Preschooler test or procedure preparation

Alternative names
Preparing preschoolers for test/procedure; Test/procedure preparation - preschooler

Proper preparation for a test or procedure reduces your child’s anxiety about the situation, encourages cooperation, and helps the child develop coping skills.


Preparation can effectively in reduce distress in children undergoing medical tests, and can minimize crying and resistance to the procedure. Research finds that lowering anxiety can actually decrease the sensation of pain felt by people during uncomfortable procedures.

Before the test, understand that your child probably will cry, and that preparation may not change the fact that your child will feel some discomfort or pain. You can try demonstrating what will happen during the test in advance to learn about your child’s particular fears and concerns. Using a doll or other object to act out the test may help reveal worries that the child may not be willing to discuss directly.

This may help reduce your child’s anxiety - most people are more frightened of the unknown than they are when they know what to expect. If a child’s fears are unrealistic, you may want to explain what will actually happen. If the child is worried about an unavoidable part of the test, do not minimize this concern, but reassure the child that you will be there to help as much as you can.

Make sure your child understands that the procedure is not a punishment.

The most important way you can help your child is with proper preparation, and with your support around the time of the procedure.

Limit your explanations about the procedure to 10 or 15 minutes, because preschoolers have a limited attention span. Preparation should take place directly before the test or procedure so that the child doesn’t worry about it for days or weeks in advance.

Here are some general guidelines for preparing your child for a test or procedure:

  • Explain the procedure in language your child understands, using plain words and avoiding abstract terminology.  
  • Make sure your child understands the body part involved, and that the procedure will be limited to that area.  
  • To the best of your ability, describe how the test will feel.  
  • Be honest with your child about discomfort that may be felt.  
  • If the procedure affects part of the body that serves a noticeable function (such as speech, hearing, or urination), explain what changes will occur afterwards.  
  • Give your child permission to yell, cry, or otherwise express any pain verbally.  
  • Ask if your child has not understood something you have explained.  
  • Allow your child to practice the positions or movements that will be required for the particular procedure, such as the fetal position for a lumbar puncture.  
  • Stress the benefits of the procedure and talk about things that the child may find pleasurable after the test, such as feeling better, or going home. You may want to take your child for ice cream or some other treat afterwards, but do not make this conditional on “being good” for the test.  
  • Practice deep breathing and other comforting activities with your child. If possible, have your child hold your hand and squeeze it when feeling pain.

Your presence may help your child during the procedure, especially if the procedure allows you to maintain physical contact. If the procedure is performed at the hospital or your health care provider’s office, you may be given the opportunity to be present. If you are not sure that you are allowed to be present, ask. If you think you may become ill or anxious, consider keeping your distance but remaining in your child’s line of vision. If you are not able to be present, leaving a familiar object with your child may be comforting.

Other considerations:

  • Ask your provider to limit the number of strangers entering and leaving the room during the procedure, since this can raise anxiety.  
  • Ask that the provider who has spent the most time with your child be present during the procedure.  
  • Ask that anesthesia be used where appropriate to reduce the level of discomfort your child will feel.  
  • Ask that painful procedures not be performed in the hospital bed, so that the child does not associate pain with the hospital room.  
  • If you are in your child’s line of sight, imitate the behavior the the child needs to do, such as opening the mouth.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Simon D. Mitin, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.