How to Prepare Your Little One for an Eye Exam

By Kathryn Trudeau

Did you know August is National Eye Exam Month? According to the American Optometric Association, your little one should have his or her first comprehensive eye exam around six months of age. If no problems are suspected, your child’s next exam should be around three years of age and then again around five years of age (or whenever he enters Kindergarten).

However, if you do suspect a problem with your child’s vision, it’s always a good idea to schedule an appointment with the eye doctor regardless of how old your child is. Whether you suspect an issue or would just like to take advantage of preventive care, there are a few things you can do to prepare your little one for an eye exam.

Do Your Homework

Before you even get to your child’s eye exam, you will have to do a little investigative work. First, do you need an ophthalmologist or an optometrist?

  • An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor aka an eye doctor. These doctors can perform eye exams, dispense contacts, get you set up with glasses, but they can also diagnose and treat a wide range of eye diseases. They can also perform eye surgery. If you have special eye needs, this is the type of provider you probably want to see.
  • An optometrist is a medical care provider that provides vision care, meaning this person tests your vision and helps you get set up with glasses or contacts. American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus explains,"Optometrists are licensed to practice optometry, which primarily involves performing eye exams and vision tests, prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, detecting certain eye abnormalities, and prescribing medications for certain eye diseases."

Some ophthalmologists and optometrists can specialize in certain areas of care including pediatric eye care. When choosing an eye doctor, look for a practice that is family-friendly. 

Play Make-Believe

Before doing anything new, especially going to a new doctor for the first time, it’s normal for a child to feel overwhelmed. Visiting a new doctor is scary because it falls under the category of “fear of the unknown”. But a little good ol’ fashioned make-believe can help your child feel more comfortable at his or her first eye exam.

  • Get out a few stuffed animals and play eye doctor! Have one stuffed animal play the part of the eye doctor and have your child’s stuffed animal play the part of the patient. As your child's doll/stuffed animal undergoes the exam, you can narrate all of the parts of the eye exam. Hint: This will work the best with puppets!
  • If your child has a doctor dress-up set, the two of you can act out the exam.

Use Multi-Media

Does your child love stories and TV shows? Use this as a way to acclimate your child to the idea of an eye exam.

  • PBS shows including Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger have segments dedicated to eye exams
  • Books including Dr. Seuss’ The Eye Book can help prepare kids
  • Encyclopedia pictures of the eye so you child can learn about the various parts of the eye

Take a Virtual Tour

If your eye doctor has a website, take your child on a virtual tour of the office. If not, you can simply run a quick Google image search and point out the different equipment that your child will see during his or her appointment. Try these phrases in a Google image search:

  • Phoropter eye exam
  • Tonometry test
  • Eye chart
  • Eye test with letters

What to Do About That Dreaded Air Poof

One of the scariest parts of an eye exam is the tonometry test. You probably might know this test by another name: the air puff test. Even for grown adults, this test can be a real … annoyance. But it is an important test! It measures the pressure in your eye and can catch warning signs of glaucoma, one of the top causes of blindness.

Here are a few tips for helping your child make it through this test:

  • Explain the test: Keeping it as a surprise won’t work because the technician will have to do the test twice - once for each eye. So while the surprise method may work for the first eye, it definitely won’t work for the second eye. Instead, explain the test simply: “a puff of air that helps the doctor make sure your eye is healthy.” You could even say “wind” if you think your child will take to that term better.
  • Hold their hand: This goes a long way in helping them feel safe.
  • Talk to them during the test: This can help distract them from thinking about the air puff. Tell a story, ask them questions about their day, or talk about fun things the two of you can do later.
  • Play: Make it a game - who can keep their eyes wide open the longest? Add an incentive to winning the game such as the winner gets to pick the lunch spot.

Give Your Child Plenty of Choices

If your child needs glasses, he or she will likely have plenty of options. Experts have shared that children are more likely to wear their glasses if they pick them out. You can make the process easier for your child by pre-selecting a few glasses in your price range and letting your child pick any pair that he wants from that group.

If your child is young and not too thrilled about glasses, trying getting a pair of glasses from Build-a-Bear for his stuffed animals at home. It may make the process easier for a young child. Plus, how cute is it to match your teddy bear?

What about you?

What has worked for you? How have you made trips to the eye doctor easier on your child? We’d love to hear your tips!


Kathryn is a self-proclaimed book nerd who has a passion for natural parenting and writing. As a homeschooling mother of two, Kathryn understands the dynamics of a busy family life. She is the founder of the Cor Domum movement, a mission that guides families through life so that they can parent with joy. Read more at 

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