So, you’ve received the dreaded reminder from your toddler’s doctor: it’s time for a check-up. You know your kid’s not going to like this. He never likes going to the doctor. And this time there are going to be shots. Visiting the doctor is never fun. But there are a few things you can do to help your toddler’s check-up go a bit more smoothly.
1. Explain what will happen
It may seem like the less time your toddler has to worry about what will happen at the doctor, the better it will be. And that’s true, but only to a point. It makes sense for him to have an idea of what is going to happen before it happens. He’s about to get undressed in front of a stranger who is going to touch him all over his body, stick weird things in his orifices, and (probably) poke him with something sharp. Wouldn’t you want to be prepared before something like that happened to you? So, you don’t need to start talking about it weeks in advance, but a few minutes before you start getting ready to leave is a good time to start planting a few seeds about what will happen. “We’re going to the doctor today,” you could say. (Make sure to use a neutral tone of voice. You don’t want to imply that this is going to be the worst experience of his life, but you also don’t want to imply that it’s going to be fun.) Ask him if he remembers going to the doctor for a check up. He may be able to tell you a few things he remembers, but probably not. Then you could tell him something like, “The doctor is a friendly grown-up who helps keep you healthy. Today he’s going to check you out to make sure your body is okay.” He probably remembers going to the doctor for sick visits, but it’s a good idea to remind him anyway. Then tell him as specifically and concisely as possible about what will happen. “The doctor needs to check out your body, so we’re going to take off your clothes when we’re there. He’ll use a light to look in your eyes and ears. He’ll look in your mouth. He might touch your tummy,” and whatever else his doctor usually does. This is something you could talk about as you travel to the doctor’s office. Don’t make a big deal about it. Explain it once, see if your child has any questions, then talk about something else. If there’s going to be a shot, don’t mention it now (more on shots in a minute), but if he asks about a shot and there’s going to be one, don’t lie.
2. Get the lollipop during (not after) the visit
It took me a while to figure this out, but it’s a lifesaver (actually it’s a lollipop. Ha ha. Get it? Never mind). Most doctor’s offices offer lollipops for brave little kids who make it to the end of the visit. (Some give stickers or little toys so as not to condone candy. If that’s the case with your doctor, bring your own lollipop. I’m serious.) But, the thing is, the lollipop’s magic actually lies in calming nervous little patients during the visit. My son is the kind of kid who bursts into tears the minute the doctor walks in the room. But bust out the lollipop and he’s happy as a clam. Unwrap the lollipop immediately. The doctor can work around it and your child should be distracted enough to let him poke and prod him without a fuss. It’s a delicious and calming way to get through the visit.
3. Accept that the shot will be painful for everyone
There are a few things you can do to make the experience of getting a shot a bit more manageable, but nothing is going to make it fun. Your child is going to be in pain and that’s going to be really hard for you to watch. (I always cry when my son gets a shot, but I never let him know I’m crying). Your toddler deserves a little bit of warning before the shot happens, but not a lot. There’s no sense giving him tons of time to worry about it. The doctor almost always leaves the room for a minute (usually to get the shot) before it happens. That’s the time to tell your child what’s about to happen. Say something like, “Okay, now the doctor needs to give you a shot. There’s going to be a little poke and then it will be all over. It might hurt for a second but you’re going to be fine and I’ll be right here.” If your child has a special stuffed animal or toy, it’s a good idea to have it handy. And be right there with your child while he’s getting the shot (even if needles aren’t your thing), holding him tight and singing his favorite song or telling his favorite story. But remember, don’t cause him to be worried. If he’s not upset while he’s waiting for the doctor to come back just tell him about the shot and then discuss something else. Once the shot is over, tell him how brave he is and what a great job he did and then try to distract him. The shot is going to come as a shock (that nice grown-up just hurt me!) no matter how prepared he was. Hold him, comfort him, but don’t let him wallow in it, even if you’re feeling like you need a few extra hugs too. The message here is: “Wow! You’re so brave! You did it!” Not: “I know, it was so horrible! It hurt so much! I’m so sorry!”
4. Help Your Child Maintain the Concept of Doctor
Now that your child is a toddler and growing fast, he’ll probably be able to remember a little bit about the doctor from check-up to check-up. It’s a good idea to help him solidify his memory of who the doctor is and what he does so you don’t have to do a big explanation every time. Get a little toy doctor kit and let him pretend to the be the doctor while you pretend to be the patient. Let him give shots to his stuffed animals and look in their ears and eyes. No need to go overboard and force him to do this when he’d rather play with trucks or something. But just have it available for him to play with when he wants to. He’ll have fun pretending that he’s the one who gets to give the shot instead of get it. And, the next time he needs a check-up, bring out the doctor kit and do some pretend play around what will happen. He’s going to be fine. And so are you. It’s just a check-up after all.