Preparing properly for a test or procedure may reduce your child's anxiety, encourage cooperation, and help your child develop coping skills.
Know that your child will probably cry. Even if you prepare, your child may feel some discomfort or pain. Try using play to demonstrate what will happen during the test. Doing so may help reveal your child's concerns about the test.
The most important way you can help is by preparing your child ahead of time, and providing support for your 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 about the procedure to 20 minutes. Use several sessions, if needed. Since school-age children have a good concept of time, it is OK to prepare your child before the procedure. The older your child, the earlier you can begin to prepare.
Here are some general guidelines for preparing your child for a test or procedure:
Children often avoid responding when asked direct questions about their feelings. Some children who are happy to share their feelings withdraw as their anxiety and fear increase.
Play can be a good way to demonstrate the procedure for your child. They can also help reveal your child's concerns.
The play technique should be tailored to your child. Most health care facilities that treat children (such as a children's hospital) will use a play technique to prepare your child. This involves using an object or toy that is important to your child. 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 better able to understand a blood test if you discuss how the "doll might feel" during the test.
Once you are familiar with the procedure, demonstrate on the object or 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 child's health care provider to share some of the items used in the test for your demonstration (except for needles and other sharp items). Afterward, allow your child to play with some of the safe items. Watch your child for clues to concerns and fears.
For younger school-age children, the play technique is appropriate. Older school-age children might view this approach as childish. Consider your child's intellectual needs before using this type of communication.
Older children may benefit from videos that show children of the same age explaining, demonstrating, and going through the same procedure. Ask your provider if such videos are available for your child to watch.
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 at the provider's office, you will most likely be able to be there. Ask the provider if you are not sure. If your child does not want you to be there, 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 unless your child allows them or asks for them to be there.
Avoid showing your anxiety. This will only make your child feel more upset. Research suggests that children are more cooperative if their parents take measures (such as acupuncture) to reduce their own anxiety. If you're feeling stressed or anxious, consider asking friends and family members for help. They can provide child care for other siblings or meals for the family so you can focus on supporting your child.
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.