Helping your child cope with medical experiences

February 18, 2013 Evi Feltus, CCLS

The hospital or any medical experience can be a stressful and frightening place for anyone, especially a child. They may encounter new faces, scary equipment and overwhelming feelings of loss of control.

Did you know that there are professionals who aim to reduce negative effects of medical experiences that may affect the development, health and well-being of children and families? These professionals are called certified Child Life specialists and are available at most hospitals who serve children to help you and your child cope with these experiences.

Swedish has four full-time Child Life specialists who cover First Hill and Issaquah campuses from surgery to radiology to inpatient stays. At Swedish, our Child Life team strives to reach every pediatric patient who walks through our doors in an attempt to make their stay a little easier.

Here are some tips for parents on how to help your child cope with medical encounters:


  • Have your child choose a favorite toy, blanket or stuffed animal to bring with her as a comfort item.
  • Play doctor with your child before coming to the hospital to give her a sense of control and mastery. This can also serve to clear up any misconceptions about medical procedures.
  • Talk to your child in developmentally appropriate terms about why she is having this procedure, what it is and what she can expect to experience. Research shows that children’s anxiety is reduced when they know what to expect.
  • Encourage your child to ask many questions.
  • Practice deep breathing with your child (this not only helps your child relax, but it can help you as a parent relax. The more relaxed you are as a parent, the more likely your child will be relaxed.)
  • Have your child choose a real or imaginary place to think about if she is feeling nervous. (Hawaii? Disneyland?)
  • Have your child choose a game, book or movie to bring along for distraction.
  • Allow your child to choose breakfast the day before her doctor’s visit; again this provides your child with a sense of control.
  • Provide your child with as many VIABLE choices as possible. However, be careful not give choices if none are available.
  • Avoid telling your child, “Big kids don’t cry.” Crying is a positive coping mechanism and may help your child get through the process.
  • Avoid telling your child that they won’t get a prize if they don’t cooperate or cry. These kinds of statements can make it more stressful for your child.
  • Be honest with your child.
  • Remind your child that doctors and nurses help kids!

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