Supporting your child through a brief medical procedure
Medical procedures can be upsetting and stressful for you and your child. These procedures can include getting an intravenous (IV) line for fluid or medication, having a blood or urine test, having a wound or fracture repaired, and getting medical imaging (e.g. x-ray, MRI, CT scan). Some procedures can be painful.
There are simple ways to help your child get through these procedures.
Before the procedure
Prepare yourself and your child.
- Tell your child where you are going, who they will meet, and how they are going to help them.
- Try to stay calm. Be positive and use your normal speaking voice.
- Bring some toys and books. When possible, let your child hold their favourite one during the procedure. If you didn’t bring any, ask if toys or books are available.
- While waiting, distract your child by putting on their favorite music, or talk about their favorite activities or a recent fun event.
- For uncomfortable childhood illnesses and conditions, treat your child’s pain with acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol®, Tempra®) or ibuprofen (i.e. Advil®, Motrin®) if they have no medical contraindications. If your child is under 6 months of age, acetaminophen is recommended. If you suspect a broken bone or sprain and your child is over 6 months of age, ibuprofen is preferred, if your child has no contraindications to this medicine. Otherwise, use acetaminophen. This will make it easier for the medical team to diagnose and help your child.
- For vaccines, do not give your child ibuprofen or acetaminophen before or around the time of vaccination as it does not prevent the pain of injection and it could have an impact on how well the vaccine works. These medications can be used to treat fever, pain, or other bothersome side effects if they develop after vaccination.
- Before a needle, ask if a numbing cream would be appropriate. This can lessen the pain related to needles for blood work, vaccines, and intravenous lines. Skin cooling spray can sometimes be used in children over 3 years old.
- If you child needs a finger prick (i.e. for a rapid blood sugar measurement), warm your child’s fingers in the waiting room.
- If your child is breastfeeding, ask if you can nurse your baby before, during, and after the needle is given. This helps lessen their pain and stress.
- If your child is less than a year old, ask if sucrose (sugar water) is available. Sucrose can help lessen the pain of needle procedures, and often works even better if it used along with a soother. Begin to give the sugar water 2 minutes before the needle. Continue giving the sugar drops during the procedure. If your hospital or clinic doesn’t have any pre-made sugar drops, they can be made by mixing 1 teaspoon of granulated white sugar with 2 teaspoons of water.
- If your child is experiencing severe anxiety about an upcoming procedure, you might need extra help. Some hospitals have experts (Child Life Specialists) who can help a child feel less scared and more in control when they need to have a medical procedure.
Sometimes procedures can be avoided.
- If your child has a stomach flu or another viral infection, encourage them to drink fluid to lessen the chances that they will need an intravenous line for dehydration.
- If your baby requires a sterile (clean) urine test, a technique that does not require a catheter is sometimes possible. Ask your health care provider if it would be appropriate for your child.
- Some cuts can be treated with medical glue rather than stiches. Talk to your healthcare provider for advice.
During the procedure
Help your child stay in a comfortable position.
- For many procedures, younger children can sit on your lap, using a hugging hold. Older children can sit on their own, rather than lay down on a hospital bed.
- Babies can be held in a ‘’kangaroo position’’ on your chest or wrapped securely in a blanket.
Distract your child. Distraction can reduce your child’s stress and make them feel better.
- Tell a story. Bring them into an imaginary world.
- Discuss a nice activity that your child enjoyed, to remind them of a happy place.
- Play a “search and find” game or their favourite game.
- Play music, sing together, sing a song to your child.
- Show them a video on your phone or on your tablet.
Use relaxation techniques with older children.
- Encourage your child to take deep breaths and to exhale slowly.
- Let them blow bubbles or a use a pinwheel.
Avoid words that could be confusing to your child.
- Stay calm and relaxed and use a soothing voice.
- Avoid saying ‘‘It’s over’’ when the procedure is ongoing.
- Avoid saying ‘‘I’m sorry’’. You are doing what’s best for your child.
- Use encouragement and humour.
After the procedure
Help your child focus on other things.
- Cuddle, rock and/or breastfeed your baby. Cuddle your older child.
- Comfort your child with their favourite toy, teddy bear or blanket.
- Engage your child by playing, talking, reading together.
- Remind older children that this will make them get better.
- If you give your child a treat after a procedure, explain that it as a celebration of what your child did well (and not as an “I’m sorry” gift).
More information from the CPS
Reviewed by the following CPS committees
- Acute Care Committee
- Public Education Advisory Committee
Last updated: February 2020