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Easing ‘test’ anxiety

» Tests your child may need

Preparing for a routine exam

Try role-playing at home. Let your child use a doll or a teddy bear as a patient and demonstrate how the doctor will:

  • measure height and weight
  • look in the mouth and hold down the tongue with a flat stick
  • look in the eyes and ears with a lighted tool
  • listen to the chest and back with a stethoscope
  • press or tap on the tummy
  • glance at the "private areas"
  • tap on the knees and check the feet
  • check blood pressure with a funny band that "hugs" the arm briefly

Any child can develop anxiety about going to the doctor. Whether it’s for a routine checkup or an illness, your child may have fears, apprehension or guilt about an impending exam or medical test. Help reassure and prepare your child with these tips:

  • Explain why your child is seeing the doctor. If you’ve scheduled a “well-child” visit, remind your child that regular checkups are how we stay healthy. If your child’s ill, explain that the doctor needs to determine why he or she isn’t feeling well to help him or her get better.
  • Ease feelings of guilt. Tell your child that the illness or condition isn’t his or her fault. Explain that other children have such ailments, too, or mention friends or family members that have the same health issue. For example, if your child’s injury resulted from breaking a rule, offer a gentle reminder about why such rules exist. But then offer reassurance, such as “I’m sure you understand the danger now.”
  • Discuss what to expect. Be honest. If a procedure may be uncomfortable, say so, but don’t elaborate on the details. Children handle pain better if they’re forewarned. Likewise with a shot, but add that the pinch or sting passes quickly.

Tests your child may need

In addition to the physical exam, your child may need certain diagnostic tests or procedures. Learn what to expect from some common medical tests:

  • Strep screen. This test determines whether bacteria called Group A streptococci are responsible for a child’s sore throat. The pediatrician will use a long cotton swab to wipe the back of the throat. The procedure tickles the throat and may cause gagging, but it only takes a few seconds.
  • Blood tests. These tests can measure various blood cells, electrolytes such as sodium and potassium or lead levels and reveal kidney or liver problems, diabetes and other disorders. Kids may fear blood tests because they think someone is going to take all their blood. Explain that the doctor usually only needs a tiny bit—less than a teaspoon or two—and that your child’s body has lots to spare. After cleansing the skin, the technician will insert the needle into a vein in the arm or hand. Your child should expect a pinch from the needle. Place your child on your lap or hold his or her hand still. Sing a song or count to distract your child. Afterwards, the technician will apply a bandage.
  • Urine tests. Analyzing urine can reveal how your child’s kidneys and other organs are functioning and whether an infection is present in the kidneys, bladder or urinary tract.

Collecting the urine sample won’t hurt, but it can be a little tricky. Help your child get a proper sample using the “clean catch” method. First, cleanse the skin around the urinary opening with a special wet wipe. Your child can begin urinating in the toilet, but must stop for a moment and then resume urinating into the collection cup. The idea is to collect the urine midstream. Toilet-trained kids can usually manage this with some help. If your child isn’t toilet trained, the pediatrician may insert a catheter into the bladder to get a urine sample.

  • X-rays. Explain to your child that these tests use a fancy camera to take pictures that show the inside of the body. They’re good at detecting broken bones or lung infections. X-rays aren’t painful, but tell your child it’s important to remain still. He or she may wear a special gown or heavy covering to protect other parts of the body.
  • Ultrasound. This test won’t hurt either. The technician will apply a jelly (it’s probably cold!) to the skin and use a handheld device to move over the skin. The device translates sound waves into an image on the monitor. Your child may think it’s cool to see inside his or her body.
  • Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests use an even fancier camera to take pictures of the inside of the body. The camera’s large size may trigger some fear, but the procedures aren’t painful. Your child will lie on a table, which slides into the CT scanner or MRI machine. The scan may take a while and your child must remain still. Ask the pediatrician whether your child can listen to music on headphones or whether he or she should be sedated for the scan.

No matter what exam or test your child may face, it’s important to remain a calming presence. Don’t let your own fears or anxiety take over. Reassure your child that lots of kids undergo these tests and the goal is to make him or her feel better.


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