Helping your young child prepare for a medical test or procedure can reduce anxiety, increase cooperation, and help the child develop coping skills.
Before the test, know that your child probably will cry. Even if you prepare, your child may feel some discomfort or pain. Try using play to demonstrate what will happen during the test. You may be able to uncover your child's concerns. The most important way you can help your child is by preparing ahead of time and providing support when the time comes.
PREPARING BEFORE THE PROCEDURE
Limit your explanations about the procedure to 5 or 10 minutes, because toddlers have a short attention span. Any preparation should take place directly before the test or procedure.
Some general guidelines for preparing your child for a test or procedure include the following:
Play and third-person communication can be wonderful ways of demonstrating the procedure for your child and identifying any anxiety. This technique should be tailored to your child. Most health care facilities that are oriented toward children use similar techniques to prepare children for procedures.
Many young children have a favorite toy or important object that can be a tool for a type of interaction called third-party communication. It may be less threatening for your child to express concerns through the object rather than 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 to your toddler. For younger children with a limited vocabulary, visual examples may be helpful.
Once you are familiar with the procedure, briefly demonstrate on the toy what your child will experience. Show positions the child will hold, bandages, stethoscopes, how incisions are made, how injections are given and how IVs are inserted. After your demonstration, allow your child to play with some of the items (except for needles and other sharp objects). Watch your child for clues about concerns and fears.
Regardless of the test performed, your child will probably cry. This is a normal response to a strange environment, unfamiliar people, and separation from you. Knowing this from the beginning may help relieve some of your anxiety about what to expect.
Your child may be restrained by hand or with physical devices. Young children lack the physical control, coordination, and ability to follow commands that older children and adults usually possess. Most tests and procedures require limited or no movement to ensure accuracy.
Restraints may be used during a procedure or other situation to ensure your child's safety. For example, with x-rays, clear test results require that there be no movement. During radiological and nuclear studies all staff have to temporarily leave the room. In these situations, restraints may be used for your child's safety.
If the skin is punctured to obtain a blood sample or start an IV, restraints may be used to protect your child. If the child moves, the needle could cause an injury.
Your provider will use every means to ensure the safety and comfort of your child. Besides restraints, other measures include medications, monitors, and observation.
Your job as a parent is to comfort your child.
DURING THE PROCEDURE
Your presence helps your child during the procedure, especially if the procedure allows you to maintain physical contact. If the procedure is performed at the hospital or your health care provider's office, you will most likely be allowed to be present. If this is unclear, ask if it is possible for you to be present.
If you think you may become ill or anxious, consider keeping your distance while remaining in your child's line of vision. If you are not able to be present, leaving a familiar object with your child may be comforting.
Avoid showing your anxiety. This will only make your child more nervous. 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 feel stressed or anxious, consider asking someone for help. For example, to provide meals or care for other siblings.
Preparing toddler for test/procedure; Test/procedure preparation - toddler; Preparing for a medical test or procedure - toddler
Khan KA, Weisman SJ. Nonpharmacologic pain management strategies in the pediatric emergency department. Clin Ped Emerg Med. 2007;8(4):240-247.
Yip P, Middleton P, Cyna AM, Carlyle AV. Non-pharmacological interventions for assisting the induction of anaesthesia in children. Department of Paediatric Anaesthesia, Starship Children's Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Jul 7:(3):CD006447.
Updated by: Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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