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Medical tests can be scary for adults and for children. You can help your child feel safe and calm during medical tests if you understand why your child is having the test and remain calm yourself. Talk to your doctor without your child present about any concerns you have about the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results may mean. To help you understand the importance of the test for your child, complete the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
Try to schedule the test or exam for a time when your child won't be tired or hungry. Tell your child as much or as little about the test that he or she is old enough to understand. And always be honest. For instance, don't promise something that may or may not be true, such as saying that the test won't hurt. Instead, you could say "I'll be nearby."
Ask your doctor about any medicines that your child may have before the test to reduce his or her discomfort, such as EMLA cream to numb the skin before a needle stick. At the time of the test or exam, your child may not want to cooperate with the doctor, and you may need to hold your child still so the test can be done. Don't scold your child for being afraid or for fighting or crying about being held still. If you act scared or upset, or if it becomes too difficult for you to hold your child, your doctor may ask you to leave the room and then have an assistant hold your child during the test. Do your best to comfort your child after the test is done.
Some common tests that your child may need include:
Babies respond to gentle physical contact. They are comforted by a quiet and calm voice. Loud sounds or sudden movements frighten them.
An older baby may be afraid of strangers, so be sure to hold him or her in a favorite position or in a position where he or she can clearly see you. Most babies like to be cuddled in an upright position. Your doctor may need to hold your child for the exam or test.
Try using distraction to help your child during a test. Bring your child's favorite toy or quietly sing a favorite song. If you cannot hold your child, stand where he or she can see your face.
At 2 to 6 years of age, your child probably asks "Why?" about new things. Explain about the test or exam in simple words. You don't need to give long answers or more information than your child can really understand. Honestly answer your child's specific questions. If you do not know an answer, it is okay to tell your child that you do not know.
Children ages 6 to 12 may be afraid of doctors. If your child is old enough to understand that he or she needs this test, explain what will happen during the visit. Always be honest with your child. If you want help, you could ask the doctor or nurse to explain what is going to happen.
Teens also may be afraid when they go to see a doctor. Explain what will happen during the visit and why. Be up-front and honest with your child. If you want help, you could ask the doctor or nurse to explain what is going to happen.
You may want to tell your child that even grown-ups feel anxious about exams and tests. This can help your child understand that it is normal to worry.
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This American Academy of Pediatrics website has information for parents about childhood issues, from before the child is born to young adulthood. You'll find information on child growth and development, immunizations, safety, health issues, behavior, and much more.
This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It has a wide range of information about children's health—from allergies and diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
Other Works ConsultedBrown TL (2011). General concepts related to pediatric procedures section of Pediatric variations of nursing interventions. In MJ Hockenberry, D Wilson, eds., Wong's Nursing Care of Infants and Children, 9th ed, pp. 999–1010. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.Hockenberry MJ (2011). Communicating with families section of Communication and physical assessment of the child. In MJ Hockenberry, D Wilson, eds., Wong's Nursing Care of Infants and Children, 9th ed, pp. 119–126. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.Levetown M and the Committee on Bioethics (2008). Communicating with children and families: From everyday interactions to skill in conveying distressing information. Pediatrics, 121(5): e1441–e1460.Uman LS, et al. (2006). Psychological interventions for needle-related procedural pain and distress in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4).
Last Revised: July 8, 2011
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
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