baby holding stethoscope into his ear

Check-ups, vaccines, medical procedures.

There are many reasons why your child will need to visit the doctor’s office in the first few years of life. The whole event isn’t all that great for a child if you come to think of it. 

From your child’s point of view, you bring them to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces, put into a smaller unfamiliar room with unfamiliar furnishing and equipment that is all too tall and big for them to see clearly. Then a vaguely familiar person walks in, barely looks at them, and 5 minutes later they are touching them (with cold hands), probing them, or if administering a vaccine, causing some degree of pain.  

Yikes. Reading that makes ME anxious. It makes a lot of sense that fear of doctors is really common amongst preschoolers. 

But not all hope is lost. There are tons you can do to help prepare for an upcoming doctor’s visit. Yes, even if there is already anxiety built up from past experiences. In fact, what if I tell you that your child can go through a shot without tears! Let me tell you a personal story.

Tears dry up. The pain of the actual shot is fleeting. But I had betrayed a trust.

When my son was 12 months old… 

He went in for his regular check-up which included a vaccine. He sailed through the body checks and then when we got to the vaccination part, my doctor said,

“Do you have a phone? Pull it out and find a cartoon to distract him.”  

And so I did.  

I will never forget how wrong that advice is.  

He cried and was upset. If you are thinking that’s the concern, it isn’t. I expected as much. Besides, all emotions are ok and I trust him with his upset! 

No, what was ICKY was the feeling of distracting him with something curious and exciting, only to knowingly inflict pain. I mean come on… Was I hoping he wouldn’t notice a literal stab in his arm?  

Tears dry up. The pain of the actual shot is fleeting. But I had betrayed a trust. 


So, when my son was 18 months old…

We went back for his routine check up and vaccine. My doctor again gave me the “tip” of distracting my son. 

No, sorry, not this time.  

I told the doctor, “Actually, I would like you to tell my son exactly what you will do. And he will just be watching you.” 

The doctor looked at me like, alright… your funeral. But she did do as I asked her to.  

The syringe gets filled. Doctor disinfects my son’s arm. In goes the needle. Out goes the needle.  

Not. A. Single. Peep.  

Zero tears. 

This wasn’t a fluke. He following flu shots and blood tests all went the same, each time not a flinch, no tears, and no anxiety. So what’s my secret? I’ll gladly share it with you and it’s following our general principles here: Respect, Trust, Connection. 

But let’s get specific (because I know you’re asking!)

Here are the Dos and Don’ts of how to prepare your child for a doctor’s appointment, the respectful parenting approach way. 

baby with doctor getting a check up


  • Walk them through it. Tell them what is going to happen. Be factual about what is going to take place. Get detailed (see below about age appropriate language) and point to the area that the doctor will examine or where the shot will go in.  
  • Answer questions honestly. If they ask you “Will it hurt?”, be honest about. “Yes, it might feel like a pinch, poke, or squeeze.” Using descriptive words help give it some context. 
  • Make it age appropriate. Use language that your child will understand. If possible, link it to previous experiences. For pre-verbal children, it might help to read a book about going to the doctor and then point out parts in the book that will relate to their upcoming examination or shot.  
  • Accept any emotions and thoughts. Even though YOU know there’s nothing to be worried about, your child may still feel anxious and that’s ok. Accepting their feelings and thoughts helps them process their fear.  
  • Use reassuring words. “Yes, I hear you. It hurts a bit eh? You are safe. I am right here too.” 
  • Remain calm yourself. Even if your child has a big emotional response, you can remain calm to help them anchor themselves. This is co-regulation and your calm will provide comfort to your disregulated child. 


  • Lie or Hide the truthThis is a sure way to cause some anxiety in the future for doctor’s appointment. They learn that this place is unpredictable and unpleasant.  
  • Give false reassurance. Saying it won’t hurt when maybe it will, even slightly, makes your child feel they can’t trust you in this. Or they can’t trust the doctor. Or they can’t trust themselves and how they feel!  
  • Distract them during the procedure. See story above. 
  • Distract their emotions after the procedure. Save the food, sticker, and gadget for AFTER the emotions have settled down. Let them have their feelings – all emotions are ok!  
  • Project your own fear and worry. If you feel anxious about the procedure, it’s likely that will rub off on them. If you feel comfortable with it, it will help them get comfortable too. If you struggle with this, try saying to yourself, “This is safe. This helps keep my child healthy.” 
  • Worry about your doctor’s feelings. Many of you may feel that telling your doctor “No, we’re not going to do that” is a big thing. I did. But your doctor is a medical professional, not a parenting professional and not the expert to your child. You can certainly advocate for your child, and trust your doctor to have an open conversation with you. 

This too shall pass.

It can feel so important, this one procedure, this one vaccine. It’s normal to have some anxiety over knowing that your child will feel some degree of pain or discomfort.

But this too shall pass. Practicing the above steps in the DO list will help your child. And in turn, it will help you feel more at ease with any medical appointments for years to come.


Check out other recent posts here:

5 Steps to Raise an Independent Child

6 Steps to Setting Limits with your Toddler

How to Help Your Child’s Anxiety