Helping your child manage their treatment

Helping your child manage their treatment

There are a number of ways you can help your child if they are having healthcare treatment.

What are the main ways you can help your child?

There are a number of ways you can help your child if they are having healthcare treatment. The suggestions below can help all the family to better cope with the situation.

Talk to your child

Talk to your child about what is happening.

Invite your child to participate in their care

Ask questions which invite your child to participate in their care by offering realistic choices. Just make sure that you word the question so that either answer is acceptable.

Don't ask a question like this: "Are you ready to come to the treatment room?"   

Instead, ask a question like this: "It's time to go to the treatment room. Do you want to walk down with Dad or Grandma?" Or, "Do you want to count to 3 or 5?"

Be involved in decisions

If you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask questions. 

Be involved in all the decisions about your child's healthcare.

If you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask questions. 

What can you do before the treatment or procedure?

Before your child has any treatment, it is important for you to know as much as possible about:

  • why your child is unwell
  • what procedures are necessary
  • what choices are available

This will help you to feel less anxious and in turn, will help you support your child to manage any fear and anxieties they may feel as a result of a medical procedure or treatment.

What is your role?

You and your child are important members of the healthcare team. Your knowledge of what helps your child, and what may make them more anxious or distressed, is very useful information.


Be prepared

Find out what will happen. Know why your child needs a procedure, how it might feel and how long it will last.

Be there

Consider being with your child during the procedure. Discuss this beforehand with the doctor or medical staff.

Talk honestly

Children in unfamiliar surroundings often try to make sense of what is happening. Giving them simple, truthful explanations stops them imagining things which may not be accurate or true.

Explain to your child why they need the procedure, what they can expect to feel, see and hear, and who will be with them throughout. Try to avoid creating unnecessary concern, but do not make promises that you cannot keep. For example, do not tell your child that a procedure will not hurt unless you can be sure of this.

How much information you share may depend on your child. For some children, lots of information may make them feel secure. For others, it may make them more anxious. 

Ask for help if you need it

If your own fears and concerns are making your child more anxious, talk them through with medical staff or with other supportive adults out of your child's hearing.

Encourage questions

Make sure that staff caring for your child explain to your child (not just to you) what they will be doing and the purpose of the equipment they are using. Encourage your child to ask questions and to express any concerns they may have.

Keep it simple

Where possible use simple language and explain the meaning of unfamiliar terms they may hear, such as 'anaesthetic'. When describing a medical procedure try not to use words that have double meanings or which may be frightening. For example, use:

  • 'special medicine' instead of 'dye'
  • 'numb' or 'make sleepy' instead of 'deaden'
  • 'make an opening' instead of 'cut'

Use coping strategies

Help your child manage pain or discomfort. There are many coping strategies you can use to help reduce anxiety and perceptions of pain and discomfort, depending on your child's age. These can include squeezing your hand and saying 'ouch', distraction with bubble blowing, songs or stories, deep steady breathing, video games or having an iPod.

See Painful procedures and operations - how can parents help?

Comfort and reassure

Afterwards, comfort your child in whatever ways are soothing and reassuring to them; for example, by holding, rocking, touching or stroking.

Play before and after

Encourage play both before and after procedures. Playing, painting, and storytelling or story writing give children control, help them to express their feelings, understand what is happening, and cope with unfamiliar or difficult situations.

Ask about play specialists

If your local hospital has a play specialist then they may be able to advise you on how to help your child cope with illness, treatment and hospitalisation.

Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledge the cooperation of the Hospital Play Specialists Association of Aotearoa/New Zealand in making this content available to parents/caregivers and families.


This page last reviewed 24 October 2017.
Email us your feedback

On this page