Explaining Medical Procedures to Children

I am a great-grandmother. My oldest is almost 50 and the youngest just turned 34, so I learned these tips many years ago. These concern going to the dentist, having the tonsils out, or any hospital procedure.


First, before you go to the dentist for the first time, explain it to your child. Tell him/her that the dentist has 'tools' to look into the mouth with, the mirror, the pick, etc. Try to explain what they are for and be sure to say, on the first visit especially, it will not hurt. It can't hurt to tell child that dentist (usually) gives away a 'toy' or sticker. If the child is not afraid, they will behave better.

Second, if a child is having tonsils out, explain what is going to happen: the nurse may give a medicine to help the child sleep, the child will be put on a cart and wheeled to surgery area. Mom will be nearby waiting for him/her. The child will be completely asleep and a nurse will watch him/her until they wake, then child will go back to room to see mom. Be sure to explain that the child will have a sore throat, but will get Popsicles, etc.


I have always done this with my kids, but I saw what can happen if you don't explain it. I saw one child have a temper tantrum and have to go home because he was so afraid. Use this method for any hospital situation. It is better to be prepared; makes it a lot easier for mom and child.

By Linda from Bloomington, IL

April 13, 20110 found this helpful

I agree that it is very important to explain things to children when they are going to see a doctor or dentist. Too many people don't tell chiildren these things & it is the fear of not knowing that is the worst I think. I have 4 kids & 5 grandkids. I always explained to my kids what was going to happen & had very little trouble - except for the youngest who would hide behind the exam table when he knew he was going to get a shot & I had to threaten him with his life & practically sit on him to get him to let them draw blood! LOL!

I'd like to add- don't EVER tell a child that something is going to hurt if you know it will. They won't trust you or believe you again & it will make it harder on both of you!

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April 13, 20110 found this helpful

I have always thought it is better to prepare a child for a potentially scary experience. Just springing it on them seems cruel and a guarantee of problems. I also emphasized that the doctors are doing things to help you and would never hurt you if they could avoid it. And I also gave a lot of positive reinforcement by telling them how brave they were and how proud I was to have such a brave child.

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April 15, 20110 found this helpful

Umm... Lionpridej, I think you meant to say "don't tell a child it's not going to hurt when you know it will."

I wish someone had explained procedures to me when I was little - no one thought a little bitty kid like I was would understand, but the lack of information scared me and left me confused. I think my niece might've missed a beat with her own daughter too, recently, when she had her tonsils out. She called me, on the point of exhaustion, and told me the child had awakened her screaming in pain every night since. That had been maybe a week, or two, since the procedure.

I'm still not quite sure what I said that made the difference. I remember asking her if her TV heroine, Dora the Explorer, would scream because it hurt, or try to be brave, and suggested she try to be brave like Dora. I guess sometimes it helps to learn the child's personal touchstones and use them to teach a lesson. Or maybe it was just that someone not Mom or the doctors and nurses tried explaining things. Or, then again, maybe it was my pointing out that screaming would likely cause damage and make her talk like me - very soft-spoken and unable to produce much volume, lol! Whatever it was, the next week she was doing remarkably better - and her exhausted mom had finally gotten some much-needed rest!

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April 17, 20110 found this helpful

JustPlainJo - Oops! Thanks for catching my goof! You are so right, I absolutely did mean to say don't EVER tell a child something is not going to hurt, if you know it will. And if you don't know, tell them you don't know....and staying calm yourself helps tremendously with how kids deal with pain - if you are anxious, they will be too & they will hurt more!

I always practiced honesty with my kids when they went to the doctor or dentist. Then when my 3rd child was nearly 2, he was diagnosed with Leukemia. He had 2 1/2 years of chemo & had to deal with lots of needles, spinal taps, bone marrow biopsies & some surgical procedures, not to mention the yucky-tasting medicine. I never once lied to him, I was honest about if something was going to hurt, how it would feel & how we would deal with that. He knew the medication tasted bad & knew I would do my best to make it better, so he took it. He knew needle stick would hurt some, but he sat there & took it. I always stayed calm, which helped him-he was always awake for his spinal taps & was able to avoid having anesthesia multiple times like some kids who were so panicked they would have to be put to sleep for the taps. I saw parents who would tell their kids that something wasn't going to hurt, just to get them to sit still-but you can bet those kids didn't trust what their parents told them after that. Those kids also seemed to have a harder time dealing with that they were going through. And parents telling their kids afterwards 'oh stop crying, it didn't hurt that bad!'- I won't even comment!

Now, I know that being honest doesn't make all kids calm & accepting. Like I said, my youngest would hide behind the exam table, we'd have to drag him out & hold him down for a shot while he screamed the whole time. Didn't matter how calm I stayed or what I said to him! But it helps children to know ahead of time what is going to happens so their imagination doesn't make it worse, and it also helps them to know they can trust what you say.

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