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Easing a Child’s Fears and Anxieties About Medical Procedures

As a parent, you are central to the decisions made about your children's health care. You are an important member of the health care team. Therefore, before your child undergoes any treatment, it is critical for you to have a full understanding of the diagnosis, procedure and options available.

The suggestions below can guide how you manage fears and anxieties your child may feel as a result of a medical procedure. The specific ways you apply the suggestions will depend on his or her age.

Gather information

Know why your child needs a procedure, how the procedure may feel and how long it will last. Consider being with your child during the procedure. 

Parent and sick child talking to a nurse.

Be honest and sensitive

Explain to your child why he needs the procedure and what he can expect to feel, see and hear. Be honest with your child about what may hurt and what will not hurt. Try to avoid creating undue concern for your child.

Encourage curiosity and exploration

Becoming familiar with the health care facility and understanding the equipment that will be used during treatment or diagnosis is very important to a child. Help your child learn about the purpose of the examination and the medical equipment that he will come in contact with.

Reassure your child

Make sure your child knows that the hospital, health care provider's office, or clinic is not a punishment and it is not necessarily a place where children will experience pain.

Use simple language

When describing a medical procedure try to use words that do not have double meanings or are threatening. Use the word "medicine" instead of " dye," "bed on wheels" instead of "stretcher," and "numb" or "make sleepy" instead of "deaden."

Listen to your child's concerns

Let your child know that it is OK to ask questions, cry and talk about feelings.

Help your child manage pain

Many coping strategies can be used to help reduce anxiety and perceptions of pain and discomfort for your child. Teach your child that deep, steady breathing can help him cope with his pain. Let him squeeze your hand and say, "Ouch!" or "That hurt!" Distract your child with books, songs, blowing bubbles, video games or music to divert his attention from anxiety and pain. Let your child know that he can ask for a special topical anesthetic cream that can help minimize the pain and discomfort of needle sticks.

Comfort your child

Touching is an important part of healing. If medical needs prevent you from holding or rocking your child, you may still stroke your child or hold his hand.

When appropriate, encourage play

Children learn about their world and how to cope by playing. Play gives children control and a way to work out and understand their feelings. Playing with puppets, painting pictures and telling stories--before and after a procedure--are some meaningful ways to teach children about their health care needs and experiences.