How to Help an Anxious Child at the Doctor’s Office

How to Help an Anxious Child at the Doctor’s Office | helloHOPE Resource

I remember an interaction with one of our girls’ doctors a couple of years ago, and it has stuck with me. We were in for a relatively routine check-up or a minor illness (I don’t remember which), and the doctor immediately perceived that Audra was having a hard time with the fear and anxiety of being at the doctor’s office. The doctor, who we hadn’t seen before, asked about our history, and I proceeded to explain what we had been through over recent months for tests and procedures. The doctor responded with sensitivity and humility and expressed that she — on behalf of the medical community — was responsible for the trauma that we were dealing with. I was almost taken aback by her compassion for what Audra was experiencing. She was incredibly sweet and patient with Audra, and I’ll always remember her response to our precious little girl. 

We are so thankful for the medical community, and I don’t know what we would do without the amazing doctors, nurses, and office staff that have cared for our family. I’ve never resented medical staff for the tests or procedures they’ve had to perform because I know that ultimately, they have our best interest and healing in mind. When I see a medical professional doing their job with expertise and compassion, it’s truly a humbling experience and something for which I am grateful beyond words. The reality of medicine, though, is that painful or traumatic experiences may still happen, and those experiences can have an impact on our emotional state.

We have seen an enormous amount of emotional healing in our family, which is something I view as a miracle. At the same time, we still have to deal with anxiety or fear over visits to the doctor. From check-ups to shots to more involved procedures or even surgery, I hope that some of the tips we’ve learned along the way will be helpful in managing anxiety levels in your family, too.

Anxiety Management Tip #1: Be Present

There are some practical things that I’ve learned to do as a parent when we go to the doctor’s office. While I don’t have a perfect track record for doing these things, they’ve been so helpful in helping me to communicate to my girls that I care and that I’m there for them.

  • Put away the phone. Sometimes videos or games on a cell phone can be helpful, but having my phone out is also a distraction for me to think about my to do list, work emails, or countless other things. It’s helpful for me to put my phone away if I want to be present.

  • Make eye contact. Eye contact is so important for getting a glimpse into someone’s emotions. If I’m able to make eye contact with our girls, I feel like I can understand them better, and I also feel like they are more tuned into what I am saying to them.

  • Hold hands. There have been times that holding Audra or Lisette’s hand made a difference in their ability to calm down or stay calm.

I believe that our kiddos want to know that we love them and that we’re present with them. That’s a strong message of security and protection — even when the circumstances are scary.

Anxiety Management Tip #2: Ask Questions

Once you are present, don’t hesitate to engage your child’s heart and ask questions about what they are feeling. This is admittedly difficult if your child is not able to verbally communicate, but yes or no questions may still be an option. The goal is to understand better what they are specifically feeling or scared of. I feel like — even though I can’t always fix things — if I know what fears or anxieties we are dealing with, I can help more.

Here are some questions that might apply:

  • What do you dislike about going to the doctor?

  • What do you like about going to the doctor? (Maybe there are some good things you can focus on to take the emphasis off the anxiety.)

  • How do you feel when we go to the doctor?

  • What can I do to help you feel safe when we go to the doctor?

  • Is there something we can do after the doctor visit that you would look forward to?

  • What do you like to do when you feel nervous? (e.g. laugh, read, talk, play a game, etc.)

The goal here is to get insights into your child’s likes, dislikes, and struggles. When we understand the specifics we can pray more effectively and practically support them the way they need it most.

Tip: Don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions, too!

Anxiety Management Tip #3: Use Calming Exercises

Sometimes anxiety can hit without warning, and when that happens, calming exercises can help to de-escalate emotions. Feel free to try different exercises to see which is most effective for your child.

Regardless of where you are in your medical journey, know that you are not alone. Anxiety and fears are real, but they don’t have to define your story and your journey. Our community is full of people that have hope in the midst of the storm, and we’re praying for you and here to support you.