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Children show a wide range of reactions in medical situations. These reactions are shaped by many factors, including their personality, developmental stage, style of handling stress in other situations, and experiences with past medical procedures. It is impossible to take away all of the stressful, painful, or scary parts of many medical experiences. Fortunately, there are many ways to help children and parents cope with them in the best possible way.
It is important to remember that no parent handles all situations perfectly, and that there is no right or wrong way of doing things to help your child. You are the expert on your child and you should trust your instincts, while also being open to suggestions from others. Most parents do their best to help their child cope, even under stressful or scary circumstances.
Help prepare your child:
Deep breathing: Have your child take slow, deep breaths while counting or imagining blowing up a balloon in his or her belly breathing in and then releasing all the air exhaling.
Distraction: Engage your child in games or activities such as blowing bubbles, interactive books, music, counting, I-Spy, imagining a favorite thing or place, telling funny stories or singing songs, or just holding and squeezing your hand.
Guided imagery: Have your child imagine a relaxing scene and describe all the elements and sensations of that scene. The scene could be of a place your child has been before, read about, or seen on TV, or just one you imagine. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell, feel, or taste? How does it make your child feel?
Familiar objects: Bring a few things from home to help your child feel comfortable — these things can also be used for distraction.
Closeness: Stay near your child’s face, hold your child’s hand, stroke your child’s face or arm. Physical touch and closeness can be both comforting and distracting.
Comfortable position: Being held feels different than being held down. Help your child choose a comfortable, secure position during the procedure, such as sitting on your lap during a blood draw.
Calm: Show that you trust the doctors and nurses by giving your child encouragement and guiding your child through what to expect in a soothing voice. Share any concerns with the medical team out of earshot.
Communication: Ask your child about his or her understanding of the procedure in order to discuss any potential fears or concerns openly. Sometimes children have distress about something not related to the procedure or that you’re not aware of. It’s important to know what your child is concerned about, so that you can address their concerns, and any misunderstandings, directly.
If you feel that you or your child might need additional support in coping with hospitalization or medical issues, ask your doctor or nurse to request a consultation with a psychologist on the Psychiatry Consultation/Liaison Service.
Our Family Resource Liaisons are master’s level clinicians who are available to help individuals and families navigate the mental healthcare system by providing contact information for mental health resources in your community.
Family Resource Liaisons are available by phone at 720-777-4978, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.