5 ways to ease the stress of a medical appointment


January 17, 2017

Being prepared and rehearsing are just two ways you can help de-stress your child before and during a medical appointment.


The hospital can be a scary place. As a child life specialist in the Hematology/Oncology clinic at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, I help patients and families figure out what to expect, explain procedures to children, and create a fun environment through arts, crafts, games and toys. Here are a few ways parents can be more prepared and help their children be more comfortable for their clinic appointments:

1. Prepare.

Call your clinic and ask what exams, labs, tests and procedures will be done and if there is anything that may be painful for your child. Use honest but gentle language to describe the procedure and let your child ask questions. For instance, when describing an IV, you could say, “The nurse will use a small poke to slip a straw under your skin so you can get the medicine your body needs.” (This video goes through some common words you’ll hear at a children’s hospital.) Remind him or her that you will be there at the medical appointment, too; this can help reduce separation anxiety.

2. Rehearse.

For younger children, rehearsing an event can help provide mastery and control. For instance, allowing a child to play with a doctor’s kit including a blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, thermometer and syringe can help develop confidence around medical equipment. It can also give your child a chance to voice his or her fears.

3. Bring a piece of home.

Bringing an item that comforts your child can help make the hospital a little less scary. Think favorite stuffed animal, blanket or favorite movie. Bringing a little bit of home to the hospital will create a more comfortable space for your child.

4. Bring schoolwork.

If your child is missing school for the medical appointment, ask for schoolwork ahead of time. If your teen will want to update his or her friends every moment, give a reminder to bring a phone charger. Having something to take your child’s mind off the clinic appointment can make the time go by faster and encourage positive coping.

5. Advocate for your child.

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is a patient- and family-centered care institution. We want to make your visit to the hospital as enjoyable as it can be. Ask questions seek advice, and tell us how to help you and your child have such an experience.


This post was written by Katie Beard, a certified child life specialist in the Hematology/Oncology outpatient clinic. Katie learned of the career of child life during her undergraduate studies at the University of Alabama and believes the field is an important part of hospital care.


These stories can also help:

5 ways to make painful medical procedures easy for children

Using play to help children cope with medical events

5 ways to stay busy while waiting at the doctor



Vanderbilt’s Children’s After-Hours Clinics offer the convenience of a walk-in clinic with care provided by a board-certified pediatrician from Children’s Hospital. No appointment is necessary, but we recommend calling your pediatrician first. Learn more about services and find locations for Children’s Hospital After-Hours Clinics here.