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Fear of the Doctor or Dentist

How did you ease your toddlers’ fear of the doctor or dentist?

Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: The best way to smooth the path for toddlers visiting the doctor or dentist is to choose wisely the doctor or dentist! Health care professionals who know how to connect with small children are precious gems. Community networks and parent grapevines can help you find someone who is both state-of-the-art professionally and personally skillful at negotiating with toddlers. Then the problems with fears and reluctance are likely to be minimized. In addition, if the parent gives some kind of breezy, brief, and matter-of-fact description of saying “Ahhhh” and looking at the teeth, then children can know what to expect.

Little children are naturally likely to cry and wail when they see the dentist I don’t believe it is helpful to give youngsters under the age of 4 much advance explanation until the moment the shot is about to be given. If parents are calm and soothing about the entire experience, the toddler usually follows along and forgets the unpleasantness. As with many matters, if the parent is very anxious about the toddler’s potential reaction, this expectation may set the stage for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Elizabeth Berger, MD, a mom of a 29-year-old son and a 27-year-old daughter, a child psychiatrist, and the author of Raising Kids with Character, in New York City

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Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: In the toddler years, kids often need to go to the doctor a lot. I think it’s important to choose a pediatrician you like and convey that feeling to your child.

Going to the doctor can be scary for toddlers. When my daughters would say they didn’t want to go the doctor, I explained that there are things in life we don’t want to do that we have to do. We have to sleep. We have to eat. We have to go to the doctor. That’s life.

“I understand you don’t want to go,” I’d say. “I don’t like to write medical chart notes either, but I have to do it. There’s no way around it. That’s how it is with going to the doctor.”

It helps to be calm yourself. Don’t be anxious about taking your toddler to the doctor. Children pick up on how you are feeling. Also, after the visit it over, quickly change the mood. Go do something fun or give your toddler a reward such as a sticker or my teen just reminded me that we would go to the dollar store that was right next door. You want to change his or her mindset as quickly as possible. Later if he  or she protests going to the doctor, you can say, “I know you don’t want to go, but remember last time, how much fun we had after?”

Eva Ritvo, MD, a mom of 21- and 16-year-old daughters, a psychiatrist, and a coauthor of The Beauty Prescription, in Miami Beach, FL

The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.