When Your Child Needs a Blood Test: Coping Tips
A blood test can be stressful for both you and your child. You can take steps to make the process easier. Tell your child that you will do what you can to make it go smoothly. Below are tips that may help.
Knowing What to Expect
Being prepared and relaxed will help increase your child's comfort level. These tips can help:
- Ask the doctor whether the blood test involves a finger-stick or blood draw. The experience is very different for each, and you don't want your child to be surprised. You may also want to ask whether a numbing medication (topical anesthetic) can be used to ease pain.
- Unless told not to by the doctor, make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids before the test. This improves blood flow. It also makes it easier to find and access a vein.
- Ask whether you can visit the lab ahead of time without your child to observe what happens. This is especially helpful if your child will need frequent blood work. You can learn exactly where to go and how long things take. You can also meet the lab technicians.
- If observing ahead of time is not possible, call and ask questions. For example, you might ask for a description of the lab. Or you can ask which lab technician is best with children.
- Ask your doctor or someone at the lab what the process is if the technician has trouble drawing blood. Let them know that if this happens, you may respectfully request another technician.
Helping Your Child Prepare
Once you know what to expect, you can prepare your child.
- As you explain things, be comforting and matter-of-fact. Explain that it must be done, but admit that you wish it weren't needed.
- Tell your child that it will hurt a bit, but the procedure won't last long. Let your child know that after it is over, the hurt stops right away.
- Describe what your child will see in the lab. You might say how many people will be there and that some will be in uniforms. Tell your child that other people may be getting blood drawn, too.
- Let your child know you will do everything you can to make the experience as easy as possible.
Helping Your Child Gain Control
There may be nothing that makes your child feel more afraid than knowing he or she is going to feel pain. You can help by letting your child have as much control over the situation as possible. Try one or more of the following:
- Practice at home. Ask your child to stay still, then move around, then stay still. This helps your child practice control.
- At the lab, stay with your child for the blood test. But if an older child asks you not to, respect his or her wishes.
- Ask your child if he or she wants to watch the blood draw. If your child doesn't want to watch, you can try to distract your child with a book or by telling a story.
- When the technician is ready, ask your child to count to 3. This is the technician's cue to put the needle in.
- With a small child, you can try distracting him or her with this technique: Ask your child to pretend that your finger is a candle and to "blow out the flame" with a big breath. This also helps keep the veins full and relaxed, making the blood draw easier.
Helping Your Child Relax
Thinking about the blood draw may make you both anxious. As the parent, you can take the lead in creating a more relaxed environment:
- Get an early start to the lab so you don't get stuck in traffic.
- In the car, play music that your child likes.
- If you can, have siblings stay with a sitter.
- Plan to do something fun after the blood draw.
Respect Your Child's Emotions
- Blood draws are very scary. It's okay to say that and to mention that adults find them scary, too.
- If your child is not happy, reflect back the feeling by saying, "I know you are unhappy about having this test."
- Don't tell a child to be a "big boy" or "big girl." This can make your child feel ashamed if he or she isn't successful.
- During the blood draw, don't worry about what others think. Do what is needed to give your child comfort.
- No matter how well things go, give your child a lot of credit for making it through the experience.