Many parents face the dilemma of whether or not to sit down and talk to their children about their upcoming doctor’s visit. The truth is, there is no right answer. On the one hand, briefing your child on what a doctor’s visit might mean, could scare them and potentially cause anxiety. On the other hand, surprising them with a doctor’s visit or lying to them about where they are going is also problematic. Both instances can create a realm of fear around doctor’s visits, even if it is a routine check-up with nothing to be afraid of.

Make sure that you, as a parent are calm when talking about a doctor’s visit. Your children can detect and absorb anxiety that you might be putting out surrounding the topic of the doctor. Most of a child’s fear of experiences like the doctor is shaped through observation. Children hear people talk about a scary doctor experience, and develop that fear based on the other person, not on a personal first-hand experience.

Even though it can be nerve-racking to broach the topic with your child, you should tell them a couple days before the visit and be completely honest with them. Do not make promises that you don’t know if you will be able to keep, especially surrounding the topic of pain, because you cannot predict if your pediatrician might think that a blood draw is in order for a symptom that your child is experiencing. Being honest is key, but positivity goes hand-in-hand with that honesty. If you think that a shot or blood draw might take place, reassure your child that it might hurt a little bit, but it will be over quickly.

Have patience with your child. If they want to bring a special blanket or stuffed animal with them to provide a little bit of comfort and familiarity, allow them to do so. Research has also shown that children who sit in a parent’s lap while receiving a shot or medicine show less anxiety.

The doctor should not be a traumatic experience, so overshadow it by planning something fun or special for the remaining part of the day. Do not necessarily use the fun activity as a bribe or reward for good behavior but more of an incentive that once the doctor’s visit is over, there will be more fun things to come.