strategies, but your son is still upset, talk to your doctor about arranging a brief visit at when he can just come into the office and sit in the medical chair without being examined. If possible, let him wear the stethoscope or play with the tongue depressors, and introduce him to the nurses.

Spending time at the medical office will make it seem less scary and foreign, so he’ll be more relaxed when he comes in for an actual appointment.