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:
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:
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.
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.