Going back to school in the midst of a pandemic means a lot of Canadian children will have to get tested for COVID-19 at some point over the next few months, especially with cold and flu season right around the corner. The test is not pleasant and can be scary for kids, but there are ways to prepare them – and ourselves, as parents!
Before the test
By now, your child probably knows that there’s a virus out there, and that’s why some parts of their life aren’t quite the same as before. (If not, you can find some useful tips to explain the pandemic to children here.)
Start by explaining that you’re going to get a test to make sure they haven’t caught the bug. Then, make sure to let them know that the healthcare professionals will be wearing a mask, a face shield, a gown and gloves. Seeing people wearing full PPE is unusual and could make some kids feel nervous.
According to Nancy Morrissette, pediatric nurse at Montreal’s CHU Sainte-Justine, the most important task for a parent accompanying their child to the test is to not make it seem like a huge deal.
The test, which requires a swab being inserted through the nostril all the way to the back of the throat, is intimidating and can make even adults nervous. It’s not pleasant, but it doesn’t hurt, Morrissette insists. And it only lasts about 10 seconds.
Jokes and playfulness can go a long way to defuse any apprehension your kids might have. Morrissette herself uses silly imagery to walk them through what she’s about to do.
“I tell them that we do experiments here. I say I’m going to put the little Q-tip in their nose, then we’re gonna count to 10, and we’re gonna bring up all the little boogers to experiment on them and see if the virus is there,” she told HuffPost Quebec.
In a video aimed at children age four and up, Jennifer K. Rodemeyer, a child life specialist at Mayo Clinic, stresses the importance of not moving during the test.
“The most important thing you can do during your test is to sit perfectly still, like a statue,” she tells them.
Your child could also find comfort in bringing along their favorite teddy or blanket.
Nancy Morrissette also likes to warn older kids that tears might come out of their eyes during the test because the swab touches a very sensitive spot near their eye, and that it doesn’t mean they are crying.
The parent’s role
Pediatric nurses know it, there is nothing more reassuring for a child than Mom or Dad.
“It’s really important for parents to tell their kids ‘I’m here, I’m staying with you.’ It makes all the difference,” Morrissette says.
Sainte-Justine Hospital uses drive-through testing, so children under the age of 2 will usually stay strapped in their car seat. Older kids get to sit on their parent’s lap.
Be prepared to hold your child to help immobilize them. If they move their head during the test, that could result in an injury.
Depending on where you’re getting the test done, the healthcare provider will tell you what position to get into. At Sainte-Justine, it’s the “big hug.”
This means you have to grab both of your child’s wrists and cross your arms across their abdomen, just as if you were giving them a big hug from behind. The child will then place their head in the crook of your neck. Using your own head, you will make sure they don’t turn away. The healthcare provider will use their free hand to lift the child’s chin and tilt their head back.
You could also be asked to use one arm to hug your child (immobilizing both their arms) and the other across their forehead to secure their head, as shown in this video by BC’s Provincial Health Services Authority.
If the whole family is getting tested, it could be best to start with the adults, to show kids it’s not the end of the world. (Obviously, this doesn’t apply if you have dramatic tendencies. If you react as though the nurse just ripped out a part of your brain, there’s a chance your child won’t be so chill.)
For siblings, it’s best to start with the youngest, Morrissette suggests, to avoid a little one getting worried if they see Big Bro or Big Sis shed a few tears.
During the test, everyone can chime in by counting to 10. And it’s over!
“Generally speaking, I’d say 90% of the time, we do the test and the crying is over in less than 30 seconds,” Morrissette said.
It can also be nice to plan a little treat for after the test, like eating ice cream as a family. Just make sure you use the drive-through, since you won’t have your results yet.