Preschoolers Like to Play-Act
Between ages 2 and 3, children do not really understand what illness is. However, they do know when they feel bad and when they feel well. They feel pain with great intensity. Their feelings are BIG and they express them loudly. As their vocabularies increase, preschoolers can put words to the experience of getting sick and going to the doctor.
Older preschoolers, particularly as they begin potty training, are able to describe physical feelings and illnesses. Statements such as "I have to pee" or "My throat is sore" demonstrate this understanding.
Between 3 and 5, children begin to understand cause and effect and that they will heal over time. They can relate to ideas such as "The medicine will help you get well" and "If you eat healthy food you will grow big and strong." They may even fantasize about being sick when they are not. Many kids become interested in being examined by the doctor and playing doctor themselves. They do this at home, in nursery schools and in the doctor's office, where they like to listen to the stethoscope and use the equipment. However, injections are still scary, and kids may well resist them.