Well-child checkups are a routine part of your child’s life; in fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a yearly visit for all children over the age of 1. Though sometimes dreaded by the child (and therefore the parent), these visits are really opportunities to follow their growth and development and to review accurate information regarding their overall health. Other topics such as nutrition, bedwetting, parenting, and, of course, vaccinations can also all be discussed with your child’s health care provider during the visit. Here are some tips to help prepare both parents and children to get the most out of their appointment:
- Let your child know before the scheduled appointment that they will be visiting the doctor to make sure that their body is healthy. Positioning the visit in a positive manner should help to alleviate any fear that something may be wrong. Children who are more sensitive may agonize for days before their checkup, so use your best judgment as to how far in advance you will let them know about the appointment.
- Ask your child to be a participant in the process. Make a list of topics that you feel he/she may want to review. In addition to health issues, include some fun achievements that you may want to share on your child’s behalf with the provider such as a recent award, team participation, or a great dental checkup. Getting them involved will help to empower them.
- Many children like to play out their visit beforehand. Try providing your child with a doctor’s kit to get them familiar with what may happen at the appointment. A picture book about going to the doctor can also help to alleviate fear that the child may have about the unknown. Keep in mind that all good nurses will review in detail all that she or he will be doing along the way. Letting your child know that there should be no big surprises should help to reassure them.
- If your child is anxious about shots, let him or her know that the doctor will help decide what is best and that vaccines exist to help keep the body healthy. Depending on the child’s personality and temperament, you may want to either let them know beforehand about the possibility of shots to help prepare them, or perhaps your child will do well not to stress in the days leading up to the appointment about shots; in this case leave it up to the doctor to discuss.
- Be positive, but don’t lie. There is no need to say, for instance, that a shot won’t hurt. – just probably not as much as a child usually imagines it will. Teach your child the concept of the pain being on a scale from 0-10: “0” is no pain while “10” is very painful. Let them know that a shot is about a 2 or 3 on the pain scale so they can grasp that though there will be a little pain, it won’t be great. Most pre-school children can understand this concept.
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- Arrive early and come prepared! Your health provider will need to know your insurance information and any recent updates, so arriving in advance of the appointment will save you the stress of rushing around. Be sure to bring your child’s immunization card. Making a list beforehand of any updates in your child’s health history, allergies, or other concerns you have can be helpful, so you don’t have to rely of your memory during the visit.
- Don’t make false promises that there won’t be shots if you know there will be just to ease your child’s fear. If your child is particularly anxious about the possibility of a shot, speak to your physician. There are numbing creams, sprays, breathing techniques and other approaches to managing their anxiety. Even just telling a joke or talking about a funny memory can do wonders!
- Avoid excessive reassurance, apologies or criticism if your child is distressed. Typically, a sense of calm acceptance on the parent’s behalf goes a long way in providing the child with comfort.
- Last, but most importantly, plan time to celebrate in your own way with your child after the checkup. This could be lunch out, an ice cream cone, a small toy or treat, a special errand together. Take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with your child one on one.
Your child’s checkup can serve as a wonderful way to show them how proud you are to be their parent. For parents, it can offer support should you have a particular concern, question, or topic you’d like to discuss. As we often hear, it truly does take a village to raise a child: don’t be afraid to make your child’s pediatrician a vital part of that village.
By Dr. Chrystal de Freitas, pediatrician, mother and author of Jake’s Kindergarten Checkup • JakesKindergartenCheckup.com