Child Life Corner: Preparing Your Child for a Medical Procedure

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Many variables come into play when preparing a patient for a procedure, such as child’s age, development, personality, ability to cope with new changes, prior healthcare experience, and diagnosis.

 Certified Child Life Specialist Krista Hauswald

As a Certified Child Life Specialist in the Hematology/Oncology Clinic at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, I prepare children for procedures every day. My name is Krista Hauswald and I have been helping patients and families navigate stressful procedures for the past 9 years.  The Hematology/Oncology (Hem/Onc) Clinic provides care for patients that have any type of blood disorders or cancer. As you can imagine, coming to the hospital can increase a patient and parent’s anxiety. The hospital can be a scary place for children. Being able to provide preparation for procedures and clear up any misconceptions the patients may have is one of the reasons why I chose this career path.

So, what is a procedure and why would one need to be prepared? A procedure is defined as a medical treatment or operation. Preparing for a procedure can lessen a patient’s stress and anxiety, allowing them to cope and adjust to their health care setting.

As a Child Life Specialist, we consider a procedure anything from an IV placement to a bone marrow biopsy. Many variables come into play when preparing a patient for a procedure, such as child’s age, development, personality, ability to cope with new changes, prior healthcare experience, and diagnosis. Here are some helpful tips.

Infants to age 2

Preparing infants and toddlers for a procedure is difficult because they are limited with their understanding of life events. Infants and toddlers are most afraid of being separated from their parents or caregivers, so your presence is extremely important at this developmental stage. They feed off of their caregivers, so calming yourself down can reduce the stress of your child during a procedure. If your child takes a pacifier, it is important to bring it with you because sucking is a way that they can soothe and calm themselves. Providing comfort with a favorite blanket, toy, and/or pacifier will also help provide security.  

Children age 2-6

Preschoolers ask lots of questions and retain information that is given to them. They should be given age appropriate information, if they ask for it. Be honest and open and prepare them using their five senses. Tell your child what they will hear, see, taste, smell, and feel. This age group also does well with pretending and practicing what might happen at the hospital. So, try rehearsing the procedure on a favorite stuffed animal or doll so they know what to expect when it is their turn. The child can be the nurse or doctor and you can be the patient.  

Children age 6-12

School age children are gaining independence and crave control. Offering choices where choices exist is extremely important and allowing the child to make those decisions is key. This age group is able to understand procedures. Give the child time to process the information and ask questions. Often, this age group hears a word or a phrase and relates it to something that they are familiar with outside of the hospital.  School age children also do well with exploring the medical equipment and rehearsing the steps of a procedure and coping techniques that they will use. 


Teens can handle honest and open conversations about their upcoming procedures. They often want to know if their appearance will change. They are concerned about their self-esteem and tend to have a hard time expressing their feelings. Teenagers often have a fear of pain and worry about privacy during their procedures, but are generally too embarrassed to inquire about such topics. As the expert on your teen, consider empowering your teen to write down their questions ahead of time to ask prior to the procedure. Give your teen the opportunity to share the responsibility for their health care in preparation for adulthood.

Please contact if you have questions about how the child life department at Riley may be able to help your child.

-- By Krista Hauswald, CCLS, CMT
   Certified Child Life Specialist
   Child Life and Creative Arts Therapies
   Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health

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