nurse giving injection to pediatric patient holding teddy bear
Career Development June 25, 2020

By Erin Wallace, Contributor

Pediatric Nursing: 7 Ways to Keep Kids Happily Distracted

Hospitals and pediatric doctors’ offices can be anxiety-inducing, slightly scary places for kids. They may associate going to see a doctor with painful procedures, such as shots, or having someone they don't know having to touch their arm or leg for routine pediatric nursing procedures, such as checking blood pressure or reflexes.

Luckily though, kids are rather resilient and often respond well to simple distractions to help them take their mind off things. Here are seven ways you can keep kids happily distracted during appointments.

7 ways to keep pediatric nursing patients distracted

1. Use games or toys that are age-appropriate

The first rule of providing effective distractions for kids is to use games or toys that are appropriate for their age groups. Babies and toddlers may be distracted by simple, colorful objects, but capturing the attention of an older child may be more tricky.

Catherine Burger, BSN, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC, reminds pediatric nurses to have plenty of age-appropriate distractions available in your toolbox. “For example, a water-spin game will go over better for an 8-year-old than a shiny block.”

One idea is to fill a treasure chest with light-up toys, games, books, stress balls and other sensory-based and interactive toys to help occupy pediatric nursing patients.

The magazine Nursing provides a comprehensive list of toys and other items that can be effective at distracting pediatric nursing patients.

2. If the budget allows, consider going high-tech

For specialized procedures that might cause pain or produce anxiety, such as an MRI, some children's hospitals, such as the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, use a goggle system that lets a child watch part of a favorite movie with headphones during their MRI scan. This type of distraction technique can help reduce anxiety and is a good alternative to being sedated.

3. Involve Mom or Dad to provide comfort

Mom or Dad usually stays in the exam room, so definitely use that to your advantage. Involving the parent in routine procedures can help reduce the child's anxiety. You can ask the parent to hold the child or distract them about talking to them about an upcoming event, something going on at school or family plans.

4. Use safe medical equipment

Burger also suggests providing children with safe medical equipment to play with, such as tongue depressors or an ophthalmic scope so they can play “doctor” and examine objects unfamiliar to them.

5. Play music

Music can have noticeably positive effects on both the mind and body, and playing music the child likes can help them relax. Encourage them to sing along with the words (not too loudly) so they can feel happy, soothed and entertained all at once. Headphones are a great choice for this distraction technique as well because they can help fully immerse kids in what they're listening to.

6. For older kids, be educational

Kids always want to know the answers to life's most challenging questions. Explaining exactly what you're doing when you're doing it in language the child can understand can be really helpful for some children in easing their worries. You can explain how each instrument works, what it does and how it helps them stay healthy. Consider allowing the patient to listen to their own heartbeat through the stethoscope.

When you take time to explain and educate pediatric patients on different procedures, they can take pride in their newfound knowledge and feel more comfortable in their surroundings.

7. Make physical comfort a priority

One of the main reasons children feel anxiety about going to visit the doctor is because they're bound to feel pain from something. Applying a topical anesthetic before an injection or blood draw can be helpful in minimizing their discomfort. Offer them a stuffed animal to hold or squeeze, a soft pillow to lay on or a blanket — they may have even brought a comfort item from home.

When it comes to distracting pediatric patients, no one tactic is a surefire win. Success depends on the child's age, their mood that day, their personality and the reason for their visit. By using one or a few of these techniques, you can help potentially reduce your pediatric nursing patients' anxiety and hopefully turn their visit into a positive experience.

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