Painful medical procedures are difficult to cope with. As a Certified Child Life Specialist, my role is to prepare children for new experiences while providing a coping plan. I had the opportunity to support my own son for a routine blood test this week. He was quite nervous when his pediatrician mentioned it and I could see his signs of distress. I decided to use some child life techniques to help educate and prepare him while providing validation, and a coping plan.
The first thing I did was to validate his feelings. He would repeatedly say, “No, I don’t want it!” My response was always calm, “Needles are scary. It’s okay to feel scared, I will be there to help you through it.”
As parents, we oftentimes go right over the validation piece and jump to reassurance or rescuing of uncomfortable emotions. I wanted him to know that I understand how he is feeling and that it’s normal.
Staying honest with children is crucial. The foundation of trust is what helps provide safety and security. I was very clear about what the procedure would entail and when it would occur.
Providing the right education for children will help them process new experiences. I use a variety of tools to help kids understand new information. For my son, I showed him some pictures in a body book and explained what blood cells are. He thought it was funny to hear that white blood cells are the soldiers in our blood attacking and destroying the enemies, germs. I also provided him with an opportunity to see and feel the materials that would be used; butterfly needle, tourniquet, alcohol wipe. This allowed him to become desensitized and gain some control.
Creating a preparation plan helps children know what to expect. I did the same thing for my son, by teaching him about a blood test using a Water Baby. I learned this technique from a colleague, Genevieve Lowry at D.I.Y. Child Life. It is quite easy to do and kids enjoy it.
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Offering children lots of choices can help them cope in a healthy way. Create a distraction kit that can be filled with items that bring comfort and sensory stimulation. My son decided to use Buzzy, a squeeze ball, and watch a video on my phone. He knew that his only role was to keep his body as still as possible. He sat on my lap in a comfort hold, took slow breaths, and would watch the procedure and look away. The phlebotomist and I worked well together staying calm and using distraction.
What other techniques do you use to support children?