Eye Examinations Can Be Scary Events for Young Kids
Eye examinations are a crucial part of our healthcare routine. They can help spot diabetes before most other tests, and increase our ability to identify numerous cancers. And even though a child’s ability to see vastly impacts their ability to learn, still, taking a trip to the optometrist can be terrifying for young children, especially their first time to the doctor.
The American Optometrist Association recommends that a pediatric patient has their eyes examined at 6 months, 3 years, and again before first grade, returning annually (if correction is needed) or two years thereafter (if no correction is needed). Children will have an easier time if they are able to decode some of the mystery surrounding the exam and doctor. Here are some steps that parents and caretakers can take to prepare so their visit to the eye doctor for a routine examination is as successful and painless as possible.
Practice the Eye Examination With the Child Beforehand
Inform the child that the doctor will be asking them to identify letters or shapes. Reassure this has nothing to do with testing intelligence, only eyesight—some older children may be afraid of “failing” the test.
Try practicing with homemade cards and ask the child to read them to you. If the child cannot read yet, they will be asked to identify common pictures, such as a house, square or circle. It can also be helpful to practice using eye drops or looking into the child’s eyes with a small light. The more comfortable they can get with the tests, the smoother the visit will go.
Talk to the Child Before the Eye Exam
Explain things by using vocabulary appropriate for the child’s age, and talk to them about what they are going to encounter at the eye doctor visit. This includes:
- Identifying shapes or letters
- Shining a light in their eyes
- Identifying colors
- Eye drops / dilation
Many children are afraid of a word like “dilation,” and are unsure what it means. Comfort them by clarifying what the experience of the eye exam will be like. The doctor will put a few drops in their eyes, which may sting a tiny bit, but will only last a few seconds. Their eyes may have a hard time focusing afterwards, but this will go away in a few hours.
Be Prepared to Entertain While at the Eye Doctor
There may be a short wait in the lobby, especially if you arrive early. It is always helpful to bring something for the child to play with during that time. Also, if the child’s eyes must be dilated, the drops can take about 20 minutes to become fully effective. Since the scariest part is often the eye drops, it could be comforting for the child to have a toy or story that can be read to them as they wait to finish the exam.
Try to remain calm before and during the appointment. No part of it should cause the child any pain, and they will frequently look to their guardian for reassurance. Instead, try to frame the experience as an exciting time with the doctor. Identifying and correcting optometric issues can improve many aspects of a child’s development.