Helping a Child Handle Blood Draws

Although you can’t make the needle go away, there are some things you can do to soften the experience. Click here for a list of things to do for your child before, after, and during a blood draw.

The amount of information that can be gleaned from a small amount of blood is truly amazing. This information can literally make the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, for many children, their fear of the needle stick required to obtain that small amount of blood is greater than their fear of death itself.

Here are some things you can do to help them with their fear and pain:

Mirror your child’s emotions back to him or her. If your child begins to act out before you even get to the lab, stop and talk about how he or she is feeling. You might begin by saying, “You are acting as if you are angry.” Usually a child will respond to these kinds of statements with something like, “Yeah, I’m mad.” You can keep the conversation focused by drawing out further emotions: “It really doesn’t seem fair, does it?” “No. Why do I have to always get stuck?!”

Let your child know that you accept his or her emotions. Don’t say something like, “Now it’s time to be a big girl.” Instead say, “I understand why you are angry.”

Get your child involved in a solution — “Since we’ve got to get this blood test, how can we work together to make it as easy as possible?” Even very young children can brainstorm, and when they are involved in coming up with a solution, they try harder to make it work. Here are some things you might suggest during the brainstorming session:

  1. Your child could sit on your lap during the blood draw.
  2. You could stand behind him or her and give a shoulder rub during the draw.
  3. You could hold his or her “other” hand.
  4. You could hold your finger up like a candle and let your child blow it out when the needle goes in. Make a game out of it — that pesky flame won’t go out easily, so your child needs to blow and blow until the blood draw is over. (This is similar to Lamaze breathing.)
  5. You could do a tap dance during the draw to distract him or her (this is especially good if you can’t dance and your child knows it!)
  6. You could tell his or her favorite story.
  7. You could let your child pretend to draw blood from his or her teddy bear. Be sure to ask how the teddy bear is feeling. If the teddy bear hurts (which I’m sure he will!), ask your child to think of things that could be done to make teddy feel better.
  8. You could leave the room — sometimes older kids would prefer this; it makes them feel grown up.

Do everything you can to get your child to relax before the blood draw. It is much easier to get the stick if both the child and the lab tech are relaxed:

  1. Leave plenty of time to get to the lab. If you are tense in traffic, your child will get tense, too.
  2. Play soothing music in the car on the way to the lab.
  3. If possible, make it a one-on-one time with the child who is getting the test — leave siblings with a sitter.
  4. Distract your child with a fun game.

Make friends with the lab technicians! This one is important!!! Lab technicians dread aggressive parents. Having to deal with aggressive parents makes them tense and they miss more often.

Visit the lab without your child and watch (without being noticed) how different people interact with patients. When they do notice you and ask if they can help you, simply explain that your child is going to need frequent blood work from their lab and you wanted to become familiar with the physical layout of the lab before bringing him or her so that your first trip would be as easy as possible.

  1. Learn the names of the people who work in the lab. If one seems particularly good, ask for him or her by name. People are always honored when you do that, and they try to give you better service.
  2. Treat the people who work at the lab with respect.
  3. Bring them goodies from time to time.
  4. Thank them for their time and work.

Let your child know that you will make sure he or she gets the best possible treatment. In general, I recommend two (maybe three) tries before requesting someone new. If your child is dehydrated, the veins may be particularly difficult to find, and it is better to let someone who has “gotten to know” the current status of your child’s veins try a third time than to get a new person involved. Sometimes, even when your child’s veins are in great shape, your favorite technician will miss. Maybe he or she is having an off day. There is nothing wrong with requesting that someone else take over, IF you do it nicely. “I’ve promised my son that I won’t let anyone stick him more than twice. I know you usually get it the first time, but I really need to keep my word to my son, so I hope you won’t mind getting your supervisor. If she’s busy, we’ll be glad to wait.”

If your child becomes upset during the blood draw, give him or her options (if your child is old enough to understand what’s going on). Ask if he or she would feel better if we all took a little break, or would it be better just to get it over with. Let your child know that not doing it at all isn’t an option.

Focus on your child’s needs. Don’t be concerned with what the other people in the lab may think about you and your child. If your child is crying, cry with him or her. If your child is kicking and screaming, gently hold him or her with your mouth near his or her ear. Quietly sing your favorite lullaby, even if your child is “too old” for lullabies.

When it is all over, tell your child that you are proud of him or her. Going through that kind of experience is heroic — no matter how he or she acted during the draw.

Last medical review on: March 31, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

Dear Dr. Green, I hope you will be able to help me with my question. I would like to know if a hospital can refuse a parent to be present when drawing blood from a baby?

My son is 8 months old, we took him to the ER for a high fever. They had to draw blood for tests. We were not allowed to be present while they were drawing the blood. My son screamed for about 15 minutes as they were having difficulty finding a vein. My son has never been seperated from me and I feel like he has been traumatized by this. I feel very sad that we were not allowed to comfort him.