Pediatric Preparation for Medical Tests

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Pediatric Preparation for Medical Tests

Preparing Your Child for a Medical Test

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.

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.

If your child is getting a test in a hospital, you may be able to ask for help from a child life expert, a pediatric psychologist, or a similar professional. This person can give you advice on how to help your child cope with procedures.

  • Talk to your doctor without your child present.

    Discuss any concerns you have about the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results may mean.

  • 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 as they are old enough to understand.

    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 discomfort.

    An example is EMLA cream to numb the skin before a needle stick.

  • You may need to hold your child still so the test can be done.

    At the time of the test or exam, your child may not want to cooperate with the doctor. 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 have you leave the room and then have an assistant hold your child during the test.

Be sure to comfort your child after the test is done.

Ages 1 to 24 months

Try these tips to comfort your young child before and during the test:

  • Use gentle physical contact.

    Babies respond to it.

  • Speak in a quiet and calm voice.

    Babies are comforted by it. Loud sounds or sudden movements frighten them.

  • Be sure your baby can see you, if possible.

    An older baby may be afraid of strangers, so be sure to hold your baby in a favorite position or in a position where they 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. If you cannot hold your child, stand where your child can see your face.

  • Try using distraction to help your child during a test.

    Bring your child's favorite toy, or quietly sing a favorite song.

Ages 2 to 6 years

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 don't know an answer, it's okay to tell your child that you don't know.

  • Use words your child knows.

    Some examples include: "The room will be cool, the lights will be bright, and a big camera will take your picture." Try not to use words that your child may not understand. If you say a shot will feel like a little stick in the arm, your child may picture a stick being put into their arm.

  • Allow enough time before the test to explain what will happen.

    You know your child best. Some children react better when a test is explained right before it occurs, so they won't have time to worry or dream about the test. Children at this age have trouble separating fact from fantasy and have very active imaginations. Or your child may react better if they have some time to talk with you about what will happen before the visit.

  • Explain what you need to in a quiet and confident voice.

    This helps your child understand what will happen. Be honest. This will help keep your child from imagining something awful. Compare the length of the test with how long it takes your child to do a task at home, such as brushing their teeth or singing a favorite song. If you want help, you could ask the doctor or nurse to explain what is going to happen.

  • Use positive words as much as possible.

    For example, say "The doctor needs to check you over in order to find out how to fix this and help you get well."

  • Be careful about using terms like "cut" or "bleed."

    Your child may imagine more blood than there will be. Try to use examples from your child's life, such as when they scraped a knee, to describe the amount of blood.

  • Ask about objects your child can touch.

    Most children are calmed by seeing and feeling that the object is just a piece of equipment. Your doctor may allow your child to touch any of the objects used in the test or exam that are appropriate for a child to handle. But it's important that your doctor keep any frightening equipment out of sight until it is needed.

  • Help your child practice staying still.

    If you know that your child will need to stay still for the exam or test, practice this fun and simple exercise: ask your child to stay still, then to wiggle, then to stay still again. Practicing this may help your child feel more in control during the test.

  • Use distraction, if possible.

    Bring your child's favorite book or toy to help distract your child during the test. Or see if your child might be able to watch a movie during the test.

  • Give your child something to look forward to.

    Talk about the good things that will happen at the end of the test, like going home. Focus on how your child may feel afterward and how the test may help with a health problem.

  • Practice "blowing the feeling away" with your child.

    When children believe they can count to 3 and then blow the feeling away, they may be able to cooperate better. This may also help your child understand that the test won't take very long.

Ages 6 to 12 years

Children ages 6 to 12 may be afraid of doctors. If your child is old enough to understand that they need 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. School-age children are interested in how things work, so your child may have many questions about what the test shows and why it is needed.

  • Use positive words as much as possible.

    For example, say "The doctor needs to check you over in order to find out how to fix this and help you get well."

  • Explain the test before it is done.

    Younger children in this age group may benefit from having a test explained right before it is done rather than days ahead of time, so they don't have time to worry or dream about the test.

  • Help your child talk about their fears through play.

    Younger children in this age group may like you to pretend to give a doll the same exam or test while they watch. Then let your child perform the test on the doll.

  • Help your child express their concerns.

    That way, your child can feel like they're part of the process. Children in this age group are very concerned about their bodies. If there's a chance for your child to make a choice (even as simple as the color of gown to wear), allow it. Your child may be more cooperative if you let them make reasonable choices.

  • Create a distraction.

    Bring your child's favorite book or toy to help distract your child during the test. Or see if your child might be able to watch a movie during the test.

  • Give your child something to look forward to.

    Talk about the good things that will happen at the end of the test, like going home. Focus on how your child may feel afterward and how the test may help with a health problem.

Teens

Teens 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 teen. If you want help, you could ask the doctor or nurse to explain what is going to happen.

  • Allow your teen to ask questions.

    Also allow your teen to speak with the doctor without your being present if they wish. The doctor can give you and your teen guidelines on the confidentiality of the visit.

  • Allow your teen to make a choice.

    Teens need to have some control in their lives and may be more cooperative when they are allowed to make reasonable choices.

  • Encourage your teen to bring a book or game.

    This will help pass the time during the test. Ask if your teen might be able to watch a movie during the test.

  • Have your teen try to relax their mind and body before or during the test.

Credits

Current as of: August 6, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

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