Kids Health Info

Reduce children's discomfort during tests and procedures

  • At some point in their lives, many children will need to have a medical test or a procedure such as a blood test, stitches, an injection, x-ray, or other type of medical imaging.

    Here are some tips on how to help your child feel less scared and stressed. It is natural for adults to promise children that a test or procedure will be "pain free" or only "hurt a little." As adults, we want to protect our children. Children, however, report being told this not helpful, and it often makes the event scarier.

    How do you explain pain to children and adolescents?

    There are different types of pain messages that our bodies send to our brain. For instance, our brain will send a message to our body if we touch something too hot or too cold. If we hurt or injure ourselves a pain message is sent to remind our body to rest and or seek help. It's a natural process in our bodies.

    There are many ways to make a procedure more comfortable for children and adolescents, for example distraction, relaxation and breathing work very well. These can be used with pain relieving medicine to reduce pain.

    What do I say if my child asks is it going to hurt?

    Always give your child an honest answer. For example, an honest alternative to saying "this is going to hurt" is to say "some children say it hurts a bit, others are not so bothered."

    Many parents find it helpful to understand that children often express or use the word "pain" to describe fear, distress and anxiety.

    Medicines that help reduce your child's pain

    EMLA/AnGel Cream

    A cream that numbs the skin and can be very effective if your child needs an injection or a drip. It needs to be applied to the skin 45 minutes before the procedure.


    Sweet tasting sugar and water solution is given to infants under 18 months old to relieve pain and minimise their distress. 

    Paracetamol or ibuprofen

    These medicines are helpful for:

    • broken bones
    • plasters
    • dressing changes
    • drain insertion and removal
    • lumbar puncture
    • stitches
    • laceration repairs and immunisations

    Or if recommended by your child's GP, surgeon or nurse.


    Sedations are medicines that can help reduce anxiety and fear. Some help reduce pain if it's anticipated during the procedure. Please discuss these with the staff before your child's appointment.

    Before the procedure

    Information about the procedure

    Ensure your child is given an explanation about the procedure from a hospital staff member or GP. Children report it's important to for them to know:

    • Why the procedure is needed and how it will help their body? 
    • How it may happen?
    • Where it will happen?
    • What they might feel?
    • What things make it feel more comfortable? e.g. iPod, toy or book.

    It may help you to re-explain things to your child and answer any questions.

    • If your child is under six years of age, you should explain the procedure just before it happens.
    • If your child is over six years of age, it is best to explain and prepare your child two to three days before the procedure.

    Distraction ideas for infants under six months:

    • rocking, and stroking their face
    • gentle patting and having family present
    • rattles or other baby toys
    • singing
    • swaddling - keep baby wrapped up and warm, only exposing areas of body needed for the procedure
    • sucrose and breastfeeding.

    Distraction ideas for toddlers six months to two years:

    • sitting up when possible in a hug-like hold
    • blowing bubbles or a windmill
    • toys and books that make noise or with buttons to push
    • singing your child's favourite song
    • light-up toys
    • reading a book.

    Distraction ideas for older children:

    • big belly breathing, blowing away the scary feelings or blowing away the hurt; breathe in through your nose and blow out of your toes
    • blowing bubbles and windmills
    • counting games
    • reading a book, especially a noise book, counting or search-and-find book
    • playing a favourite DVD, iPad or electronic game
    • mind pictures, for example think about a favourite sport, family vacation, school game or activity; let your child tell a story or answer questions about what is pictured in their mind
    • ask your child if they want to know what's happening or if they prefer to focus on an activity instead.

    Distraction ideas for adolescents:

    • listen to music on their phone or an iPod
    • let them have choices about parental presence and hand holding
    • mind pictures, for example think about a favourite sport, family vacation, school game or activity; let your child tell a story or answer questions about what is pictured in their mind
    • relaxation and breathing with or with cues
    • use humour or non procedure talk
    • play a favourite DVD, iPad or electronic game


    It's helpful for children to decide whether they want to lie down or sit for the procedure, but check with the person doing the test first. Young children may like to sit on your knee, as this provides security and comfort. Older children may prefer to sit by themselves and actually watch the procedure as it happens.

    During the procedure

    Infants, children and adolescents:

    • Stay with your child. If you think you may not be able to do so, ask someone your child knows to stay.
    • Maintain contact with your child during the procedure by holding their hand or giving them a cuddle or hug.
    • Remind your child to use the distraction method you have both decided on:
      • 'Tell me something else about your favourite place.'  
      • 'You are going to find this much easier when you do your breathing.'
    • Your words should focus on distracting your child. Many children find it is not helpful to talk about what is happening, how the procedure is going or when it will finish.
    • If your child cries during the procedure let them know that it is okay to feel upset.
    • Praise your child for their cooperation.

    Tips for parents to remain calm during the procedure

    • Bring things for you and your child to do while waiting. This helps manage fear and boredom.
    • Make sure you understand what will happen before the procedure starts.
    • Ask staff about ways to help your child feel more comfortable and less scared.
    • Focus on your child and not on how successfully or quickly the procedure is being done.

    After the procedure

    • Stay with your child until they are calm.
    • Your baby or infant may like to be cuddled or offered a feed.
    • Talk to your child about the things he or she did that were helpful. Even if your child was upset, find a positive thing to mention as this can help promote a sense of achievement. For example: "you did really well with your deep breathing".

    Key points to remember

    • As a parent, you have an important role in helping your child cope with medical procedures and hospitalisations. You know your child better than anyone else.
    • Children generally prefer to have their parent with them during a procedure.
    • Answer your child's questions honestly.
    • Decide with your child which distraction method to use during the procedure.
    • Practice some of the distraction methods before the procedure starts.

    Developed by Comfort Kids. First uploaded January 2007. Updated November 2010.

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.