4 Ways to Counter Kids’ Exam Anxiety

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The FINANCIAL — Doctors certainly don’t need a statistically valid sample size to prove it: Young children aren’t thrilled with doctors’ visits, and their ensuing fear can detract from parents’ interactions with the care team.

In a report recently released by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, half of surveyed parents said their child feared doctors’ visits, while 1 in 5 parents reported the resulting struggle to calm those anxieties made it difficult to concentrate on what the health care provider was saying.

The poll oriented toward general pediatrician visits where preventive care services such as immunizations drove most children’s fears (66 percent); however, the report primed insights that can help both patients and doctors of optometry ensure young children have an easier experience during their first eye exams.

Aside from shots, stranger anxiety was the next most-cited reason for children 2-3 and 4-5 years of age to fear doctors’ visits (43 and 14 percent, respectively), and that fear didn’t waver based on whether the child saw the same doctor or not each visit, the survey says. But, to parents’ credit, they tried numerous intervention tactics to calm frazzled nerves.

Most often, parents tried educating youngsters about doctors’ visits by talking about what will happen (61 percent), playing with a toy medical kit (26 percent) or reading a book/watching a show about doctors’ visits (23 percent) prior to the appointment. On the other hand, some parents tried placating their children either via a reward afterward (31 percent) or assuring children they wouldn’t get a shot (21 percent)-though authors point out the latter could backfire and worsen the child’s fear.

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Looking fear in the eye

It’s natural for young children to feel apprehensive toward doctors’ visits, especially when shots are involved. However, when it comes to their eye exam, children may not make a distinction between the optometrist’s or pediatrician’s office. Shots aren’t typical of pediatric eye exams, yet there are analogous anxiety drivers for children with which many doctors of optometry are familiar.

The entire patient experience, from the waiting room to the exam chair, caters specifically to her target patient group, infancy through age 13. There’s an arcade game in one corner and colorful, kid-friendly furniture in the other, while children receive a “Treasure Token” after exams to claim a prize. It’s all about creating a welcoming and comforting experience that puts children at ease.

That data is key. The first six years of a child’s life are crucial developmental years when youngsters are most susceptible to vision changes. Likewise, any unaddressed vision problems during this time can have an undue impact. But often, parents don’t know their child suffers from problematic vision until they enter school.

In fact, 1 in 5 preschoolers in the United States have vision problems, and by the time they enter school, 1 in 4 will need or wear corrective lenses, studies say. That’s why AOA recommends parents adhere to a frequency of their child’s eye care. The AOA’s evidence-based clinical practice guideline, Comprehensive Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination, recommends children be given comprehensive eye and vision exams at key milestones in their development:

Infants. A comprehensive baseline eye exam between 6 and 12 months, immediately following a critical period when the eye undergoes rapid and profound changes, and therefore is most vulnerable to interference with normal development.

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Preschoolers. At least one in-person, comprehensive eye exam between 3 and 5 years to prevent or diagnose any condition that may have long-term effects.

School-aged children. A comprehensive eye exam prior to entering first grade and annually thereafter.
Failure to address significant eye and vision conditions early may have long-term consequences on not only eye health but also educational attainment, professional opportunities and quality of life.

Parents: Click here to read more about how vision disorders can hinder kids’ development and school performance, and click here for helpful hints to ensure your child’s exam day goes smoothly.

4 ways to counter kids’ exam fears

Interested in expanding your practice to include pediatric care or simply searching for practice pearls that can help ease kids’ anxieties during an exam? Dr. Schuetz offers four tips that help her and her staff make the most of the available chair time with minimal fuss.

Communication, first and foremost; 

Throw pre-testing under the bus; 

Stretch the truth;

Consider changing it up.



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