Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
 If your child is coming to the hospital, the following information may be helpful.
 
How You Can Help Your Child for an Upcoming Doctor’s Visit or Test

 

- Watch video to prepare your child for upcoming surgery or procedure

 
 
Family-centered care is essential to your child and his or her ability to cope effectively. Creating supportive interactions will allow you to assist your child throughout the visit.   
 
  • Be honest.  For example, do not promise your child that there will be no pokes or shots or that it won’t hurt.  Be careful not to make any promises you can’t keep.
  • Use simple explanations.  Real medical terminology is OK for older patients but creates more anxiety for children who do not understand the meaning of certain words.
  • Learn as much as possible about the test, procedure or surgery prior to coming to the hospital.  If you do not know an answer to a question, reassure your child that you can ask the physician or nurse together.
  • Recognize and talk about your child’s feelings and emotions.  Reinforce that these feelings are normal, natural and accepted. 
  • Relaxation and distraction.  Help your child relax through deep breathing, distraction, guided imagery, cold or warm presses, or other ways.  Our child life specialist can demonstrate relaxation and distraction techniques to help your child throughout his or her visit.
  • Rehearsal.  Rehearsal will help your child practice certain techniques prior to a procedure as well as allow them to master the tasks during a procedure.
  • Positive reinforcement.  Say things such as “You are doing such a great job holding still.” or “You are so brave. I am very proud of you.” These types of statements can highlight your child’s cooperation as well as your involvement in the procedure.
  • Stay calm. Your child can read your emotions and behaviors and will often begin to act in the same way.  If you are calm, relaxed and reassuring, your child will know and understand that everything is going to be OK.
  • Ask for help. Your child life specialist will give you advice and work with you and your child during his or her stay.
 
Research shows children do best when prepared for medical procedures.  Below are examples of the biggest stressors to your child, tips on how and when to prepare your child for a procedure and ways to help them cope with the procedure, all based on your child’s age.  Children’s needs are unique as they grow.  Understanding these needs and knowing what to expect and anticipate can help make things easier for you during stressful situations, like a visit to the doctor’s office.  This can also work for things like a lab draw, x-ray, I.V. start or even immunizations.
 
Child Life at MGH

 
Infant (birth- 1 year)
 

Greatest stressors:

  • Separation from caregiver
  • Change in routine
  • Over stimulation

Suggested ways to cope or be distracted during a procedure:

  • Allow parents to provide comfort
  • Music (lullabies, crib-attached lullaby soothers)
  • Sugar water on pacifier (ask hospital staff if available)
  • Swaddle (warm blanket if available)

Preparing for the exam:

  • Be prepared with information about what to expect, ask questions if you’re unsure of anything.  The more calm you are, the more calm your child will be.
  • Provide comfort role when possible (ask to hold your child during examination, etc.)

Prepare child:

  • Just before

 

Toddler (1-3)
 

Greatest stressors:

  • Loss of control
  • Unfamiliar situation, equipment and people
  • Separation from caregiver

Suggested ways to cope or be distracted during a procedure:

  • Bring along a favorite stuffed animal, blanket or whatever is comforting to your child
  • Bubbles-great for encouraging kids to take deep breaths, helpful in getting kids to relax and a great way to distract kids
  • Interactive books/toys
  • Provide comfort role when possible (ask to hold your child during examination, etc.)
Preparing for the exam:
  • Be prepared with information about what to expect, ask questions if you’re unsure of anything.  The more calm you are, the more calm your child will be.
  • Practice and learn about things through medical play.  At home with your child’s doctor’s kit and stuffed animals is a great way for kids to feel in control and gain a sense of comfort with hospital equipment. 
  • When at the doctor’s office, or during a procedure, remind your child about the medical play experience.  For example, “remember how Teddy Bear held his arm still when he was getting his little hug, or blood pressure?  Now it’s your turn to do that!”
  • Explain noises, feelings and objects your child may see.  Crying is coping.  Reassure your child that it’s okay to feel afraid of new things, and remind them you’re with them and calmly talk them through what will happen.
  • Give yourself and your child a job.  For example, your child’s job is to hold still, your job is to give them a big hug (works well if your child is on your lap during an examination or procedure).
  • Offer appropriate choices.  Children this age can get overwhelmed with too many commands.  Keep it simple. Ask one thing at a time.  For example, “would you like the doctor to listen to your heart or your back first”?  This promotes a feeling of control and gives your child one thing to focus on.
  • Use careful language.  Your toddler is literal.  Be careful not to use analogies, jokes or medical terms to describe things.  For example, “CAT scan” is better understood as a “special camera”.

Prepare child:

  • A few hours before

 

Preschool (4-6)
 

Greatest stressors:

  • Loss of control
  • Fantasy thinking (think of things as punishment)
  • Separation from caregiver

Suggested ways to cope or be distracted during a procedure:

  • Bring along a favorite stuffed animal, blanket or whatever is comforting to your child
  • Bubbles-great for encouraging kids to take deep breaths, helpful in getting kids to relax and a great way to distract kids
  • Interactive books/toys
  • Allow child to sit on parent’s lap during examination and/or procedure when possible
Preparing for the exam:
  • Be prepared with information about what to expect, ask questions if you’re unsure of anything.  The more calm you are, the more calm your child will be.
  • Practice and learn about things through medical play.  At home with your child’s doctor’s kit and stuffed animals is a great way for kids to feel in control and gain a sense of comfort with hospital equipment.
  • When at the doctor’s office, or during a procedure, remind your child about the medical play experience.  For example, “remember how Teddy Bear held his arm still when he was getting his little hug, or blood pressure?  Now it’s your turn to do that!”
  • Explain noises, feelings and objects child may see.  Crying is coping.  Reassure your child that it’s okay to feel afraid of new things, and remind them you’re with them and calmly talk them through what will happen.
  • Give yourself and your child a job.  For example, your child’s job is to hold still, your job is to give them a big hug (works well if your child is on your lap during an examination or procedure).
  • Offer appropriate choices.  Children this age can get overwhelmed with too many commands.  Keep it simple. Ask one thing at a time.  For example, “would you like the doctor to listen to your heart or your back first”?  This promotes a feeling of control and gives your child one thing to focus on.
  • Use careful language.  Like toddlers, preschoolers are also literal.  Be careful not to use analogies, jokes or medical terms to describe things.  Also be sure to provide rationale for visits, exams, tests, etc.  For example: “You’ve been sad a lot lately because your ears are hurting.  The doctor is going to look in your ears to see how they look” or, “I understand that shots are scary.  But shots give us medicine to help us from getting some kinds of germs and sickness.  It’s okay to feel scared.  Holding your arm still and taking a deep breath can make the poke hurt a little less.  Some kids like to look at a book or toy while they get a shot, you can do that to.  But you do have to have the shot, so that you can get the medicine to protect your body”.  

Prepare Child:

  • No longer than 1 day before

 

School Age (7-12)
 

Greatest stressors:

  • Fear of pain
  • Misconceptions
  • Fear of body mutilation

Suggested ways to cope or be distracted during a procedure:

  • I Spy book-or impromptu I Spy game in the office or room you are in (Example: “Can you find 3 things that are brown in this office?”  “Can you find 3 things you’ve seen before?”)
  • Guided imagery-this can be as simple as recalling a favorite vacation or day you’ve had and telling the story of the memory in detail (Example: “Feeling so hot and sweaty at Disney, walking in the crowd, being so excited once we saw the tall green ride…”)
  • Positive screen time-portable DVD players or Nintendo DS games or even smart phones come in handy for capturing a child’s attention the way no adult can.  Que up your child’s favorite movie, song or game and coach them to focus on the screen.
  • Rubbing/massaging-by confusing the brain, your child will focus on the comforting feeling of your hands rather than a poke or other invasive medical procedure.
  • Deep breathing
Preparing for the exam:
  • Be prepared with information about what to expect, ask questions if you’re unsure of anything.  The more calm you are, the more calm your child will be.
  • Concrete explanation using real equipment when possible, or photos, websites and/or books about visiting the hospital or the procedure. 
  • Be honest.  When you tell your child what to expect, you and your child can be prepared together, think of ways to cope, and when what you tell them is going to happen actually happens they gain trust in you and the healthcare team.  Avoiding telling your child what is going to happen or lying to them about it will decrease trust in future events and create anxiety.
  • Give as many choices as possible.  In a situation where your child may feel they have no control, allow them to exercise control where appropriate: choosing their clothes, choosing a comfort item to bring, choosing the chair to sit in while in the waiting room, etc.
  • Allow child to ask questions and express feelings.  It is normal and okay to feel scared or anxious.  Reassure your child and let him or her know you’ll be there to support them.
  • Plan coping for procedure.  If your child is having a test or procedure, make a coping plan before the test starts.  (Example: “Before the nurse gives you your flu shot, you’ll sit in the chair.  You’ll make your arm soft and loose like a spaghetti noodle.  While your arm is loose, and the nurse does her job, you and I will look at the I Spy book.”)
  • Remember, prepare child BEFORE procedures.  This gives your child time to ask questions, practice and feel a sense of control over the situation and develop a coping plan.

Prepare Child

  • Within 1 week of
  •  
Adolescent/Teen (13-18)
 

Greatest stressor:

  • Expect to be in charge
  • Fear of altered body image
  • Diagnosis is concerning
  • Loss of privacy

Suggested ways to cope or be distracted during a procedure:

  • I Spy books
  • Guided imagery-this can be as simple as recalling a favorite vacation or day you’ve had and telling the story of the memory in detail (Example: “Picture anywhere you’d rather be, maybe your favorite trip…Florida…feel the cool sand as you walk down the beach and the salty water is tickling your toes…”)
  • Tech gadgets- IPods, MP3 players, cell phones-these all help teens escape the “now”, and are fantastic ways to endure a procedure.
Preparing for the exam:
  • Be prepared with information about what to expect, ask questions if you’re unsure of anything.  The more calm you are, the more calm your child will be.
  • Provide descriptive teaching with rationale.
  • Be honest and sensitive in presenting information.
  • Give as many choices as possible.  In a situation where your child may feel they have no control, allow them to exercise control where appropriate: choosing their clothes, choosing a coping item, choosing the chair to sit in while in the waiting room, etc.
  • Allow child to ask questions and express feelings.  Honor them and the fact that this is new and scary.  Provide them with support and answers they need.
  • Respect their privacy.  While at the office or in the hospital, offer to step out while your child changes, offer blankets to keep them covered and feel secure.  Ask them and discuss together what information is okay to share with family and friends.

Prepare Child

  • As soon as possible
 
 
Books to help prepare your child for a visit to the hospital:
  • Pooh Plays Doctor by K.W. Zoehfeld.  Recommended for infants-preschoolers.
  • Franklin goes to the Hospital by S. Jennings. Recommended for ages 4-7.
  • Let’s Talk about Going to the Hospital by M. Johnston. Recommended for school aged children.

 

Books to help a child through grief/loss:
  • A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret Holmes.  Recommended for preschool/school aged children.
  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.  Recommended for preschool/school aged children.
  • The Memory Box by Kirsten McLaughlin.  Recommended for preschool/school aged children.
  • Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen.  Recommended for preschool/school aged children.
  • What about Me? When Brothers and Sisters Get Sick by Allan Peterkin.  Recommended for preschool/school aged children.
  • When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie and Marc Brown.  Recommended for preschool/school aged children.
  • Fire in my Heart, Ice in my Veins by Enid Samuel-Traisman.  Recommended for preschool/school aged children.
  • How to Help Children through a Parent’s Serious Illness by Kathleen McCue.  Recommended for adults.