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. Talk to your doctor
without your child present about any concerns you have about the need for the
test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results may mean. To help you
understand the importance of the test for your child, complete the
medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
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 that he or she is old enough to understand. And 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 his or her discomfort, such as
EMLA cream to numb the skin before a needle stick. At
the time of the test or exam, your child may not want to cooperate with the
doctor, and you may need to hold your child still so the test can be done.
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 ask you to leave the room and then have an
assistant hold your child during the test. Do your best to comfort your child
after the test is done.
Some common tests that your child may
Ages 1 to 24 months
Babies respond to gentle
physical contact. They are comforted by a quiet and calm voice. Loud sounds or
sudden movements frighten them.
An older baby may be afraid of
strangers, so be sure to hold him or her in a favorite position or in a
position where he or she 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
Try using distraction to help your child during a test.
Bring your child's favorite toy or quietly sing a favorite song. If you cannot
hold your child, stand where he or she can see your face.
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 do not know
an answer, it is okay to tell your child that you do not know.
- Use words your child knows, such as: "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 his or her arm.
- You know your child best, so allow
enough time before the test to explain what will happen. 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 he or she has some time to talk with you about what will happen
before the visit.
- Explain what you need to in a quiet and confident
voice so that your child can 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
his or her 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
- Be careful about using terms like "cut" or "bleed," because your
child may imagine more blood than there will be. Try to use examples from your
child's life, such as when he or she scraped a knee, to describe the amount of
- Ask your
doctor to allow your child to touch any of the objects used in the test or exam
that are appropriate for a child to handle. Most children are calmed by seeing
and feeling that the object is just a piece of equipment. But it is important
that your doctor keep any frightening equipment out of sight until it is
- If you know 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.
- Bring your child's favorite
book or toy to help distract your child during the test. See if your child
might be able to watch a movie during the test.
- 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 condition.
- You may also want
to 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 will
not take very long.
Ages 6 to 12 years