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At Children’s National Hospital, we understand that you may be unsure how to help your child prepare to go to the doctor for any type of appointment. Here are some age-appropriate guidelines from our Child Life Specialists to help prepare both you and your child ahead of going to the doctor.

Before Your Child’s Appointment

Speak With Your Child’s Doctor

Caregivers know their children best, so if you have specific concerns about your child’s visit, do not hesitate to call your child’s doctor prior to the visit. Find out from your child’s doctor what his or her next appointment involves and get as much information as possible. You may have questions such as:

  • Will my child receive a shot?
  • Will there be bloodwork?
  • What medical equipment will be used? 

Make a list of questions or concerns you have about your child’s health, so you can cover everything during your appointment. 

Timing is Everything

Give your child at least one- or two-days’ notice before going to a doctor’s appointment. Too much advanced warning may lead your child to worry and focus on the event. It’s also helpful to provide opportunities, when age appropriate, for your child to play doctor with their stuffed animals or dolls, using toy medical instruments. Medical play helps your child become familiar and comfortable with the equipment that will be used during their visit.

Share Information with Your Child

When sharing information with your child, make sure that you understand the purpose of the visit so that you can easily and confidently answer any questions your child may have. Be truthful to your child and do not lie, but make sure they have the information they need. It’s also helpful to rehearse the visit with your child and take them through what he or she will think, feel or see.

Use Language Your Child Can Understand

Make sure you carefully choose what language you use to explain a procedure to a child. Words like “shot” can immediately put a child into a panic, so try to soften the expectations of a vaccination by explaining that he or she may experience a “pinch” or an “ouchie” at this visit. Remind your child that the treatment will make them healthier.

At Your Child’s Appointment

Distract Your Child

For all ages, it’s important to bring comfort items to a visit. For infants, caregivers provide comfort, but for toddlers and preschoolers, let the child help choose toys, books or blankets that they want to bring to the visit. These items can be used to pass the time in the waiting room and can be used to distract a child during a procedure.

Ask for Clarification

If you don't understand something your child’s doctor says during your appointment, don't hesitate to ask for clarification. The doctor is there to help you understand your child’s health and treatment options.

Take Notes

Consider taking notes during your child’s appointment so you can remember important details and instructions later on.

Ask About Preventive Care

In addition to addressing current health issues, ask your child’s doctor about preventive care measures you can take to maintain their good health and prevent future problems.

Follow Up as Needed

If your child’s doctor recommends follow-up appointments or additional tests, make sure to schedule them and follow through with them as advised.

Remember, your doctor is there to help you stay healthy and address any medical issues your child may have. Don't hesitate to reach out to them whenever you have concerns about your child’s health.

Visual Resources to Prepare for a Visit

Our Autism Behavioral Consult team has compiled visual resources that any family can review with their child to make them more comfortable before all types of doctor's visits.

Radiology Procedures

These information sheets were created to be child-friendly and helpful to our parents that will be having radiology exams.