A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

How to Manage Your Kid’s Anxiety During Medical Procedures

Print Friendly and PDF

Our six-year-old fell and broke his wrist while pretending to be a stuntman – jumping from a barstool to a mini trampoline – and needed surgery to align broken and displaced bones.


His pain and fear heightened his intolerance for medical procedures during his treatment course. Certain phrases used by the medical staff brought on extreme anxiety, and calming him back down was agonizing for us as parents. Having a history as a pediatric nurse helped me in this situation but going through medical procedures with my own fearful child brought new challenges.

Overcoming a child’s fear about an impending medical procedure can be an exhausting road for parents. There are several approaches that can help ease this fear.

The initial pain after his fall was extreme and, as parents, we knew we had to put our own anxiety aside to act quickly and rationally. Our pediatrician suggested we go straight to a clinic with an orthopedist. Our son’s wrist did not swell, but it was crooked so we knew it was broken. We knew we needed to go in.

As we waited for his x-ray results, our son’s incessant shrieking fueled our anxiety because we were helpless to relieve his pain. When the staff came in to tell us the news that surgery would be needed later that day, the already shaky floor fell out from under us. Our situation went from bad to worse, a cast wasn’t going to be enough. 

FEATURED VIDEO

Our son’s fear came roaring at us as the staff set up to splint his arm amidst his tear filled eyes and yelling protests. We pleaded with him, insisting the splint would make it hurt less but he was panicked. I knew holding his hand during the procedure would help reduce his anxiety and make me feel like I was doing something to help. I told him to squeeze my fingers with his other hand while they applied the splint. His screams brought tears to my eyes, and to my husband’s as well.

When it was done, he said, “Squeezing your hand helped, Mom.” Whenever possible, be in physical contact with your child – if you can’t hug, hold a hand. 

Surgery was scheduled for the next morning. We were amazed how well our son did all evening with the pain medication in his system. But sleeping that night became impossible for him, as the medication wore off and anxiety about the impending surgery kicked into high gear. He continued to sleep for twenty to thirty minutes at a time, then he would yell out. Sometimes he was awake when I went in, and sometimes he was yelling in his sleep.

At 2:30 a.m., when he said he couldn’t sleep anymore, we got up and watched TV. He amazed me. He understood he couldn’t have anything to eat or drink, and he accepted it. Around 4:30, we headed out into the cold, dark morning to drive to the hospital. As we drove, he had many questions about what would happen once we got to the hospital. I knew less specific information would be better for him as a six-year-old so I focused on the fact that the doctor would fix his arm rather than stating specifics of how they would fix his arm.

Since the developmental age of a child impacts fear, explanations of the procedure should vary based on the age of the child. Older children may understand more detailed explanations than younger kids, and preparing a child with books about what to expect can help reduce anxiety (KidsHealth)

Certain phrases can trigger anxiety and increase surgery fears (Verywell.com). Once admitted to the hospital our son’s anxiety exploded when the staff began to use the phrase, “go to sleep” over and over again. I tried to catch the staff and ask them not to use the phrase, as it sent our son into hysterics every time. To counter the anxiety triggered by that particular phrase, I repeated a sentence that calmed him: The doctors would use medicine so that he wouldn’t feel them fixing his arm. My sentence took the focus off the word “sleep” which triggered his fear. Some children have negative associations with sleep –they can be fearful about going to sleep and not waking up, so they should be assured that they will sleep during surgery and wake when it’s done. Or they could be thinking about pets – when pets are put to sleep, they die. So, it’s important to assure children that sleep is temporary in surgery.

Each child is an individual and what works for one may not work for another. Offering a choice helped our son. After discussing it privately together, the anesthesiologist presented my son with an empowering choice: he could pick which way the medicine would be administered. Breathing into a mask was one option for anesthesia, and receiving it in the arm was another. He opted for the arm method, which required an IV. A numbing medication was used to ease the pain of the needle used for IV insertion.

What I didn’t anticipate was my own inability to control my emotions when I considered that something could go wrong, creating a complication or even the rare, but real, potential for death. Before he went into surgery I cried in front of him and that scared him, exacerbating his anxiety. I covered it up stating I was sad he got hurt rather than spilling my real fears for his safety. He understood and believed my reason for crying, but stepping out of the room if possible for a minute is also an option when overcome by tears. Staying calm and using calm non-verbal cues can help a child be less fearful.

Accompanying your child into the operating room to ease separation fears associated with impending surgery, is another effective measure for reducing anxiety. Walking alongside his bed as he was wheeled into the OR also helped calm my anxiety. I was allowed to stay with him until he was given the anesthetic – the most dreaded phase for him – and it comforted me to see him fall asleep, as he was no longer crying or in pain.

Even with a short half hour surgery, sitting in the waiting room was torture. As a nurse, I know anesthesia procedures are quite safe today, but the parent in me felt gripped by the potential for complications. When they called to say he was awake and well, and that I could see him in the recovery room, I was elated.

In the recovery room he was sipping apple juice with his arm propped up on two pillows. He smiled and said, “Now there is just one thing left, they need to fix my arm.” I laughed with relief as I told him it was done and they’d fixed him already. He was amazed that he didn’t even remember any of it. Telling a child that they will not remember what occurred during surgery once they wake up is also an important piece to include when preparing for surgery.

A week later the hard cast was applied and the staff told him he was indestructible, which is what every 6-year old wants to hear. He picked out a royal blue color and brought markers to school so his classmates could sign it.

When it was time for the second surgery to remove the pins, he understood more about what to expect. That said, it’s important to accommodate for new and changing fears. Because we went to a different medical center for the second surgery, I found what worked last time didn’t work as well for him this time. The IV hurt more the second time, and the staff had to use the mask as well, but my son was less fearful because of his previous experience. Again, as his guide, I used wording that was less likely to trigger fear, such as “they will remove your cast” vs. “they’ll use a saw to cut your cast off.” As parents, we have to adapt our approach as our children’s fears change. 

Discussion and education are key in easing and overcoming fear and anxiety triggered by medical procedures. Being prepared to guide your child through the steps and phases of surgery fears is an important factor in keeping them calm.

Sources:

http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/medproc.htm

http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/anesthesia-prepare.html

https://www.verywell.com/ten-common-questions-before-surgery-3156987

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


You might also like:

Learn + Play

Adele's albums have soothed many hearts through hard times, and now she's going through a big relationship transition of her own.

The singer is separating from her husband Simon Konecki, the father of her 6-year-old son, Angelo James.

"Adele and her partner have separated," Adele's people wrote in a statement to the Associated Press. "They are committed to raising their son together lovingly. As always they ask for privacy. There will be no further comment."

Our hearts go out to Adele. Of course, she doesn't owe anyone any further explanation or discussion of her separation, but by announcing it publicly, she is shining a light on a family dynamic that is so common but not talked about as much as it should be: Co-parenting.

Parenting with an ex is a reality for so many mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, "the likelihood of a child – even one born to two married parents – spending part of their childhood in an unmarried parent household is on the rise."

Angelo James' experience will be similar to many of his peers.

"Increases in divorce mean that more than one-in-five children born within a marriage will experience a parental breakup by age 9, as will more than half of children born within a cohabiting union," Pew notes.

FEATURED VIDEO

Adele and Konecki already know a thing or two about how co-parenting works, as Konecki has an older child from a previous relationship.

They can make this work because so many parents are making this work. The reality is, two parents can still be a family, and be a team for their child without being romantic partners.

Decades ago, co-parenting after a divorce wasn't the norm, and a body of research (and the experience of a generation of kids) has changed the way parents do things today. Today, divorce isn't about the end of a family. It's about the evolution of one.

Research suggests joint physical custody is linked to better outcomes for kids than divorce arrangements that don't support shared parenting and that divorced couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse"(so, are friends, basically) are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Co-parenting is good for kids, and clearly, Adele and Konecki are committed to being a team for Angelo James.

You might also like:


News

If you've had a baby in a hospital you know that those first few nights can be really hard. There are so many benefits for babies sharing rooms with their mamas (as opposed to being shipped off to those old-school, glassed-in nurseries) but tired mamas have a lot of conflicting messages coming at them.

You're told to bond with your baby, but not to fall asleep with them in the bed, and to let them rest in their bassinet. But when you're recovering from something that is (at best) the most physically demanding thing a person can do or (at worst) major surgery, moving your baby back and forth from bed to bassinette all night long sure doesn't sound like fun.

That's why this photo of a co-sleeping hospital bed is going viral again, four years after it was first posted by Australian parenting site Belly Belly. The photo continues to attract attention because the bed design is enviable, but is it real? And if so, why aren't more hospitals using it?

The bed is real, and it's Dutch. The photo originated from Gelderse Vallei hospital. As GoodHouskeeping reported back in 2015, the clip-on co-sleepers were introduced as a way to help mom and baby pairs who needed extended hospital stays—anything beyond one night in the maternity ward.

FEATURED VIDEO

Plenty of moms stateside wish we had such beds in our maternity wards, but as but Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an OB-GYN, told Yahoo Parenting in 2015, the concept wouldn't be in line with American hospitals' safe sleeping policies.

"If the mother rolls over from exhaustion, there would be the risk of smothering the baby," she told Yahoo. "The mother's arm could go into that space in her sleep and cover the baby, or she could knock a pillow to the side and it's on the baby."

Hoskins also believes that having to get in and out of bed to get to your baby in the night is good for moms who might be otherwise reluctant to move while recovering from C-sections. If you don't move, the risk of blood clots in the legs increases. "An advantage of being forced to get up for the baby is that it forces the mother to move her legs — it's a big plus. However painful it can be, it's important for new moms to move rather than remaining in their hospital beds."

So there you have it. The viral photo is real, but don't expect those beds to show up in American maternity wards any time soon.

You might also like:

News

A new study has some people thinking twice about kissing their bearded partners, or maybe even letting those with beards kiss the baby—but there's a lot to unpack here.

According to Swiss researchers, bearded men are carrying around more bacteria than dogs do. A lot more. But read on before you send dad off to the bathroom with a razor and ask him to pull a Jason Momoa (yes, he's recently clean-shaven. RIP Aquaman's beard).

As the BBC reports, scientists swabbed the beards of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs. When they compared the samples, they learned beards have a higher bacterial load than dog fur.

Dudes who love their beards are already clapping back against the way the science was reported in the media though, noting that the sample size in this study was super small and, importantly, that the scientists didn't swab any beardless men.

The study wasn't even about beards, really. The point of the study, which was published in July 2018 in the journal European Radiology, was to determine if veterinarians could borrow human MRI machines to scan dogs without posing a risk to human patients.

"Our study shows that bearded men harbour significantly higher burden of microbes and more human-pathogenic strains than dogs," the authors wrote, noting that when MRI scanners are used for both dogs and humans, they're cleaned very well after veterinary use, and actually have a "lower bacterial load compared with scanners used exclusively for humans."

FEATURED VIDEO

Another important point to note is that most bacteria aren't actually dangerous to humans, and some can be really good for us (that's why some scientists want us to let our kids get dirty).

This little study wasn't supposed to set off a beard panic, it was just supposed to prove that dogs and people can safely share an MRI machine. There is previous research on beards and bacteria though, that suggests they're not all bad.

Another study done in 2014 and published in the Journal of Hospital Infection looked at a much larger sample of human faces (men who work in healthcare), both bearded and clean shaven, and actually found that people who shaved their faces were carrying around more Staph bacteria than those with facial hair.

"Overall, colonization is similar in male healthcare workers with and without facial hair; however, certain bacterial species were more prevalent in workers without facial hair," the researchers wrote.

A year after that, a local news station in New Mexico did its own "study" on beards, one that wasn't super scientific but did go viral and prompted a flurry of headlines insisting beards are as dirty as toilets. That claim has been debunked.

So, before you ban bearded people from kissing the baby (or yourself) consider that we all have some bacteria on our faces. Dads should certainly wash their beards well, but they're not as dirty as a toilet.

You might also like:

News

New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo is on a mission to level the playing field for young women and provide them with the tools for success. In 2017, he implemented free two- and four-year public colleges for New Yorkers, and now Cuomo is adding a budget proposal that would provide on-site childcare at community colleges.

Under the proposal, single parents participating in the program would also have access to tutoring and help when applying to four-year schools. It's the kind of idea that could be a game changer for parents in New York state.

Currently, childcare centers are subsidized for student-parents but can still cost parents $50-$60 a week; under Cuomo's budget proposal, childcare would be free. Students who are already enrolled in similar programs acknowledge that the benefits are enormous.

"As a single parent of two children going to school full time, I wouldn't be able to come to school and afford for childcare," says Michelle Trinidad, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and parent to a 4 and 5-year-old. "Thank goodness for BMCC Early Childhood Center that is very much affordable. It gives me the opportunity to advance my career and be confident that my son is in good hands. School is hard enough on its own, having reliable child care means a lot to me and my children."

FEATURED VIDEO

The plan is a part of Cuomo's 2019 women's justice agenda, legislation that addresses the gender wage gap, as well as economic and social justice for all New York women. According to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, 11% of undergraduates, or 2.1 million students, were single mothers as of 2012, which has doubled since 2000. Additionally, that same study found that 4 in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely or very likely to drop out of school due to their dependent care obligations.

"This is an exciting initiative for New York that addresses a critical need, and if implemented, will have a far-reaching impact on various aspects of society, especially for the next generation," says Ryan Lee-James, PhD an Assistant Professor at Adelphi University. "I view this initiative as both a direct and indirect pathway to address the well-documented achievement gap between children reared in poverty and those growing up with higher income families, as it provides moms, who otherwise may not have had the opportunity, to further their education and thus, afford their children more opportunities."

Additionally, many view campus childcare as a safe haven for college students. "During my 18 years working in campus childcare, I have witnessed how the student-parents can complete their courses and stay focused by having childcare on campus," says Sori Palacio, a Head Teacher at BMCC Early Childhood Center. "Parents usually express how thankful they are for having their children traveling with them to school as well as having their children nearby while they complete their degree. They concentrate in academic work without worrying about their child's wellbeing. This service helps the entire public by preparing more people to serve the community."

Parents have so many barriers when it comes to accessing higher education, but free childcare could be a game changer that benefits multiple generations.

You might also like:

News
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.