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What if my Child is Afraid of Going to the Doctor?

One of the troubling dilemmas a parent might deal with is the question of whether talking to their child about what will happen at the doctor’s office in the days before will just build more anxiety, or if it will help prepare them to be less afraid. While it can be detrimental to dwell on the worries of visiting the doctor before going, it can also be quite problematic if a child is brought to the doctor by surprise, or lied to about where they are going.  Several experts share the following advice on how to prepare your child for a doctor visit, without stressing them out even more.

  • One of the most important things parents can do is to be calm themselves. If a parent is anxious at the doctor, the child will get his cues from the parent and also be afraid. Find ways to deal with the apprehension you may have about your child’s doctor experience. Try not to let your child see these feelings.
  • Tell your child about the appointment a couple days in advance. Karen Stephens, director of Illinois State University Child Care Center, says, “A week’s notice is too long for young kids, because they forget easily, and a week gives school-age children too much time to fret and worry.”
  • Be very honest, but positive. Dr. Lindenberg, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center advises, “Never lie to a child and never make promises that may be broken during a visit. For example, you shouldn’t promise that a visit to the doctor won’t hurt, because there may be immunizations or blood draws. What you can say is, “I don’t know if you will get a shot this time. If you do, it will be over very quickly and will probably feel like a pinch.”
  • Fears can be eased by helping a young child become familiar with the experience of a trip to the doctor office. You might consider letting them perform role plays with toy doctor equipment at home, observing the doctor visits of older siblings, reading helpful books about visiting the doctor, and briefly going over what to expect when you are there. During these activities, take a chance to explain some of the equipment that the doctor uses. The Fred Rogers website has a video about going to the doctor from the Mister Rogers television show that may appeal to little ones and ease their concerns at
  • “Research has shown that children who sit on a parent’s lap (rather than away from their parent on a table) while receiving a shot or medicine show less anxiety. (Probably because they feel more safe and secure)” (Stephens, K., 2007).
  • Make the trip a special and fun occasion. Allow your child to bring a special blanket or stuffed animal with them if it helps them to feel comforted. Avoid using bribes for children to behave, but it is helpful to make it a fun occasion by having a special activity afterwards or going for ice cream on the way home. Dr. Benjamin Kligler, an Associate Medical Director in New York City, says, “Instead of bribing or threatening a young child into going to the doctor, ask him what fun thing he would like to do afterwards. Use this as an incentive, rather than a reward for good behavior, because it’s normal for young kids to get upset during the visit.

One of the frustrating things about raising children is not being able to control the influences that come into their lives, sometimes creating false perceptions of the world. A child’s fear about going to the doctor is usually partially based on their observations of other’s reactions. An older sibling or neighbor might talk about being scared to get a shot at the doctor, and voila! Your younger child is likely going to be afraid too. Besides the influence of others, visiting the doctor is naturally a frightening experience for a child, especially on the first visit (at least the first visit they actually remember, that is).

Vaccines are often a cause of concern for kids and parents because they hurt and parents often don’t understand why it’s best that their children receive them. If you’re a parent with concerns regarding immunizations, click to view the ACPeds handouts on the Origin and Production of Vacciness in the United States and the Human Papillomavirus Vaccine.

For some more helpful tips and ideas on quelling your child’s fears (and any of your own) about doctor visits, view the following resources:

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Improving Your Toddler’s Aggressive Behavior

Toddlers are at quite the exciting stage of life! They are grasping the power of language, can navigate around more proficiently, and are realizing that they can make their own choices and exert their own influence on the world around them. Additionally, around age two, many toddlers hit the peak in the number of acts of physical aggression towards others (1). The sweet, cherub-cheeked little girl can shock her parents with a startling bite on the arm, during a sudden outburst from experiencing a disappointment.

Parents often struggle to understand how to stop the biting, hitting, kicking, and scratching that their toddler seems to be resorting to more and more. Its stressful for the whole family, hurts badly despite your child’s small size, and can be quite embarrassing right in the middle of the grocery store!

There are multiple possible reasons for a child’s aggressive actions, including fear, frustration, feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, jealousy, anger, and un-obtained wants. They feel completely out of control, and most likely do not want to harm their friends or family members. For toddlers, aggression sometimes results because they are unable to communicate their wants and needs verbally.

Claire Lerner, a licensed clinical social worker and child development specialist, wrote an article entitled “Aggressive Behavior in Toddlers.” About aggression, she counsels that, “Toddlers also don’t have the self-control to stop themselves from acting on their feelings. They are just beginning to develop empathy—the ability to understand how others feel. So, they cannot yet say, Mommy, I am mad that Zachary grabbed my favorite doll. But I know he just wants to play with me. So how about I offer him a different doll to play with? Instead, your toddler may bop Zachary on the head with a toy truck.”

For parents, it is very easy to feel angry when your child reacts aggressively. It can be very hurtful and confusing. According to Lerner, “Parents often expect that as their older toddlers become more and more verbal and advanced in their thinking skills, they are capable of more self-control than they really are. This stage of development can be very confusing because while your 2 ½-year-old may be able to tell you what the rule is, she still does not have the impulse control to stop herself from doing something she desires. At this age, emotions still trump thinking skills almost every time.”

Lerner recommends three general steps for managing a young child’s aggression. They are:

  • Observe and Learn. Consider what the underlying reasons for your child’s behavior could be. This might be a temporary occurrence with a playmate, or a deeper underlying issue. Also, watch for a pattern of common times and situations when the behavior happens. Also check yourself for how you respond and your ability to remain calm when the problems happen.
  • Respond to your child based on your best understanding of the behavior. It is most helpful to plan ahead for when aggression is likely to occur and take preventative measures. Distractions can be a good tool for helping your child avoid acting out. Help your child recognize his emotions and how he can cope more appropriately. Give your child an alternative where he can “channel his energy.”
  • Help your older toddler (2 ½ to 3), who is beginning to understand logic and rational thinking, learn from his actions. Guide your child in recognizing how her behavior affects others and herself and help her think about how they can act differently.

For the full article see:

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  1. Lerner, C. & Parlakian, R. (Feb. 1, 2016). Aggressive behavior in toddlers. Retrieved from
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Benefits of “Baby Talk”: Infant Language Stimulation

When a new baby is around a group of adults, chances are that you will hear many people launch into an animated, high-pitched voice and make silly sounds that would be quite amusing out of context. It just so happens that this type of silly communication we use in fawning over babies is helpful to their learning. Sometimes referred to as “mother-ese” or even “baby talk”,

Infant-Directed Speech is the speaking style that adults often use to speak to their babies in a certain voice register, with exaggerated pronunciation of syllables, and a slower pace. 

This is something that most parents all over the world seem to naturally do, but research consistently proves that this manner of talking is beneficial for your young child’s language development. Babies’ brains are primed for the fast accumulation of words and language comprehension, but they need adults to talk to them and around them for them to learn. Experts say that babies need to hear a word about 500 times before they say them! (Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 2015). Infant-directed speech is a way that adults make learning words and sounds a little easier.

  • Several studies have found results showing that babies will pay attention longer to an adult using infant-directed speech than to adult-directed speech (Spinelli, 2017).
  • Brain scans on infants revealed higher amounts of brain activity for babies listening to infant-directed speech, than for normal speech (Naoi, 2012).
  • Further research on infant-directed speech has found that children who were exposed to more infant-directed speech at age 1, tend to have a larger vocabulary at age 2 than children who were exposed to less. (Ramirez, 2014).

Note: Once children are above the age of 3, they benefit more from being spoken to in a normal tone of voice. They can recognize what “baby talk” is and don’t benefit from knowing that they are being spoken to like a baby- they want to feel big! Additionally, as they are already developing language acquisition, they learn from observing your modeling of how to talk and communicate in the proper way. Avoid using incorrect terms for things, like mimicking how they say “basketti” instead of “spaghetti” (even if it is absolutely adorable) so you can help them hear the correct word.

Tips for Helping Your Infant or Toddler Develop Language

  • Use “self-talk.” Narrate your day to day activities for your child as you go. It may seem funny to talk to your child before they can answer back, but they are listening! For example, say “Now I’m getting a new diaper!” during diaper changing, or “I’m cooking soup for dinner!” in the kitchen. They need to hear the different sounds of speech and associate words you say with what they see you do. Children typically learn language comprehension at a faster rate than they learn language production. They may understand a lot more than they can say. Some research shows that babies can understand many words at 7 months old and “practice them in their brains” (Shere, 2014).
  • Label what a child is doing and objects of interest for them. This is called “parallel talk”. For example, say, “You found the ball!”, when they reach for the ball. Use simple phrases for actions, such as saying “coats on!” when getting ready to go outside. (Walker & Bigelow, 2012).
  • For children under age 1, you can talk to them often and repeat simple sounds for them, letting them watch your mouth as you do. Repeating sounds such as “ba ba ba ba” or “da da da da da” breaks down language into a much simpler form for them. This may come through imitating the sounds that your child makes.
  • Read books with your child, starting at a young age. Help them come to learn that books are wonderful and fun. Use thick, board books that are less breakable for young toddlers and let them handle them. They might want a certain story to be read over and over again!
  • Singing songs and teaching children nursery rhymes are valuable learning tools because of the repetition of sounds. Children can learn songs at a young age. Music can teach them vocabulary, rhyming, math, social skills, and other things!
  • Follow what a child seems interested in and talk about those things. They will learn more as you use words to contribute to what they are already playing or show responsiveness to. (Walker & Bigelow, 2012).
  • When a child begins to make one or two word phrases like “Dog!”. Expand their words by adding detail and sentence structure. Say, for example, “Yes, that’s grandpa’s dog! He is little!”

So how can you help your baby or toddler develop language skills at an appropriate pace?

Talk to them and talk a lot! The more you engage them in the use of language the more easily and quickly they will be soon be speaking to you.

For more information, see the following resources:

A quick and helpful video from licensed speech pathologist, Kimberly Scanlon, author of the book, My Toddler Talks.

For a helpful guide on promoting language development for your infant and toddler, see: –

Watch this video: for a guide on the developmental milestones in language during your baby’s first year of life.

Video on research from San Diego University about how a child’s early language comprehension affects their later development:


Albert Einstein College of Medicine. (Apr. 15, 2015). Developmental Milestones: Baby Talk from First Sounds to First Words. Retrieved from:

Skanlan, K. (Jun 26, 2013). Speech Therapy for Toddlers: 5 Great Tips! Retrieved from:

  1. Naoi, Y. Minagawa-Kawai, A. Kobayashi, K. Takeuchi, K. Nakamura, J. Yamamoto, S. Kojima. (2012). Cerebral responses to infant-directed speech and the effect of talker familiarity Neuroimage, 59(2), 1735–1744.
  2. Ramirez-Esparza, A. Garcia-Sierra, P.K. Kuhl. (2014). Look who’s talking: Speech style and social context in language input to infants are linked to concurrent and future speech development. Developmental Science, 17(6), 880–891

Shere, J. (Nov. 7, 2014). Baby talk. In A Moment of Science. Retrieved from:

Spinelli, M., Fasolo, M., & Mesman, J. (2017). Does prosody make the difference? A meta-analysis on relations between prosodic aspects of infant-directed speech and infant outcomes. Developmental Review, 441-18. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2016.12.001

Walker, D. & Bigelow, K. (2012). Strategies for Promoting Communication and Language of Infants and Toddlers. Juniper Gardens Children’s Project. Retrieved from:

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