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cak's avatar

How to explain a medical test to a seven year old child?

Asked by cak (15767 points ) February 8th, 2011

My son has been sick for over a month now. He’s been in the hospital and still isn’t doing well. Today we found out he will need a colonoscopy. He barely tolerates a blood draw.

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21 Answers

faye's avatar

Poor little boy, I’d offer new toys for being brave.

chyna's avatar

Oh @cak! I hope you find a way to talk to him. I’m sure he is scared with all that has gone on with you. I can’t offer you advice but I offer you my love. And many, many hugs.

cak's avatar

@faye – while he was in the hospital for the week, he got toys from everyone. I’d have to take a second mortgage to keep up!

cak's avatar

@chyna: that is exactly what’s eating at me right now. He’s not dumb. He’s seen a lot, medically and understands a little too much.

chyna's avatar

Please keep us posted @cak. My heart is bleeding for you and your son right now.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Oh wow, I’ve actually been there myself. I had some major medical problems as a child, and at one point, they had to stick a tube up my nostril, down my throat into my stomach. I remember how scared I was and how tired I was of having to go through all those tests.

I’m so sorry for what he’s going through, and what you’re going through having to watch him suffer through it all. I will tell you that what made me feel better about more tests was my Mimi brought me a new doll to hold while they inserted the tube, and took me out for my favorite lunch the day they pulled the tube out. I don’t know if that helps or not. I’ll be praying for you both.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I’m so sorry, @cak.
If it were my son, I’d say, “This is the only way that they can try to find out what’s wrong. I wish it didn’t have to be so scary. We’ll be here for you through the whole thing (if that’s true, of course). We love you so much and we want you to be better and we’re all doing everything we can to help you get better.” And then encourage him to tell you how he’s feeling.

faye's avatar

Okay, no toys. There must be a special outing or to go for dinner with you and dad or something along those lines. He’s bound to be extra scared with the time your family has had. Are there kid counsellors who would talk to him?

cak's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate: I’m hoping that the hospital bear (with the IV) will help him understand that sometimes we have to go through procedures to help us know what is going on. He’s just so nervous. I feel helpless. I hate that feeling.

@aprilsimnel: I need to ask about child services within the hospital. I know they did when it came to the IV. That might be a huge help!

@faye: a special outing sounds great and needed. Perfect!

filmfann's avatar

I guess I am the only one that thinks this is a terrible idea.
You shouldn’t teach a child that it is okay to let someone put things in your rectum, as long as you are getting a toy.
@cak, your insticts are right about children. They can understand much more than we think they can. Be with him thru it, comfort him. Hopefully, he won’t be traumatized.

blueiiznh's avatar

So sorry to hear. I will say a prayer.
He certainly should know that they are going to look to see if they can find out what is causing his troubles and that while they are sleeping the doctor will check in hopes to get him better. He should most importantly be told that everything will be ok with this procedure and you will be there when they wake up. Let him ask as many questions as he wants. The Doctors also field these things with children and may be able to offer an assist seeing the Dr will be looked at as a figure he needs to help gain trust in too.
Prayers it goes well and they find what is needed to remedy his issues.

sliceswiththings's avatar

At 22, I still get scared about medical procedures, and it still comforts me when my parents tell me to be a role model for bravery for all the younger kids that have to go through it. If he’s in a children’s hospital, no doubt there are other kids around. Can you tell him that Tommy has to do the same procedure the next day, and suggest that after your son bravely goes through it he tells Tommy about it and tells him it isn’t so bad? If kids (or adults) are given a role of leadership and someone else is more vulnerable than them, things are a whole lot less scary.
As a teenage camp counselor spiders instantly stopped being scary to me because my campers were scared of them and it was my job to comfort them. I bet the same psychological explanation can be applied here.

choreplay's avatar

Wow, you are in my thoughts and prayers as well. All of the above are great and especially @sliceswiththings. Make sure and do all of his favorite things. My wife tells me I have a gift for making things simple for children and I hope that following might be of value. I would suggest toys as well but of a particular kind. I really take issue with these toys because the connotation is wrong to me, but I’m thinking about the toys they have these days called spy toys, and this is why. I was trying to think of something that would get him involved in the concept of investigaging something. Maybe a childs parascope might be good. Do you see where I’m going with this. Find a toy that parallels the medical tools they are using to bridge his understanding. Hope this helps.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Oh, @cak , I hate that you guys are going through this! He knows what you went through, maybe it will be a comfort to him somehow to point out that you had to go through a lot of stuff but you’re fine now, and he has to do some stuff to also be fine. Does he understand just how cool it is that the doctors can look inside you? (I know I’m reaching here) and the whole thing is sort of an adventure and how much cred he’ll have with his friends when he tells them all about it? What young boy isn’t fascinated about things to do with how he poops?

SmashTheState's avatar

When I was four or so, I had a tonsilectomy. It was a traumatic experience for me largely because of the way I was treated by the medical staff. When I first arrived, I was given a blood test. The nurse demanded my arm without telling me what she was going to do. I refused, so she grabbed my forearm, held it in place by force under her own armpit, and then jabbed my finger with a needle. Because she was annoyed, she jabbed harder than she needed to, which caused a squirt of blood to spray onto the wall. This triggered sheer panic in me, allowing me to rip my arm away from her with hysterical strength and go tearing out of the room and down the hallway, screaming like a siren, until a doctor managed to grab me.

Later, I remember lying in the hospital bed, my throat aching and blood leaking from my mouth after the operation. A nurse came in and told me to roll over. I was too weak to defy her actively, so when I asked her what she was going to do, she simply rolled me over, pulled up my gown, and shoved a thermometer in my ass without so much as polite warning. I had never, in my few tender years, imagined anything could feel so wrong. To this day I have a phobia of things going up my ass as a result.

The kindest thing you can do for your child is explain in detail what’s going to happen. Children are resilient and highly adaptable. They also have the courage of warriors, since they’re too young to really understand mortality yet. If they had simply explained to me what they were doing, I’d have had no trouble at all dealing with it.

I’d like to add that today I am 6’ 5”, the size and shape of a refrigerator, and no one touches me without my explicit consent, including and especially medical personnel. A doctor or nurse who won’t tell me what they’re going to do does not get anywhere near my body unless and until they explainin detail, and I don’t give a flying fuck how annoyed or impatient they get as a result. My body, my rules.

Seelix's avatar

I really like @sliceswiththings’ answer as well. Your little guy is indeed a tough one, having been through so much. If he can accept the idea that he can be a role model to the kids who are still new to the hospital scene, that might help him a lot.

@filmfann – While you have a good point, @cak‘s son also needs to learn that sometimes doctors and nurses have to do procedures that aren’t pleasant, but necessary. And, unfortunately, sometimes that means looking at/putting things in your bum. I think that even a 5-year-old would be able to make the distinction between “okay” touching and looking, and “not okay” touching and looking if it’s explained properly.

@cak – I wish you and your family the best.

chyna's avatar

@SmashTheState Things are a lot different now. My mom was in the hospital recently and even when she was in a coma, the nurses spoke to her and told her what they were about to do to her.

xjustxxclaudiax's avatar

My mom used to take me to McDonalds after every doctor appointment that involved needles or scary things….Made me completely forget about the shots or the creepy cold stethoscope. Happy meals worked wonders for me lol.

Buttonstc's avatar

Are they going to knock him out completely for this or just light sedation as they do with many adults ?

The main reason I ask is because he might be intrigued by the idea of being able to see the inside of himself. Is that an option for him ? Is he aware of that possibility if it is?

Obviously you know him best and I have no idea what the colonoscopy procedure for children is at that particular hospital.

The only other thought is that kids benefit greatly from as thorough an understanding of precisely what the procedure will entail. An actual tiny camera feeding back on the screen the image of his intestine might be quite fascinating and think of the bragging rights for weathering something like that. Definitely not something that most get to experience.

But kids often have different language concepts from adults.

I’ll just give a brief example from my own experience. When I was nine years old I was taken to the Drs. office to have a birthmark removed from over my left eyebrow because my Mother got it into her head that this mole could become cancerous and had to be removed.

She minimized the procedure by telling me it wouldn’t hurt because the Dr. would “put Novocaine on it” so that I wouldn’t feel them taking it off with an electric needle.

Well, to me, putting Novocain on suggested rubbing in some type of gel or cream in the same way the Dentist “put it on” the gums prior to giving the shot.

Imagine my surprise when I’m lying on the table and seeing the Dr. with the needle coming right at my eye and he starts multiple injections around the area.

I promptly began screaming in terror and both the Nurse and my Mother were struggling to hold me down.

Finally, midway through the entire thing, the Dr. sensibly told my Mother that he refused to continue as he was concerned I would go into shock.

So I ended up with one hell of a scab from that attempt which finally fell off to reveal the mole still there.

If she had been more specific to tell me that it would involve multiple small injections (kind of like pin pricks) all around the area so that I wouldn’t feel the rest of the procedure, that would have made a lot more sense and prepared me for seeing a hypodermic coming at my eye numerous times.

She took me out for ice cream afterwards but that did ZERO to restore any of the trust lost.

I have that mole to this day and I know what to look for in terms of changes indicating danger. But every Doctor whom I have ever asked about it has NEVER suggested removal at all. She was basically making a mountain out of a mole (hill). I can see it humorously now but the terror of it haunted me for years.

Obviously this is not the case with your son, but the more he knows what to expect, the better he can marshal his resources (with your help and encouragement) to deal with it. Better he should know ahead of time than be in for a nasty surprise.

I’m assuming you’ve explained to him how necessary this test is and that there really is no option to skip it. Life sucks sometimes and one just has to get through it.

Try to find something that he really enjoys or something he really has a passion for to give him something to look forward to. Not as a bribe to do it (since he really doesn’t have a choice) but just something to brighten up the afterwards.

Also let him know that if he does experience some pain from the cramping, he does NOT have to hold in his reaction. If he wants to cry, he should. And don’t let anyone in that place feed him that nonsense about “big boys don’t cry”.

If it makes them uncomfortable, too bad. They are professionals and should know better.

I really feel for you because as a Mother it’s just so difiicult to see your child sick and in pain.

But if he knows what to expect and WHY, it won’t be a bed of roses but he will be prepared.

Ask him in as much detail as possible what parts of this are the scariest for him and also get as clear an understanding of how HE sees this. As adults we can sometimes be very surprised by the types of misunderstandings children carry around in their imaginations. The clearer the communication between you and him in BOTH directions, the better the likely outcome.

You and he will be in my thoughts and prayers as I know how much you have already gone through. I wish the best for both of you.

Buttonstc's avatar

This may sound a little way out, but I just remembered an old movie called Fantastic Voyage.

Basically a medical team inside a ship get miniaturized and injected into a human body to destroy a blood clot.

This is not so dissimilar to the miniature camera making it’s way through him. I’m wondering if watching this movie with him might spark his imagination and provide a different way to see all of this.

Obviously he won’t have any tiny people or ships inside him but just the idea of technology being able to do things not previously possible might be intriguing enough for him.

Anyhow, it was an unforgettable movie and the images of being in the veins arteries and other parts of the body were just so memorable, it came to mind.

I hope it might help in some small way :)

Magic5678's avatar

When I was younger, I was in the hospital too. Make sure not to scare him with big words or needles. Keep reassuring him that he’s going to be alright if they do a simple blood draw.

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