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Helping your Child with Medical Procedures

According to the Connecticut Hospital Association, more than 3 million children are hospitalized in the United States each year.

Wow!! 3 million.

While these visits may be scheduled, many are not. This can leave both children and caregivers feeling uncertain, anxious, and sometimes very fearful about what may happen.

Here are some ways to support infant, toddlers, preschoolers, school-agers, and teens through a medical procedure to help calm both child and caregiver.

Infants & Toddlers (0yrs-3yrs)

-Be present, calm, and confident. Fear of separation is most common at this age. If possible stay as calm and positively engaged as possible throughout the procedure.

-Provide distraction. Activities such as blowing bubbles, playing or singing familiar songs, soft light toys, pacifier, or use of a familiar comfort item can be helpful.

Preschoolers & School-agers (4yrs-12yrs)

-Provide child with brief explanation. Offer them a reason the procedure needs to take place. For example: IV start

Ask a few questions first.

"What is medicine for?"

"How do you usually get medicine at home?"

"Do you know why we are at the hospital today?"


"At the hospital we take our medicine a little bit differently. This is right through our blue lines (veins). These blue lines carry blood but they also carry medicine. There is a very special way here at the hospital that we can give our blue lines medicine. We use a little bitty straw, small enough for a Barbie or superhero action figure. This straw goes through your skin and into your blue lines to give them the special medicine." You can also talk briefly about the "poke" (as opposed to "needle") and explain that once it helps the straw into their blue lines, the poke goes away and into the trash.

-Use comfort positions. Comfort positions can include sitting on your lap (chest facing you, back facing you, or side facing you) or sitting up on the exam table as opposed to child laying down flat on the exam table, which can be a very vulnerable and scary position for a child. Comfort positions are meant to provide a sense of control and stability for the child. They can hold a favorite comfort item as well throughout as long as they are able to stay still.

-Provide distraction. Again, this can be helpful for any age. For preschoolers and school age children these items could be books, electronic devices, engaging with a parent or caregiver, bubbles, sound or light up toys, handheld games, or any familiar item brought from home.

Teens (13+yrs)

-Offer choices. Allow the teen to choose where they would like the procedure to take place, items or people they would like to be present for the procedure, and how they would like to orient themselves (as appropriate) for the procedure.

-Provide explanation of the procedure. Use age appropriate language to ensure that the teen understands what the procedure entails. This often means use of proper medical terminology. Also offer them a choice as to whether they want to know what will happen. Some teens do not. Honor that and allow them the option to choose.

-Be sensitive to privacy issues. Some teens may feel uncomfortable having the opposite gender perform certain procedures, such as inserting a catheter. Be mindful of this and work with the healthcare team to make the appropriate accommodations.

-Encourage teens to engage with peers. The biggest source of support during the teen years are often their peers. Encourage them to continue to interact with peers as this can also help normalize the hospital environment.

General Tips

-Ask questions. Always. Discuss the medical procedure with your healthcare provider. You have the right to be informed.

-Request the procedure to take place in the treatment room. This allows the infant, child and teen to know that nothing painful (as much as possible) will happen in their bed and helps them to feel safe and have a restful sleep. (This includes blood draws!!)

-Request a pain management option. Ask your healthcare team if a pain management option is available, such as LMX4 (a numbing cream), JTip, Buzzy, or oral sucrose.

-Advocate. Speak up on behalf of your child or teen during his/her next procedure. If there is something that helps them cope best, let your healthcare team know.

Adapted from Medical City Children's Hospital, Dallas.

If you have any questions or need procedural support or preparation with your child, please reach out!!

Jenn, Child Life Force

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