I think my child was traumatized from his trips to the dentist and doctor visits for vaccinations. He cries and throws a fit upon seeing the hospital building, and more so upon entering the doctor’s clinic. What can I do to prevent this stressful situation? — Mommy Marie
Hello, Mommy Marie! Thank you for asking about this very common phenomenon. I do experience this in the clinic, and usually see this reaction. Oftentimes, this is brought about by the child’s anxiety—-the feeling of being surprised by a negative or painful event. The key to handling this situation is all about prepping and helping children understand the procedure that will be done to them. The following are some tips to lessen and eventually overcome this anxiety:
1. Explain what these medical practitioners do.
Caregivers often disguise the trip to the dentist or doctor as a “trip to the mall” or a trip to the doctor with a promise of “no injection.” This practice damages the trust built between the caregiver and the child, so as a coping mechanism, the child begins to throw a fit upon seeing the first sign of anything associated with the doctor and dentist. Even the sight of the hospital building can make them anxious. One can start a week before the scheduled date of the procedure by already opening the topic of a doctor’s visit. Try reading a book about doctor visits as a bedtime story, or a short friendly video about a child getting a dental procedure done. This sparks the interest of the child in the activity and develops awareness of the situation. For the toddler who is unable to understand books and videos thoroughly, one can do it by play. Role playing the doctor’s visit with the child’s favorite doll as the patient and him as a doctor can develop their awareness and lessen anxiety. Doing this every few days until the day of the visit will help the child be more ready to handle the situation.
2. Constantly remind, up until the actual appointment.
Upon entering the hospital or signing up with the doctor’s secretary, this is the perfect time for you to brief your child about what will happen next. You can pull out the book you were reading or bring out the “doctor toys” so while waiting, you and your child can do pretend play. One of the most important and powerful statement one can say to a child is this: “It is okay to cry. You are still a strong and brave child even if you cry.”
3. End with positive reinforcement.
After the appointment, you can continue to give compliments. Highlight the good intention and explain why it is good and beneficial. You can also reward the child for being able to go through the procedure by giving him a small gift like a sticker or a small book. This act is a good way to close and end the trip to the doctor or the dentist.
Dr. Celeste Gomez, M.D., DPPS is a Visiting Consultant in The Medical City and an Active Consultant in Victor R. Potenciano Medical Center. A graduate of the University of the Philippines, College of Medicine, she is currently a Diplomate of the Philippine Pediatric Society. As a member of the IFM with a medical background, Dr. Celeste balances conventional medicine with appropriate and in-depth personal nutritional and lifestyle advice. She enjoys regular tennis sessions, swimming, and windsurfing.