Supporting your child during painful procedures factsheet


Medical procedures can be scary and painful for children. Your child’s treatment team will always try to make your child feel safe and comfortable during procedures and will reduce pain as much as possible.

Parents and caregivers know their children best. You can be a great support to your child, helping them feel comfortable and safe when a medical procedure is painful or causes stress and anxiety.

 Things to consider

How parents and carers can help

Parents and caregivers have an important role in supporting and comforting children through a painful procedure or surgery.

It is very helpful for you to be present during a procedure and when your child wakes up after surgery. If you are unable to be there, you can ask another trusted adult who your child is comfortable with to be there. 

You can also bring in items for your child that are familiar and comforting to help them relax. 

Comfort items can include:

  • dolls or soft toys
  • a dummy or pacifier
  • blankets
  • books
  • a phone or tablet with their favourite games, shows and music. 

Communicating before the surgery or procedure

It is important that parents and carers feel comfortable and informed about the procedure that your child will have.

Talk to your child’s doctor about the procedure and make sure to ask any questions you may have. You can also encourage your child to ask any questions they might have. 

Your child might ask you some questions about the procedure. It is okay if you cannot answer all the questions. You can tell your child you do not know, but you will find the information for them. You can find the information together by looking through the SCHN KidsHealth factsheets or asking the doctor or nurse together. This is a great way to show your child how they can learn about their health.

When you talk to your child about the procedure, give them simple and honest information.

You can use the 5 W's to help. Here is an example:

'Who?' - 'Dr X'

'What?' - 'removing your stitches'

'Where?' -  'at the hospital'

'When?' - 'tomorrow morning'

'Why? - 'because your surgery is healing, and the stitches are ready to come out.'

"We are going to see Dr X tomorrow morning at the hospital to have your stitches taken out. They will take your stitches out because your surgery is healing, and they are ready to come out. Did you have any questions for Dr X about your surgery or stitches?"

Give your child this information before the day of the procedure, and then again, on the morning of the procedure. You may need to change how you give this information to your child depending on: 

  • their mood or how they are feeling
  • how they communicate best, like speaking or sign language
  • how they learn best, like reading stories, speaking or watching videos.

Communicating during the procedure

Using supportive language is a fantastic way to build your child’s confidence during a painful procedure. Some younger children also respond well when they can overhear their parent or carer talking positively about them to a favourite toy or doll.

Use language that recognises the good things your child is doing during a stressful time. 

“you did an excellent job using your listening ears” 

”you are doing great slow deep breathing …” 

“hey teddy bear, did you see what a wonderful job CHILD did holding their arm still?” 

“I liked the way you blew and popped the bubbles; you must have strong lungs!”

You can tell your child that they are strong and that it is okay to cry and be upset. Your child does not always need to be brave. 

It can also be helpful to give your child some control over parts of the procedure. This could include choosing:

  • whether to sit on the bed or a parent's lap for the procedure
  • the type of distraction or relaxation technique they want to use
  • who can talk to them during the procedure.

Discuss this with your child’s treatment team first to make sure they are appropriate and achievable choices for the procedure.  

Children over 3 years old might be able to do a “job” during the procedure. This can help them focus on something else. 

"Your job during the blood test is to keep your arm as still as a statue. That will be a great help to the nurse!"

Distraction activities

Distraction helps reduce pain and anxiety during procedures. Distraction is when you help your child to focus on things other than the procedure. 

Good distraction activities can include:

  • blowing bubbles
  • looking at picture books together
  • watching a favourite movie or TV show
  • playing a game on a phone or app
  • playing with their favourite toys
  • singing familiar or silly songs. 

Relaxation strategies

Relaxation strategies can be very helpful for supporting your child through a painful procedure. Practice these at home before the procedure, so your child feels confident and comfortable in using them during a stressful time.

Slow breathing techniques 

Example: 4-7-8 breathing. breathe for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds. Repeat.

Guided imagery

Example: have your child picture themselves in a favourite place and imagine what they can see, hear, feel, taste and smell. 

Muscle relaxation techniques

Example: start to relax body parts starting from the toes and working slowly up to the head 

Listening to relaxing music

Example: look up soft, lo-fi or relaxing versions of your child's favourite movie or television soundtracks, or relaxation playlists on YouTube or music streaming apps. 

A calm environment will help your child to stay focused. Choose one person who will talk to the child during the procedure to make sure there is no unnecessary noise. 

Communicating after the surgery or procedure

It is good to talk with your child about the procedure afterwards. You can tell your child about all the wonderful things they did that helped them get through the procedure. Some children will want to do things to process their experience like: 

  • draw a picture
  • role-play with toys
  • talk to family and friends about their experience. 

These activities can help your child better understand what happened and can make it easier if more procedures are needed in the future. 

Last updated Friday 15th December 2023


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024