Black Hills Woman Magazine | Preventing Doctor Anxiety

Preventing Doctor Anxiety
by Nicole Vulcan

Take one look at the recommended vaccination schedule for infants and children, and it’s no wonder that some kids kick, scream and have a whole lot of anxiety anytime the word “doctor” comes into play. For some kids, all of those vaccinations in the first few years of their lives mean a clear association between “doctor’s office” and “pain.” You can placate some children with the promise of a treat or a fun activity after they’re done, but for others, it’s a serious uphill battle to get them to do anything less than throwing a tantrum when appointment time comes around.

Whether it’s for a vaccination, a simple checkup, or to deal with an illness, going to the doctor is an inevitable part of life—so how to make it smoother for the parents, kids and practitioners involved? To start with, the pediatrician-led KidsHealth website recommends explaining the purpose of the visit and telling kids what to expect. That can also include buying a toy doctor’s kit that allows kids to do things such as listening to a heart rhythm or checking someone’s temperature before the visit. Since many of the fears and anxieties around going to the doctor manifest during the toddler years, creating that normalcy around the routine through toys and books can help illustrate what will happen at the doctor’s office, the KidsHealth website suggests.

The Right Person for the Job

Dr. Robert Kuyper, a chiropractor and DABCI chiropractic internist at Alternative Health Care in Rapid City, says roughly 10 to 20 percent of his patient base is children. While he agrees with the recommendation to normalize the experience through things like doctor kits, another big factor, he says, is ensuring you’re working with a practitioner who wants to work with children. Dr. Kuyper says when in doubt, ask the practitioner first—and even consider doing a parent interview or an initial meeting before the actual visit with the child.

“You have to let them get comfortable with the setting and what’s going to happen,” says Dr. Kuyper. “Sometimes it means telling the parents it’s better if they come back.”

The Diet Factor

Another factor that can play into anxiety on appointment day is what the child is eating or drinking, Dr. Kuyper says. “If you’re going to a doctor’s appointment and you know he gets a lot of anxiety, make sure you’re watching his sugar, processed food ahead of time,” reminds Dr. Kuyper. “Some parents maybe aren’t even aware of artificial colorings, artificial sweeteners, sugars… sometimes just saying if you can (avoid sugars, etc) the day of the doctor’s appointment it will calm them down quite a bit.”

Early Positive Experiences

Dr. Kelli Jobman of Black Hills Pediatric Dentistry believes early positive experiences at the dentist help set kids up for less anxiety later on. In line with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Jobman’s office recommends kids visit the dentist on or around their first birthday. Because of that establishment of a “dental home” early on, Dr. Jobman says she sees few instances of anxiety among pediatric patients.

“We start at such a young age that by the time they’re ready for treatment most of the time we’ve already established a relationship,” Dr. Jobman says. Jobman’s team also helps get young kids comfortable by allowing the child to sit on a parent’s lap during the visit. If they’re experiencing anxiety during the visit, the team also asks a series of questions to help the child address their fears and work on them one by one. Sometimes, a parent’s negative experience at the dentist is causing them to pass on anxiety to their children, Dr. Jobman says. If that’s the case, Dr. Jobman recommends trying to keep a positive attitude with your child, in spite of your own first experiences.

Ultimately, though, every child is going to have their own take on a situation—and that can be far different from what another sibling, friend or relative has experienced. As a parent or caregiver, you probably have the strongest sense of what’s going to help your child. As Dr. Jobman says: “You can do the same treatment on two different kids and their experience can be completely different.”

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