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Waiting room with a toddler: Tips for long doctor appointments

Today we survived two hours in the waiting room with a toddler, and I about lost my marbles. As in, we almost left.  After waiting for 50 minutes with 3 kids under 5 in the first waiting area, I kind of stormed over to the check in asking how much longer it might be and why like 4 people had gone in before us that came in way after us.

While my oldest was content to zone out to the T.V., my two youngest were getting so stir crazy. We made it through, got their shots, and found some tricks that helped pass the time!

Tips for waiting at the doctor with a toddler and surviving long waiting room waits. What to bring, things to do from a mom of 3 under 5.

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Waiting room with a toddler and preschooler: What to bring with you

This time went much smoother than the last two visits because I was a bit more prepared. Don’t get me wrong, I was sweating it still and trying to keep my kids from laying on the germ filled floors and from opening the door. But, it did go a LOT better thanks to packing a few extras like:

  • Water, because when you are stuck somewhere for 2 hours everyone will be thirsty.
  • Crayons/Markers to color on the bed paper sheet.
  • Stickers or activity book
  • 1-2 snacks: We brought Teddy Grahams and Fig Bars.
  • Suckers. I always just snag the ones they have at the office.
  • A small blanket or coat if it’s cold. I can’t stand how long they have me keep him undressed while I wait for the doctor in the air conditioned room. For us it’s been around 30 minutes.

The last two visits to our doctor’s office have been for two kids’ well child visits where each of them gets shots. This has taken over 2 hours each time, between the general waiting room, being brought back to the patient room, waiting for the nurse to measure and weigh, waiting for the doctor, and then, waiting for the nurse to come back in for shots.


No matter how hard I try though, someone is always testy, whiney, begging to go, or way too loud. O well, working on it and it waiting with a toddler is inevitable so might as well learn some tricks to make it easier!

a toddler exploring the waiting room with blue walls before the doctor arrives.

If you have ever been stuck in a waiting room with a toddler for long, you know how stir crazy they get. Thankfully this guy could not yet reach the handle, although he did want to open all the drawers and climb on every surface.

Waiting activities with a toddler and preschooler

You probably only need to bring a couple “activities” and some markers for the paper roll on the table. I found they mostly wanted to just explore the room, touch everything, ask questions, snack, climb on the spinning chair, and ask “how much longer?” haha.

I like to have a couple tricks up my sleeve in case one doesn’t really capture their attention. Activities that capture my toddler and preschooler’s attention are:

  • Stacking cubes
  • A car to zoom on every surface they find
  • 1-2 books
  • Window Stickies (at the dollar store or craft store)
  • Melissa and Doug ColorBlast (reveals the pic underneath with an invisible ink marker and won’t color on walls or skin!)
  • Melissa and Doug Water Wows (reveals a pic using water, and even my 1.5 year old can do this)
  • Stickers, which can go on the paper that rolls on the bed, or on paper towel squares.
  • 4-5  Duplo blocks if your toddler can stack them. My 15 month old will concentrate for 10 minutes or so stacking them.
  • Playing I-Spy
  • Telling them what the doctor and nurse will be doing
  • Counting anything available, like squares on the floor, objects in the room, magazines on a table, fingers and toes…
  • Looking out the window
  • Playing “This little piggy went to market” with toddler toes.
  • Singing

P.S., all of these work really well on an airplane or car trip too!

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The waiting room when you first arrive

This is the best spot to let them get wiggles out before you get stuck in a small room. Stand up, peek out the windows, let them climb up and down a chair (my 1.5 year old’s favorite thing), and if you are lucky they might have a fish tank or toys (our new office doesn’t have either).

One thing you can almost always count on here is the T.V. being on. Plus they are not bored…yet! The downside is that it can feel like everyone is watching and listening to you or your kids, even if they don’t care at all. At least in the patient room you have privacy and it’s contained.

My 3 year old got bored (aka louder and crazier) after 20 minutes (she was not interested in T.V, magazines, or food at this point). I took out a sticker book thankfully she went to town putting them on magazines. They always have tons and usually they are months old anyways.

To keep my 17 month old from running off, I did have to basically just hold him the whole time and walk around while he squirmed and shrieked to get down. I did let him climb on all the chairs, which he loved.

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How we passed time waiting in the patient room with a toddler and preschoolersa mom holding her toddler while waiting to see the doctor, while a toddler spins on a chair in the waiting room

  1. The first thing my kids do is just explore everything in the room. I really don’t mind letting them push the chairs around, open drawers, and look at anything on the walls.
  2. I feel like the whole room is a germ fest so in some ways letting go of germaphobe tendencies (like snapping at your kids every time they touch something) will really lower your stress levels. Let go of the idea that your toddler and preschooler will not touch anything. I know, thats hard. And it’s a reason I have been known to postpone well child visits during flu season. We do wash hands when we leave and don’t eat food that falls on the floor.
  3. Snack time, more as something to keep them quiet and occupied.
  4. Color on the roll out paper. After that I pulled out some markers and told them to draw the doctor a picture on the bed paper cover. Someone gave me that tip a long time ago and all I can say is…why have a waiting 5 years to try it? They went to town!
  5. Tell them what everything is for like the patient bed and things in the cupboards. You can show them the wooden stick that the doctor puts on their tongue, the black otoscope covers used to check ears, gloves, and hand sanitizer or soap. Telling them what everything is for keeps their attention span a little and they learn stuff!
a 3 and 5 year old coloring with markers on the doctor's table waiting for the nurse to arrive.

Coloring the table was such a hit. Just bring a couple markers to give you 10 minutes of quiet if you have older kids.

How to get a shorter wait time

If you get the first appointment of the day or first after lunch, you will have almost no wait time in the general waiting room (this takes scheduling months in advance). This would have saved us about 50 minutes in the waiting room with a toddler! Grrr, next time.

Talk about the visit before you go

This is super helpful! Since my husband is a resident doctor it’s fun to let the kids play doctor with his stethoscope, but it would be just as easy to buy a little doctor set to have at home. That way they can act out some of the things that will be happening like checking the eyes, ears, and mouth.
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Explain what’s happening next

My 3 and 5 year old really wanted to know what we were waiting on. So after every step, I ended up explaining in detail what was coming next, and what the doctor and nurses were probably doing while we were waiting.

Tips for getting out as fast as possible

  1. Only ask questions that you really want advice for.
  2. Let the nurses do their jobs quickly. I find chatting much keeps them distracted from doing their jobs. Bratty of me? Maybe. Practical, I think so.
  3. Schedule the appointment as early in the morning or as close to the 1st appointment after lunch as possible.

First off, my pediatrician rocks. She doesn’t make me feel rushed, wants to play with my kids and never makes me feel bad when I’m 6 months behind on shots. However, my kids are usually melting down by the time she gets there, and I can’t concentrate much at all.

For example, I brought my mama to my third baby’s two week check up (so nice to have extra hands with 3 kids!) and had to prep her to please let me do ALL the talking. Mostly, because I know she will chat it up and all I wanted was to get in and out as fast as possible. It felt like a rude request but the desperation was real.

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More waiting room activities

For some fun waiting activities that you can take in busy bags like band aids, a magnifying glass, and more check out this post called 18 waiting games to pass the time with kids from the blog The Pragmatic Parent. There are some fun ideas there I will try next time!

How have your waits been at the doctor’s office or other waiting rooms? Let me know any tips you have in the comments! We have plenty of waiting to do in the future and I could use all the tips 🙂

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Penelope Smith

Friday 7th of June 2019

I liked what you said about how it would be smart to have activities for your toddler to do while you are waiting for the doctor. It might also be smart to take your child to a doctor that has a good play area in their office for kids.

Shayla Cademis

Thursday 30th of May 2019

Thanks for your suggestion to let go of germaphobe tendencies before going into a doctor's office. This could make a visit to the doctor more pleasant for me and my children. We will definitely utilize hand sanitizer and washing our hands when we can though. Hopefully we can find a good doctor in our new city!

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