How do I prepare my child for a blood test?
Updated: Jun 7, 2022
- do we tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Well we've certainly never advocated telling anything but the truth! But the whole truth - well that's a more complicated question.
When Rachel's daughter aged 7 needed a blood test I was horrified. Now I do know that it really isn't that bad, but I am a massive wuss when it comes to this kind of thing. (Last time I had a blood test I genuinely had to sit with my head between my knees for 10 mins afterwards #getagrip)! So to take a child just seemed dreadful.
But as always, reality can be quite different. So here's what happened for us when we got to the hospital...
I was prepared for me to faint and her to go into total meltdown. I fact, I got my sister to come because I knew that I was likely to be more bothered by it than my child was. It started, with a nurse applying numbing cream and then cling film to the inside of both elbows - which wasn't popular. I think it can be quite itchy and you can't easily bend your arms with it on. Then you have to wait for an hour to work so we went off for biscuits in the cafe.
When we finally got into the medical room, we had a play specialist with us for distraction. She showed her a book and they talked about the pictures. Frankie didn't feel a thing, (the cream is amazing) in fact she was so un-bothered that she made the play specialist go away so that she could watch what was happening. She was fascinated by the little tubes and the colour of the blood etc. and wanted to understand it all. (Perhaps we've found a great future career for her!)
Obviously, I was trying not to look or faint, but my 7 yr old was completely fine. Just goes to show, so often the things we really worry about are so often not the things that cause us a problem in the end.
So with that in mind, because this may be far less of a challenge than you think, here are Dr Helen Care's expert tips for how to manage the dreaded day.
Helping Children Through A Blood Test
They don't need to be worried about something that they can't understand. So don't say much in advance.
Play at visiting doctors
Talk about hospitals or read books
Watch the delightful Dr Ranj from CBeebies https://youtu.be/3ZTgsDsLIRE
On the day be honest but don't give much description e.g. "You sit on my lap and we read this book. The nurse will do something to your arm. Then it will all be over."
Need more preparation because they have greater understanding.
Read books about your body and what blood is
Explain that blood carries messages around your body and sometimes doctors need to read a couple of those messages
Tell them it's a little needle with a tube to take a small amount of blood
Agree a reward for when it's done
Don't promise it won't hurt
Give them as much control as possible - e.g. who sits with you in the room, which game to play, what sweets to have etc.
If you are anxious yourself then don't go with them!
You can explain it this way:
"Because this thing is difficult, when you have done it, no matter what fuss you made, you can have the reward."
But note that the bigger the reward you offer, the bigger deal the child will assume it is. Make it worth it, but not so big that you build their anxiety beforehand. And never renegotiate half-way through because that brings in doubt.
On the day
Numb The Pain
Your GP can prescribe in advance, or hospital will just apply, a cream (Ametop/EMLA) for the skin that temporarily numbs pain. Basically you get two tiny tubes of cream to put on the inside of the elbows, then wrap cling film round to hold it in. You wait 20 minutes and then the area is numb.
There is also a sort of cold spray (ethyl chloride) instead of the cream. Kids who react to the cream, or are experienced at blood tests can use that instead.
If you are in hospital then ask for a play specialist to help because they are amazing at distracting children in the crucial moments.
If you are on your own, then read a book, play a game on your phone etc.
We wish you all the very best with it and hope that you found this guide helpful.
Rachel and Helen (Dr Helen Care, Clinical Psychologist)