Tests and procedures – reducing anxiety and distress
Tests and procedures – reducing anxiety and distress
There are many ways to help reduce your child's anxiety and distress during tests and procedures for cancer.
Key points to remember
- throughout treatment, your child will have tests and procedures to help the healthcare team
diagnose and care for your child
- some of these tests will be quick and easy for your child, and some may produce anxiety
- you can help prepare your child by giving simple, accurate information in a calm, non-emotional way
- talk to your child about coping methods that they can use on the day
- avoid giving your child long explanations about the procedure while it is happening
Be there for your child
This page is part of a whole section about childhood cancer.
It can help your child if you can be there during tests and medical procedures. If you can't be there, think about asking another person who your child is comfortable with. Because each child's experience is different, it is important to talk with your healthcare team about the best way to support your child.
Before the procedure
Talk with the nursing and healthcare staff to get a good understanding of why your child needs the procedure and what it will involve.
Keep it simple
Prepare your child by giving simple, accurate information in a calm, non-emotional way.
Use language your child can understand and answer any of their questions. Listen to your child's concerns about the procedure- they may be different from your own.
How much information you decide to give your child will depend on your child's age and how well you think they will cope. For a young child anxious child, talk about the procedure only a day or two beforehand so that you don't overwhelm them.
Discuss coping techniques
Talk to your child about coping methods that they can use on the day such as distraction and breathing techniques.
They can use these to help manage any discomfort or anxiety about the procedure. Practice these techniques together. Talk to your child about when and how to use these techniques.
Find out about pain relief and sedation during tests and procedures.
Where possible, give your child a choice. For example, your child can choose which finger for a finger-prick.
They may also be able to choose a position such as lying down or sitting on your lap but check with the nurse or doctor first to see if this is possible. It is not helpful to offer your child a choice such as when to start a procedure.
During the procedure
Avoid giving your child long explanations about the procedure while it is happening.
Stay calm during the procedure. This will let you support your child as best you can. There are some techniques you can use to help during the procedure.
Maintain physical contact
Patting rubbing and stroking can be very soothing for your child.
Encourage your child to focus on other things rather than on the procedure. Distraction could be blowing a windmill or party-blower, looking at a pop-up book or favourite book or counting objects around the room. It could also be telling a favourite story, recalling a happy event or watching a video or TV.
Imagery involves imagining events – particularly sights, smells, sounds and tastes – as if the events were really happening. Ask your child to choose a favourite place or activity and focus on helping your child imagine that experience using all their senses.
Telling your child to "Blow away the worry" can be very helpful before and during a procedure. Practise this with your child. It may help to imagine blowing out candles on a cake or letting air out of a tyre.
It's also a good idea to encourage your child to relax.For younger children, you can suggest they "Go all floppy".
For older children, teach them to breathe in comfortable feelings and breathe out tension. Encourage them to notice changes in their muscles and whole body.
It may help your child to use some coping statements before, during and after the procedure.
These statements can help your child to use their coping techniques and to praise themselves. Useful phrases include "I need to relax now", "Soon it will be finished" and "This is helping me get better."
What you say to your child during a procedure and how you say it can affect how your child copes. Try to avoid talking about the procedure while it is happening. Talk about something else like a past event or coach your child to use a coping technique.
Avoid statements such as "It'll be all right", "I'm sorry I have to do this", "I know it's hard", or "Stop being a baby".
After the procedure
Praise and rewards
Praise your child and mention any attempt at using a coping technique. Rewards can be very helpful but avoid bargaining with your child during a procedure such as saying "I'll buy you a PlayStation".
Reassure your child
If your child cries or is distressed because of pain, let your child know it is OK to feel upset. Keep using coping techniques even if they do not seem to be working at first.
Talk with your child and build on the parts that they found helpful. Talk to your child about how they are feeling about their illness and treatment. It is important to talk with your child and help them any other worries they may have.
If you are concerned about your own or your child's level of distress, talk to a member of your healthcare team for help.
You can watch a Paediatric Integrated Cancer Service video that explains procedural pain management below:
There are cancer centres for children and young people in New Zealand. These offer support in coping with medical procedures to children diagnosed with cancer and their families.
Play specialists and psychologists who specialise in child development work with children and families to help build upon their existing strengths and coping strategies.
Nurses and support staff can also help with coping strategies to support children who are having medical procedures. Staff can work with you to provide the support that your child needs.
Your healthcare team can give you information and practical suggestions to help your family adjust to hospital.