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Pediatric Preparation for Medical Tests - Preparing Your Child for a Medical Test

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 test.

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 get well."
  • 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 blood.
  • 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 needed.
  • 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.
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