8 steps to get your child ready for a medical procedure
Written by Emily Bollinger, MS, CCLS, a Child Life specialist at Kentucky Children's Hospital.
Any child who has to go to the hospital for treatment will experience at least one medical procedure during their stay. A medical procedure can be anything from getting an IV, having an X-ray or undergoing an operation. Medical procedures can be scary for a child, especially if they've never had one before or if the procedure is potentially uncomfortable. Anticipating a procedure can be stressful for both the child and you as the caregiver.
There are several steps you can take before and after a procedure to help ease their worries and yours. Follow these tips to help make your child's procedure as smooth as possible:
- Take time to familiarize yourself with the procedure. Understanding what is going to happen will help you feel calmer so that you are better able to support your child during the procedure. (The Kentucky Children’s Hospital Health Education Center, located at the back of the KCH lobby near the elevators, offers free resources for learning more about your child’s illness and treatment. It is staffed by trained professionals who can also help you learn how to explain the procedure to your child in a way they understand.)
- Be honest with your child about what is going to happen and why it is necessary. Use words that your child will understand and that are not graphic or frightening. It is important for your child to know that they can trust you and their medical team.
- Reassure your child that it is OK to feel afraid or sad. Provide your child with support, and let them know that other children who undergo medical procedures feel the same way.
- When preparing your child for the procedure, think about your child’s age as a guide to how much or how little information they may need. Encourage your child to ask questions, but watch for signs that they don’t want any more information – such as looking away or changing the topic.
- Explain what your child can expect during a procedure. If you are unsure how long the procedure will take or if it will be uncomfortable, ask the medical staff. Always make sure to provide accurate information about what to expect and how long the procedure will take. For example, if your child is having an IV placed, tell them: “There will be a tight rubber band on your arm and then a pinch that hurts for a few seconds. If you take three deep breaths, the pinch will be over.”
- Child Life specialists work on most units of Kentucky Children's Hospital, and we are happy to partner with you in preparing your child for their procedure. Find out more about what Child Life specialists do.
- Give your child a job to do during the procedure. Jobs can include taking deep breaths, squeezing your hand, hugging a comfort item or just keeping their body still. You can also offer them something else to focus on, such as watching a favorite TV show or looking at a book. However, some children do better with procedures if they are able to watch, so be sure to ask your child what they would like to do. Remember that it is OK for a child to cry during a procedure.
- Once the procedure is over, give your child a big hug and offer plenty of praise. They just accomplished something challenging and deserve to know how proud you are of them.