If you’ve ever changed a diaper on a defiant baby, or tried to put a coat on a kid who would rather freeze than cover up their Spiderman costume, you know that little ones have some surprising strength. So, when it comes to administering a Covid nasal swab to a child, you know you’re probably in for the fight of your life. If you’ve already tried and failed to get the cotton swab into your baby or toddler’s nostril, don’t feel defeated just yet.
Romper asked parents (and doctors who are parents) for their best tips and tricks on getting kids of all ages to succumb to the swab. They may not love it, but with these tricks, maybe they won’t totally hate it, either.
Choose The Right Time & Place
Sarah B., mom of a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old, said she stuck to drive-through testing sites so she could use the car seats to her advantage:
“We have to get swabbed often because my husband works in health care, and any tickle of his throat prompts all of us to get tested, even if we don't go anywhere. My 3-year-old is a pro now, but before she got the hang of it, I only went through drive-thru tests where they were forced into their car seats and I could get out and hold their heads steady while the test was administered. Surprisingly, the baby hardly notices, I think because we're always sticking the NoseFrida up there.”
Meanwhile, Jazmin K., mom of twin 18-month-olds, waits for the cover of night to sneak up on her kiddos, and is ready to ninja out of there at a moment’s notice.
"I wait until they're asleep, like super super deep asleep. Sometimes it's like 1 a.m. and I sneak in and swab their little noses. One time one of them sneezed and it scared me so much I dropped the whole test kit and rolled under their crib in case they sat up looking for me.”
With Toddlers, Make It A Game
While getting an oversized Q-tip shoved up your nose doesn’t sound like fun, finding nose puppies absolutely does. That’s what works for mother of two Kara Nett Hinkley, Director of Advocacy & Government Affairs at Centering Healthcare Institute.
“We have a joke that I’m looking for puppies or baby donkeys and the girls think that’s funny. I also count out loud for 15 seconds; that seems to work. I’d say turn on music they like, too.”
“Make it fun and silly! Tell your child that you’re mining for gold, shoveling for boogers, or poking the bear they have in their nose. Have the child help you count to 10 as you swab each side or pick a 10-second song to sing as you do each nostril. They can help you pick out the song before you start the test.”
Give Them A Reward Immediately After Testing
If you’ve been above bribery in the past, now might be the time to reconsider.
“Have a second person, if possible, to help hold them, and then just do it efficiently. Theoretically, they should get used to it after several times, but I have yet to reach that point with my daughter. So, it’s best to just get it over with. And maybe give them ice cream after,” says Nitya Bhalla, MD, clinical assistant professor of radiology at UNC Health and a mom of one.
“Let your child pick a reward or treat prior to starting, and make sure to offer lots of praise and a reward after the test is done,” says Malka. “It’s likely you will need to administer more than one test, so try to make the experience as positive as possible overall, even if your child cried or was not cooperative.”
Tell Them What To Expect & Offer Some Control
Describing what will happen during a nose swab and how it might feel can make your kiddo a bit less fearful of the unknown. And giving them control of the test wherever possible may ease their nerves, too.
“Let them know that it doesn’t feel awesome for you either, but it’s something we have to do to make sure our bodies are healthy,” says Hinkley. “Older kids may prefer to do it themselves.”
“Teach your child what to expect,” says Malka. “Show them a video or photos of someone else receiving a nasal swab or allow them to see you have your test done. Make sure they know that the Q-tip needs to stay in each nostril for about 10 seconds and that both their nostrils will be swabbed. Let your child practice testing a doll or teddy bear using a clean Q-tip.”
Dr. Matthew Wilber, pediatrician at Texas Children’s Pediatrics, adds that letting older kids hold onto your wrist as you insert the swab can help them feel more like they’re participating, less like they’re getting probed.
If All Else Fails, Get Into Position
If you’ve tried it all and your child is having absolutely none of it, there are ways you can hold them during testing to keep them still. It won’t be fun for anyone involved, but you’ll get the job done.
“Positioning is my best strategy,” says Palen Mallory, MD, mother of three and an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at Duke. “Hug them in your lap and hold the child’s head so he or she doesn’t jerk.”
“For toddlers and younger, lay them down on their backs with someone, and hold their arms tight against their bodies while another person kneels and stabilizes the child’s head between their knees,” said Wilber. “This person will then have both of their hands to collect the nasal swab. Having something fun for them like a popsicle after the swab might help them forgive you a little faster.”
“If you are the only one available to test a younger child or toddler, seat the child in your lap facing sideways, gently restrain their legs between your knees, use one arm to gently and firmly keep their arms at their side and hold them against your torso, and use your free hand to administer the swab,” Malka said. “For smaller infants, you can use a gentle swaddle to help hold their arms down and administer the test while they are lying down, allowing you to gently hold their head still with one hand while you swab with the second hand.”