Parent Skill #5 — Prepare Your Child for Procedures and Hospital Visits

One of the most aggravating things that a young child with a chronic disease must face is the unknown, not knowing what awaits them each day. Children need to know what to expect in their lives, and should be given the tools to prepare for the difficult events that lie ahead. If the child must go to the doctor's office for a procedure, the caregivers might fear that telling the child anything will only increase the anxiety of the visit. However, the child invariably knows something is going to happen. When the child has been given no explanation, imagination will take over and fill in the blanks. These children may act out. They might become withdrawn, edgy or easily frustrated. These are normal reactions when facing an unknown medical procedure.

Kids looking at X-ray.

It is often difficult for parents to know when their child is going to have a painful procedure, and some parents simply avoid sating anything about the procedure. This is a disservice to the child, the medical personnel and the parents. Proper preparation can lessen the anxiety associated with any procedure or hospitalization. You must use your best judgment. For example, a young child should not be told that a procedure or hospitalization is going to occur until the child arrives at the hospital. If the child asks before arrival, the parents should not deny that the event will occur. Once at the hospital, parents and health care staff should to take time to prepare the child for upcoming procedures. Important information includes why the procedure is being done, who will be doing it, what equipment will be used, and the steps that will be taken to minimize any discomfort.

Obviously, the information provided must fit the age level and maturity of the child. Simply talking about the procedure can allow the child to prepare for it, and creates in the child a sense of empowerment and control, rather than feeling like a victim of the procedure. The children and parents also learn specific methods to alleviate anxiety during procedures and other stressful times. Children might benefit from deep breathing, distraction or guided imagery, where the child imagines another place and allows the mind to become fully engrossed in that scene.

Parents can further help the child by resisting the temptation to bargain and setting clear limits. For example, if a procedure must be done, do not promise the child gifts for agreeing to the procedure. This will escalate into a never-ending cycle of bribery. Rather, provide comfort and positive affirmations to your child. "I know this is very difficult, but you can do it and we will snuggle when it is over." This approach will help prevent bargaining and unnecessary delays on the part of the child, which only serve to prolong the child's anxiety.

Girl in hospital.

Often, the anticipation of the procedure actually provokes more anxiety for the child than the procedure itself. You, your child and your healthcare provider should discuss specific ways to reduce stress, including allowing the child to select who should be present during the procedure. However, if you are not comfortable watching the procedure, do not feel obligated. You will not comfort your child if you faint and must be carried out of the room. Talk to your healthcare providers for further information and suggestions to help everyone find a comfortable solution.

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