This past week Mr. Boy reached a milestone of sorts: his first prescription medication! Nothing has made me feel more like an actual mom than having a bottle of that bubble gum flavored amoxicillin sitting in our fridge. As a kid I always looked forward to that stuff (as opposed to the yucky tasting penicillin), and with four siblings it seemed like we always had a bottle in the refrigerator for someone. We have been very fortunate with Mr. Boy so far. Although he had a bit of a rocky start with some digestive issues, he seems to have developed a stellar immune system (despite being *gasp* formula fed). His first fever ever was shortly before his first birthday, when he contracted the yucky, painful and bizarrely named Coxsackie virus. I was down for a few days recently with a sore throat and low-grade fever (courtesy of a visit to the pediatrician for Mr. Boy’s 18 month well visit, I believe), and I think Mr. Boy picked up the same thing. He developed a cough and was running a low-grade fever shortly after my symptoms appeared. I finally called the doctor’s office when it was clear he wasn’t getting any better, and the nurse recommended I bring him in. We discovered that he had his first ever ear infection, and it was a double. Fortunately we nabbed it early, and his ears never did get around to bothering him very much.
Being able to avoid the doctor’s office is certainly a blessing, but there is one downside. Since Mr. Boy has only seen the doctor for his checkups, he associates the doctor’s office with one thing: shots! The result is that he is absolutely terrified of the doctor’s office. As soon as we are in the exam room he becomes clingy and whiney. The nurse comes in, and the crying begins. He doesn’t like to lie on the exam table. He refuses even the painless things, like having his head circumference measured, or stepping on the scale. For some reason he is okay with having his ears examined (maybe because we have an ear thermometer at home), but he screams through everything else. He tells the nurse and doctor “bye!” and points at the door, expecting them to leave. Going to the doctor’s office is one of the few things that Mr. Boy is adamantly against. If you ask him “Do you want to go to the doctor’s” he will invariably answer “Ooooooohhhhh!” (noooooo!), shaking his head. He holds the same opinion of the dentist, for reasons unknown.
Mr. Boy has tended to be a bit shy around strangers, especially if he doesn’t have the opportunity to warm up to them on his own terms first. Over-enthusiastic people who are suddenly in his face, no matter how warm and caring they may be, have always rubbed him the wrong way. I think that’s a large part of the problem. Doctors and nurses come and go so quickly that he doesn’t really have a chance to get to know them…and it doesn’t help when they pull out the needles. The doctors and nurses assure me that this is normal; they said that 18 months is probably the worst time for doctor’s visits, and it may last until he is three. I don’t like my baby to be scared, though, so I have been trying to think of ways to make him more comfortable with doctor’s visits.
First, I bought a toy doctor’s kit by Fisher-Price. I remember playing with the same toys when I was young, and I thought Mr. Boy would enjoy them too (note that this set is not age appropriate for an 18-month-old, so we only allow him to play with it under close supervision, and put it away afterwards). He enjoyed playing with the set, especially the stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. I felt like it was a good deal for only about $12 and I know he’ll have fun with it as he gets older. We brought it to his most recent doctor’s appointment, but it didn’t work to allay his fears.
Next, we tried watching some videos on the computer. The Sesame Street website has a few, which are a bit outdated, but captured Mr. Boy’s attention and allowed me to wax nostalgic for a few minutes. He watched very intently and seemed to understand that he was watching other kids visit the doctor without being scared. I was optimistic that this would help.
When I became sick, I was in a bit of a pickle as I had nobody to watch Mr. Boy while I went to my appointment. The receptionist assured me that it was perfectly fine to bring him with me, and I thought that it would be a great opportunity for him to see that Mommy isn’t scared at the doctor’s office. He is very well behaved in public, and I didn’t think he would be afraid, as long as my doctor didn’t try to poke and prod him. Boy was I wrong! He started crying when he heard footsteps pass by the closed door of the exam room. When the doctor finally came in, Mr. Boy became completely unhinged. The doctor vanished for a second and returned with a toy car for Mr. Boy. This captured his attention and kept him quiet for a few minutes, until the doctor started talking and examining Mommy. My doctor had to do his best to check me out while I had a wriggling, screaming toddler on my lap. Needless to say, I didn’t get the same quality care that I usually enjoy. I felt embarassed, but the doctor assured me that as a father of four he completely understood.
The one thing I have not yet tried is books. Mr. Boy absolutely loves books, and they leave a lasting impression. In fact, I think the way he learned to associate “doctor” with “nooooooo” in the first place was from one of his favorite books, “No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”. Maybe some good story books with fun pictures will help him develop positive associations with the doctor’s office.
Have any of you had this problem? Did you find anything that helped calm your little one’s fears? Any good book recommendations? I am at a loss, and although I know that we will probably just have to wait this out, I really want to help Mr. Boy learn that doctors are there to help him, and be a little less afraid.