How to prepare your child for a blood test
Parents have been asking me some pointed questions as to how to better help their child deal with getting a blood test or injection — so let me see if I can make this topic a lot less painful for parents and children.
Acknowledge that it’s OK to be worried about a blood test. Talking to your child about their fears and acknowledging their frustration is the first step to making the process less traumatic for everyone.
Tell your child in advance, not too far in advance but on the day of the visit, that they will need a test (and you should call the doctor’s office to see if one is planned). In a matter-of-fact way, and staying positive and upbeat, you should note that the test or injection will ensure that they stay healthy and not miss fun activities coming up in the days and weeks ahead.
Try to give your child some control over the situation — such as picking out which arm they want to use or where they want to sit, on your lap or on the exam table, but there should be no negotiation as to whether or not the test should be done with your child.
Having your child look rather than covering their eyes reduces the anxiety, plays to their curiosity and shows them it is not so bad.
Rubbing a site with ice in a plastic bag or washcloth can numb the area and may make your child feel better.
Older children may prefer to wear headphones or watch a video during the procedure. Having younger children hold onto their special teddy bear or their transitional object can also help.
Being friendly with the person doing the blood draw and calling them by their first name can also show your child that this person is a friend and not the enemy.
Praise your child if they do well, and even call friends in front of your child to let them know how good your child was, because that will reinforce this behavior — but if they are not as cooperative, do not make your child feel bad, and you still might tell them they did a good job getting this done. Promising a pleasant consequence such as a trip to the playground or getting an extra book read that night for good behavior can also help.
If, despite these suggestions, your child continues to be quite needle-phobic, talk to your child’s health care professional before that next visit for some other ideas, such as a numbing cream that requires about 40 minutes to work but can reduce the discomfort especially if your child needs a lot of blood tests on a more frequent basis.
Hopefully, tips like these will inject just the right amount of assistance when it comes to helping your child get through a blood test.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.