During my toddler’s 18-month doctor’s visit, his pediatrician reassured us that this behavior was perfectly normal. And by “this,” she meant a wailing, flailing toddler whom she had to practically contain in a wrestling hold in order to continue observing him. Never mind that he cried so loudly that she had to take a quick break for him to calm down because she couldn’t hear anything through her stethoscope. “This is pretty common for this age,” she had told us at the 18-month appointment. “We can expect similar behavior at the two-year-old appointment.”
As predicted, he acted the same way when he returned at two-years-old. However, since she didn’t assure us that he’ll act up again for the 2.5-year-old appointment, I was a little nervice. “Now we have no excuse!” I thought to myself. Considering that my toddler had been having “opposite days” and “I want…” demands—some as close as the day before the appointment—I wasn’t too confident that this doctor’s visit would be any better than the previous two.
Somehow though, we breezed through the visit, with my toddler even laughing by the end of the session. What happened to my wailing, flailing toddler who wants absolutely nothing to do with doctors and nurses? Perhaps his parents used the following tactics to help prepare him for his doctor’s visit:
1. Talk about the visit well before stepping into the doctor’s office
I mentioned visiting Dr. S during the previous night’s dinner, and that morning, we further discussed what to expect during the appointment. “She’s going to make sure you’re okay,” we told him. “And she’s going to look into your ears, eyes, nose and mouth. Plus she’ll check your tummy, chest and back with that circle tool, remember?”
Funny side note: Apparently my toddler also thought she was going to style his ‘do because no matter how many times we described what would take place, LO insisted that, “She’s going to comb hair.” He must have mentioned this some six or seven times, even during the appointment. My guess is that he still remembers when he had pimples on his head and the doctor had inspected the surface of his scalp. Thankfully she humored him and ran her fingers through his hair a few times to “comb” his ‘do.
2. Play doctor and patient
A few days prior to the appointment, my husband had our toddler examine his eyes and ears, as well as listen to his heartbeat. Patients—toddlers and adults alike—can often feel so vulnerable under a doctor’s eye, and role playing can easily give a toddler a bit of that control back when he gets to play the doctor. For the next visit, we’ll also likely purchase pretend doctor’s tools so our toddler could use those as props.
3. Bring a comfort item
When sitting in a strange office being poked with needles and having your socks removed (seemingly a crime according to my toddler’s protests), a beloved toy or item can help calm a frantic toddler. For ours, it was his special Lovey. He and that toy have been through thick and thin, and we like to bring her around whenever we feel like he might need some extra comfort. And despite the multitude of books at the office, we brought one of our toddler’s books so that he can read something familiar.
4. Point out interesting objects in the office
My toddler loves pointing out lights (especially blinking ones) when we’re driving, so when it came time for the doctor to examine his eyes, ears and nose, we made sure to point out the awesome light on the doctor’s tool. We also showed him the frogs and sea animals lining the wall as well as the different books throughout the room.
5. Load up on snacks
We scheduled his appointment right before snack time so that he could either eat at the office or in the car and keep his empty tummy from gearing him up to a sour mood.
Bonus tip: Rely on good ol’ timing and luck
Our doctor wasn’t lying when she said the 18-month-old and 2-year-old appointments would be a challenge, so age plays a crucial role in whether or not kids will comply or not. Sometimes they’re just not developmentally ready to stand on a scale or have their ears probed.
And even at an age where he should be perfectly fine visiting the doctor, sometimes we’re unlucky and end up visiting the doctor when he feels grumpy. After all, my toddler threw a tantrum yesterday, so I was bracing myself for a horrific experience at the doctor’s. I got lucky though: he didn’t.
How do your kids handle doctor appointments? What do you do to prepare them for their visits?