When your child needs extra support
If the comfort tools and techniques we offer don't make needles manageable for your child, talk with the doctor or staff about other options to explore what might work. Some of these include:
UCSF child life specialists
These health care professionals are trained to help kids feel ready for whatever their medical care entails, including IV catheter placements and other needle procedures. They use age-based teaching tools, such as dolls, pictures and medical equipment; techniques to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation, such as imagery and distraction; and therapeutic play before, during or after a procedure. Learn more about Child Life Services at UCSF.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
For kids who are especially fearful of needles (including young children) and require repeated needle procedures, a few sessions of CBT – which can teach them to recognize unhelpful thought patterns and develop coping skills – can be very effective.
Mild sedation with nitrous gas
Small doses of nitrous oxide (sometimes called "laughing gas") can calm children who are afraid of needles and reduce their pain. It doesn't affect their breathing, and they can respond to verbal commands. Nitrous oxide isn't yet available everywhere at UCSF, but we're working on providing it for kids throughout our system.
Our team may recommend this kind of sedation for some kids, especially those who are hospitalized or in the emergency room.
If you're looking for even more ways to help your child cope with the pain and anxiety of a needle procedure, consider these supportive practices:
- Help your child understand what to expect. Explain that the procedure is needed to help their body be healthy. Don't claim that it won't hurt. Instead, try saying, "You may feel a pinch or pressure, and you can use [child's preferred distraction] to make it easier."
- Fill out a coping card. Have your child indicate how they'd like things to go during their needle procedure.
- Give your child a job to do. For example, let them know that their job is to keep their arm still or to squeeze your hand.
- Have them try deep breathing. Encourage your child to take calming breaths before the procedure, and use big exhales to "blow away the pain" while it's happening.