• Dr Helen Care

How do I prepare my child for a blood test?

- 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 my daughter (Yr 3) 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 #get a grip)! So to take a child just seemed dreadful.

Here's the advice from Dr Helen Care on how to handle it:

Under 5s

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 on CBeebies

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."

Older children

Need more preparation because they have greater understanding.

  1. Read books about your body and what blood is

  2. Explain that blood carries messages around your body and sometimes doctors need to read a couple of those messages

  3. Tell them it's a little needle with a tube to take a small amount of blood

  4. Agree a reward for when it's done

  5. Don't promise it won't hurt

  6. 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.

  7. If you are anxious yourself then don't go with them!

About Rewards

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 elbow, 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. For kids who react to the cream or are experienced at blood tests, then you 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.

Read a book, play a game on your phone etc.


You're Done!

My Experience

When I took my eldest daughter, Yr 3, for her first hospital blood test 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. We did the cream and the cling film - which wasn't popular. I think it can be quite itchy and you can't easily bend your arms with it on.

When we went in the room, we had a play specialist with us showing her a book. Frankie didn't feel a thing, 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. I was trying not to look and feeling pretty queasy 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.

With best wishes to you and yours,

Rachel and Helen from A Confident Start

A Confident Start - psychology that works for your family

Check out our blog for more resources: https://AConfidentStart.com/resources

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