Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


5 Tips for Taking Your Child to the Doctor

How to help your child prepare for doctor's appointments and medical procedures.

Key points

  • Medical procedures can be more traumatic for kids than parents realize.
  • Relatively simple medical procedures such as COVID-19 tests and vaccines can be tough for kids.
  • Parents can take action to help their child through routine medical procedures.

For many children and families, interacting with the healthcare system can be challenging, stressful, and emotional. While for some kids, a trip to the doctor is no big deal, for others, it can be a very tough experience. Seemingly simple parts of medical care such as vaccines or COVID-19 tests can bring out fears in many children, and sometimes parents.

Here are a few tips for managing medical procedures at your child’s doctor’s appointments.

Tip #1 Plan ahead

If you know your child has a medical procedure that he or she is nervous about, work with your child to make a plan for the day.

  • What will your child do on the way to the medical appointment? Read a book? Listen to a favorite playlist? Watch a show or plan a game on their device?
  • At the appointment, does your child want you to sit next to him or her? Hug them? Hold their hand? Or would they rather you sit across the room?
  • What will your child do during the procedure? Watch a show on a tablet? Take deep breaths? Listen to a story? Sit quietly?

Tip #2: Involve your child in your plan

Having your child help create the plan can help him or her be more prepared and be more willing to use the plan.

  • Have your child write out or draw the plan for the day on a giant paper or whiteboard.
  • Ask your child for his or her ideas about what would make the medical appointment better.

Tip #3 Stay calm

Sometimes as parents, our child’s distress increases our own stress. We sometimes start reassuring our children or talking loudly to try to calm them down. Strategize on ways that you can stay calm.

  • Take slow, deep breaths.
  • Play music for yourself. You can put on your favorite music with the headphone in one ear so you can still hear your child.
  • Use a calm and quiet voice.
  • If you cannot remain calm, consider asking your child’s healthcare provider if you can step out of the room during the procedure.

Tip #4: Choose a reward ahead of time

Having a reward to focus on can be helpful when dealing with challenges. The goal of setting a reward is to have your child complete his or her medical procedure with less distress and for your child to earn his or her reward. When this happens, everyone is happy.

  • Choose a reward that works for your family. Some examples include a family game night, the child’s choice of dinner, special snack, or treat, a new fidget or small toy, or extra electronic minutes.
  • Set clear expectations for what your child needs to do to earn the reward. These expectations will be different depending on how nervous your child is and how hard it is for your child to control his or her behaviors. You may even need to have different expectations for siblings.

Examples of expectations include the following:

  • You can ask for one minute to get yourself ready. After one minute, we will help you get it done.
  • You need to hold your body still.
  • It is okay to cry.
  • It is not okay to punch or kick.
  • You can yell “ouch” (or some variation) if you need to.
  • It is not okay to yell at the nurses or doctor.

Tip #5: Talk about how it went

After the medical procedure has been completed and everyone is calm, ask your child how he or she thought that it went. Praise your child for what he or she did well. Problem-solve with your child about what you might try next time if parts of the appointment didn’t go well.

  • Celebrate small successes. Even if it didn’t go perfectly, find something that your child did well. For example, walked willingly into the appointment or tried to stay still.
  • Listen to your child’s experience. Acknowledge what was hard for him or her. Avoid telling him or her that he or she shouldn’t feel a certain way.

If you feel that your child’s fears are getting in the way of his or her medical care or you have other worries about your child’s emotional health, reach out to your child’s pediatrician. Your pediatrician may be able to help you with strategies or a referral to a behavioral health provider.


For more tips, see Afraid of the Doctor: Every Parent’s Guide for Preventing and Managing Medical Trauma.

More from Meghan L. Marsac, Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today