Non-drug Pain Control for Kids
The health care staff at American Family Children’s Hospital, University of Wisconsin Hospital,
and all UW Health Clinics believes that all of our patients deserve a good experience when they
visit their doctor’s office. The best way to do this is to decrease or avoid the amount of pain a
patient feels during those visits. Children are exposed many times to needles during childhood.
They may have immunizations, blood draws, or even IVs placed. Needle fears can last a lifetime
if pain or anxiety is a major part of these experiences.
How can a parent or support person help?
Not knowing what to do to help your child can be very stressful. Here are some ideas that we
hope you may find helpful.
Be with your child
We suggest that you to be in the room, to hold, and to comfort your child during painful times.
The stress that a child feels before and during a painful event will increase the amount of pain
felt. Children tend to feel less pain when a support person is with them. Having a support person
will decrease the amount of stress and pain.
A child can sense your anxious feelings. Your calm voice, words, and presence can help your
child feel less anxious and fearful.
Help your child get into a helpful position
Here are some options:
Sitting on Lap
ξ Helpful with infants and
ξ Child sitting on adult’s lap
ξ Child’s legs can be tucked
between adult’s legs
ξ Hugging and hand holding
ξ Child can watch what is
going on or focus on
Chest to Chest Hugging
ξ Child can sit on lap or
ξ Child can focus on
ξ View is blocked with
the hold, a book, or a
Sitting Beside Support
ξ Can sit in chair or on
ξ Can choose to watch
or focus on something
ξ May use book or toy to
ξ Adult is behind or at side
of the child
ξ Adult can hug or hold if
ξ Child can watch what is
going on or focus on
ξ May have another staff
gently hold knees.
Help your child focus on something else
Changing your child’s focus from a painful event to something else can be very helpful. Getting
your child engaged in playing with a toy, searching for specific items in a picture, or reading a
book is great.
Bringing items from home that comfort your child can also be very helpful. A special blanket,
pacifier, toy, or books are a few items to think about bringing with you.
Allow your child to be as involved in the process as they want to be. Some children may
actually find it less stressful if they have the option of watching the needle and looking away
when they want to.
Age of Child Ideas to Try
0-4 months of age
Swaddling-wrapping baby snugly in blanket with arms and legs
tucked, Shushing—making calm soothing noises using “shhh” sounds,
Sucking--breastfeeding, bottle, pacifier, sugar water* , Buzzy Bee
4-12 months of age
touching, stroking, patting, rocking, playing music, light up toys,
1-4 years of age
Puppet play, storytelling, interactive books – especially ones with flaps
and buttons, deep breathing, blowing bubbles, music, singing, movies,
light up toys
4 - 6 years of age
Deep breathing, telling a story, puppet play, music, singing, TV,
talking about favorite places, TV shows, activities, interactive books
such as I-Spy
6 - 11 years of age
Music, deep breathing, counting, eye fixation (stare at an object
without blinking), humor – make the child laugh, music, video games,
talking about favorite places
12 year old and older
Music, movies, video games, squeezing a stress ball, talking about
things the child enjoys, or just ask the child
*only use a few sugar water drops on the tongue or 1-2 dips of pacifier into the sugar
water—too much can cause baby to have diarrhea
Recently a new device created to help with the pain of needle related procedures. Buzzy Bee
combines the use of vibration and cold to decrease or eliminate needle stick pain. The device
works best, for most people, when placed near the site of the needle stick. But, that is not always
possible. It is also beneficial when placed at other sites, even on the opposite arm or leg. It is
believed to work because the vibration and cold from Buzzy work to block the pain signal from
getting to the brain. If a child is afraid of bees, Buzzy also comes in plain black or as a ladybug.
More information can be found and devices ordered at: www.buzzy4shots.com.
Choose your words wisely
The words you use make an impact. Praise the child; identify specific helpful behaviors before,
during, and after any painful event. Let the child know when it is “all done.” Allow the child to
express his/her feelings about what just happened. Apologizing to the child that the painful
event needs to take place, criticizing, and giving complete control to the child are not helpful.
They may cause more distress to the child and decrease the child’s level of cooperation. Below
you will find words and phrases to avoid and those that can be helpful.
Phrases that might help Phrases to avoid
“Tell me how it feels.” “This feels like a bee sting.”
“Some children say they feel a warm feeling.
How did it feel to you?”
“The medicine will burn.”
“Other kids tell me it feels like…” “Sorry”
“When I count to three, blow the feeling away
from your body.”
“Be a big boy/girl!”
“That was hard.” “Don’t cry.”
“My 2 month old is coming in for his immunizations next week. I’m afraid of needles, how can I
make this better for my child.”
Immunizations are given in the thighs. Many babies like swaddling, and you can swaddle a baby
on top and leave the legs exposed. A pacifier or breastfeeding (sucking is very comforting) or
even your little finger can be very soothing to babies. After the injection, using a soothing voice
(making a “shushing” sound) and swaying back and forth will help to calm the baby after his or
her shots. If you don’t know how to swaddle, ask someone on your child’s health care team to
“I’ve decided to give my 1st grader a flu shot this year and he can’t get the mist because of his
asthma. I’ve tried using distraction in the past with books and singing, but he’s already afraid
before we walk through the door. What else can I do to help him through this?”
For this age, flu shots are usually given in the upper arm. Holding your child chest to chest in a
hug can be both comforting and allow you the best position for helping him stay still during the
shot. Using cold packs prior to the injection and also Buzzy Bee can provide skin stimuli to
distract the brain from the pain of injection. Buzzy and the ice packs don’t even necessarily need
to be at the site of injection, they can be placed anywhere even on the opposite side of the body.
Even though books didn’t work in the past, talking about something that has recently happened
and engaging him in the story may be a good alternative to the storybook.
“My teenager doesn’t remember ever having her blood drawn and is nervous about having
blood drawn next week. How can I help them be prepared the day of and prevent becoming an
adult like me who is afraid of needles?”
It’s important to avoid talking about your own fears but rather talk honestly about the relatively
small amount of pain it will actually be, (the tourniquet may be the most uncomfortable part of
the procedure in reality) and how short a duration it will be. Encourage your teen to bring
distraction items such as video games, music or a good book and any technology items that
support that. One medication option that we like to recommend even for short procedures or
pokes is L.M.X4. LMX4 is a topical over the counter ointment available at any pharmacy that
numbs the skin and is a very good tool for pain management. It is applied to the area of the skin
where the needle will go in twenty to thirty minutes prior to the procedure.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 9/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing HF#6835.