How To Prep Your Kid For A Coronavirus Test, From Moms Who've Been There
As more and more kids get tested for COVID-19, parents are faced with yet another pandemic-specific challenge: getting a child to sit still while a doctor sticks a very long cotton swab into their nostril. To be fair, even grown-ups are less than thrilled at the prospect — so you can't expect kids to be especially cooperative on this one. That's why Romper asked moms who've been through it for their tips on how to prep your kid for the coronavirus test. Armed with this advice, you can make the whole experience a whole lot easier on the both of you.
First, here's what generally happens during a coronavirus test. "The standard test is a short procedure that entails putting an extended Q-tip deep into the nose," Dr. William Haseltine, Chair of the US-China Health Summit and COVID-19 expert, tells Romper in an email. "The head must be tilted back, nose up, and the swab goes very deep into the very back of the nose which is itchy and somewhat irritating. The nose extends back behind the eyes and is much longer than people realize. It is not painful, but it’s an unexpected and unusual feeling." The test only takes a few moments, thankfully.
To help alleviate testing nervousness, Dr. Hasletine recommends talking about the procedure beforehand (in kid-friendly terms). "You can explain that this is going to be a procedure where a nurse who will be all dressed up and wearing a mask will take a soft piece of cotton and remove some boogers from the nose and it’s important that they sit very still with your head tilted back," says Dr. Hasletine. You can even show pics or videos of people getting the test done (For instance, Chrissy Teigen laughed through her coronavirus test, claiming that it tickled.) Your kid probably won't get the giggles — but with the help of these tips, hopefully they won't shed any tears, either.
1. Feign Ignorance
You don't have to go into all the details beforehand. "I knew that the nasal swab would be extremely uncomfortable. I also knew we were likely going to wait 45 minutes or so to get the test done," mom Ellen Decareau tells Romper in an email. "So, I did what my survival instinct told me to do — I feigned ignorance regarding everything about the test, telling my 6-year-old, 'I'm not sure, let's ask the doctor that question.'" It could make the whole waiting process a little less scary for your kiddo.
2. Tell Your Kid To Puff Their Cheeks Out
Making a silly face could actually help the test to go a little more smoothly. "A nurse told my daughter that if she puffed out her cheeks while getting the swab test, it would be more comfortable," mom Mary Coyne, Vice President of AscentHealth Consulting, tells Romper. "My daughter and my sister have tried this while getting a Covid-19 test, and they say it really does help... I guess puffing out your cheeks helps to open the nasal passage." Plus, your kid gets to focus on something other than the test for a moment.
3. Consider Bribery
Sometimes bribery is totally the solution, says Decareau. "I also (unproudly) promised her a gift for her bravery and patience," she says. "I knew she'd request a 'squishy' and that her mind would be occupied by thoughts of which cute, pillow-y toy she should get. It worked." Whether your kid wants a squishy or a LEGO set, the promise of a new toy can sometimes work wonders.
4. Count To 5
Stress the fact that the test is over quickly. "Talk to your child about the fact that it does hurt, but that it is only 5 seconds. Then count to five a few times so they know how long that is," mom Sarah Farmer tells Romper. Focusing on the countdown itself may be calming to your kid. As it turns out, counting is a simple way to ward off anxiety for many people, according to Healthline. Your kid can focus on the numbers instead of the test.
5. Give A Reason Why
Explain the test in terms that are appropriate for your kid. "My child is special needs and really didn’t understand why we had to do the test, so I tried to explain that it was to protect her and that lots of other kids are being very brave and getting it done," says Farmer. Explaining the coronavirus to kids can be tough, but provide as much context as you can for your own child.
6. Offer Praise & Rewards
Give your child some props for going through with the test. "I also had a reward that she chose in place before the test. For her, it was breakfast at McDonalds," says Farmer. "After the test, she was a bit in shock and crying, so I held her hand and kept telling her how brave she was and that she would now get her reward. Then I had her tell the story of her bravery to a few people so it felt like a victory, rather than a scary test." You can help to re-frame the experience in a positive light when possible.
7. Use Distractions During The Test
In this case, distractions are a good thing. "The second time she got the test, the staff gave her a sequin bracelet to hold and look at — which was brilliant — and I talked about how we would go get breakfast afterward," says Farmer. "If we go again, I’ll take a new little toy to hand her during the test for distraction." A surprise gift might be the perfect thing to get your kid's mind off the swab.
8. Explain What Everyone Will Be Wearing
Don't overlook the fact that everyone is dressed a little strangely during this time. "There is a whole mental component that is forgotten when a young child is getting tested for COVID. A stranger is approaching them in what basically looks like a hazmat suit, fully covered, with a long stick that will be going up their nose," says mom Chrissy Horton, who runs the blog Inspired Fashion Finds. "Children rely on facial expressions to create connections and get a sense of the environment." But when everyone is masked up, it's more difficult to create those connections, Horton adds. Tell your kid that everybody is dressed this way to help keep one another safe.
9. Squeeze Their Hands
This might be the most comforting way to help your kid get through the test. "I pulled from a trick I learned at the dentist," Patti Barrett, co-founder of mom newsletter "The Pickup Line," tells Romper. "When I had to get a numbing shot in my gums, I noticed my dentist tapped on the inside of my cheek and I wondered why he did this. I did some research and found out that your brain can only process so many signals of feeling at once, so you can actually trick your brain into feeling less pain by confusing it with multiple signals."
So Barrett put the idea into practice when it was COVID-19 test time. "To distract my kids from the discomfort of the swab being stuck up their noses, I squeezed their hands quickly and repeatedly. I’d highly recommend this trick to parents," says Barrett. Plus, what's more reassuring than having mom hold your hand?
10. Use A Car Seat
Make the drive-though tests work in your favor. "We went through a drive-through center so my child was restrained in his car seat making the second swap possible to get despite his resistance," Horton tells Romper. No one wants to see a kid in distress like that, but the car seat can help keep your little one still long enough for the test to take place.
11. Play It Cool
Don't give the test too much hype. "We had heard the test wasn’t easy but didn’t want to talk too much about it and build it up into some big, scary thing," says Barrett. "Our 15-year-old and 13-year-old were a little nervous because they’d heard from friends that it 'goes straight up to your brain' but we’re smart enough to know that wasn’t true!" Ensuring your kids know the age-appropriate facts about coronavirus can help keep their fears in check as well.
12. Volunteer To Go First
If everybody needs a COVID-19 test, then agree to get the first swab. "I went first and let them all get up close to watch. It kind of demystified it and made everyone feel more comfortable," says Barrett. If you're (understandably) nervous about getting the coronavirus test, then follow some advice about how to calm down quickly, such as focusing on your breath or repeating a mantra. It will be over before you know it, then you and the family can head home to relax. It isn't the most fun thing ever, but getting tested for coronavirus can go a long way toward protecting your family's health.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.
William Haseltine, Ph.D., Chair of the US-China Health Summit, founder of Harvard University’s cancer and HIV/AIDS research departments, COVID expert, and author of the book A Family Guide to COVID (which can be purchased for free)