I have a vivid memory of taking my daughter to get her blood drawn when she was two. As she sat on my lap in a lab chair, she was so happy. She waved to the technician, who smiled and waved back. And then he took her tiny arm, stuck a needle in it, and she screamed bloody murder. Never again was she as delighted to enter a medical facility.
Perhaps I couldn’t have adequately prepared a two-year-old for the pain that was to come, but as a parent, I should have tried. On Twitter, North Carolina pediatrician Chad Hayes gives this advice: “Don’t lie to kids about whether a medical procedure will hurt. Tell them, in developmentally-appropriate language, what to expect. What it will feel like. How long it will last. Why it’s necessary. That it’s OK to be afraid and OK to cry.”
Please don't lie to kids about whether a medical procedure will hurt.
Tell them, in developmentally-appropriate language, what to expect. What it will feel like. How long it will last. Why it's necessary. That it's ok to be afraid and ok to cry.
— Chad Hayes, MD (@chadhayesmd) April 16, 2019
He is writing to doctors, but I believe his words are important for parents to read, too. We often try to make scary things not a big deal simply by saying those words.
“It won’t hurt.”
“That wasn’t bad at all, was it?”
The problem is, if a procedure does in fact hurt, your kid will start losing trust in you. And doctors. And other people of authority. As Twitter user ischemegeek writes: “The only thing worse than lying to a kid about whether something hurts is gaslighting them about their pain.”
Instead, as Hayes suggests, tell your child calmly and objectively what’s going to happen and why. (It’s important to exude some confidence here — if you’re freaking out inside about a shot/incision/etc., they’ll detect that in your voice.) And then plan ahead to reduce their pain.
You might offer your kid some choices to give them a sense of control — perhaps they can pick out a favourite stuffed animal to bring, or count to three before the procedure begins, or select a special Band-Aid beforehand.
In the end, no matter how they respond, give them a hug and tell them you’re proud of them for doing it. Maybe they’ll even say, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad after all.”