Report roundup: Keeping kids calm at the doctor's office

Young children can experience a range of emotions about going to the doctor, including fear. This month’s Mott Poll report asked parents of children age 2-5 about whether their child is afraid of going to the doctor, how that fear can impact the visit, and what parents do to prepare their child in advance. Parents and media across the country have been sharing their advice and views on this topic. Here’s a roundup of the conversation.

Scared kids, anxious parents

Half of parents in the Mott Poll said their 2-5-year-old was afraid of going to the doctor. Some said that their child’s fear made it difficult to ask questions or concentrate on what the doctor was saying. This was the focus of a HealthDay article, What kids – and parents – fear most at the doctor’s office. Reporter Robert Preidt noted that an anxious child can often cause anxiety for the parents in this situation, making the entire appointment a hassle. “If a child fears the doctor’s office, health visits can be a challenging experience for the whole family,” said Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark. Preidt also noted that some parents canceled appointments or delayed vaccinations as a result. “Regular check-ups are vital during early childhood,” said Clark, “…because they provide parents an opportunity to discuss health concerns with their pediatrician.”


Parents in the Mott Poll cited fear of shots as the biggest reason for their child’s fear of going to the doctor. This was the focus of a Romper piece, Parents are postponing vaccines because their kids are scared of the doctor, new study finds. Reporter Karen Veazey noted that 1 in 25 parents had postponed a vaccine due to their child’s fear. Veazey also discusses the importance of protecting children from vaccine preventable diseases, and that postponing a vaccine because their child is afraid could put them at risk. “Children’s fear of shots can be exacerbated when they pick up on their parent’s anxiety,” Clark said, “and it can be difficult to calm children down during these services.”

Tips for parents

What can parents do to calm their anxious child before a visit? U-M Mott pediatrician Dr. Shannon Taut offers some advice in a Michigan Health Blog post, 6 simple ways to ease children’s fears at the doctor. “Toddler-aged children tend to have the most anxiety because they’re starting to create certain associations with seeing the doctor but it’s still challenging to explain procedures to them,” says Dr. Taut. She suggests educating children before the visit with books, TV shows, or a toy doctor kit, which was a common strategy used by parents in the Mott Poll. Dr. Taut also recommends avoiding empty promises of no shots. “Children may leave without the shot they were supposed to have…or parents break a trust with their child, which may only increase nervousness for future visits.”