When children undergo procedures, or have chronic pain, a distracting activity or toy can greatly assist their coping.
Used in hospital and at home, distraction toys and activities reduce stress, increase cooperation, and offer much needed fun to children coping with procedures and illness.
When selecting a distraction method, allow children to make choices whenever possible to ensure they feel a sense of involvement and control. You can purchase distraction items, but many distraction activities can also be created at home
Bubbles and Blowers
Bubbles, pinwheels, feathers, party blowers, instruments (kazoo, harmonica, recorder) all promote deep breathing. This helps the body relax and may make the procedure go by faster.
You can encourage your child to “blow the pain away”. Have a contest to see who can blow the hardest or longest, or who can blow the biggest bubble.
Practice breathing and blowing together when your child is not having a procedure done. Deep breathing is an excellent tool for managing stress and anxiety in everyday life.
Waving a wand filled with water, sparkles or confetti can focus your child’s attention on something other than the procedure. You can use the wand in many ways: watch the sparkles move and float in the wand, wave the wand and use your imagination to block the pain, or go on a magical adventure to a favourite place.
Story / Activity Books
Books that include bright pictures, repetitions the listener can join in with, different textures, sounds or pop up are fun for infants and younger children. Older children may enjoy books that offer a challenge, like searching for something in the picture, or a puzzle.
Open ended story books encourage children to use their imagination. Familiar or family favourite books are a welcome source of calm and comfort.
Distraction can become easily portable and changeable with hand held games, video games, computer, TV and mobile phones. Use familiar favourites or new movies and games.
Encourage your child to share the game with medical staff, explain the story or topic/goal of the game, and teach others how to play. Many children are expert gamers and enjoy “teaching” unskilled adults.
Music can relax and/or distract a child during a procedure. Use CD, MP3 player/Ipod, music box or singing songs. Encourage your child to sing along, hum, click his tongue, clap or tap his feet to the music.
Some children enjoy learning the words to a popular song on the radio that motivates or empowers them, like a theme song . This can be played or sung each time your child has a procedure, giving strength and providing distraction.
Writing your own silly songs to the tunes of familiar songs can be helpful and humorous. For example, Daisy and Morgan (DECF Child Life Specialist) wrote a silly song to prepare her for ultrasound gel, which she hated. Sung to the tune of Jingle Bells, the words are:
Slip and slide
Slip and slide
On the special jelly
Cold and wet is how it feels,
to help them see inside
Stress Balls / Squeezable Toys
Stress balls or squeezable toys such as stuffed animals or shapes and foam items are a great place to transfer pain, anger or nervous energy.
Count how many squeezes your child can do during the procedure, or how long he can do one BIG squeeze. How many times can he transfer the ball back and forth from hand to hand, or back and forth to your hands?
Older children can use their imagination to magically transfer the pain or negative emotion from their body into the ball or toy.
Touch or Massage
Touch can sooth and provide distraction to your child during a procedure or when he experiences pain. Rubbing, stroking or hugging a favourite stuffed animal or blanket is a restful way to promote coping. Rub your child’s back, arm, face or forehead using soft strokes.
Gentle massage can be provided to an accessible area during the procedure. Sing songs or say comforting words to your child while resting your head on his shoulder, close to his ear, or when facing each other in a comfort position.
Be A Positive Distraction Coach
Offer a wide variety of distraction activities, and ask your child if they have a preferred distraction for certain procedures – port access, blood draw, immunization, etc.
Don’t tell your child the procedure will be over soon, or that it won’t hurt. This only draws everyone’s attention to the anticipated pain and anxiety about it. Your child will also be less likely to trust you or be comforted by you in the future. These statements also suggest the procedure will be painful, when in fact some children report experiencing little to no pain from procedures that adults anticipate will be painful.
Your goal is to divert your child’s attention completely away from the procedure while it takes place. If their focus is interrupted by the sensations they experience or the activity happening around them, you can quietly redirect them back to the distraction.