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Preparing Your Child for a COVID-19 Test

By now, your child is probably quite familiar with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and the importance of social distancing, hand washing and wearing a mask. They’ve probably become more accustomed to new routines and seeing others in masks as well.

While you’ve done everything by the book, what happens when your child starts showing signs of the virus and needs a drive-thru COVID-19 test? Do they know what to expect? Are they scared?

Childhood anxieties and fears are a normal part of development. But how do you help ease anxiety and fear about getting this special test—especially if you are nervous too?

“During this time of uncertainty, it is important to provide honest information to ease fears of the unknown,” said Michael Young, MD, a pediatric hospitalist and the division medical director for Banner Pediatric Specialists. “Explaining what will happen, who they will see and that you will be there with them can provide some reassurance. Knowing your child’s development stage is important to note too. If your child is anxious by nature, they may benefit from you explaining what will happen the day of, rather than three days in advance.”

As the test draws closer, your child will surely have a lot of questions. Our Banner Health experts provide some tips to help ease worries and fears for the whole family.

Preparing for the Test

In preparation for the test, role-playing the entire process can be especially helpful for younger children. Although it is an important test, going through the motions with them can reduce fears about the experience.

What’s the “magic wand” that is used?

The swab that’s used for the test isn’t a magic wand, per se, but is a tool doctors use to seek out and find tiny, invisible viruses that may be lurking in people’s noses.

Explain that the swab they use is very similar to the Q-tips you have at home—just a bit longer. Let them know that they will feel that swab go deep in their noses and that it may feel a little strange and itchy for a few seconds. If you have a Q-tip at home, you can let them hold and feel it – but don’t leave young children alone with it as they can get hurt. They can also practice swabbing their favorite stuffed animal or doll to get the hang of what will happen.

“Humor can be helpful too,” Dr. Young said. “Let them know it’s like picking their noses or ‘digging for gold,’ only a little farther.”

The superheroes in masks

Just like our favorite superheroes wear costumes, our medical professionals wear costumes as well to protect us and themselves from bad guys like COVID-19. Describe that the people running the test will be wearing masks, gowns and special face shields and they are there to help them feel better.

Freeze!

The most important thing for your child to remember when preparing for the test is holding their head completely still so the staff can carefully swab them.

Typically, it takes about 10 seconds for them to swab both sides of the nose, so you can practice together staying still and counting out loud to 10.

“It takes about five seconds in each nostril,” said Donna Furlong, RN, clinical services senior director. “Once the first side is done, we let the kids take a break if needed, to rub their noses or sneeze and then swab the other side.”

For younger children, it may help for them to imagine that they’ve been frozen in ice by Elsa or a bad guy, and the only way to unfreeze is to hold completely still until the superheroes finish swabbing their nose.

Where the test is done

Most often when you arrive at the testing site, you and your child will remain in the car the whole time the test is being done. Let them know you can sit next to them during the swabbing or have them sit in your lap as you hug and comfort them.

“Frequently, parents have children crawl up into the seat with the parent with the child facing forward,” Furlong said. “This allows parents to hug their child during the test, which provides comfort but also keeps the child from grabbing the swab or the person swabbing them.”

Additional Tips to Ease Fears During the Test

No matter how much you prepare your child, they still may be very nervous and scared during the test. Here are some additional things you can do to help:

  • Bring a stuffed animal, blanket or special toy for them to hold during the test.
  • Listen to calming music.
  • Let your child know that it’s okay to not like getting tested, but that it will be over faster than it takes them to wash their hands.
  • If it helps, count out loud together as they are getting swabbed.

What Happens After the Test?

Once the test is completed, they can wave goodbye to the heroes in masks and go home, stay home and rest.

“It can take several days to get results, so it’s important for everyone in the family to stay home until that time,” Dr. Young said. “In the meantime, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy and keep connected. Technology allows us to communicate with friends and family across the country. Remember physical isolation doesn’t mean social isolation.”

Dr. Young shared a few helpful tips to keep your child comfortable if they experience COVID-like symptoms:

  • Alternate acetaminophen and ibuprofen for children 6 months of age and older if needed for fever, headaches and body aches.
  • Ensure they get lots of rest and plenty of fluids.
  • Extra cuddles are always helpful too.

“It’s not unusual for children to have some short-term behavior regressions during an illness,” Dr. Young said. “Wanting to be held more or cuddled and even having a few more tantrums is not uncommon, but they usually resolve along with the illness.”

For additional information on COVID-19, check out the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and visit bannerhealth.com.

Anxiety Children's Health Parenting Infectious Disease COVID-19 Stress
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