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Dealing With the “Ouches” of Immunizations and Medical Procedures

Dealing With the “Ouches” of Immunizations and Medical Procedures

Every child will probably have to undergo an uncomfortable medical procedure at some time — an immunization, a blood test, stitches, even an operation or ongoing treatment. There are ways we can help kids get through these events without any lasting trauma and maybe even make these events a source of growth. Though the ways we can help will change as the child develops, one thing stays the same: the need for parental closeness through as much of the event as possible.

Tips for Helping Toddlers and Young Preschoolers

  • Stay with your child for as long as the procedure lasts. He may scream more, but over the long term his adjustment will be better if you are there. If you really can't do it, recruit someone else whose only job is to support your child. A sense of abandonment is worse than any physical pain.
  • Give a simple explanation of the event. "They'll put a tight band around your arm, and then you'll feel a small poke." Lying about the pain, duration, or anything else is not a good idea. Mistrust leads to more anxiety. Tell your child very simply what he has to do: "You have to hold your arm very still so they can finish quickly. You can scream and cry, but don't move."
  • Keep it short. Long explanations and rationalizations are confusing and overwhelming to a young child. Skip the "why" except in the simplest of terms: "This shot will help keep you from getting sick."
  • Say "all done!" Announce when it is all done and what will happen next. "We're all finished, so now we can go get that ice cream we talked about." Acknowledge that the experience was tough for your child, and let him know how proud of him you are for getting through it.
  • Offer reasonable choices. Give kids control when it is reasonable ("What color Band-Aid do you want?"), but never give them a choice when there isn't one ("Would you like to have stitches?"). For kids, it's a betrayal when you go ahead with a procedure they thought they had a choice about.

Tips for Helping Older Preschoolers and School-age Children

  • Answer their questions. Older children do well with a simple explanation of why they need a procedure. Be ready to answer specific questions.
  • Let your child take the lead. Kids may be interested in seeing the blood and gore, or they may be afraid of it. Follow the child's lead; don't push and don't prohibit. Also, kids this age may be helped by mentally rehearsing the event. Knowing the concrete details of the event gives them a sense of control and mastery.
  • Look into hospitalization preparation classes and books. If your child faces a major procedure or long-term treatment, it can help her to see and hear about other kids who have gone through the same thing.
  • Listen and learn. Kids like to tell "horror stories" about what they went through. Listen but don't be drawn into too much exaggeration. Point out how she has recovered and coped. Help your child learn how the body heals by drawing attention to the healed cut, the scar that is fading, and the shot site that bears no needle mark.

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