Any advice for toddler terrified of being touched by doctor?

Well my wife and my son’s pediatrician say he is just angry he isn’t getting his way, but I don’t believe that. Everything is fine until his pediatrician actually touches him, palpates his abdomen, uses a stethoscope, uses an otoscope, uses a tape measure to measure his head, basically any time she or an instrument comes in contact with him he is absolutely terrified. :frowning:

Its not vexation or faking either, I know when he is just vex and faking and this is total and pure terror shrieking like nothing else he ever does. Even though me and my wife are both right there and holding him(and restraining him) and talking to him he is just terrified and his face is red and tears are streaking down his cheek. For the steth and oto scopes I am holding him and she is doing the exams but he is still terrified when he feels her hand or the scopes, ditto for the tape measure. And for the ear thermometer even though it is over in seconds.

He also used to be terrified of the reclined bucket scale to take his weight, but I asked them to bring in an adult scale and by using it myself got him to actually want to stand on it(but only if me or my wife is holding his hands not the ped) he also absolutely hates the height calipers that are used with him laying down.

We bought a toy doctor set with a toy steth and stuff and thermometer but it has done no good, he isn’t afraid of the toy instruments or the real ones it is the stranger touching him I think.

Maybe I am just being a softy but his eyes are filled with terror and he is begging and pleading with me with his eyes and hands to stop her and pick him up even though I am with him the whole time. :frowning: This is real terror too and not a act.

Does anyone have any advice on this? I absolutely hate every single doctor visit.
*When he was first learning to walk he had an accident with a ridiculously sharp vase that was a gift, he got a cut on his forehead. My wife panicked and thought he needed stitches and her brother insisted we go to the public free hospital where I had to hold him down while a doctor in retrospect roughly cleaned his wound excessively. and in the end he didn’t get any stiches anyway! (we had cleaned and bandaged his wound at home) After that my son refused to acknowledge me or respond or even look at me for a day, it was very traumatic for us both and a real waste of time. I wonder if that is the source of his phobia of strangers or doctors touching him.

Is there someone else you can trust to be with him during exams? At this point, he’s probably picking up on your anxiety, despite your best efforts to hide it, and it’s making things worse.

Think about it for a second: if you go into work and your boss is looking worried but then plasters on a fake smile and pats you on the back a little too hard, it’s going to make you freak out a bit inside. Kids pick up on it when their parents are worried, and it feeds into his worry, validating his fear.

If you have a good friend or an aunt or someone who could be with the kid instead of you and mom, it might go a lot easier. Waiting in the waiting room during the physical might be a better place.

My wife took him in alone once but he actually got on so much worse that she called me to come and calm him down because he had worked himself up so much he vomited(she went alone with him and I was waiting at a burger joint around the corner to meet them when they were done) because she thought he would be fine without me there to plead to.

I agree kids pick up parental anxiety. I’m wondering what the Ped thinks of this behavior. Any odd behaviors at home? Maybe ask the doc if you should give the kid a benadryl pre- exam appointment?

Trust your gut. If your kid is terrified, he is terrified. It is one of the cruelties of growing up that things that adults don’t find horrifying or terrifying but you do, you’ll be belittled for, and your real emotion will be dismissed, mocked, or you’ll be told to ‘get over it’. But emotions are not under our control – not even as adults, when our experience and our developed rationality help us control our actions. Your boy has no such tools.

It sounds like he had a nightmarish experience (to him) previously and believes it will happen again. You will have to figure out a way to help him with this. If it was me, I would probably try to change as many of the parameters as you can – different pediatrician (perhaps a woman), who is understanding rather than dismissive, and is willing to work with him in a sympathetic way.

The ped says he is just angry he isn’t getting his way and being restrained, no odd behaviors at home in fact he will let us use the toy otoscope and he uses it on us too as play. She seems a bit dismissive but while I know she sees this stuff every day it does disturb me, I wish there was a way to get him more comfortable. She has never mentioned anything about giving him meds.

I’d suggest maybe a physician WITHOUT the white coat, in a waiting room with couches and toys and books. Honestly, even to an adult, an exam room has some pretty scary stuff in it!

This really needs to be addressed, because the kid could end up freaking out when he starts school, because of the unknown setting and people. I’d consider pediatric counseling.

The trauma of the older incident probably does contribute to his anxiety, and I’m sure he’s picking up on YOUR tension, but there might be something else you are missing.

i have seen where hospitals have teddy bear clinics. kids bring in their stuffed animal, they can tell a story and have that illness or injury treated, they help along with medical people. they might also do checkup stuff.

i haven’t gone through it, just saw feature story on local news. hospital people do this as volunteers on a certain dates. don’t know age cutoff and what lower age would be, maybe toddler might be too young.

Is seeing another paediatrician an option? My almost 2 year old smashed her front teeth in falling over in the bath, and we needed to consult a paediatric dentist several times before having them removed at 26 months. We ended up seeing 2 to get a second opinion. She was very happy with one of the dentists and completely uncooperative with the other. I actually disliked the one we ended up going with (too cutsey for me) but she made my daughter calm and that was the most important thing. Perhaps you need to find the doctor that has the right bedside manner for your kid.

NB: making this a non threatening experience was very important to us, as many people develop doctor or dentist phobias from a bad experience at a young age, and we didn’t want that to happen to her.

I second the suggestion of trying another doctor.

When our son needed some painful treatment for a skin condition, our pediatrician sent us to a dermatologist so our son wouldn’t associate pain with our pediatrician. The dermatologist laughed when we brought him in, and said that he gets kids all the time for this reason.

I think that your previous experience does have an influence on both you and your son. I think (and this is just another dad talking, certainly not a child expert), that it’s more significant that the experience was traumatic for you, rather than your son. Toddlers get freaked out all the time, but look to their parent to see if it’s OK or not. Even if they don’t stop crying, having the parent remain cool is very important for the child’s understanding of the situation.

There’s a few things that my wife can’t stand to let our kids cry, and consequently she gets a completely different response than I do.

The child needs a new pediatrician in my know-knothing opinion. One that will take his time and show the child what is going on. Perhaps by demonstrating on a teddy bear everything that is going to be done with the child participating. This can’t be rushed.

But these are the techniques of a trial lawyer. Probably won’t work with a kid.

It will probably work with a kid, but it may not work with the insurance. Or rather, whomever is paying the OP’s kid’s medical bills. To take the kind of time it would likely need is prohibitive for most doctors, because that’s paying appointment time you’re taking up. They can sometimes bill for a longer visit, but those are pretty closely tracked by diagnosis, and spending an hour with a toddler for a routine check-up is going to raise some fraud flags. While it may not be fraudulent, it’s likely to create difficulties for the doctor and staff in documenting and defending that appropriately. So they may say no, is what I’m trying to say.

It’s absolutely worth asking for, because yes, it’s probably the best way to go about changing the experience for the little guy.

I actually hadn’t thought about changing doctors, but of course that’s another solution. It may be that all this anxiety is tied up with this particular doctor, and another would be fine. I had a favorite doctor as a kid, and another I just couldn’t warm up to. I’m sure both were competent doctors, but “the curly haired doctor” could get me to agree to the worst ouchy procedures, while “the tall doctor” could barely touch me without setting off whining and sulkiness.

Kids have personality conflicts just like anyone else and for some reason that you will likely never discover you kid doesn’t like this doctor.

If there is an other one available in a reasonable distance within your insurance network see if they’re taking new patients. It will also be worth it to ask if they can take off the white coat for the first visit. Once he’s comfortable with the person the coat might be less scary.

If you otherwise like the doc you could try this with the existing one but the doctor dismissing his fear just bugs me so I think I would swap.

A pediatrician checking in.

I would not assume that the pediatrician is not taking plenty of time. Some kids get freaked out at the doctor’s office no matter what we do. For some reason the scale often does them in. Sure we try taking plenty of time, we examine to stuffed animal first, we try to get them to use our tools to examine the toy, and so on. But sometimes nothing works. And when charm fails brute force prevails; at that point we just get the exam done as fast as possible and retreat to across the room as quickly as we can.

Usually they calm right back down after that retreat and they are not seriously emotionally scarred.

Best you can do is to stay very calm and matter of fact yourself. “I understand this can be scary but it will be okay and I am here with you.” Hold firmly with a big hug so he does not jerk while his ears are getting looked at (which might hurt) or grab the equipment.

Good luck.

Do not medicate for this. (Benadryl might backfire anyway.)

Also, go to the library and get some books on going to the doctor. Maybe read them while holding the relevant parts of your toy doctor kit. Can’t hurt. Cheap therapy.

My daughter had to be restrained when anyone looked in her ears … until we switched to our current ENT. He’s great. Offered to look at her teddy bear’s ears first, etc.

I’d change peds, there has to be one in town who is able to help the kid calm down rather than blithely ignoring his feelings. Unless you’ve forgotten to mention it, it doesn’t seem like she’s trying very hard to calm him.

The Nephew has had a lot of bad experiences with doctors (at age 6, he’s already had surgery 3 times, the first time before he was 1yo); there was a period when he’d freak out whenever he heard the word “test” until someone thought of explaining that there are many kinds of tests and some hurt and some don’t, the one you’ll have on Monday doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t? No, it won’t hurt. How do I know you’re telling the truth? Well, Mommy is a doctor too, she can make like she was taking the same test the doctor will take on Monday, would you like her to do it so you can see it doesn’t hurt?
The steth was cold but ok, being steth’ed and temp-checked did not hurt. But on Monday, the doctor was told to make sure-sure-sure the round thing wasn’t cold, eh! and he said “you’re right, I often forget to make sure it isn’t cold. Let’s make sure it’s not” before warming it up and presenting it for The Nephew for inspection before actually using it.
There’s been other painful tests (blood drawn, catheters), but acknowledging that his fears were perfectly rational was the first step in helping him deal with them. Your current pediatrician is not doing that.

I would also consider finding a new pediatrician. It’s possible that your pediatrician’s personality just clashes with your child’s (as noted upthread). It also sucks that she’s dismissive. It sounds like your kid is genuinely fearful, and it’s too bad that she doesn’t accept that.

Another thing you might try is telling your kid exactly what’s going to happen before you go to the doctor. It might not help right now depending upon what age your toddler is (telling a 2 year old is pretty different from telling even an 18-month old), but it’s worth a shot.

Anecdotally, I tell my kids what’s going to happen, even if there’s going to be a shot. I don’t make a big deal about it but at least they know in advance so they won’t wonder why a stranger is grabbing and prodding them.

Maybe you can have the doctors give him a sedative?

I’m guessing he has PTSD from that slap on the ass when he was born…


Yes, how old is he and does he see many strangers?

I helped run my church nursery for six months, and basically all the 18-month-olds had this problem with strangers coming near. The only-children and the ones who had stay-at-home parents were particularly bad (the ones who went to daycare or who had multiple older siblings were usually better about it). By the time they turned two most of them had it worked out, but they’d also been regularly coming to the nursery once a week for six months by then.

I also have secret weapons: 1) the tree song (there’s a special song I sing to the Little One that’s kind of “our” special song, and which I sing to her in general to calm her down; when she hears that song she knows I’m going to be with her and that everything will be all right, and it almost always works to calm her down – but I started that from the day she was born, might be too late for you now), and 2) telling her exactly what’s going to happen seems to help, particularly estimating the duration (“We’ll count to ten and then we’ll be done with [whatever]”); and 3) the chocolate-covered raisin (“Okay, the doctor is going to look at your ears now, and then you will get a shot and there will be a little owie, and then mommy will give you a chocolate-covered raisin!”) She’s 2.5 now, so your mileage may certainly vary.

Also, I’m shocked the pediatrician would say your kid was angry about not getting his way. I mean, I see far fewer kids than I imagine the average pediatrician does, and I could tell you all sorts of stories about where that was definitely not the problem (and, okay, a couple of stories where it was the problem, but still).