“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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5 thoughts on ““I don’t want a needle!”

  1. I’m glad you like the examples and how they are broken down by age! One of the things I love about teaching children and teens about their medical experiences is that I get to provide just as much education and support for their parents and family. A lot of times the parents have more questions than the kids!

  2. I love the examples of expanding the description by age. It’s perfect!
    As I was describing the field to my cousin, who is a nurse, she mentioned that adults often have the same fears and concerns as children in the hospital she works at. And Adult Life Specialist would be a great field!

  3. I’ve had a lot of parents and grandparents ask me if there are “Adult Life Specialists” that do this kind of teaching for adults, because they see how helpful it is for the kids and realize how much they are learning too!

  4. You may not believe this but as a now 45 year old woman I did not know there was no needle left in me until a few years ago! No one explained the “straw” to me that I can ever remember! Thank you for clarifying that for so many others.

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