Preparation Tips by Developmental Age
Newborns to two years old:
If you are prepared and feeling at ease, your very young child will take his/her cues from you.
Use a soft comforting voice, soft music or lullaby and gentle touch when children are uncomfortable during medical tests or exams. Favorite toys or diversional items that distract or amuse can greatly decrease the sense of wait time or discomfort. Toys that are active and light up can be very helpful.
Preschoolers (2 to 5 years):
Provide simple but true explanations for medical events. “The doctor wants to help get rid of the pain in your tummy so she needs to take a quick listen.” Blowing bubbles or pinwheels help with relaxation and distraction. Singing a song or telling a story help with calming and wait times.
Young children often imagine they are being punished for something they did wrong. Tell your child that it is no one’s fault when we get sick or need the doctor or hospital. Rewards for difficult experiences such as holding still during blood tests can help him/her feel accomplished and teach coping skills. Try stickers, hugs, small toys or star charts that lead to larger gifts. Never punish a child for not cooperating. Find something to praise. “You held still for five seconds! Good job!” Praise the action instead of the whole child. Use “good job!” instead of “good boy” or “bad boy.”
School Age (5 to 12 years)
Find diversional activities that combine fun with challenge, such as “where’s Waldo” books, “Find it” games (finditgames.com), pop-up books, glitter wands, music with headphones, iPad/iPhone games.
Teach deep breathing in advance. Explain that athletes use breathing techniques to do things faster and better. Answer questions honestly. Use good websites to explain how the body works or what a procedure is. If medical interventions are routine for your child, help them experiment in advance when blood work or procedures are expected, to decide what coping techniques work best for them.
Encourage expression and validate feelings.
Adolescents (12 and up)
Allow and encourage a teen’s participation in their health care. During a hospitalization, when possible, allow a teen to bring technology that will help them stay connected to peers and activities they enjoy. Teach deep breathing in advance. Explain that athletes use breathing techniques to do things faster and better. Provide access to good education about how the body works and medical treatment. Adolescents may tell you they don’t need your help, but they do. Remain available for support and to encourage expression and validate feelings.