Toddler Hell on Earth: How I Conquered My Kid’s Tantrums at the Doctor’s Office

Written by Dawn Yanek on March 28, 2017
toddler and the doctors

I don’t know about you, but when I became a mom, I thought it wasn’t possible for me to be embarrassed anymore.

I mean, personal modesty mostly went out the window with childbirth. And what little I had preserved was further chipped away by breastfeeding my first baby. It was totally obliterated with my second (baby needed to eat whenever and wherever we were with her big brother, even on super windy days when nursing covers refused to cooperate).

Then there’s personal hygiene. As you know, when you have a newborn, you’re pretty much covered in pee, poop, spit-up, and God knows what else in those first few months. What was that smell? Probably me.

And let’s not forget the occasional public meltdown caused by a late feeding or nap.

But this is all part of being a parent, right? Right. Nothing to see here, folks.

My toddler, the pediatrician, and the tantrums

What I wasn’t prepared for was the repeated horror and mortification of taking my baby to the doctor — or, more specifically, taking my toddler to the doctor.

When you have a baby, you expect him to cry when he gets poked, prodded, and probed. He’s used to being cuddled, tickled, and kissed. So, naturally, this horrible deviation from the norm is jarring, to say the least.

All you have to do is sweetly shush and soothe him and, if you’re breastfeeding, stick a boob in his mouth, and all is right with the world again. In fact, you’ll probably even exchange a knowing smile with the pediatrician: Babies! What can you do? And look how adorable he is, even when he’s screaming!

A toddler’s screams, however, are not that endearing.

No, instead of a sweet, easily appeased baby, you have a hell-on-wheels, feisty, opinionated, flailing child who doesn’t yet possess the words to express himself properly but who has lots of FEELINGS. Oh, and have I mentioned that toddlers also kick — hard?

I can’t even imagine what happens in this scenario when you have twins. Well, actually I can, and I think that moms of twins deserve actual medals because that sounds like some ninth level of hell torture right there.

But back to me and my one misbehaving child. As parents, we know that toddlers can’t really control themselves, that they’re all id (desire), that they’re still in their formative years and just learning how to act in the world.

But why are they doing this?! They should know better! We’re good parents, and we’ve taught them better.

And is it just me, or is that nice doctor suddenly completely judgmental? Maybe or maybe not, but it sure feels like it when you’re trying to get your toddler to sit still and STOP SCREAMING. What does your child think the doctor is going to do, hurt him and stab him with something sharp?

Oh, wait. Yes, that’s exactly what’s going to happen, and toddlers remember. Kids have a serious sense of self-preservation, which is actually great when you think about it. It doesn’t make the mortification any less in the moment. But it helps to remember this factoid later, when you’re curled up on the couch in the fetal position, binge-watching “This Is Us” and drowning your sorrows in Cheetos.

Reworking the doctor’s visit strategy

After one self-pitying episode, I had an epiphany: Why not make a trip to the doctor’s office fun? Yes, FUN. If I could somehow demystify the experience and put the power in the hands of my child, it could turn things around.

So, the next day, I stocked up on books about doctor’s visits. Pretty much every popular series has one (think: “Sesame Street,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” and “The Berenstain Bears”). If my toddler could see that his favorite characters went to the doctor and nothing bad happened, maybe he wouldn’t be so frightened.

It wasn’t enough, though. He needed something more tangible. So, I got him a toy doctor’s kit that we started playing with all the time. We alternated doctor/patient roles, and we had a whole waiting room filled with stuffed animal patients who would’ve totally sued us for malpractice if they’d been actual people. He loved it, and so did I, even if he was a little too enthusiastic about testing my reflexes (ouch).

I was feeling pretty confident but still a bit nervous by the time his next checkup rolled around. And at the last minute, I put the kit under the stroller and took it with us. That turned out to be the real key.

As he played doctor alongside the real doctor, his worries faded away. While the doctor examined him, my son listened to the doctor’s heartbeat with his own stethoscope. Then he looked in the doctor’s ears, pretended to give him a shot, put a bandage on him, and so on. It was adorable, but more to the point, it completely distracted him from what the doctor was actually doing.

Sure, he still cried a little when he got his shots, but it was nothing compared to the tortured wails of previous doctor’s appointments. Plus, the crying stopped pretty quickly as he was again distracted by playing doctor. Success!

Accepting you’re not a bad parent because your kid cries

After that, I could hold my head up high again when I went to the pediatrician’s office. I wasn’t a failure as a parent, and the doctor could finally see that. Yay, me!

I also realized that this was such a silly thing to be embarrassed about. After all, this was a toddler we were talking about. I vowed that I would never be embarrassed about a parenting issue again.

Um, yeah, that vow went out the window pretty quickly … once my son started speaking clearly in full, unfiltered, inappropriate, incriminating sentences. But it was nice while it lasted!

Does your toddler have a hard time going to the doctor? How do you handle it? Share your tips and tricks with me in the comments!


Dawn Yanek lives in New York City with her husband and their two very sweet, slightly crazy kids. Before becoming a mom, she was a magazine editor who regularly appeared on TV to discuss celebrity news, fashion, relationships, and pop culture. These days, she writes about the very real, relatable, and practical sides of parenting at momsanity.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

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