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How do I make my son more comfortable around doctors and nurses?
Q: I'm the mother of a 4½-year-old boy who is really scared of doctors and nurses. He will soon be getting his first set of shots for school. How do I make him feel comfortable and not so scared while going for his physical?
Michelle Baldwin
A: Michelle, many children are fearful of their pre-kindergarten check-up because they’re aware that the shots are coming. Children are also more likely to be anxious about that check-up if they’ve had other recent scary experiences with shots or stitches at the doctor’s office or emergency room. The doctors and nurses try to make children more comfortable by talking with them, doing the other parts of the exam first (e.g., height, weight, vision, physical exam), and sometimes joking or playing with them a little (e.g., when feeling the tummy, “Let’s see if I can guess what you had for breakfast!”). But your child relies on you the most for reassurance. Here are some tips for helping your child feel more comfortable with the pre-K check-up and shots:
  • Prepare in advance:
    • About a week before the check-up, explain to your son that the doctor or nurse will give him a full check-up for kindergarten—they will weigh him on a scale, measure how tall he is, check his eyes and ears, put a stethoscope on his chest to listen to his heart and breathing, and feel his tummy, arms and legs—this is important to make sure he’s growing well and is strong and healthy. Also, calmly explain that he’ll get a couple of shots and that all kids have to get them to protect them from getting sick. Be honest that the shots will sting a little for a mument, but you’ll help him.
    • Consider getting a children’s book about going to the doctor. There are many available including Sesame Street and Berenstain Bears. Read the book together several times in the week before his check-up, and let him ask lots of questions.
    • Consider getting a play doctor’s kit and let him practice giving a pretend shot to you or a stuffed animal.

  • On the day of the appointment:
    • Consider taking a pinwheel to the appointment. Blowing on a pinwheel helps distract children and relieve the pain.
    • Ask him if he wants to take a favourite stuffed animal to the appointment.
    • Be relaxed and friendly with the nurse and doctor. Consider telling your son about how nice the nurse and doctor are.<.li>
    • When it’s time for the shots, allow your son to choose whether to sit in your lap or on the exam table, and which arm to get the shot in.
    • Distract him during the shot by having him look away from the needle, blow, count or sing.
    • Comfort him and praise him immediately afterwards. Let him know that now he’s a big boy and he’s ready for kindergarten.
    • Consider giving him a little reward for cooperating.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician