Preparing Your Child for Medical Tests

Preparing Your Child for Medical Tests
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Medical tests can be scary, no matter how old you are.  And for kids with cancer, it’s really hard because tests and procedures are a large part of their cancer journey. But by properly preparing your child for medical tests you can help lower their anxiety and provide them with valuable coping skills.  

Prepare Yourself

First, it’s important when preparing your child for medical tests that you understand the test or procedure that your child will be having.

Create a list of questions and concerns that you have about the test and then have a conversation with your child’s doctor.  Depending upon your child’s age and personality, you may want to have this conversation without your child present. Here are some questions that you might want to consider asking:

  1. Why is your child having this particular test or procedure?
  2. Who will be performing the test or procedure?
  3. How long will the test take?
  4. Where will your child be going for the test?
  5. What, if any, risks are associated with the test?
  6. Will your child be receiving sedation or anesthesia and if so what kind?
  7. What parts of the procedure may be painful, scary or uncomfortable?
  8. How can you best prepare your child for the test?
  9. If the test is going to be painful or uncomfortable, are there any measures you can take to reduce your child’s discomfort?
  10. Will you be able to stay with your child while they have the procedure? If you are not permitted to stay with your child, ask how long you can stay before you must leave. Who will be with your child once you leave?
  11. When can you expect to receive the results and what might they mean?

Tell your child what is age appropriate

What and when you tell your child about an upcoming test or procedure depends on your child’s age and personality.  You know your child best so; it should be based on what you think he or she is able to understand. When you are preparing your child for medical tests, be clear, honest and open. But stay away from graphic and frightening descriptions. The National Institutes of Health suggests that you use real terms in language your child understands. They also recommend that you make sure your child understand the exact body part involved, and that the procedure will be done only on that area.  Cancer.Net recommends preparing your child’s senses – in other words, describe to them what they will see, smell, hear, taste, or touch during the procedure.

So, when should you tell your child?

According to Cancer.Net, you only need to tell preschool-aged children a day or so in advance. Whereas, school-aged children and teenagers may want to know earlier. But they caution that some children may worry for days if they are told about a procedure too far in advance. Meanwhile, some school-aged children and teenagers may find it helpful to keep appointments on a calendar.  MyHealth’s article, “Pediatric Preparation for Medical Tests” provides recommendations on what you should discuss with your child based on their age.

Schedule Wisely

If possible, schedule the test or procedure for a time when your child won’t be tired or hungry. There are, however, some tests which require fasting. If this is the case, try to schedule the appointment for first thing in the morning. Don’t forget to bring snacks which your child can have afterward.  

Be ready yourself

At the time of the test, your child may not be cooperative. The medical staff may ask you to hold your child still so the test can be done. If you act scared or upset, or if it becomes too difficult for you to hold your child, you may be asked to leave the room. If this happens, an assistant will step in to hold your child during the test. Don’t scold your child for being scared or for crying or resisting being held still. And do your best to comfort your child after the test is done.

Visit Ahead

If you have to go someplace like the radiation department of the Hospital or a facility outside the hospital, it may be helpful to tour it first.

Make a plan and offer distraction during the procedure

To help your child remain as calm as possible before and during the procedure, distract your child with books, bubbles, songs, games and hand-held electronics like the ones Mikey’s Way provides. Younger children may find comfort in a favorite object like a teddy bear. You can also use calming techniques such as mindfulness activities.

Resources website. Preparing your child for medical procedures. Updated March 2019. Accessed August 6, 2020.

MedlinePlus website. School age test or procedure preparation. website. Pediatric Preparation for Medical Tests

You can find tips for talking with your child in Mikey’s Way blog post, “Talking with Your Child About Cancer.”

Note:  All information on Mikey’s Way Foundation, is for educational purpose only. For specific, medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your child’s physician.