(This post originally appeared here)

I don’t know many people that really enjoy going to the doctor. We all want to feel well and would like our bodies to be in tip-top shape. For men especially, it often seems like going to the doctor is admitting something is wrong or showing a sign of weakness. Kids pick up on our attitudes and feelings and have a natural aversion to things out of their normal routine so it is quite common to see kids afraid of going to the doctor.

One of the things our family has done to help take some of the “scary” out of going to the doctor is having a “doctor kit” at home that allows our son to pretend he is the one making people feel better. This is a terrific role-play activity that has a variety of benefits. First, kids get to think of themselves in a new role that may spark a desire to learn more about what it takes to become a doctor. It also allows kids to develop empathy. They ask their “patient” how they are feeling and what is hurting. They tell them “it’s ok, the shot won’t hurt too bad” and “afterwards you’ll get a sucker”. This encourages them to think beyond their own thoughts and feelings and try to find out how others might be feeling. Finally, this helps calm some of the fears and anxieties a child might have about going to the doctor. They get to pretend and play with things that they will see at the doctor so when it’s their turn to be the patient they’ve experienced it before. The more they play, the less scary it is when their doctor puts the stethoscope to their heart or looks into their ears and mouth. Shots may still be scary, but I’ve noticed that even shots with our son are less worrisome after he pretends to give shots us.

Regular doctor appointments for kids help ease a parent’s mind and make sure that anything out the of ordinary is caught quickly and can be dealt with before it becomes a major problem. Allowing a child to practice at home with their own “doctor kit” can help make this feel more normal and help the appointment go a little smoother. Who knows…maybe someday the pretend “doctor kit” will turn into a real one!

This is fatherhood…