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tranquilsea's avatar

How do you help a child get over the fear of needles and having blood drawn?

Asked by tranquilsea (17238 points ) July 9th, 2010

My dd had a very bad experience when she was younger. She had gashed open her shoulder and needed stitches. I think she was 6 at the time. I prepped her all the way to clinic that she would probably need to be frozen and that they would use a needle and it would hurt but I would talk her through it. She was good with that. When we got to the clinic and the doctor came in she told my dd that she wasn’t going to use a needle she was going to use something else that would just push a little water into the wound. I was puzzled and my daughter relaxed just before she was jabbed with a needle. She was surprised and in pain and ended up screaming the clinic down. I was horrified that the doctor lied to her especially because I had prepped her for it.

Ever since then she breaks down in tears and panic any time someone comes close with a needle. Today she had to have blood drawn and it was a mess. The lab technicians ended up having to hold her arm down.

How do I help her get past this? I debriefed her after she had the blood drawn and she admitted that it pinched but didn’t hurt that much. But she always says that it wasn’t that bad after but she can’t contain herself in the lead up.

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26 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

All specific phobias are easily treated with directed cognitive behavioral therapy. Very short-term, very focused, very high cure rate. (I would say near 100% for compliant patients.)

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Clearly, the issue of mistrust of medical personnel was established early. This is tougher than the typical exaggerated fear of needles. Just continue being honest with her and remind her that these things are never as bad as she imagines. Reward her for trying her best to cooperate.

SmashTheState's avatar

I had the same thing happen to me when I was young. I was five years old and I needed my tonsils removed. A nurse at the hospital needed a blood sample and, rather than explain what she was going to do, she simply grabbed my arm and, when I started to struggle, used her superior strength to twist my arm under hers in something like a judo hold and jabbed my finger with a needle. She must have been annoyed, because she jabbed me harder than she had to, causing blood to spurt out in a splatter on the wall. The sight of my own blood gave me hysterical strength, enough to break loose and go sprinting out of the room, howling down the hallway and screaming. A doctor eventually grabbed me and slapped me when I wouldn’t stop screaming. Later, after the operation, they did the same thing with a rectal thermometer. They ordered me to roll over and refused to tell me why. Without warning, they jammed an icy-cold thermometer up my ass, causing the most horrifically wrong sensation I’d ever had in my young life.

As a result of that experience, I have become intransigent when dealing with medical professionals: either they tell me EXACTLY what they’re going to do to me, before they do it, or they do not touch me. I’m 6’ 5”, built like a refrigerator, and covered in hair. I’m now big and ugly enough to make them tell me before they start jabbing me and poking me. They don’t like it, but I’ll be fucking damned if I’m going to be treated like a disease on legs.

In answer to your question, I had a really good family doctor. (Still have him, actually, 42 years later.) After getting my injection, he’d clean out the syringe and give it to me as a toy. They’re a shitload of fun in the bath tub, and in a water fight they’ll shoot farther than even the best Super Soaker. I learned to associate getting a shot with getting a new toy which couldn’t be obtained anywhere else. I started to look forward to getting shots, with the temporary pain a small price to pay.

tranquilsea's avatar

I took her out for lunch afterward and she could calmly talk about it.

I think one of the problems was that she didn’t need any blood drawn or shots after she had that bad experience for 4 or 5 years. It has only been recently that she has needed a cavity filled and her blood drawn. She’s 12 now and I am hoping I can help her with this before she reaches adulthood and has to go on her own to doctors, dentists etc. I can completely see her avoiding medical professionals and that isn’t good.

andrew's avatar

Distract her in the lead up. Ask her questions. Sit on the side away from where they’re drawing blood.

The big problem with drawing blood is there’s such a ritual to it—the alcohol, the tourniquette.

I have a vaso-vagal response to getting my blood drawn and if I don’t lie down while it’s happening I pass out and go into petit mal seizures.

@dpworkin I’m curious about the CBT… what does that look like?

dpworkin's avatar

It is a very simple protocol of progressive exposure to make the anxiety behaviorally extinct. It is extremely well-studied, and is known to be extremely successful. It just requires an experienced practitioner, and usually about 8 sessions. It is good for fear of flying, spiders, elevators, bridges, nearly every specific phobia you can think of.

tranquilsea's avatar

@andrew I do all of that but I am unable to keep her focused on me. As soon as they strap the elastic around her arm, she’s done for.

I’ll try to find out about the CBT for her. We need to nip this in the bud.

JLeslie's avatar

That doctor just pisses me off. The thing that is going to cure her is having some good experiences to wipe away this bad one. Not easy.

Now, here are some things to consider. Getting stiches the liquid medicine they use to numb is very painful. When she gets her blood drawn it is the stick, and then nothing hurts, no painful medicine going in. I say make her aware of the difference. Also, let her see you getting your blood drawn, children like to be like their mothers, she will possible want to brave it if she sees you able to do it.

Does she have a regular doctor or nurse who she trusts who can take her blood, someone she trusts? I was hysterical the first time I had to have blood take out of my arm, I remember it. The doctor did it, which was unusual where I went for medical care, usually you go down to the lab to get all blood drawn. When it was all finished, it was only one vile, my mom asked me if it hurt badly, saying it’s just a send and then it’s over. The truth was it had not hurt badly, the idea of it was what freaked me out. I had always been great at taking shots, for some reason a needle going into the underside of my elbow was terrifying. I was much calmer the next time I had to get it done, knowing that I just had to brace myself for the initial stick. And, by the way I MUST know when they are going to stick me, and I have to watch the stick. One nurse surprised me doing it concealed under a cotton pad, and my arm practically hit her face.

JLeslie's avatar

One last comment, is it necessary to draw blood from her arm for the tests she needs? Or, can they use a finger prick? I did not have blood drawn from my arm until I was 11 or 12 years old.

JLeslie's avatar

One more idea, you can get Emla cream so she won’t feel the needle at all.

perspicacious's avatar

Child? Adults have this problem as well. My daughter and I both have a problem with needles. I’ll let you know if I ever figure out how to get over it. Best way I can think of is to stay away from hospitals.

tranquilsea's avatar

@JLeslie I’ve got to run for a few hours. I’ll be back to respond to everyone.

Thanks for the responses so far!

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
Dr_Dredd's avatar

@JLeslie That’s amazing; I had almost the exact same experience. When I was in my early to mid teens, I had finally convinced myself that getting my finger stuck for blood wasn’t so bad. Then I started getting the workup for PCOS, and suddenly the endocrinologist wanted so much blood that they needed to draw it from my arm. I freaked! We had to get the doctor to do it, and I made her promise to use a teeny butterfly needle. Nevertheless, I remember hyperventilating the whole time.

Ironically, I now know that the doctor is usually the one that you LEAST want to draw your blood. Most docs haven’t done it for years; the one you really want is the veteran tech who can do it in his/her sleep.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dr_Dredd It’s true, the tech is probably better at it. Depends on the doctor for sure. I was very sick when I had it done, I assume he was doing a CBC and mono or something along those line. It would have been difficult for me and my mother to have to go to the lab and wait, I assume he was trying to be helpful.

@tranquilsea if she ever needs more than one vile be sure they use a butterfly. Actually a butterfly is a good idea anyway, because then you don’ have to worry about the tech having a steady hand.

Rufus_T_Firefly's avatar

I don’t know if this will help you or not. I too had a childhood fear of needles, thanks in part to a cruel dentist I was forced to visit as a child. He would always say, this isn’t going to hurt, then he’d make sure it did. Later, my parents started taking me to another dentist, a friend of the family, Unfortunately, he was even worse, and didn’t believe that he was causing the pain. Anyway, several well-trained professionals later, the fear began to evaporate, but didn’t go away completely. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties and had a mild heart attack that I became used to being extensively and frequently poked and prodded by various medical personnel. One male nurse in the hospital was so bad, he tried three different times to take a blood sample and even screwed up the fourth try. I told him he wasn’t getting a fifth chance. The hospital sent in someone who knew what they were doing and got the sample first try, without pain of any kind. Now, it hardly even phases me to get an injection or to give blood. The physician’s demeanor, intent and training has everything to do with how a fearful patient reacts.

tranquilsea's avatar

Thanks for all your replies. I’ll try to answer your different queries here but please forgive me if I miss you.

@JLeslie The one and only time I have ever wanted to punch a doctor was in that moment. Here in Canada all blood is drawn at labs or hospitals. I find that the lab technicians are excellent at making the experience as fast and pain free as possible. I have started taking her with me when I donate blood and she watches with a kind of grim fascination. The emla cream is a great suggestion, one that her pediatrician made for something that needed to be done. She had to have 3 vials of blood drawn today for a workup before she is sent to a pediatrician for some foot problems she is having. They did use the butterfly syringe today thank god!

@Dr_Dredd I’m sorry you’ve suffered the same. I have panic attacks about other things but a panic attack is a panic attack: they suck!

@Rufus_T_Firefly Flooding her with needles may be a great way to desensitize her but I don’t know that any medical professional would go for it :-P I hope she will eventually grow out of it but I’m keen on getting her some help now so that she doesn’t have to live in fear anytime a doctor needs to freeze something or draw blood.

@ all Thank you for taking the time to give me your ideas. It is terribly hard to watch your child have such a hard time with something like this.

LostInParadise's avatar

Why don’t the doctors just tell the truth? Yeah it is going to hurt, but just for a short time. I would try discussing the pain with your daughter. How bad is it? How does it compare to a pin prick?

Rufus_T_Firefly's avatar

@tranquilsea – It wasn’t my intent to suggest that ‘flooding’ her with needles would solve your current dilemma. My main point was that that was how my own personal issues came to an end. My secondary point is that such fears may never totally go away. I still cannot look at a needle if I know it is intended for me and to this very day I still cannot bear to watch someone else receive an injection.

tranquilsea's avatar

@Rufus_T_Firefly sorry that my post came across like that I really didn’t mean it to. I understood what you meant by your post. I really do think that she needs more good experiences with this but I don’t know how feasible that will be. I think they will be very gapped out like they are. That is what I meant but came out badly.

Rufus_T_Firefly's avatar

@tranquilsea – No problem, I wasn’t offended and your response wasn’t inappropriate. I just though I should clarify. I agree that the wait-it-out-and-see remedy has a low feasibility factor, although, to be fair, today’s doctors are much better trained and equipped than they were forty or fifty years ago. I hope your child has an easier time than I.

tranquilsea's avatar

@Rufus_T_Firefly I hope she does too.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@tranquilsea I’m much better now. I can even donate blood with the big needles. :-)

tranquilsea's avatar

@Dr_Dredd That’s great. Great that you overcame that fear and even better that you have overcome that fear and donate blood.

JLeslie's avatar

@tranquilsea I think most people get better at handeling pain as we get older. Adults who have fear of needles, it is simply irrational. They probably have dealt with bad back pain, menstrual cramps, and headaches that last hours, but they are freaked about a needle stick? It makes no logical sense. Your daughters fear is logical to me right now. She probably lives pain free for the most part, and any injury to her body is very traumatic. Perspective is what gets us through things we don’t want to do. It will only last a second, the realty of the pain cures us from our fears. I know you know this, because you had tried to prepare her for the moments of pain, I feel confident she will overcome her fear in time.

tranquilsea's avatar

@JLeslie I hope so. I’ll continue to help her when ever she needs it.

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