Preparing children for medical tests

Medical examinations and tests can be scary for children, so it is important to give them age-appropriate information.

Ages 2 to 6

Children ages 2 to 6 often ask "Why?" Don't give them long answers or additional information. Only answer the question. Explain about the tests or the physical exam in simple words.

  • Use words that the child knows, such as: “The room will be cool, the lights will be bright, and a big camera will take your picture.”
  • Explain tests right before they occur so the child does not have time to worry or dream about them. Children at this age have trouble telling fact from fantasy and have very active imaginations.
  • Explain enough so that the child seems to understand what will happen. This will help keep the child from imagining something awful.
  • Be careful about using terms like "cut" or "bleed," as the child may imagine more blood than there will be. Try to use examples from the child's life, such as when the child scraped a knee, so he or she can understand how much blood there will be.
  • Use positive words as much as possible. For example, say "The doctor needs to examine you in order to find out how to fix this and help you get well."

Ages 6 to 12

Children ages 6 to 12 may be scared when they go to see a health professional. If the child is old enough to understand that he or she is ill and needs tests, explain what will happen during the visit.

  • The younger children in this age group may like for you to pretend to give a doll the same exam or test and have them watch. Let the child give the doll an exam or test. This process helps young children to not fear the test.
  • Help a child of this age talk about his or her fears through play.
  • Use positive words as much as possible. For example, say "The doctor needs to examine you in order to find out how to fix this and help you get well."

At the time of the test or physical exam, the child may not want to cooperate with the health professional and may need to be held still during certain tests. Don't scold a child for fighting about being held still—the child is scared. Comfort your child after the test is done.

Preteens and teens

Preteens and teens also may be frightened when they go to see a health professional. Explain what will happen during the visit.

  • Before the visit, explain what will most likely be done and why.
  • Allow the teen to ask questions.
  • If there is a chance for the teen to make a choice (even as simple as which color of gown to wear), allow it. Teens feel the need to have some control in their lives and may be more cooperative if you let them make choices.

Last Updated: December 11, 2009

Author: Jeannette Curtis

Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Martin Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

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