Feb 04

“I don’t want a needle!”

What’s an IV?
Does the needle stay in?

Your child is asking the question and you’re trying to figure out what to say next. You’ve read you should use age appropriate words and be honest. Both are good suggestions, but if you are like most people, you are looking for more detail. Many parents, like yourself think, what are the age appropriate words and how honest is too honest.

It is important to understand there is more than one way to explain a procedure to a child or teen. As child life specialists we are trained to adapt our approach and language according to what each patient and family needs. I may explain an IV one way for one child, and in the very next room explain the IV in a slightly different way for that child and family. There is not a one size fits all method. I tell you this, because I don’t want you to think you have to say something “the right way”. You know your child best and the suggestions below can help provide some direction for you to take the lead.

One of the biggest misconceptions parents and kids have about IV’s, is they think when you have an IV, you have a needle in your arm. This is not true. A needle is only used to help slide the small IV tube into the vein. Then the needle is removed and thrown away, only the small tube or “straw” stays in, so the medicine and fluids can travel through it into the vein. Just knowing this alone, often reduces many fears and concerns kids, teens, and their parents have about getting an IV!

Let’s use softer words to say and explain “You need to have an IV”.

For a younger child, try- The doctor or nurse needs to give you a tiny little straw in your hand to give you special medicine today.

For older children, try- Today you need to have an IV. An IV is a soft bendable little straw that goes into one of the blue lines on your hand or arm called a vein, so the doctor can give you medicine.

For teens, try- Today you need to have an IV. An IV is a soft bendable little tube that looks like a tiny straw. The little “straw” or tube goes into one of the veins in your hand or arm, so the doctor can give you medicine and fluids, like water and vitamins.

You can see how in each example, you can give a little bit more information as your child gets older and is able to understand more. With younger children you will want to keep your explanations simple and use words they can understand and relate to. They have likely used a straw to drink something before and so they can relate to how the straw will get medicine in their body. However, they will not know what an IV catheter is or how veins work in their body yet. Older children are starting to understand this, so you can start to mix the medical words with the more child and family friendly words so they better understand what they have already heard people talking about. With teenagers, they understand even more about how their body works and they are more familiar with some medical terms and concepts, so you can share a little more information, while still using softer words to help them feel more comfortable and make sure they understand.

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Jan 31

How Kids and Teens Think

We’ve talked about making sure you get all of your questions asked when speaking with medical staff, however sometimes you may feel like you don’t even know where to start and what questions to ask.  You have so much information running through your head that you are trying to process.  Just like you are trying to process the information, kids and teens are going through this too, just in different ways depending on their age and development.  And they will be watching and listening to you, for cues on how they should be reacting.  If you are upset, they are more likely to be upset.  If you are calm, they are more likely to be calm.

As we move forward with discussing what to say with kids and teens, I feel it is important to give a couple brief examples of how kids process information and think depending on their age and development.

Babies and toddlers process information through their senses.  In as early as just a few months old, they can recognize facial expresses such as joy, anger and distress and they react to it.  They can even feel relaxation and tension in your body when being held.

With preschool and early school age children, their brains are not developed in a way yet that allows them to think logically.  We’ve all had to try to answer the famous “But why?” question a million times!  When they hear information, they understand it in a more literal sense.  An example of this, would be if they hear they need to have a CAT scan, a child of this age, would likely think of the animal, cat, rather than a camera that can take pictures of their body for the doctor.

School age kids around age 7-11 years old can start to think more logically.  They however struggle with thinking in hypothetical or abstract terms.  Using the CAT scan example again, they can understand it is a camera that takes pictures of their body, but they could have a harder time understanding how it takes pictures of the inside of their body.

Once kids hit around age 11 or 12, they become able to understand abstract and hypothetical thoughts more.  Typically the older they get, the more they will be starting to process information much like you and I do.  They will be able to understand the CAT scan will take pictures of the inside of their body and the doctors will be able to look at the pictures and understand how to help them.

Knowing how your child or teen is processing information will help you to break down the information you want to share in ways they can understand; and it will allow you to anticipate and clarify any misconceptions they may have.  A great place to start is by asking questions.  Most people want to start with telling kids information, however we don’t really learn what they already know or what they are thinking by talking at them.  We first need to listen, so we can talk with them.  Try asking “What are some things you are wondering or worrying about?” or “Tell me about what you’ve learned so far…”  This lets you hear what they are thinking in their own words.  Then you can respond to what they say, rather than having to think so much about what to say to them!

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Jan 22

What was I going to ask the doctor?

We’ve all had it happen, you’ve been thinking of a question to ask, but when the doctor comes in, you start answering all the doctors’ questions and discussing the new ones that come up.  You completely forget to ask your question and sometimes forget you even had one!

Many families I have worked with have found it helpful to carry some paper or an electronic device they can save their questions and the answers on, such as an iPad, laptop, or cell phone.  It seems simple enough to remember a question or answer, but when our bodies and minds are under stress, it’s helpful to have a reminder.

It’s also important to remember kids and teens have questions too.  Write down their questions and encourage them to talk with the medical team, as well.  It’s a great way to help them feel a part of process and for everyone to know what to expect.

If your child or teen asks you about something you don’t have an answer to, that’s okay.  You don’t need to have all the answers.  Keep in mind, one of the best things you can do, is just answer what you know and let your child know you will talk with the doctor together to make sure you both get all your questions answered.

In future posts, I’ll provide some tips on how to help kids and teens understand their medical experiences by providing ways to phrase medical information that is child friendly and appropriate for their age and development.  This will help you feel more comfortable answering their questions and sharing information.

What kinds of questions has your child or teen asked you about their medical care?

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