To understand how to prepare properly for a medical laboratory test, ask the following questions:
Preparing your child properly for a medical laboratory test is critical. Many things can affect the accuracy of test results. For instance, test timing, fasting and products containing alcohol (such as cough syrup) or medication (over-the-counter, herbal, and prescription) can all influence results. Correct specimen collection, handling, and transportation also ensure accuracy, and reduce the need to repeat the procedure.
First, understand exactly what is necessary to properly prepare your child for the specific test. Talk to your doctor, review the information on the back of the requisition form, or phone ahead to the collection site. You can also download a checklist at www.acmlt.org (use ‘public’ and ‘health tips’ as keywords). Keep in mind that laboratory staff cannot provide diagnosis and treatment advice. Only your doctor can diagnose medical conditions and recommend treatment options.
Once you understand all that is necessary, your next step is to explain the procedure to your child. Limit explanations to the attention span of the child. Ten to 15 minutes is appropriate for younger children. School-age children may want more explanation.
Begin talking about preparations once the test is close, so that your child does not worry needlessly for days or weeks. In plain language, explain why the test is necessary, what body part is involved, and how it may feel. Do not overwhelm your child with too much information or too many details. Let your child know, in a realistic and honest way, that he or she might expect an ‘ouch’ if blood is drawn, or feel some embarrassment if urine or stool is required. It is fair to tell your child that it may hurt a bit, but it will be over very quickly and the hurt will go away. Explain that having medical tests is hard for grownups too. Try to build confidence in the ability to handle the process. Avoid shaming statements such as “Be a good boy now,” or “Don’t be a chicken.”
Some children just want to get the test over with, while others want to be involved. Some watch, while others look away. Consider your child’s needs. While blood is drawn, you can redirect focus by having your child look at a favourite book or sing a favourite song. If your child wants to participate, encourage questions and paying close attention to medical staff taking the sample.
Play and communication help identify your child’s concerns. As fear and anxiety increase, children often withdraw or revert to younger behaviour. Be responsive to your child’s concerns and fears, in the way he or she expresses these emotions. Your child may be better able to express concerns using a toy. For instance, a child may explain how her well-loved doll might feel when the doll’s blood sample is taken.
If a urine sample is required, encourage your child to drink before the procedure. This will make it easier when it comes time to collect the sample.
Recall an experience that your child has already mastered. Encourage confidence in your child by showing how he or she overcame this prior challenge. For instance, you might relate it to hitting a home run, climbing the stairs or getting up after falling.
If it helps your child, practice at home before the test. Have your child stay still while you say, “Let’s be still for a moment. Now wiggle! Once more, let’s be still.” Try practicing deep breathing and other comforting activities with your child. Your child might rehearse holding your hand, and squeezing it when pain is ‘felt.’ Try using these techniques using a doll or stuffed toy as the patient.
Make sure your child knows the exact body part involved, and that the test is limited to that area. By rehearsing, you help your child feel calm and in control of his or her body. You can bolster confidence by letting your child know he or she is ready to handle what will happen at the collection site.
Consider offering your child a reward after the laboratory test. A new book, a trip to the zoo, or a special activity may help distract your child from the test procedures.
You can help your child through the procedure by showing you care, remaining calm, and being attentive to your child’s needs. Stay with your child throughout the procedure if possible. At all times, your child needs to know he or she is safe and not in danger. As a parent, your role is to provide physical comfort, distraction and assistance. At the same time, allow the staff to direct you and your child.
Emotional reactions during the procedure are normal. Even with the best planning, children may feel overwhelmed. Be comforting rather than critical or scolding. You will likely know what works best to calm your child. Afterward, do not scold or criticize your child for crying.
Parents, too, may react emotionally to tests being done on their children. Consider whether having a friend or relative accompany you might help.
By staying honest, allowing your child to express emotion, and acknowledging the need to complete the test, you help to develop positive coping skills. Offer comforting words such as, “Yes, this is embarrassing. I felt the same way when I had this test, but it was over quickly. Still, we need to do this since the doctor needs the test results to help you get better.”
Once the procedure is over, be sure to acknowledge your child’s success. Acknowledging discomfort, completing the procedure and sincere congratulations go a long way in reinforcing your child’s coping skills.