Helpful Advice

16 Pro Pointers You Need If Your Child’s Terrified About Getting Blood Drawn

If your little one is squeamish at the sight of blood, you'll want to keep these pro tips in your back pocket.

A boy gets his blood drawn at the doctor's office
Imgorthand/Getty Images

Routine doctor appointments can be scary enough for kids, and if you've got one with a case of needle phobia, they can be extra stressful for you and your kiddo. If your kid is squeamish at the sight of blood, you no doubt dread blood draws, which often last longer than a standard shot and include the added element of being able to see the process in action.

Fear not, because there are actually several ways you can help make a blood draw less terrible for your kid, as Evelyn Chan, Medical Doctor and CEO of SmileyScope, tells Scary Mommy.

Before the Appointment

If you know in advance a blood draw is coming, Chan says you can absolutely "help alleviate anxiety and make the experience smoother" with some pre-visit prep. Here are some steps parents can take:

  1. Explain the procedure: "Talk to your child in advance about what to expect during a blood draw," says Chan. "Use age-appropriate language to describe the process, emphasizing that it is a quick procedure to check their health."
  2. Encourage hydration: If your child gets nauseous or queasy, needing to fast before a blood draw can amplify their fears. "Ensure your child is well-hydrated before the blood draw," she says. "Drinking enough water can make it easier to find a vein and can minimize discomfort during the procedure."
  3. Distract and relax: This is where that iPad or other trusty device can come in handy. "Engage your child in activities that can distract them before and during the blood draw," says Chan. "This can include reading books, playing games, or listening to music. Deep breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques can also help reduce anxiety."
  4. Positive reinforcement: Being their No. 1 cheerleader can help immensely, says Chan. "Offer encouragement and praise throughout the process. Talk about the procedure positively — i.e., remind them that it is an important step in keeping them healthy."
  5. Partner with the healthcare team: Don't be afraid to let the phlebotomist know about your kiddo's fears. "Doctors' offices work with kids every day on blood draws/needle procedures," Chan notes. "Many offices are equipped with techniques and even technology that may help alleviate a child's anxiety. For example, medical virtual reality devices that a child can use during the procedure itself."

Minimizing the Pain

Chan recommends the "three Ps" to help reduce and distract from any physical discomfort during a blood draw.

  1. Physical numbing: "Consult with the healthcare provider beforehand to see if using a numbing cream or a cold pack is suitable for your child," suggests Chan. "These can help numb the area before the blood draw, reducing pain."
  2. Positioning: "Have your child in a comfortable and safe position during the blood draw," she says. "This includes sitting upright, and they may want a secure hug or snuggle from you. Talk with your healthcare provider about the best position for your and your child."
  3. Psychological techniques: "Engage your child in conversation, play their favorite music, or bring along a toy to focus their attention away from the needle," she adds. "Encourage your child to take slow, deep breaths during the blood draw. Deep breathing can help relax the body and distract from any discomfort. Engaging the mind and senses in a positive way can help reduce pain perception."

Combat the Fear

If your child has one unpleasant phlebotomy experience, they might develop a genuine fear going forward. So, how can you help alleviate medical anxiety so they won't worry whenever they have to go to the doctor?

  1. Positive experiences: "Seek out healthcare providers who are experienced in working with children and have a gentle approach," says Chan. "Positive experiences with caring professionals can help alleviate anxiety and build trust."
  2. Open communication: "Encourage your child to express their fears and concerns openly," she adds. "Provide reassurance, validate their feelings, and listen actively. Be supportive and offer comfort during medical appointments."
  3. Role-playing: "Consider engaging in role-playing activities where you or your child can play the role of a healthcare provider and practice procedures like blood draws," she suggests. "This can help familiarize them with the process and reduce anxiety."
  4. Gradual exposure: "Gradually expose your child to medical environments and procedures," says Chan. "Where possible, start with less invasive experiences and gradually progress to more involved ones. This exposure can help desensitize them to their fears over time."

What Not To Do

"On the other hand, here are some things parents should avoid doing," says Chan, as they may make the situation worse:

  1. Minimize or dismiss fears: "Do not downplay or minimize your child's fears," she says. "Acknowledge their feelings and offer support and reassurance."
  2. Pretending there won't be a blood draw: Definitely avoid any little white lies or fibs to protect them, says Chan. "Avoid misleading your child by pretending there won't be a blood draw during the appointment. This can erode trust and increase anxiety when they realize the truth."
  3. Use threats or bribes: "Avoid using threats or bribes to coerce your child into compliance," she adds. "This can create a negative association with the procedure and further increase fear and anxiety."
  4. Share negative experiences: "Refrain from sharing negative stories or experiences related to blood draws," she suggests. "This can create unnecessary anxiety and anticipation in your child's mind."

The TL;DR, per Chan: "Remember that each child is unique, and it's essential to tailor your approach to their individual needs and temperament. If your child's fear or anxiety persists or significantly affects their well-being, consider seeking professional help from a pediatrician or child psychologist."

Medical anxiety is a very real thing, and your little one deserves love and understanding — not shame or judgment — as they get used to healthcare procedures big and small.