Child Life Corner: How to Support Your Child During a Medical Procedure

Parenting |


Surgery Web

Here are a few techniques that can help alleviate pain and reduce stress and anxiety.

 Certified Child Life Specialist Krista HauswaldYou know your child best. You are your child’s greatest support. My name is Megan Ali and I am one of 24 Certified Child Life Specialists at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. I have worked at Riley Hospital for 11 years and I strive to help children and families develop positive coping strategies in the Riley Outpatient Center. Child life specialists utilize non-pharmacological pain management techniques to help patients and families cope with painful procedures. Below are a few techniques that can help alleviate pain and reduce stress and anxiety. 

Do you take deep breaths to help calm your nerves during a stressful situation? Deep breathing is known to reduce stress and anxiety during painful procedures. It is also a simple tool that you can teach your child at home. Helping children practice deep breathing in a familiar, safe environment can help empower them to use this tool during a stressful situation. At Riley, I show children how to breathe in slowly through their nose and breathe out through their mouth. We practice doing this by blowing bubbles, a pinwheel, or even someone’s hair. These can be fun ways to help your child understand and even enjoy deep breathing.

Children can be comforted by a positive touch when they are scared. This closeness provides trust and security during a stressful encounter. Comfort positioning during procedures involves the parents and aims to provide a nurturing touch versus a restraining hold. It gives parents an active supporting role during the procedure. Comfort positions can include holding your child in your lap and giving them a hug that helps keep their arms and legs still. Or it may include holding your child chest to chest. A comfort position can offer an infant a sense of security and give a preschool age child an increased sense of control. An older child may want to hold your hand for comfort. After checking with your pediatrician or nurse, you may be able to hold your child in your lap for a flu shot or swaddle and hold your infant during immunizations. 

Alternative focus is a technique that helps children divert their attention on to something other than their procedure and/or pain. Alternative focus can include things the child can hear, see, think about, and/or touch. A few examples include a parent singing or telling a favorite story, listening to music, playing “I Spy” in the doctor’s office, counting to a specific number, and squeezing a stress ball to redirect a child’s attention. Try using these techniques before and during a medical procedure to calm your child’s nerves and promote positive coping. Alternative focus can look different based on your child’s age and interests. And because you are your child’s expert, you may find your child copes best when they can watch a procedure.

Together, you and your child can develop positive coping strategies that can last a lifetime.

Certified Child Life Specialists work on every inpatient unit at Riley as well as in some outpatient areas.  Please contact if you have questions about how the child life department at Riley may be able to help your child.

-- By Megan Ali, CCLS
   Certified Child Life Specialist
   Child Life and Creative Arts Therapies
   Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health