The definition of distraction is a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else. The idea is that it is hard to think about more than one thing at a time. As nurses we can use distraction to help shift a child’s focus or attention away from what we are doing onto something that is more positive to them. Distraction techniques can help take a child’s mind off whatever they are fearful of and away from what is making them anxious.
I use distraction techniques all the time in our pre-operative and recovery room areas. When using them I need to remember to use techniques that are appropriate to my patient’s age.
Many children, especially younger ones, are not cooperative with some of the procedures or things I need to do when I take care of them before and after their surgery. An example is having their vital signs taken. Patients are often fearful of the blood pressure cuff that squeezes their arm or the pulse oximeter light that I need to put on their finger. One technique I can use to take their mind off what I am doing is asking questions. I often ask about their school, their pets or their favorite TV show. I encourage them to tell me stories about things they have done with their family or friends. If I can get them to concentrate on what we are talking about they will put less attention onto what I am doing and what they might be afraid of.
Here is a list of 5 of my go to distraction techniques:
1) Ask questions. They can be about anything. What’s their favorite color? What they did yesterday? Favorite vacation, do they have any brothers or sisters? The sky is the limit. I often try to ask about something outrageous like asking them if they have a pet money or elephant at home.
2) Give them a toy to play with. It could be a book, legos, an iPad or tablet. It sometimes takes a few tries to find what works for each child. The other day I gave a 2 year old patient the stuffed surgery bear that we give our patients. She threw it on the floor. I then gave her a little wooden book with pictures of a different animal on each page. This ended up on the floor also. Finally, I gave her a little car that we had in our prize box and that did the trick. She drove the car all over the gurney and even on the blood pressure cuff that she hadn’t originally let me to put on her.
3) Stickers. What kid doesn’t love stickers. I often will put them on the patient’s hospital pajamas to spruce them up. We also have small ones that we let patients use to decorate their anesthesia mask to make it less scary.
4) Play a counting game or tell a story. I will ask a patient to guess how long it will take for the blood pressure cuff to deflate. I then have them count as I take their blood pressure. I also like to use stories. I often make up a story about something that happened to me when I was a child or something that happened to me on my way to work. Again I usually try to make it something funny or outrageous.
5) Child Life Specialist. I must admit I saved the best for last. There is no better distraction techniques than having a child life specialist around. If you don’t know what a child life specialist does check out our blog that tells who they are and what they do. Hania, the child life specialist I have the privilege of working with in our pre-op area, is a child whisperer. She immediately gets herself down to the child’s level, which often entails squatting at the side of the patient’s gurney. I have seen her talk to a scared, frightened child who wouldn’t say a single word to me and within no time she has them telling stories, popping bubbles, decorating their anesthesia mask or playing a game with her. She is my number one go to distraction technique for any aged child.
The bottom line is, using distraction techniques I can help focus a patient’s attention away from what I are doing that is causing them to be stressed. It can be a win-win for patients, their families and for me, the healthcare professional.
And as always, if you know anyone who is having surgery or that could benefit from the resources we have to help pediatric patients prepare for other medical encounters, send them our way.
Thanks from the 2RNs.