If you are a parent, you probably know how hard it can be to make a child cooperate during an eye exam. For most little ones, eye exams are scary. So the sight of children screaming and causing havoc in the eye doctor's office is unreasonable but quite common. Especially when the eye exam concerns an existing eye problem or the child already experiences eye pain or discomfort.
Screaming, kicking, crying - that's a typical reaction considering the stress they might experience from the unknown or at the sight of the "scary doctor" in white clothes. The thought of your child squirming or resisting like that can be daunting. It's only normal to be anxious that they could cause a scene and not even allow the eye doctor to get close or do the exam. But with the right approach, you might be able to ease their anxiety.
Today, we share with you tips for encouraging cooperation during pediatric eye exams. Because you need to put your child's vision first. Routine eye exams can avert a lot of vision trouble in the future, so as a parent, you have to make visits to the eye doctor less intimidating.
Understanding the Root of Children's Fear of Doctors
Children's fear of doctors is a widespread phenomenon. Here's what the statistics say:
According to a child health survey by the University of Michigan Health, "fear of the doctor" is prevalent among children aged 2-3 years, with 66% of parents citing as a concern "getting a shot". Followed by "anxiety about strangers", reported by 43% of toddler parents.
For children aged 4-5 years, 89% of parents identified receiving injections as the primary reason to hate doctor visits. "Anxiety about strangers", although less prominent in this age group, still affects 14% of children. While "unpleasant memories of illness" contribute to the fear in 13% of cases.
Read the full survey report here: Educate or Placate When Young Child is Afraid of Doctor’s Visits?
Medical professionals are intimidating to younger kids. Particularly when they are meeting a doctor for the first time. All they see is a stranger in a white uniform who looks like they are giving injections. And that stranger is trying to examine them with scary unfamiliar objects (medical tools).
What's contributing to the fear even more is children often don't understand the words their parents and doctors use. Unknown terms may cause some kids to worry, for example, that they might need surgery, stay in the hospital, or "worse" - get injections.
Such uncertainties and anxieties impact a child's healthcare experiences negatively.
The fear can make it difficult for medical staff to perform check-ups or treatments effectively. At the same time, when their child is upset, parents may find it harder to concentrate on what the doctor says during the appointment.
If children continue to fear doctors over time, they might avoid seeking medical help when they really need it, worsening their health problems in the long run.
How to Make Eye Exams Fun and Stress-Free for Children?
If you have a pediatric eye exam coming up and want to help your child overcome their fear of the eye doctor, check out these tips:
1. Start with Eye Exams Early
Introduce the concept of eye examinations to your child at an early age. Emphasize the importance of taking care of their eyes, just like visiting the pediatrician or dentist.
Caregivers need to explain to their little ones there's nothing to worry about. Use age-appropriate books, videos, or role-playing games to familiarize your child with the process of visiting the eye doctor.
Not sure when to start with the pediatric eye checkups? Check out the recommended vision screening schedule for children.
2. Lead by Example
Accompany your child during their eye exam and demonstrate calm and cooperative behavior yourself. A good idea is to ask the doctor to do a quick pretend-exam on you, so the child can see it's not scary.
Avoid expressing anxiety or fear in front of your child. They pick up on emotions very quickly and may become more anxious themselves.
3. Explain the Procedure
You can familiarize yourself with what to expect during a pediatric eye exam, so it would be easier to explain to your child. Take the time to tell them about each step of the screening in simple, understandable terms, using age-appropriate language.
Visual aids or demonstrations are great to illustrate what will happen during the eye exam. For example, showing them the equipment or letting them try on a pair of child-friendly glasses.
With little children, it's easiest to explain the procedure using their toys.
Play together with their puppets or stuffed animals and act out a short skit or puppet show about visiting the eye doctor. Use the puppets to demonstrate the examination process in a lighthearted and playful manner, with plenty of humor and interaction.
4. Be Positive and Reassuring
Maintain a calm and positive attitude when discussing the eye exam with your child. Tell them how it's just a routine check-up to keep their eyes healthy and that you also go to the eye doctor all the time (even if you don't). This type of reassurance can shift the child's negative predisposition.
Remember to also offer reassurance and praise throughout the examination. That way, you can reinforce your child's cooperation and bravery. If you like to spoil your kids, you can even tell them you are proud and will reward them for their good behavior.
During the vision screening, stay close to your kid or even hold their hand if they need you to. It will foster a secure and safe environment.
5. Normalize Talk about Doctors
As we mentioned earlier, little children have a literal fear of the doctor. One way to make an eye care professional a more positive character in a kid's mind is to familiarize them.
Tell stories and portray them as these amazing heroes saving vision! And even make harmless jokes about their serious attitude, white coats, or medical instruments.
6. Make the Eye Exam Fun
Turn the doctor's visit into a game or adventure to make it more enjoyable for your child. Bring along their favorite toy or stuffed animal to serve as a comforting companion during the examination. You can also offer small rewards or incentives for good behavior, such as stickers or a special treat after the appointment.
If your kid is imaginative and creative, encourage roleplay. Your child could role-play as a brave explorer or superhero on a mission to protect their eyes. Use imaginative storytelling to weave the examination into their heroic quest, where they must pass various eye tests to unlock hidden treasures or save the day.
You can also sing songs related to eye health to capture your child's attention and keep them entertained before and during the examination. If you don't know any vision care songs, you can adapt familiar nursery rhymes with a visual twist.
By incorporating fun and creative activities into the eye exam process, parents create a positive and memorable experience that promotes good eye health habits for life.
7. Choose a Child-Friendly Eye Doctor
This is a very essential tip for parents with restless or anxious children!
Don't just go to the first ophthalmologist or optometrist you find. Not every eye doctor knows how to talk to or handle a resisting or squirming child. The one you go to should have patience, and understanding to be able to persuade even nervous or reluctant kids to cooperate.
Your best bet is to select an eye care professional who specializes in pediatric eye problems and has experience working with children. Feel free to research and read reviews of other parents.
Look for an office environment that is child-friendly and welcoming. Examination rooms filled with colorful decor, toys, and books help distract and entertain your child during the eye checkup.
8. Remove Any "Threats" About Doctors
Many parents make the (unconscious) mistake of inducing a doctor fear in their children. In no case should you threaten your kid to take him to the doctor for misbehaving.
Even in tense situations, threats about doctors, injections, and yucky medicine, can have severe and long-lasting consequences. Like your child going feral in the doctor's office while the other patients and the staff are silently side-eyeing you.
9. Practice Relaxation Techniques
Teach your child simple relaxation techniques. Deep breathing or visualization may help them stay calm and focused during the examination. Practice these techniques together at home before the eye doctor's appointment. That's a wonderful way to build their confidence.
10. Respect Your Child's Feelings
Validate your child's feelings and concerns about the eye exam. Reassure them that it's okay to feel nervous or scared. Especially if they are in distress or pain already due to an eye problem. Offer comfort and support as needed, and be patient if they need time to warm up to the idea of the examination.
We hope these tips for making eye exams easier and stress-free for children were helpful! Read more about eye health in our ophthalmology blog.