Aug 3, 2020, 9:13:33 AM CDT Oct 1, 2020, 10:35:26 AM CDT

How to prepare children for a COVID-19 test

See five tips to help ease fear and know what to expect if your child needs testing for COVID-19

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Doctor giving test to child while mother holds them in lap Doctor giving test to child while mother holds them in lap

While many people think of adults as the ones mainly impacted by COVID-19, children can be affected, too – and may need testing. With the enormous amount of anxiety surrounding COVID-19, kids may feel especially nervous about being tested.

"Kids don't know what the test is going to be like," says Jennifer Roady, MS, CCLS, Supervisor of Child Life Services at Children's Health℠. "As a Child Life Specialist, part of my job is to help kids overcome any fears they may have about medical procedures, and the COVID-19 test is no different."

Testing for COVID-19 often involves taking a swab of the back of the nasal passages and sending the sample to a lab for testing. If your child needs a coronavirus test, Roady suggests taking these steps to ease fears and help them prepare.

Tips to prepare children for a COVID-19 test

1. Remain calm.

Regardless of your child's age, one of the most important things a parent can do to help ease fear is to remain calm and reassuring.

"Children can sense when their parents are stressed," says Roady. And today, because there is so much information on the web that parents need to sort through, "parents often get worried about information about COVID-19 that is not accurate," she says. While it is normal to feel anxious if your child needs testing for COVID-19, take time to calm yourself before speaking to your child.

2. Prepare yourself.

Gather information by using reliable sources to help prepare yourself and your child for testing. Credible sources include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as local health departments. Both can provide information about COVID-19 and testing. Knowing you have accurate information can help calm fears.

Once you are well-informed, it's important to help your kids understand what is going to happen.

3. Tell your child what they can expect.

For younger children, give accurate information and a brief description of what to expect. You can describe the process in simple steps, such as:

  • We are going to the doctor.
  • At the doctor, you are going to sit on my lap, and I'm going to give you a big hug.
  • A nurse wearing a gown and a special mask will put a cotton swab in your nose and wiggle it around a little bit.

Ask the facility or person giving the test to also describe step-by-step what they are going to do. Knowing what to expect helps children feel more comfortable.

Though the COVID-19 test is uncomfortable and may feel like chlorine rushing up their nose, it's important to be honest with your child – rather than saying it won't hurt. You can tell them it might sting a little or it might be a little uncomfortable. Roady says for younger kids, you can say "It is going to hurt for a second," or "It is going to be super-fast, and we can count while we do it."

4. Tell your child they are not in trouble.

It's important to stress to your child that they are not in trouble. Tell them this test is important to make sure their body is healthy. Even if the test hurts briefly, it is going to help them.

5. Provide information based on your child's age.

While younger children don't need to know all the details of COVID-19, you can discuss things more in-depth with children aged 12 or older. "Give them honest information they can handle for their age and leave it open for them to ask questions," encourages Roady.

Ask your child about their thoughts and feelings and let them know it is okay to be frustrated with the test and anxious about the pandemic, but that it is important to talk about what they are thinking and feeling. See more advice for talking to your child about coronavirus in age-appropriate ways.

When should a child get tested for COVID-19?

Recommendations for COVID-19 testing may vary by person or location. If you are concerned that your child is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, call your child's health care provider to ask about next steps.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

See more information about COVID-19 community testing locations in North Texas.

Learn more

Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID-19 hub.

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communicable disease, coronavirus, infectious diseases, virus

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