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How should I prepare my child for a visit to the doctor?
Q: How should I tell a child about the instruments a doctor uses during an office visit?
A: It’s a very good idea to explain to your child what will happen at doctors’ visits. Explaining everything to your child—both in advance of the visit and during the visit—helps him feel more comfortable and less scared. It also teaches him about how his body works and some new vocabulary words such as “stethoscope” (which one of my children called “doctorscope”). With the right preparation and temperament, some children find doctors’ visits fun and even decide to become a doctor some day.

Here are some ideas for preparing your child for the doctors’ visits:

  • Consider getting a play doctor’s kit. Explain that the doctor will check all the parts of his body to make sure he’s healthy and strong. Explain each piece of equipment in simple but accurate language, appropriate to his age: the stethoscope is for listening to his heart and breathing; the oto-ophthalmoscope for looking in his eyes, mouth and ears; the reflex hammer is for checking how his muscles work; and the syringe for giving shots to keep you healthy. Let him use the equipment on you and his stuffed animals first, then you can try it on him when he feels comfortable. Make a game of it, “Where’s Teddy’s ears—on his tummy? Where’s mummy’s heart—on her nose? What do I see in your ear—an elephant? Let’s look in your mouth and count how many teeth you have!”

  • While you’re waiting for the doctor in the exam room, explain to him again what the doctor will do: look in his eyes, mouth and ears; listen to his heart; feel his tummy; and check his muscles.

  • When the doctor is examining him, you can ask the doctor to explain what she is doing, or you can explain to him at each step along the way, “Remember, now the doctor is listening to your heart, just like we did…” If he needs a shot, be sure to explain to him before he gets it that it will pinch for a second but then he’ll feel better and he’ll get a big hug and a sticker afterwards.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician