Children and doctor’s offices don’t mix. Even older school age children get scared and anxious when faced with routine doctor’s visits. Throw in some routine, or not so routine, medical tests, and your child may get very stressed.
Ease that test anxiety by helping your child understand exactly what will happen for their doctor visit and medical test. The following are common medical tests children often have to experience based on normal or unique illnesses. Explaining what your child should expect can greatly ease the anxiety and stress caused by doctor’s visits and medical tests.
A child with a sore throat is bad enough, but with the possibility of strep throat, your child faces a medical test called a strep screen. Explain to your child that this test will tell the doctor if their sore throat is caused by a special bacteria called Group A streptococci. Tell your child that their doctor will take a long cotton swap, which looks like a Q-Tip, and swipe it on the back of your child’s throat. It may tickle a little and they may gag a little, but remind them that it will be over in a few seconds and will not hurt.
Even adults don’t like getting blood tests done. Children may have irrational fears about blood tests. Young children may be afraid that the doctor will take all of their blood. First, tell your child how important blood tests are. Children may be fascinated by all the information doctors can determine from a small amount of their blood, such as measuring blood cell counts, electrolytes like sodium and potassium, or sugar levels to determine kidney or diabetes disorders. Remind your child that the doctor will only take a small amount. Use this as a learning opportunity to teach child about how tiny cells are and how many can make up one single drop of blood. Show your child a teaspoon of juice and say that is all the doctor needs for her test.
Explain how the child’s doctor will clean the skin with a cotton ball, insert the needle and then finish up with a bandage. For young children, take fun bright colored bandages. Distract your child for the first pinch of the needle by holding them, talking or singing to them, and keeping their eyes distracted from the test site.
Making the blood test into a science experiment gives your child knowledge and takes away the fear of the unknown. And you may even spark a future doctor.
Urine samples are often used by pediatricians to test how a child’s kidneys or organs are working. Sometimes they are necessary to see if a child has a urinary tract infection, or infections in the kidneys or bladder.
Tell your child that the test will give the doctor lots of information to make them feel better. Take a wet wipe into the doctor’s bathroom and cleanse the skin around your child’s urinary opening. Help your child assume the correct position to begin urinating the in the toilet. Then slide the cup into the stream.
If your child isn’t toilet trained, the pediatrician may have use a catheter to get the right sample. Try to distract your child, similar to when they get a shot, to ease their fear.
Use an X-rays as a teaching opportunity to help your child learn about bones and how the X-ray works. Showing your child photos of X-rays before going to the doctor helps them understand why the X-ray is a necessary medical test. Remind them that they aren’t painful, but that it is very important to lay still. For small children, make the x-ray a game. As they take the X-ray, tell them they have to pretend to be a snake hiding in the grass and they cannot move.
Tell your child to expect the doctor to smear jelly on their abdomen. Tell them it will be cold and it may tickle, but they have to lie still. Let them giggle and laugh as long as they can stay still. The doctor will move a handheld device over the skin to see what’s inside. Older children might be fascinated at seeing how the test works and what their bodies look like.
CT scans or MRIs
If your child needs a CT scan or an MRI they might be feeling scared due to other symptoms or the real reason behind the test. Be reassuring and tell them how cool these machines are. For some kids, using a Sci-FI twist as they slide into the large machines might keep them fascinated. For others, request a favorite child’s song to be played as they lie in the machine. Role play this exercise with children at home. Make a pretend CT scan with a sheet over the bed. Let your child pretend to lie in it and stay as still as possible. It can take a while. If your child is extremely stressed, ask the doctor about a mild sedative to keep them from being overly anxious during the medical test.
No matter what medical test your child has to undergo, the important thing as a parent is to maintain a calm, assertive demeanor. Be reassuring but firm and your child will respond to your confidence and strength.