Eye exams can feel pretty uncomfortable for anyone, with the optometrist needing to get so close and breach our personal space. But for children this can feel overwhelming, so it’s a good idea to come up with a plan to help reduce their anxiety levels. Whether they need snacks, their comforter or a teddy, there are ways to make the exam a positive experience for your child.
Here are some ideas to help you reduce anxiety for your child during an eye exam.
Keep calm and communicate
Children with developmental and intellectual disabilities may find eye exams particularly distressing, especially if they’re unable to understand the importance of the exam. Similarly, for young children, it can be difficult to communicate what is going on and why they need to allow it to happen to them.
Don’t try to trick your child into cooperating or encourage the doctor to ‘go ahead’ whilst you restrain your child without any warning of what’s about to happen. Communication is always the best way to ease your child’s fears and anxieties. Even if they can’t fully understand your words, your calm and soothing tone of voice will work wonders to help them feel safe and reassured.
Make sure to have the nurse or optometrist introduce themselves to your child and ask for permission to enter their personal space. Ask them to explain what they are doing and keep the conversation light as they do so, with plenty of encouragement, praise and reassurance for your child. As they start to relax, you may find your child becomes curious and begins to ask questions about eyes and how the tools and equipment work.
Role play before the appointment
If you know your child is not going to appreciate having somebody look closely into their eyes, role play is a great way to reduce anxiety. Acting out the scenario at home with them prior to their appointment will help them to see that doctors and eye exams aren’t as scary as they may have imagined.
Take it in turns to be the doctor and use teddies or dolls to mimic the process. You could then see if your child can use a magnifying glass to look closely at your eyes, and let you do the same to them in return.
Watching videos of other children having eye exams is another good way to familiarise your child with the typical aesthetic of a hospital or opticians. If they have already seen positive scenarios of the eye exam process, plus they’ve seen similar tools and machines, they’re less likely to be frightened of them when it’s their turn.
Let them take items that bring them comfort
Most optometrists are quite laid back when it comes to children, so there’s usually no harm in them bringing a teddy to their eye exam. Children often form strong attachments to plush animals or teddies, which is actually a sign of positive emotional health. If your child is nervous about their eye exam, having the comfort of their non-judgemental, fluffy sidekick can make all the difference.
If you have a friendly optometrist, they may find that Teddy needs an eye exam too, or perhaps he needs glasses of his own. Shopping for bear-sized toy glasses is a fun activity to help your child feel less nervous about wearing their own glasses, if they need them.
Do what works for your child
At the end of the day, you know your child best. Try not to become anxious about the appointment yourself, as this will amplify your child’s worries. If you need to take sweets, crisps, a teddy or even sing a song to your child during their eye exam, don’t feel embarrassed to do so. By preparing your child for the process and staying calm, you’ll be able to help them have a successful and stress-free eye exam.