Helping Kids Deal With Injections and Blood Tests

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Helping Kids Deal With Injections and Blood Tests

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Kids with diabetes are the ones getting blood tests and insulin injections, but they can be a challenge for parents, too.

Your child's diabetes health care team will help you both learn to manage the disease and minimize the pain and anxiety surrounding injections and blood tests. The team may also tell you about testing technologies and medications that offer the most convenience and least discomfort.

Together, you and the diabetes health care team can find the most comfortable solutions available.

Dealing With Feelings

When kids are very young, blood tests and injections can be especially difficult. A parent needs to enforce diabetes management, which can include regular testing and giving injections to a child who cries, resists, and gets angry.

Learning how to manage diabetes is a process. Even if your child has been cooperating with blood tests and injections for a while, a new fear or emotional issue may crop up that could make test or shot time difficult.

To help manage feelings about diabetes, including anger, frustration, and fear about testing and injections, let your child know that it's OK to be worried about or dislike the injection or test. Talk openly about these fears. Kids need to be able to express their frustration and know that it's OK to be upset.

It can also help to describe the need for injections and blood testing in kid terms. For example, you might explain that the injections and blood tests help keep your child feeling good throughout the day — and that not getting the shots could mean having to stay home from school or miss fun activities because of diabetes problems.

Treating testing and injections in the same matter-of-fact way that you would treat any other part of the daily routine also might help. And many kids like to have a sense of ownership and control of diabetes. Instead of feeling like victims of the tests and injections, they'll feel more in charge of their own health.

Young kids might select a needle, read the glucose meter test result aloud, choose the spot or finger for testing, or press the plunger on the syringe. Encourage your child to take more control gradually as age allows — eventually, kids are ready to handle testing and injections on their own (although parents should continue to supervise).

If your child argues or cries, you might be tempted to skip an injection or test just this once. But you shouldn't negotiate blood tests or injections. They're necessary and not optional. The first time you're talked out of one, you'll set a precedent your child will never forget.

Sometimes, you'll need to just do the injection or test, even if your child is upset and uncooperative. Afterward, you might reward yourselves with something fun like playing a game or reading, and then talk to your child about why he or she was so upset.

If your child is especially fearful of injections and every test or injection is a battle, your doctor or a counselor or mental health professional can help you address this.

Getting both parents (or a parent and another caregiver) involved in the diabetes management process and in administering injections and blood tests ensures consistency in treatment and also provides support as you deal with struggles over injections and blood tests.

Making Injections and Blood Tests Easier

These general tips can help make testing and injections easier:

  • Get ready. Prepare the insulin and testing materials beforehand — out of your child's sight, if possible — to minimize the time you need to spend on the procedure.
  • Keep it short. Try to keep the time that you spend on injections as short, relaxed, and calm as possible.
  • Vary testing and injection sites. Don't use the same one for consecutive tests or injections.
  • Make the most of mealtime. In infants, administering the injection or blood test during breastfeeding or bottle-feeding may help to reduce discomfort.
  • Use insulin at room temperature and wait until the alcohol from the swab dries before you give the injection to minimize discomfort.
  • Try ice. Rubbing the injection site with an ice cube wrapped in a plastic bag or washcloth before you give the injection numbs the skin. This isn't necessary for the injection to work, but it may help your child feel better.
  • Find a distraction. Kids may feel less discomfort and stress if they blow into a whistle or party blower, count, sing, hug a toy, or think of something good when getting an injection. An older child might prefer to wear headphones or watch a video during injections.
  • Keep teddy handy. Your child might relax with a special doll or stuffed animal to hold during the injection or blood test.
  • Offer rewards. You might use stickers or other small prizes to encourage cooperation. Your child could add a sticker to a chart after every injection or blood test to mark the achievement. Don't use food or beverages as rewards, though.
  • Give praise if your child is cooperative. But don't make your child feel bad about being uncooperative.
  • Give hugs afterward. You might also play a game or read a book of your child's choosing after blood tests or injections.
  • Enlist backup. If your teen is reluctant to have tests and injections, it might help to get a counselor or support group involved. Hearing about the importance of injections and blood tests from another adult or health professional may help you to avoid nagging, which could only increase your teen's reluctance.
  • Seek support. Talking to other parents of kids with diabetes — whether in support groups, in person, or on the Internet — about what methods work best for them can provide new strategies to make injections and blood tests easier. And you might also find others to talk to about the stress that you deal with in managing your child's diabetes.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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