Comfort and coping

Comfort and coping techniques.

Here's what you can do to help improve your child's comfort level and coping skills during medical care and treatment. Also learn how this medical experience can affect your family.

Clear and positive language

Your words can have an impact on your child's ability to cope.

  • Be honest and simple as you share information with your child.
  • Focus on what your child can do rather than what not to do:
    • "Your job is…"
    • "You can help by…"
  • Give reasonable and possible choices to help your child feel a sense of control, such as:
    • "You have a choice. You can sit by yourself or sit with Dad."
    • "You have a choice. You can take your medicine now or in two minutes."
  • Support a "can do" attitude, while acknowledging that things may be difficult:
    • "I know it's difficult not to do what you want, but you can do these things…"
  • Encourage your child to have a voice in the care:
    • "Use your words."
    • "Help us understand."
  • Use reasonable and appropriate consequences:
    • "If you can't hold still on your own, I'll have to help hold you still."
    • "I'll hold onto your doll until you've taken all your medicine, and then you can have it back."

Parental presence

You can provide a unique sense of safety and comfort to your child when there are so many unfamiliar faces in the health care setting.

  • Staff may ask you to stay with your child or remain nearby to be reachable for communication with a doctor or to be with your child if they need you.
  • It's always OK to ask to be with your child during a test or procedure.
  • Know there are some hospital policies that may not allow you to remain with your child at certain times during their health care.
  • Learn what is expected of you from staff in the area where your child is being cared for.
  • Be present with your child, take breaks when you can, and communicate with your health care team.
  • Give yourself permission to say "no" to being with your child during a test or procedure if this would make you very uncomfortable.

Parenting and routines

It can be challenging to maintain a sense of control and to know how to parent your child in the medical setting.

  • Trust your parenting skills.
  • Continue to use your normal system of limits, boundaries and consequences for your child (for example, using a timeout or removing privileges).
  • Maintain your child's routines as well as you can in the medical setting (for example, bath time, story time, nap or rest time).
  • Communicate your expectations and desires for rules and routines with the staff caring for your child.
  • Ask for help if you're unsure or worried about how to maintain safe and healthy discipline.

Comfort positions and options

Ask your health care team about using positions and other options that can provide comfort for your child during difficult or painful tests or procedures. For example:

  • You may be able to hold your child or sit with them during a test or procedure.
  • Your child may be able to use a cream or spray that can minimize pain.

When you hold your child in a comfort position, he or she is more likely to feel safe during a medical procedure. This feeling of safety can help your child be more willing to cooperate and more able to cope.

Comfort positions and options. Swaddle
Back-to-chest position. Back-to-chest position
Side-by-side sitting. Side-by-side sitting

Play and distraction

Play can be a valuable resource for supporting your child during medical experiences.

  • Bring comfort items from home for your child.
  • Offer your child age-appropriate and familiar play opportunities to:
    • Support physical growth and development
    • Encourage healthy social interactions
    • Provide a safe outlet or escape from unfamiliar experiences
    • Allow your child to practice and process medical experiences
  • Distraction can help your child have an alternative focus during a test or procedure.
  • Expressive therapies such as pet therapy or music therapy may be available

Family-centered care

Each family member plays an important role during your child's care in the medical setting.

  • Consider the needs of siblings. This may mean involving them in care planning or hospitalizations, or helping them maintain normal routines with outside support. Ask your child life team to help siblings process new or difficult information, prepare them for hospital visits, or help them stay connected from home.
  • Know that your voice is a critical part of the health care team. Speak up with any questions or concerns you may have.
  • Help your team get to know the members of your family and any family dynamics that may be useful in caring for your child.
  • Use your support system outside of the hospital and stay in communication with them as you're able (for example, your family, friends, workplace, school or place of worship) so they know how to best support you. Consider using a care page or point person who can help share updates.
  • Take care of yourself by eating well and getting rest when you can.