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Preparing for Your Child’s First Appointment

Parents and children alike can be nervous before the first appointment with a clinician. While this anxiety is normal, knowing what to expect and preparing what you’d like to say ahead of time can help you feel more confident and make the appointment go more smoothly.

Prepare your child

Kids experience less anxiety when they know what to expect from their first appointment. You could say something like: “We’re going to talk to a doctor about how you’re feeling, thinking and behaving to make life better for you. This doctor is going to help us. They might ask us both some questions about how we’re doing.” If your child is having learning issues, you might say that the clinician will help determine how they learn best. Of course, what you say will depend on your child’s age, maturity and temperament. Consider calling ahead to ask your child’s new clinician if they have any pointers for how to handle this discussion. Hearing how the clinician would describe the first appointment can help parents feel more comfortable, too.

Kids sometimes have some specific worries about seeing a clinician. For example, if they are afraid of shots, they might be worried that they’ll get one (and you can reassure them that, in this case, they won’t).

Other kids might think they are seeing a clinician as punishment because they did something wrong or because you are mad at them. Reassure your child this is not the case. It might help to focus the conversation on their priorities. Are they having trouble with homework or making friends? This doctor can help with that.

Plan how you’ll describe your concerns

Before your first appointment take some time to think about how to describe your child’s behaviors that are concerning you. The clearer you can be about your concerns, the easier it will be to discuss them. Consider jotting down some notes in advance to help you stay focused in your appointment.

One good way to share your concerns is to try to pinpoint and if possible quantify what you are seeing at home. Pick specific behaviors and describe their frequency, intensity and duration. For example, you might note that your child has serious tantrums several times a week that last for half an hour. This gives clinicians a clearer picture.

Telling a story about your child’s behavior can also help. For example, instead of saying that your child has meltdowns, talk about a recent occasion when they had a meltdown and include a lot of detail about what it looked like.

Good clinicians will also want to know about your child’s background. Come prepared to discuss:

  • What your child was like before you became concerned
  • What has helped and what hasn’t
  • Any relevant family background
  • Any recent stressors or events that your child may have struggled with, like a death in the family or starting at a new school

Answering your questions about treatment

If your child is starting on a course of treatment, make sure you understand what the goals of that treatment are and what treatment will look like. You want to find out sooner rather than later if a clinician’s proposed treatment matches what you are hoping to achieve. Being clear about this up front will help avoid misunderstandings later.

Bring a list of questions you want to make sure are answered. Here are some examples:

  • What are the specific goals of treatment?
  • If it is a therapy, what is the name of the therapy and what is the thinking behind it? What will happen during sessions?
  • If it is a medication, what is the name of the medication and how does the clinician establish the correct dosage? What are the possible side effects?
  • How long is treatment expected to take?
  • How soon can you expect to see progress?
  • How will progress be measured?
  • How are parents involved in treatment?

While you are getting on the same page about treatment, it’s also a good idea to settle some basic logistics. Ask:

  • What you will (and won’t) be billed for
  • How quickly the clinician will return calls
  • What merits a heads-up call before an appointment
  • For an older child, how much of their treatment will be confidential? What can you expect to hear?

Don’t be afraid to speak up

If you feel worried about something, be honest about your concerns. Your child’s clinician may be able to offer more information that will reassure you. Alternatively, if you can predict an obstacle to the treatment plan, knowing that obstacle up front can help your clinician adjust the treatment plan accordingly. Being as transparent as possible before treatment begins sets you and your child on the right path.

If you feel like your child’s clinician isn’t taking your concerns seriously, that is a major red flag. Finding a professional you and your child can trust is important and (in the case of many therapies) crucial for success.

Return to Connect to Care for more information about getting kids help.