No one likes having their blood drawn. Trying to explain to most children why someone absolutely must poke them with a needle isn’t realistic. It comes down to “no ouchies” which, frankly, is an argument I have a difficult time winning. With kids, you can’t exactly have a thorough discussion on the merits of whether or not these specific tests will provide adequate insight into their current medical problem.
I’m going to share what has worked for us. I hope it works for you. There’s no judgement if it doesn’t. Every kid is different! First, infants and toddlers under two. You really can’t do much for them except hold them down firmly with cuddles to minimize the stress and discomfort. Your focus will be more on the nurse. Ask yourself:
- Does the nurse have all of their supplies ready and accessible, while still having them outside of your child’s reach?
- Is the needle your nurse has pulled uncomplicated? It should look like a sewing needle, except it’ll be hollow.
- Are the test vials present? Sometimes nurses pull blood by syringe. That’s also fine as long as the syringe is ready to go.
- A second nurse will usually be present. While you hold your child down, the second nurse will either perform the blood draw or ensure the site they’re using stays completely still. I recommend highly to ask for a second nurse if there isn’t a plan for one to assist. It’s worth the wait.
As your child gets older they gain a much better understanding of what’s going on around them. You can coach them through difficult situations like this. If your child is like mine, they’ve been through enough of these to know what’s coming. It doesn’t take a needle to trigger your child’s anxiety. Keep an eye on your son or daughter and look for early signs of anxiety. They may be only loosely associated with the blood draw. My son’s anxiety starts when more than one person comes into the room.
When these first signs of anxiety appear, begin to explain to your child what’s going on in as neutral of terms as possible. Do your best not to feed your own anxiety into the dialog. I start with something like, “hey look, two nurses are coming to see you! Can you say hi?” Most medical professionals who routinely work with children will block the blood draw equipment from view without thinking about it. If they don’t, your child is likely to recognize it and their anxiety will escalate.
Once it becomes clear my son’s anxiety is escalating I cuddle him and talk to him about what’s happening. I explain the rubber strip is “no ouchies” and they’re just looking. As the nurses prepare to stick him, I grab his attention and explain looking at the initial poke will make it hurt worse, so please look at Mommy. I’ve been doing this same routine for a while now so he recognizes it. He tends to settle once they get through his skin and wants to look. I let him look.
I explain what the nurse is doing. I tell him if they’re still looking and I tell him excitedly when they get the flash (when the blood first shows up in the needle). I tell him the colors of the vials they’re pulling out and how close they are to finished. If there are more than one I count them to him and keep him updated on how many are left. I whisper into his ear how awesome he’s doing and how proud of him I am.
That’s my approach. I’ve seen many different ways of handling the situation. Most of them seem to work fine. The only thing I would strongly discourage is, don’t lie to your child. Your son or daughter knows enough about what’s going on to lose trust in you if you mislead them. Don’t tell them, “it won’t hurt,” if you know it will. Never tell them something scary isn’t going to happen when you know full well it’s coming.
Stick with the truth, demonstrate your love and compassion, and help your child understand the situation as much as possible. You really can’t go wrong that way.