Understand that your child probably will cry. Even if you prepare, your child may feel some discomfort or pain. Use play to demonstrate what will happen during the test. You may also discover your child's concerns about the test.
The most important way you can help is by preparing your child ahead of time, and supporting the child during the procedure. Explaining the procedure may help reduce your child's anxiety. Let your child participate and make as many decisions as possible.
PREPARING FOR THE PROCEDURE
Limit explanations to 20 minutes and use several sessions, if necessary. School-age children have a good concept of time, allowing for preparation in advance of the procedure. The older your child, the earlier in advance you can begin preparation.
Here are some general guidelines for preparing your child for a test or procedure:
- Explain the procedure in language your child understands, and use concrete terms. Avoid abstract terms.
- Make sure your child understands the exact body part involved, and that the procedure will be done only on that area.
- To the best of your ability, describe how the test will feel.
- If the procedure affects part of the body that serves a noticeable function (such as speech, hearing, or urination), explain what changes will occur afterwards. Discuss how long these effects will last.
- Give your child permission to yell, cry, or otherwise express any pain verbally.
- Allow your child to practice the positions or movements that will be required for the procedure, such as the fetal position for a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
- Stress the benefits of the procedure and talk about things that the child may find pleasurable afterwards, such as feeling better or going home. After the test you may want to take your child for ice cream or some other treat, but do not make this conditional on "being good" for the test.
- Suggest ways for staying calm such as counting, deep breathing, singing, bubble blowing, and relaxation (thinking pleasant thoughts).
- Allow your child to participate in simple tasks.
- Include your child in the decision-making process, such as the time of day or the body site where the procedure is performed (this depends on the type of procedure being performed).
- Encourage participation during the procedure, such as holding an instrument, if allowed.
- Let your child hold your hand or the hand of someone else helping with the procedure. Physical contact like this can help reduce pain and anxiety.
- Distract your child with books, bubbles, games, hand-held video games, or other activities.
Play and third-person communication can be wonderful ways of demonstrating the procedure for your child, and identifying concerns.
For younger school age children, this technique is appropriate. Older school age children might view this approach as childish. Consider the intellectual needs of your child before using this type of communication.
Older children may benefit from films that show children of the same age explaining, demonstrating, and undergoing the same procedure. Ask your health care provider if such films are available for your child's viewing.
The play technique should be tailored to each child, and most health care facilities that are oriented towards children (such as a children's hospital) will use a similar technique to prepare your child. This type of communication may take some practice.
Children often avoid responding when asked direct questions about their feelings. Some children are happy to share their feelings, but as anxiety and fear increase, it is not uncommon for a child to withdraw.
Most young children have an important object or toy that may be a tool for a type of interaction called third-party communication.
It may be less threatening for your child to communicate concerns through the toy or object than to express them directly. For example, a child may be able to understand a blood test if you discuss how the doll might "feel" during the test.
Toys or dolls might help you explain the procedure. Once you are familiar with the procedure, demonstrate on the toy what your child will experience. For example, show positions, bandages, stethoscopes, and how the skin is cleaned.
Medical toys are available, or you can ask your health care provider to share some of the items used in the test for your demonstration (except for needles and other sharp items). After your demonstration, allow your child to play with some of the safe items. Watch your child for clues to concerns and fears.
Drawing is another way for children to express themselves. Ask your child to draw the procedure after you have explained and demonstrated it. You may be able to identify concerns through your child's art.
DURING THE PROCEDURE
If the procedure is performed at the hospital or your health care provider's office, you will most likely be able to be present. Ask your provider if you are not sure about this. If your child does not want you to be present, it is best to honor this wish.
Out of respect for your child's growing need for privacy, do not allow peers or siblings to view the procedure the child allows or requests for them to be there.
Avoid showing your anxiety. This will only make your child feel more upset. Research has suggested that children are more cooperative if their parents have taken measures (such as anxiety reducing acupuncture) to reduce their own anxiety. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, consider asking for help. For example, with meals or childcare.
- Ask your health care provider to limit the number of strangers entering and leaving the room during the procedure, because this can raise anxiety.
- Ask that the provider who has spent the most time with your child be present during the procedure.
- Ask that anesthesia be used where appropriate to reduce the level of discomfort your child will feel.
- Ask that painful procedures not be performed in the hospital bed or room so the child does not associate pain with these areas.
- Ask if a low sensory environment can be provided.