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Going to the Doctor & Dentist

Mom: Let's have fun when we're done! What would you like to do? | Boy: The zoo!

Plan Something Fun After the Visit

"Instead of bribing or threatening a young child into going to the doctor, ask him what fun thing he would like to do afterwards. Use this as an incentive, rather than a reward for good behavior, because it's normal for young kids to get upset during the visit."

Dr. Benjamin Kligler

Associate Medical Director, The Continuum Center for Health and Healing, New York City

Do your kids run away when you say, "It's time to go to the doctor?" Do you find yourself chasing them down and wondering if there are any easier ways to get out the door?

Pediatricians, dentists, family practitioners and psychologists recommend a few basic communication strategies for preparing children for a visit: Be brief. Be positive. Be playful. Be honest in age-appropriate ways. Be in charge. And be calm.

Talking a lot in advance about going to the doctor or dentist is actually NOT recommended. "You have to take your cue from your child, but the more you discuss it, the bigger a deal it can become," recommends Dr. Kathie Teets Grimm, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Children's Advocacy Center of Manhattan. Kids should be prepared briefly if they are going to have a painful procedure. However, you might just tell them on the way to the office unless your child has previously had a painful experience.

Pediatric dentists, like Dr. David Levine of New York City, provide a similar analysis. "Parents' memories are not children's reality today. A parent may come in and say her son is feeling scared of going to the dentist, but it's really the parent who is feeling scared. Dentistry has changed through the years in very positive ways. Kids can now look forward to comfortable and happy visits to the dentist."

The following tips may help you and your child feel better about going to the doctor, dentist and even the hospital. Most of these strategies are geared toward kids 8 and under. However, the principles apply to children of all ages (and even parents) who may be afraid of the visit.

Before You Go

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