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Laboratory Tip of the Week

When your child needs laboratory testing “Blood Work”

Most children will need blood work at some time. When a child is sick, or as part of ongoing treatment, their blood may need to be tested. To obtain the blood, a phlebotomist, nurse, or physician will need to perform either a finger stick or venipuncture.

You can prepare your child for blood work by letting them know what to expect
Usually, it is best to tell your child ahead of time that they are going to have blood work. When a child knows what to expect, they will experience less anxiety about what is going to take place. Most experts believe that if a child (of any age) has more than 24 hours after knowing that they’re having blood drawn that this serves to increases their level of anxiety.

What parents can do to help
What you can do to help your child prepare for blood work depends on their age and individual maturity.
What helps a very young child is often different from what helps an older child.
Your reaction to a stressful situation has a direct influence your child’s reaction. For example, if you show that you are anxious and stressed out about your child having blood drawn; this will only serve to increase their anxiety, conversely if your overall persona appears calm this will have a calming effect on your child.
Distracting your child is helpful

Distraction is usually helpful for all age groups. The best way to distract a child during a venipuncture depends on the child’s age.

Toddlers 12 months to 2 years old
Distract your toddler with bubbles or toys that move and make noise. Pinwheels, magic wands, and light-up toys work well.

Children 3 to 5 years old
Bring your child’s favorite toy to the lab or hospital. They can hold the toy while blood is being drawn. Bubbles and toys that make light and sound may also help.

Children 6 to 12 years old
Toys that light up and make noise may still help if your child is this age. Video games, “search and find” books, and favorite stuffed animals and other toys from home can also help.

Blowing bubbles can also distract an older child. The deep breathing while blowing bubbles often helps them relax.

Older children can use their imaginations to distract them. Have your child to close their eyes and imagine a favorite place or activity. You can also tell them jokes or stories. If your child is a teenager, stories, jokes, and imagination games can help distract them.

What parents can say to help
The words you use to explain to your child about what is going to happen are important. Use words that will reassure them. Let them know with words they can understand. Talk to them honestly about what they will see, feel, hear, and smell. To help your child understand how long it takes to give blood, say “having your blood drawn is faster than a commercial on TV.”

Here is a way to explain what will happen:

  • Before the needle, a large rubber band that feels like a balloon will be wrapped around your child’s arm. Tell them that the band will feel tight like someone is squeezing their arm.
  • The nurse will clean a small patch of skin on your child’s arm and this will feel cold.
  • The needle will be put into the arm and blood will go into the needle. Your child will feel a pinch or prick that can sting or hurt a little, or they may feel nothing at all.
  • Once the blood is taken, the needle comes out and a small bandage is put on the spot where the needle was.
    Other helpful hints
  • Tell your child why he or she is having blood taken.
  • It can be helpful to show children toy needles and other medical equipment before blood is taken. Some labs and hospitals have these toys. When children see and play with these toys, it may help them feel less anxious when they see the real needles.
  • Children feel better when they have some control. You can help your child feel they have control by giving them choices. For example, ask them what they would like to take with them to the lab or hospital. You can also ask if they would like to play with a toy or hear a favorite story while blood is taken.
  • Let your child know that it is okay not to like what is happening. It is good to let your child express how he or she feels. It is also a good idea to tell your child that their “most important job” is to stay very still until the procedure is complete.
  • Some children worry that they will not have enough blood after some has been taken from their arm. You can reassure your child that only a very small amount of blood is taken. You can also explain that their body makes new blood all the time to replace what has been taken.

Key points

  • There are things you can do to help your child prepare for blood work and reduce their worries about it. What works best depends on the age and temperament of your child.
  • Be honest with your child. Explain what will happen, using words they can understand.
  • Distracting your child during the procedure can help.
  • Giving your child choices to allow them a feeling of control.

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