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Communicating procedures to families

  • Statewide logo

    This guideline has been adapted for statewide use with the support of the Victorian Paediatric Clinical Network

  • The following are some simple ways of enhancing communication with patients about procedures:

    • Use clear and developmentally appropriate language.
    • Speak at the child's eye level - this is less threatening.
    • Avoid medical jargon - this can intimidate families.
    • The use of negative words during procedure preparation can be minimised without being dishonest .
    • Words like "hurt", "burn" and "sting" even when used with a modifier such as "little", "barely" and "not much" are negatively loaded and set up an expectation for distress.
    • Use affirmative and positive language e.g.  "Don't tense your arm" can be rephrased as "Keep your arm nice and relaxed".
    • The table below includes a list of child friendly explanations for equipment and procedures. Every child and family is different and explanation will need to be tailored accordingly.

    Child friendly explanations for medical equipment



    Topical anaesthetic cream

    The cream on your skin helps to make your skin feel numb. Numb means that you can't feel that part of your skin as much or not at all.


    For a wound or fracture - this helps to protect your sore (name body part).

    For an intravenous catheter - this helps keep the straw in your hand.

    Blood pressure cuff

    This goes around your arm and may feel like a tight hug.

    It doesn't stay tight for long.

    It helps us to know how strong your heart is pumping.

    Cardiac monitor leads

    These sticky buttons go on your tummy and chest. The long strings connect to this monitor (which looks like a TV) and helps check how well your heart is beating.

     Electrocardiogram (ECG)

    These stickers on your chest, arms and legs connect to the ECG machine and gives us a picture of how your heart is beating.

    It is important to keep still while we are taking the picture.

    Intravenous Catheter (IVC)

    A small straw or tube that goes into your vein to give your body a drink of medicine/fluid.

    Plaster of Paris

    Protects your broken bone until it gets better.


    Helps us to hear the sounds the inside of your body makes - how your heart is beating, how you are breathing.


    A tube with numbers on it - describe its purpose.

    E.g. a helper to give medicine in your mouth. 


    Special hospital sticky tape to make sure the straw (IVC) stays in your hand.


    Like big clear sticky tape.


    Looks like a belt that goes around your arm.  It may feel tight - it's job is to find the best veins.

    Child friendly explanations for medical procedures




    Medicine we give you through the straw in your hand or with a mask that makes you go to sleep so the doctor can (name procedure). You will not feel anything. When it is finished you will wake up.

    Blood test

    A tube that goes under the skin to take a small amount of blood. Explain reason for blood test. It tells us information about how to make you better.


    You cannot eat or drink anything. Explain reason why in developmentally appropriate terms.

    Flush IVC

    Water goes into the straw with the syringe to make sure it is working. 


    Broken bone.

    Fracture reduction

    Putting the broken bone back in the right spot so that it can get better.


    Medicine that takes a bit of time to go through the straw and into your body.


    Medicine that we put into your body with a small needle.

    Lumbar Puncture

    A needle that goes into your back to take a small amount of fluid.

    Describe positioning during lumbar puncture.

    Explanation of cerebrospinal fluid and the purpose of the test depends on the age of the child and anxiety level.

    Magnetic resonance imaging(MRI)/Computer tomography scan (CT)

    Takes a picture of the inside of you.  Describe what the child will see, sounds they will hear, how equipment will move, what the child's role is.

    Nitrous Oxide

    Special medicine air that comes out through the mask. You can't see it.

    It helps make the pain go away.

    Some children say it makes them have funny dreams.

    It is sometimes called laughing gas because it makes some people laugh a lot.

    Observations "obs"

    The nurses do "obs" to see how your body is working. "Obs" mean they find out how fast your heart is beating and how quickly you are breathing.

    Oxygen Saturation "sats"

    This machine is like a peg that sits on your finger.

    It tells us how your lungs are working.


    Ondansetron wafer

    A medicine that helps to make your tummy better and stops the vomiting.

    It is small and goes on your tongue.

    You don't need to swallow it.

    Procedure/Treatment room


    A different room to go to for your  "name of procedure". It has everything the doctors and nurses need.  Mum and/or dad (caregiver) can come with you when you go there.


    Medicine that helps you to feel more relaxed.  Explain sensation further depending on sedation agent.

    Stool collection

    Use familiar term e.g. poo


    Like a band aid made out of string to hold your skin together so it can heal. (explain steps of procedure if developmentally appropriate)

    Going to theatre

    "You need to have a special procedure in a different part of the hospital to help you get better. You may meet lots of different people who are all there to help you." Assure them that a caregiver will be with them for support. Further explain details of the operation or procedure as developmentally appropriate to the child.

    Urine collection/checking urine

    Checking to see how healthy your wee/pee is.