How to Ease Children's Anxiety at Their First Appointment

For many patients, especially young ones, taking a trip to the eye doctor can be very intimidating. Many children are apprehensive because they aren’t sure what to expect and may be reluctant to cooperate with your staff.

Examining a young patient that is anxious can be very difficult and make the process even more challenging. There’s a possibility that the situation may become emotionally stressful for the child when you are providing care, and sometimes even the parents of the child are not sure how to calm them. The whole situation can become a little… chaotic.

It’s important to remain level headed and make the child feel as comfortable as possible in your office. In order to make your appointments with children go smoothly, check out these tips for how to ease anxiety at their first eye care appointment.

Tip #1: Remain calm (even when things get tense)

Children are very observant and many times they will feed off of your energy. When someone is anxious, you can often sense it through their body language or how they speak.

When you are giving an eye exam to a younger patient that is acting out because they are scared, it can be easy to become agitated. But, if the child sees that you are becoming irritable, it may escalate the situation. The parents may also become frazzled and become problematic as well.

When you are feeling frustrated, keep your composure and remember the child is behaving this way because they are frightened. As an eye care professional, you should be completely calm and speak confidently to the patient and their parent.

This way, you are able to complete the examination or therapy session and gain the trust of both the child and their guardian.

Tip #2: Give a tour of the office and talk through the process

When your first-time patient arrives, even if you can’t tell that they’re nervous, offer a tour of your office before you begin your examination. This will help the child get familiar with the environment along with the process of checking their eyes.

Allow them to also get familiar with the tools you use as well. What exactly will you be using during the appointment and what does each thing do? Don’t just talk to the parent, make sure you acknowledge the child because they are the ones feeling anxious. And don’t hesitate to use the technical terms for each tool. Kids do not need made-up words for different tools and may actually be more interested in hearing exactly what the tool is called versus a nickname. 

You can also create a checklist of everything you will be using for each of you and as you go through the process, check those things off the list together. The checklist will create a more interactive experience and create a game out of their appointment.

Communicate with the child and clearly state that everything will be okay and that there’s nothing to be afraid of. This will help them to become more comfortable with you and the new space.

Tip #3: Practice Empathy

When you were a child, did you ever feel scared you were to be in a strange place with strange people? Who were they anyway? Why did they have to pat your head so much? That’s how many children may feel coming into a new doctor’s office.

It’s imperative that you empathize with them and understand the fear they’re experiencing. Don’t just disregard their feelings and try to rush through the appointment to get it over with.

If this is their first time at the eye doctor, then you want to create a good experience for them so that they don’t feel nearly as anxious at their next appointment.

Tip #4: Distract Them

Ah, the power of distraction. Here, hold onto this toy for good luck! Whoa, is that Superman on your shirt? He’s my favorite! Did you know each kid who completes their exam gets a toy from the treasure chest?
Sometimes all you have to do to calm your little patient’s nerves is talk to them about things that are a bit more fun than their appointment might be. Ask them about their favorite cartoon, toy, or subject in school. Tell a silly joke that makes them laugh or promise them a treat at the end of their appointment.

Engage with them and encourage conversation to take their minds off of what you’re actually doing. The more they talk to you, the less they’ll focus on how fearful they are about the appointment. And honestly, this tactic can be great for anxious adults, too!

Tip #5: Offer a Treat

After you’ve completed everything, offer up a treat to the child for being so brave and making it through the entire appointment. This is your opportunity to get creative. If you’re not sure what to do, you could:

  • Have a treasure chest full of toys to choose from
  • Give a lollipop (with permission from the parent beforehand)
  • Let them choose from a sticker book

Think of other things that children may enjoy receiving as a reward. They’ll be so happy they received a treat after their eye care appointment that they’ll be excited for the next time they see you.

After the parents see how well you handled dealing with their anxious child, they’ll be inclined to come back to your office.

Patient Retention

Learning how to ease child anxiety at your practice is important because you will almost certainly work with a young patient at some point in your career. You should be prepared to keep the situation under control so you, the child, and the parent will be satisfied with the visit.

When the parent is satisfied, this encourages them to book a second appointment with you and in turn, increase your patient retention.
As long as you remember to put yourselves in the child’s shoes and try to understand their emotions, it will make the experience much more pleasant for everyone involved.

Learn more about patient retention with these articles…

Client Retention Strategies That Work
Top 6 Ways to Engage With Your Patients and Take Your Relationship To The Next Level
7 Tips to Build Patient Loyalty
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