Your child in hospital: Techniques to help with treatments

Your child in hospital: Techniques to help with treatments

Some techniques which can help a child cope with treatments which they see as uncomfortable or frightening: distraction, participation, de-sensitisation, guided imagery, self instruction and relaxation.

Which techniques can I use to help my child cope with their treatment?

The following are some techniques which can help a child cope with treatments which they see as uncomfortable or frightening:

What can you do?

  • read through the techniques with your child and talk with them about the activities that appeal and how the activities you choose can be used
  • ask your nurse for any help you need to prepare for your chosen activity; for example, you may want a television and video or DVD player taken into the treatment room or a CD player or chosen games or books


Distraction provides an alternative focus minimizing fear and anxiety. Any of these can be used to help distract a child:

  • interactive books, musical buttons, pop-up books
  • favourite stories
  • a story recited by an adult with the child contributing. The story can be about the child's favourite character, who is undergoing the same medical procedure and who is a superhero
  • bubbles - the child can blow them or an adult can blow them and the child can blow or pat them away
  • puppets, jack-in-the-box or kaleidoscope
  • counting games
  • spotting games - the number of times a certain object appears; the number of different animals that can be seen in a picture etc
  • a TV programme or video
  • computer games
  • photographs from home, holiday, friends, pets, school, etc
  • a favourite music CD or tape or even chanting
  • favourite toy or favourite comforter
  • for infants - they can be distracted and soothed with stroking, nursery rhymes, songs such as 'pat-a-cake'; swaddling, rocking and patting may be comforting


Allow your child involvement in some or all of the following.

  • helping the nurse to prepare for the procedure
  • touching and manipulating safe equipment
  • choosing the site for an injection or blood test; for example, choose which finger is to be used for a skin prick

If I think my child will benefit from participation, how do I arrange it?

Speak to your nurse when arrangements are being made for the treatment and tell them that your child would like to help with the preparations.


This technique can be a very helpful approach with some children. It usually requires the assistance of a hospital play specialist, senior nurse or child psychologist.
The technique allows your child to encounter whatever is feared in a graded, step by step way, your child deciding the pace, so that the feared object becomes associated with a comfortable emotional state.

How can I obtain more information about de-sensitisation?

Speak to your nurse and say that you and your child are interested and would like to know more.

Where do we get help if we decide to try de-sensitisation?

Your nurse will make all the arrangements necessary.

Guided imagery

The aim is to guide your child to imagine themselves in another place, or occupied with a chosen activity. Your child is guided by the narration to visualise themselves in a place of their choice, which has been pre-determined and discussed. It may be helpful to write down a story. Examples are a favourite holiday location, your child's own bedroom, and activities in the playground.

You or a staff member can be the narrator. Or a recording or a videotape / DVD previously made can be played during the treatment.
Adolescents can use this technique particularly well, and may prefer to have soothing music playing while they take themselves to a 'special place' in their imagination.


  • positive self-talk: “I can do it”; “This will be over soon”; “I'll be OK”
  • parental coaching: “You can do it”; “This will be over soon”; “You will be OK”
  • thought stopping: your child makes a conscious effort not to think about the procedure and concentrates on thinking about other experiences
  • self-pacing, counting: useful combined with deep breathing


  • deep breathing
  • blowing
  • aromatherapy
  • massage
  • soothing music
  • dimmed lighting

Where to go for information and support

On this website
Childhood cancer: Where to go for more information and support


All the fact sheets in the Childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the National Child Cancer Network Clinical Leader.

This page last reviewed 03 October 2013.
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