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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ashley Jacobson

How to Help Kids Manage Stress During Medical Visits & Procedures


Going to the doctor can be scary for anyone, especially for kids! Medical visits and procedures can cause increased stress on both kids and their parents. Kids often become anxious during medical visits and procedures because they might not know what to expect. Not knowing what to expect in a situation can cause our mind to think of the worst-case scenario, which in a medical setting, can be very scary. Below are some strategies that parents can use to help make medical visits less stressful for everyone in the family.


The CARD System

One of the most common fears that children and teens have when going to the doctor‘s office is a fear of needles. The CARD system (Comfort, Ask, Relax, Distract), is a group of strategies that can be used to make an injection experience a more positive one. The CARD system can help reduce pain, stress, and worries associated with vaccinations.

CARD system

Here are a few specific ideas to help you get started:


Comfort:

  1. Have a snack before and after

  2. Wear a top that lets your upper arm be reached easily

  3. Bring an item that gives you comfort

  4. Squeeze your knees together if you feel faint or dizzy

Ask:

  1. What will happen?

  2. What will it feel like?

  3. Can I bring a friend or family member?

  4. Can I use numbing cream?

  5. Can I lie down?

Relax:

  1. Take slow deep breaths into your belly, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

  2. Positive self-talk

  3. Have someone with you to support you

Distract:

  1. Talk to someone

  2. Play a game or watch a video on your phone

  3. Read a book

  4. Listen to music

  5. Squeeze a fidget


Strategies for Before the Visit

If your child has frequent medical visits due to ongoing health issues, there are additional strategies that can help reduce their anxiety before these visits. One of the best things that parents can do to help ease anxiety is to provide an explanation of what to expect during their medical visit. It is also best to allow time for the child to ask any questions prior to the appointment. Parents can also help their child by validating their worries and reassuring them that they are going to be okay and will be able to get through the visit/procedure. It can also be beneficial for children to have something to look forward to after medical procedures/visits. This encourages forward thinking in kids and helps them to look past that scary appointment. This can include anything from a fun activity, favorite treat, movie night, etc.


Strategies for the Day of the Visit

On the day of the medical visit or procedure, parents can help to create a calm environment for their child by creating a coping tool kit for the child to take with them to the visit. The goal of having a tool kit is to bring comforting items and things that can help keep the child calm. Some common items in these tool kits include blankets, a tablet, a book, headphones, a favorite toy, etc. In addition to the toolkit, an exercise that parents can do with their child before the visit is square breathing.


Steps for square breathing:

  1. Inhale for 4 seconds

  2. Hold for 2 seconds

  3. Exhale for 4 seconds

  4. Repeat steps 1-3

square breathing


Signs That Your Child May Need Additional Support

Some indicators that your child is experiencing increased anxiety surrounding medical visits include the child expressing worry about a specific procedure/visit. Typically, this can look like your child continuously talking about it and asking “what if” scenarios. For example, your child might constantly bring up worst case scenarios. Children with increased anxiety will often try to avoid going to the medical visit by crying, screaming, or throwing a tantrum. Some kids are unable to enter the medical building and may have signs of panic attacks (i.e., difficulty breathing, fast heart rate, unable to talk it through).


If you are noticing that your child or teen is having a difficult time going to medical appointments and this stress is significantly impacting their mood, daily life, or their medical care, therapy can be helpful in targeting the underlying source of anxiety that is interfering with medical visits or procedures. One type of therapy that is effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), that helps to target anxious thoughts and avoidance behaviors.

 

At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialized in assisting children and teens with navigating life’s challenges, including anxiety associated with medical visits and procedures. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation.


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