Preparing and Comforting Your Child

Medical appointments, procedures, tests and surgery can lead to anxiety and questions in children of all ages. We want to support you in feeling as prepared as possible.  

Before your visit, ask your provider to give you a complete explanation of your child’s upcoming examination, test or procedure. Find out what role you can play in distracting and comforting your child. Some tests and procedures might require that you be separated from your child for some time. Others might allow you to be present to provide physical and emotional support.

Asking your provider what to expect―and what typically works best for children―will help you feel prepared. You can also schedule a hospital tour and education session to help you and your child understand what to expect during your visit.


Comfort Tips for Infants (birth – 12 months)

Infants need to feel love and security to be at ease. Staying in close contact with your baby, whenever possible, is one of the best ways to alleviate discomfort and anxiety.

Some ideas for distracting and comforting your baby include:

  • Cuddling and holding
  • Giving a pacifier
  • Singing or playing music
  • Providing a familiar blanket or “lovey”
  • Rocking rapidly
  • Showing a mobile or object that changes shapes, colors or positions
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Playing peek-a-boo
  • Holding up a mirror

Comfort Tips for Toddlers (13 months – 3.5 years)

Toddlers can differentiate among people who are familiar to them and those who are not. As a result, they can begin to show stranger anxiety. Staying in close contact, whenever possible, is one of the best ways to alleviate discomfort and anxiety.

Some ideas for distracting and comforting your toddler include:

  • Explaining what will happen in age-appropriate language
  • Talking about when you’ll return if you must be separated
  • Cuddling and holding
  • Giving a pacifier
  • Playing music or a movie
  • Providing a familiar blanket or “lovey”
  • Rocking rapidly
  • Singing or saying nursery rhymes
  • Playing pat-a-cake
  • Showing books (especially pop-up or sound books), puppets or other toys
  • Blowing bubbles

Comfort Tips for Preschoolers (3.5 – 5 years)

Children in this age group are developing imaginative and magical thinking. They might resist procedures and become quiet, clingy or emotional when they’re experiencing stress or anxiety.

Some ideas for distracting and comforting your preschooler include:

  • Explaining what will happen in age-appropriate language
  • Telling your child when you’ll return if you must be separated
  • Patting or stroking your child
  • Playing music or a movie
  • Letting your child play a handheld game
  • Allowing your child to squeeze a hand, putty or a pillow
  • Practicing deep breathing
  • Counting together
  • Showing books (especially pop-up or sound books)
  • Blowing bubbles or pinwheels
  • Singing favorite songs
  • Talking about pretend situations or your plans after the test or procedure (describing a trip to the park, the beach or other fun destination―real or imagined!)

Comfort Tips for School-Age Children (6 – 12 years)

School-age children are beginning to understand and be interested in how the body functions. Children this age can have many questions about what will happen during a test or procedure. They are developing a stronger sense of independence and enjoy having choices, when possible.

Some ideas for distracting and comforting your school-age child include:

  • Explaining to your child in concrete―yet age-appropriate―terms what will happen and how he or she might look or feel afterward
  • Telling your child when you’ll return if you must be separated
  • Allowing your child to participate in some choices, as appropriate
  • Allowing your child to squeeze a hand, putty or a pillow
  • Playing music or a movie
  • Letting your child play a handheld game
  • Practicing deep breathing
  • Counting together
  • Blowing bubbles or pinwheels
  • Singing favorite songs
  • Talking about pretend situations or your plans after the test or procedure (describing a trip to the park, the beach or other fun destination―real or imagined!)

Comfort Tips for Teens (13 – 18 years)

Teens are developing an increased sense of self-identity and a stronger need for privacy. Honor your teen’s need to ask questions and understand what will happen during tests and procedures and what the effects will be.

Some ideas for distracting and comforting your teen include:

  • Explaining to your teen in concrete terms what will happen and how he or she might look or feel afterward
  • Telling your teen when you’ll return if you must be separated
  • Allowing your teen to participate in some choices, as appropriate
  • Allowing your teen to squeeze a hand, putty or a pillow
  • Playing music or a movie
  • Letting your teen play a handheld game
  • Providing books or magazines
  • Practicing deep breathing
  • Talking about your plans after the test or procedure

Comfort Tips for Siblings

When a brother or sister goes to the hospital or needs medical care, siblings often have many questions and can experience anxiety. They might feel left out and jealous of the time parents spend with their sibling. If they need to stay with relatives during a hospital stay, the unfamiliar routines and surroundings can lead to stress.

Some preparation and education tips include:

  • Providing honest answers to questions about a sibling’s condition and need for medical care
  • Explaining emergency situations as soon as possible
  • Allowing brothers and sisters to participate in hospital tours and education sessions, if possible
  • Acting out hospital experiences with people, dolls or puppets
  • Reading stories about hospitals or having a sibling who has a medical condition
  • Taking siblings to visit their brother or sister in the hospital, if possible

If you must be away from home to stay with a child at the hospital, try to maintain daily contact with your other child or children. You can encourage connections by:

  • Writing letters, recording messages or talking on the phone
  • Recording bedtime stories or reading to children over the phone
  • Giving your child a puzzle piece or toy to open each day

Additional Resources

For more help preparing your child or children for a hospital stay or medical care, consider scheduling a hospital tour and education session.