Coping With Healthcare Procedures

Healthcare procedures are often stressful and frightening experiences for children and families. Giving children strategies for coping with these procedures will help them to have:

  • A sense of control over the experience
  • A feeling of participating in their own care, leading to increased self-esteem
  • A positive and effective coping strategy to use during future procedures
  • A better overall experience

Helpful hints

  • Be honest with your child. Talk to him about the procedure by explaining what he will see, feel and hear.
  • Tell the staff what helps your child.
  • Focus on and talk about positive topics.
  • Be positive and encouraging to your child.
  • Praise your child during and after the procedure for doing all the things that are asked of him or her, such as holding still.
  • Talk in a calm quiet voice.
  • Position yourself so he or she can see or touch you while you hold a hand or rub the forehead or cheek.
  • Ask questions to prepare yourself for the procedure.

Common coping strategies you can use with your child during healthcare procedures

Breathing and blowing

Items to use: bubbles, pinwheel, kazoo, party blower or harmonica

Tips on using breathing and blowing to help your child cope with a medical procedure

  • Practice slowly breathing in and out with your child to help him or her relax.
  • Let your child watch you take deep breaths if he or she does not want to join in.
  • Breathe together so that your child can hear, see and copy you.
  • Make the breathing activity into a game: count how long you can blow, or blow big bubbles rather than small bubbles.
  • Explain to teens that deep breathing can help the body relax and may make the procedure easier and faster.


Items to use: magic wand, pop-up book, sound book, electronic hand-held game, or portable CD player or tape player

Tips on using distraction to help your child cope with a medical procedure

  • Distraction helps your child to focus on something interesting and fun.
  • Participate in the activity with your child.
  • Make sure the item you are using will hold your child’s interest.
  • Let your child hold and play with the item. If this is not possible, let him or her tell you what to do with the item; for example, when to turn the page or push the music buttons on the book.


Items to use: relaxation tape, music box, storybook, portable CD player or tape player, and your child’s imagination.

Tips on using imagination to help your child cope with a medical procedure

  • Using imagination may involve making up stories or using your child's imagination to think of a special place he or she would like to be.
  • You know your child best. Do what works for your child. For example, if your child’s story is silly but distracting, follow his or her lead.
  • Allow your child to make choices and ask questions that will keep his or her interest.
  • Practice before the procedure. Your child can better concentrate on learning new coping skills before, rather than in the middle of, a procedure.

Physical touch

Items to use: a blanket, a favorite stuffed animal and yourself!

Tips on using physical touch to help your child cope with a medical procedure

  • Hold or sit next to your child on the exam table or at the bedside.
  • Sit or lie alongside your child and stay where your child can see you.
  • Rub your child’s back, arm and forehead using long slow strokes.
  • Speak or sing into your child’s ear in soft, soothing tones. This will help your child focus on you instead of the procedure.

Coping strategies by age


  • Holding your baby
  • Speaking in a soft voice
  • Playing music or singing
  • Offering a pacifier
  • Shaking rattles


  • Holding your toddler
  • Playing music, singing or reciting nursery rhymes
  • Reading pop-up and sound books
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Spinning pinwheels


  • Blowing bubbles
  • Spinning pinwheels
  • Reading pop-up and sound books
  • Playing music and singing
  • Counting
  • Talking about favorite things such as a pet or a favorite place


  • Picking a favorite place or thing to talk about such as a TV show or cartoon character
  • Playing music
  • Squeezing a ball
  • Using a magic wand
  • Breathing with slow deep breaths
  • Reading pop-up and sound books
  • Playing with noise-making items


  • Picking a favorite place or thing to talk about or imagine
  • Playing music on a portable music player
  • Playing a hand held game
  • Breathing with slow deep breaths
  • Relaxing muscles
  • Squeezing a ball