Mother hugging young son Bloodwork can often be a stressful experience for many children (and adults!). “But there are ways to help your child or adolescent cope with bloodwork,” explains Erin Prendergast, CCLS, a child life specialist with the Cardiac Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Develop a coping plan

“Coming up with a plan prior to blood draw can set your child up for success,” says Prendergast. Some helpful strategies include deep breathing, distraction with child’s favorite toy or stuffed animal, counting in a calm tone, comfort positioning, and use of Buzzy®. Buzzy is a small device shaped like a bee that vibrates on a child’s arm. Buzzy has been found to reduce pain by using vibration to disrupt signals between the brain and nerves that sense pain. You may also speak with your healthcare provider about medications for pain management, if necessary.

Use a comfort position when possible

For young children, sitting on a caregiver’s lap in a safely implemented comfort position can add a sense of security, comfort and support. Your phlebotomist can help you to determine the best way to hold your child to ensure everyone’s safety and success of the blood draw.

Describe sensations

Children can become anxious during any stage of a blood draw — from tourniquet placement to cleaning with an alcohol pad. “Try to help your child know what to expect by describing sensations,” suggests Prendergast. For example, you can describe a tourniquet as a “tight squeeze” and cleaning as “cold and wet.”

Give an appropriate opportunity for control

Ask your child if they would like a countdown to the poke or if they would like to look away and be distracted instead. “This provides the child with a sense of control over an experience that they have very little control over,” explains Prendergast. Also empower your child by giving them a job — to remain still so that the blood draw can go as smoothly as possible. This will also give the child control and a sense of autonomy over their own body.

Be honest with your language

Honesty is an important component when speaking to your child about bloodwork. Try to avoid saying “it won’t hurt!” or “this will be quick!” It’s important that your child trusts you and the medical team to be honest with them. Try saying, “this will feel like a pinch or a poke” instead. Be careful not to say “all done!” until the blood draw is truly complete — that means the needle is removed and bandage is placed. “Using this language prepares the child for a sensation that they can relate to and provides realistic expectations, which can lead to a greater ability to cope positively with a blood draw,” says Prendergast.

Contributed by: Erin Prendergast, CCLS
Date: October 2017