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Many children will need to have a medical procedure or test at some stage. This may include a blood test, stitches, injection, X-ray, or other type of medical imaging.
As a parent or caregiver, you have an important role in helping your child cope with medical procedures and hospitalisations. You know your child better than anyone else, and can offer reassurance and comfort to help your child feel less scared and stressed.
It is natural for adults to try and protect and reassure their child by saying that a test or procedure won't hurt or will only hurt a little. However, research has shown that telling a child this is not helpful, and it often makes the event scarier.
Always give your child an honest answer, while trying not to frighten them. 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'.
Reassure your child that there are different things that can be done to reduce their discomfort during the procedure, such as medicines, distraction with a favourite book, toy or video, or concentrating on their breathing.
There are a range of medicines that can help relieve pain during uncomfortable procedures. Discuss the different options with medical staff before your child's appointment.
Sucrose solution is a special preparation of sugar mixed with sterile water and preservatives. It can provide short-term comfort and pain relief during procedures for infants up to 18 months of age. It has an instant calming effect on infants, and triggers the body to release its own pain
Sucrose solution is given by mouth (on the sides of the mouth or on/under the tongue). It is sometimes given with a dummy, which can be particularly helpful because sucking also provides comfort to young children. The solution is given two minutes before the start of the procedure, and
further small amounts may be given throughout the procedure.
It is best not to use sucrose solution to comfort upset babies who are crying, or for children experiencing colic pain.
Ensure your child is given an explanation about the procedure from a hospital staff member or GP. Explain:
You may want to talk these things over with your child and answer any questions they have.
There are also a number of resources that specifically explain various procedures to children, such as the
Be Positive (B+) videos and the
Okee in Medical Imaging app.
Ask staff about ways to help your child feel more comfortable and less scared, and make sure you understand what will happen before the procedure starts.
If your child is scared or worried about an upcoming procedure at The Royal Children’s Hospital, you can contact our Child Life Therapy team. The team can help prepare your child for the procedure develop coping strategies with you.
Explain to your child that often pain isn't as bad if you aren't concentrating on it too much. Decide ahead of time which distraction techniques your child would like to do during the procedure - you could even practise them at home before your appointment. Remember to bring along the
It's also a good idea to bring things for you and your child to do while waiting. This helps manage fear and boredom.
Distraction techniques for infants under six months:
Distraction techniques for toddlers (six months to two years):
Distraction techniques for older children:
Distraction techniques for adolescents:
If you have an older child or an adolescent, ask them if they want to know what's happening or if they prefer to focus on an activity instead. Some children want to watch the procedure as it happens.
For infants, keep your baby swaddled so they are wrapped up and warm – only expose the areas of body needed for the procedure.
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 and be held in a hug, as this provides security and comfort. Older children may prefer to sit by themselves.
Stay with your child until they are calm. Babies may like to be cuddled or offered a feed.
Talk to your child about the things they did well. Even if your child was upset, find a positive thing to mention as this can help promote a sense of achievement, e.g. 'You did really well with your deep breathing'.
What can we do if my child becomes extremely distressed
during the procedure?
Most procedures can be postponed until your child's distress
has settled. There are some occasions where a procedure must go ahead, but all
attempts will be made to minimise your child's distress and discomfort. Most
children report afterwards that the procedure was not as bad as the lead-up.
Is sucrose solution safe to give to my baby?
The sucrose solution used to comfort infants during medical
procedures has been prepared and packaged in a healthcare setting, and it has
not been in contact with animal or other food products. Sucrose solution is
considered very safe and effective for helping reduce children's pain.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Anaesthesia and Pain Management department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed April 2019.
This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit
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