Tips and tricks if your toddler is afraid of the doctors/dentist/hospital

Joseph is terrified of the doctors. In fact he is terrified of doctors, nurses, dentists, health visitors and anyone else who works for the health service. Particularly female staff- this may be because all of his invasive treatment so far has been done by female staff and his CF team are all women.

He seems to have an innate ability to sniff out an NHS worker from a hundred yards and then scream the place down uncontrollably until he is as far away from them as possible. It doesn’t matter how nice they are, how gentle, how many songs they sing. He is indiscriminate in his fear.

He knows he is in a doctors surgery or a hospital before we’ve even parked the car. When we tried to sign up to a new doctors a few weeks ago he screamed so much in the reception before we had seen even a glimpse of a nurse or doctor, we had to leave.

This is not a great fear to have (but perhaps an understandable one) when you have cystic Fibrosis and have to attend hospital appointments at least every two months which involve nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and dieticians and can include weighing, measuring, cough swabs, blood tests, injections and x-rays…..the list goes on.

Bizarrely the stethoscope is one of Joe’s most hated instruments- it doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t look particularly scary but beware. If you approach him with one of those things you are doomed to a life of tinnitus.

So, if like me, you have a little one who is terrified of the doctors here are a few tips and tricks I have picked up along the way to help- I’m not saying that this has stopped Joe’s fear of doctors- it hasn’t- but these are a few of the coping mechanisms we use to try and help things run as smoothly as possible.

  1. Try and remain calm Not only can Joe sniff out a NHS worker from 100 yards, he can also sense my own fear and panic. The calmer and more relaxed I am, the better it is for us all. Then even if your little one is screaming at the top of their lungs you will be more adept to deal with it.                                                                                                          
  2. Distraction is key Use any means possible to distract your child. Bring favourite toys, plenty of snacks, story books, grandpa, whatever you can think of to distract them. Luckily Joe loves those beads on wire that you often get in doctors waiting areas. Other good things to distract are looking out the window, looking at posters and paintings on the wall, singing songs- even pointing at the patterns on their jumper. Distraction is a life saver. 
  3. Take your child to your doctors appointments with you  This may sound crazy but the idea is that they will get used to going to the doctors and not being poked and prodded every time. This will help them to realise that going to the doctors does not always hurt and isn’t always scary. Also they can watch you get treatment and you can lead by example by being really calm and inquisitive about any treatment you have. I took Joe to the doctors with me yesterday and he watched with great interest as the doctor took my blood pressure. On the outside I looked calm and explained what was happening to him so that he could see that going to the doctors is not scary. (He doesn’t have to know that I’m actually quite scared of having my blood pressure taken and I also hate having my blood taken- these are some fears I’ve just had to deal with and try and get over since having Joe. How can I expect him to be calm and serene whilst having cough swabs and IV’s when I can’t even have my blood pressure taken without fainting!)                                                                     
  4. Try and have treatment at home if possible I know this isn’t always possible for everyone, but we are lucky that our respiratory nurses and physiotherapist will come out to the house if necessary. This means that Joe can relax a little in his own surroundings. A few weeks ago our lung nurse came to the house to do a repeat cough swab and although he was still scared and upset, moments later he was distracted and calm watching Peppa Pig on his own sofa. This was a much better reaction than the previous clinic appointment at hospital where he screamed non stop for three hours until he collapsed in an exhausted heap on my lap- and they only talked, they didn’t touch him!
  5. Talk about doctors and hospital at home I’m a big believer in talking to your child non- stop. If Joe asks me a question, or says something about anything I do my best to listen and respond. Sometimes I will just repeat what he’d said, other times I will go into more detail. This has resulted in him talking very well and not having too many tantrums as he can explain what he wants or needs through speech. I make sure I talk to him about doctors and hospitals, ambulances and nurses, medicine and pharmacies- knowledge is power and the more he knows about what’s happening to him, the better he can deal with it. 
  6. Do doctor and nurses role play  Joe had a doctors bag for christmas and has great fun carrying it around and taking peoples temperature. He even touches the stethoscope occasionally but is even a bit scared of the toy one. Hopefully by playing he will learn that doctors are not scary and can even be fun! (she says with a strained smile!) 
  7. Read books and watch tv shows about doctors One of the best things I have found on TV to help Joe with his fear of doctors is Dr Brown Bear on Peppa Pig. When I take him to the doctors or hospital I tell him we are going to see Dr Brown Bear and he visibly relaxes! Last time he had a cough swab in hospital he said forlornly afterwards “Dr Brown Bear said I was a good Boy” which broke my heart but brought him comfort at the same time. One of his favourite phrases is “because Dr Brown Bear said so” and he can really relate to the animals on Peppa Pig engaging with the doctor and taking their medicine. We also take books out of the library about doctors and being poorly and sometimes he will watch adult medical shows with me and I will explain what’s happening in a child friendly way.                        
  8. Remember- they will grow out of it if all else fails, in a few months or years time they will be so used to going to the doctors or able to understand what’s happening a lot more- this phase will pass.

Hope this helps!!

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