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Afraid of the Doctor

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: At age two my daughter was hospitalized for six days due to a gastrointestinal virus. Since then she is terrified of all doctors and dentists. During her last visit for a physical (age four), she screamed, spat, hit, bit and everything else to avoid having the doctor do even minor things such as hearing test, eye test, and counting teeth. The doctor even suggested counseling. Do you think this is something that she'll grow out of, or does she really need counseling?

A: The deep-seeded post-traumatic fears and anxieties she has lived with for two years clearly still affect her deeply. I have witnessed these same responses in children within my own extended family -- one was the result of an operation at age four, the other a child's fear of the water based on falling accidentally into a hotel swimming pool at age two. As the years have passed, both have been able to deal much better with the stimuli (medical settings and swimming pools) that they associate with their traumatic experiences. These traumas can not and should not be taken lightly. Let's not forget that at two she did not have the emotional language and sophistication to give voice to and work through her intense feelings surrounding this hospitalization.

I do believe that your daughter will grow out of the extreme reactions she now exhibits when in a medical setting, but she will do so on a timetable that cannot be rigidly imposed on her. I think she is old enough to benefit from working with a talented child therapist who has worked with kids similarly traumatized. Often therapists work with the child's medical caretakers as part of the therapy. My recommendation would be to see what professional help you could bring her.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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