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How to Manage Your Kid’s Anxiety During Medical Procedures

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. 

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

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Parents in New Jersey will soon get more money and more time for parental leave after welcoming a baby.

This week New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed off on legislation that extends New Jersey's paid family leave from six weeks to 12.

It also increases the benefit cap from 53% of the average weekly wage to 70%, meaning the maximum benefit for a parent on family leave will be $860 a week, up from $650.

It might not seem like a huge difference, but by raising the benefit from two-thirds of a parent's pay to 85%, lawmakers in New Jersey are hoping to encourage more parents to actually take leave, which is good for the parents, their baby and their family. "Especially for that new mom and dad, we know that more time spent bonding with a child can lead to a better long-term outcome for that child," Murphy said at a press conference this week.

The law will also make it easier for people to take time off when a family member is sick.

Because NJ's paid leave is funded through payroll deductions, workers could see an increase in those deductions, but Murphy is betting that workers and businesses will see the benefits in increasing paid leave benefits. "Morale goes up, productivity goes up, and more money goes into the system," Murphy said. "And increasingly, companies big and small realize that a happy workforce and a secure workforce is a key ingredient to their success."

The new benefits will go into effect in July 2020 (making next Halloween a good time to get pregnant in the Garden State).

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Whether you just need to stock up on diapers or you've had your eye on a specific piece of baby gear, you might want to swing by your local Walmart this Saturday, February 23rd.

Walmart's big "Baby Savings Day" is happening from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at participating Walmarts (but more deals can be found online at Walmart.com already and the website deals are happening for the rest of the month).

About 3,000 of the 3,570 Supercenter locations are participating in the sale (check here to see if your local Walmart is).

The deals vary, but in general you can expect up to 30% off on items like cribs, strollers, car seats, wipes, diapers and formula.

Some items, like this Graco Modes 3 Lite Travel System have been marked down by more than $100. Other hot items include this Lille Baby Complete Carrier (It's usually $119, going for $99 during the sale) and the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat (for as low as $199).

So if you're in need of baby gear, you should check out this sale. Travel gear isn't the only category that's been marked down, there are some steep discounts on breast pumps, too.

Many of the Walmart locations will also be offering samples and expert demos of certain products on Saturday so it's worth checking out!

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Any Schumer has not had an easy pregnancy. She intended to keep working, but if you follow her on social media you know she's been very sick through each trimester.

And now in her final trimester she's had to cancel her tour due to hyperemesis gravidarum, also known as HG. It's a rare but very serious form of extreme morning sickness, and on Friday evening Schumer announced she is canceling the rest of her tour because of it.

“I vomit every time [I] ride in a car even for 5 minutes," Schumer explained in an Instagram post.

Due to the constant vomiting she's not cleared to fly and just can't continue to the tour.

This is not the first time Schumer has had to make an announcement about HG. Back in November, just weeks after announcing her pregnancy, she had to cancel shows and again broke the news via Instagram.

She posted a photo of herself in a hospital bed with her little dog Tati, and spelled out the details of her health issues in the caption. "I have hyperemesis and it blows," Schumer wrote.

Poor Amy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is really tough.

Kate Middleton, Ayesha Curry and Motherly co-founder Elizabeth Tenety are among those who, like Schumer, have suffered from this form of severe morning sickness that can be totally debilitating.

As she previously wrote for Motherly, Tenety remembers becoming desperately ill, being confined to her apartment (mostly her bed) and never being far from a trash can, "I lost 10% of my body weight. I became severely dehydrated. I couldn't work. I couldn't even get out of bed. I could barely talk on the phone to tell my doctor how sick I was—begging them to please give me something, anything—to help."

Thankfully, she found relief through a prescription for Zofran, an anti-nausea drug.


Schumer probably knows all about that drug. It looks she is getting the medical help she obviously needs, and she was totally right to cancel the tour in order to stay as healthy as possible.

We're glad to see Schumer is getting help, and totally understand why she would have to cancel her shows. Any mama who has been through HG will tell you, that wouldn't be a show you'd want front row seats for anyway.

Get well soon, Amy!

[A version of this post was published November 15, 2018. It has been updated.]

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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