"Allow plenty of time to get out the door, so battles don't escalate because you are late. Offer choices like, 'Do you want to bring your book or headphones?' or if necessary, 'Would you like to walk to the door or shall I carry you?' Then go."
Susanna Neumann, Ph.D.
Psychologist Consultant, Rockefeller University, New York City
Be brief. Talking too much or too explicitly may only scare your child. Tell a young child you are going to the doctor or dentist the morning of the visit, or even on the way. An older child can be prepared the day before, but keep it light.
Don't focus on the pain in advance. Many kids already associate going to the doctor with getting a shot. If you tell a child (with best intentions) "You are going to the doctor (or dentist) and I promise you it won't hurt," it will just reinforce the connection between pain and the doctor.
Be honest. If you tell a child he won't get a shot, and then he does, he will feel duped. He may then resist going to the doctor the next time. If your child asks, you might say, "I don't know if you will get an injection. If you do, it will only feel like a little pinch."
Describe what may happen. If your child asks, "Will it hurt?" answer in age-appropriate ways, but don't lie. Imagined pain may hurt more than the reality, because it provokes so much anxiety. You might say, "I don't know. We'll ask the doctor right away when we get there." (For specific explanations, consult the Kid-Friendly Medical Dictionary.)
Be comforting and reassuring. Remind kids of any age that you will be there to comfort them. Let your child talk about her fears. Offer perspective with statements like, "I know you may be scared. The doctor will help you get better," or "We are going to the doctor to find out how healthy you are!" You might show a child her growth chart or the file from the doctor to demonstrate how she has grown.
Don't negotiate over going. If you let the appointment become a negotiation, you may play this scene out time and time again. If your child refuses to go, acknowledge her feelings, but separate the emotion from the behavior. You might say, "I understand you don't want to go, but that does not change the fact that we have to do this now."
Offer incentives instead of rewards. Doctors acknowledge that many parents do use bribes to get kids out the door, but most urge parents NOT to base rewards on good behavior. "Saying, 'Don't cry' or 'If you're good at the doctor, I'll buy you a toy,' sets up an unreal expectation," says Dr. Benjamin Kligler. "Since it's likely that your child will act out at the doctor or cry, telling him not to do so may only frustrate your child and you." Instead, Dr. Kligler suggests you offer an incentive like doing a fun activity after the visit, and that you carry it out no matter how your child behaved.
Don't use going to the doctor as a punishment. "I have witnessed many parents say to kids, 'If you don't behave, I will take you back to the doctor and he will give you a shot!' or 'If you don't stop crying, I will take you to the doctor,'" reports Dr. Grimm. This only makes kids more frightened of going.
Play-act going to the doctor and dentist at home. Together you can pretend to listen to your child's heart and lungs and examine her teeth. Let your child give you an exam as well. Encourage your child to bring favorite stuffed animal to the doctor for his own check up.
Read books together. Some suggested books for young children are The Berenstain Bears Go the Doctor, Elmo Goes to the Doctor, Madeline and Curious George Goes to the Hospital.