Parents of young children and toddlers frequently ask us how we examine children’s eyes. The process is similar to that of an adult exam but we obviously don’t use the letter chart.

The amount of information gained from a little person’s eye exam can vary. Time of the day, engagement with the practitioner and attention levels can all influence the exam findings. From age 2.5 onwards most children can play “the matching game”. If we show them a picture of a circle, and they have a selection of four shapes in front of them, in many instances a child of 3 or 4 can point to the same shape reliably. As a child gets older they are able to name the shapes- circle, square, house and heart which makes determining “visual acuity” easier.

Paediatric trained optometrists are often confident with reading a child’s body language and responses during an eye exam. Does the child look disinterested in this eye testing game the practitioner is playing with them? Has the task become too challenging for them due to an inability to see the shape with ease? Does the child need a break to get their wriggles out to allow them to refocus on the exam?

Using right eye testing tools

The right eye testing tools are important when examining toddlers and pre-schoolers. Our practitioners use a paediatric autorefractor to determine whether long or shortsightedness is present and if so, what is the prescription. There is no point asking a toddler “which one is better? 1 or 2?” as the task is too challenging for most little people.

Eye muscle movement, straightness of eyes, pupil responses and convergence of the eyes are assessed with fun toys. We often use targets that move, make a sound or light up as these are great at keeping a child’s attention. It’s important that a child feels comfortable and not threatened when examining their eyes. If they need to sit on mum’s lap to feel relaxed, that’s not a problem for our practitioners!

How best to prepare your young child for an eye exam?

You know your child best and will know if they need lots of information prior to coming to the practice for their exam- here are some suggestions for discussing an eye exam with a young child.

  • Please don’t mention the “h” word

As adults, we all know that an eye exam is not going to “hurt”. Even mentioning the word “hurt” can result in some children feeling anxious and uncertain about the process ahead. Instead I would recommend saying something like “the optometrist is going to play some fun eye testing games to make sure your eyes are big and strong”

  • Prepare them for what to expect in a fun way

Let them know they are going to look at some shapes and pictures and they get to have a ride on our special chair. A kids eye test is lots of fun!

  • Assure them that you will be there

If they have concerns, remind them that you will be there with them to play the eye games and they can sit on your lap if needed. Our optometrists will be guided by your child. If they need to sit on your lap to feel safe, that’s fine.

  • Introduce them to age-appropriate videos or books that discuss eye exams and glasses

Peppa Pig having an eye exam is a popular one.

Regular eye examinations for children are as important as regular dental exams. Our practitioners will explore more than just whether your child can see clearly. They will make sure the eyes are healthy and that the binocular vision system is functioning appropriately to meet the demands of modern learning environments.

Given that vision is hugely important for learning and play we think that a regular eye exam in childhood is something every parent should consider.