Supporting your child through a painful procedure

Supporting your child through painful procedures, such as dressing changes, can be challenging for many members of the family. For this reason, most burns services specifically employ a play specialist to assist with these.

If a play specialist is not available when your child is having these procedures, the following section presents information on what you can do to help yourself and your child before or during a procedure in order to reduce the distress. There is also information about how to prepare for future procedures.

Pain can feel worse for your child if they are anxious or tense. Anxiety increases pain by focusing attention on what is happening and any pain that is felt. Anxiety also uses up energy making your child tired but also making it hard for them to sleep. These things make it difficult to cope with pain. Helping your child to relax is a great first step. Relaxation can also help you to cope with the situation.

Managing your own fears and anxiety during their procedure

When your child is undergoing a lot of medical treatments, you might feel over-protective towards them, or feel helpless and overwhelmed. It is natural for you to be upset if your child is in pain or scared. You might feel uncertain about what you can do to help. This can create a lot of anxiety for parents. It might help if you to learn about the procedure they are going to undergo to help you to prepare yourself emotionally. Knowing what to expect can help you to stay calm and better able to comfort and support your child.

Talk to the hospital staff involved in your child’s care. It might help to make a note of any questions or concerns that you have and take this with you to the hospital.

Find out:

  • Who will perform the procedure?
  • Where will it be carried out?
  • How long is it likely to take?
  • What kind of sedation or anaesthesia will be used?
  • Which parts of the procedure will be painful or frightening for your child?
  • What will be done to manage their discomfort?
  • How can you best prepare your child to be relaxed?
  • Will you be able to stay with your child?
  • Will they need any special medication and what are the possible side effects?

Click here to download a printable list of these questions so that you can take it with you to the hospital

If you notice that you are feeling anxious, remember that there are various relaxation strategies that can help. Do not be afraid to ask for help or support from those around you or from a member of hospital staff.

“I remember that was all over the walls in the treatment rooms, don’t tell your kids to be brave and I thought gosh, that’s a really good point.”

If you ask your child to be brave, you need to explain to them what being brave really means. Bravery is very specific and extremely personal. No-one’s bravery can be judged by anyone other than themselves. It doesn’t mean, “not crying even though it hurts” or “being scared and doing it anyway.” When a child is surrounded by adults telling them what to do, it is important to understand that, if they say “no, I’m not ready yet”, that is as brave an answer as “yes, I’m ready now”.

When your child needs a procedure like an injection or a dressing change it is important to be honest with them about what they might experience. Naturally, you want to tell them, “it’s not going to hurt, you’ll be OK.” And your understanding of the reality of the situation makes it hard not to ask your child to “try to be brave.” However, children cope better when the people around them are honest. Try saying, “it’s going to hurt a little bit and then it’s going to finish.”

In these situations, it is normal for children to feel scared. It can be very difficult for a child who doesn’t feel brave - who feels scared - to be told to be brave. If they don’t feel brave when they’re told to be, they will have a sense that they have failed at being brave, as if you can pass or fail at bravery!

It is more helpful to assist a child to tolerate a procedure. That is one of the roles of the Play Specialist. We want children to do their best in order for the burns team to do what they need to do as efficiently as possible. If your child cries and it is upsetting, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t brave. It means that they don’t like it, which is absolutely normal. If your child is to undergo a procedure, speak to the Play Specialist or another member of the burns team about how best to support your child throughout it.

Parents who helped to develop this website felt that the following advice applies to slightly older children. However, they still felt it could help them to manage their own worries and concerns regardless of the age of their child. Click on the tiles below to read more about how parents coped during painful procedures with younger children, how to prepare before a procedure, what to do during a procedure, and how to prepare for subsequent procedures.