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How to Prepare Your Child For Coronavirus (COVID-19) Testing

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

medical staff with COVID-19 swab ready to test

Uhhh... you have to help your child with a COVID-19 nose swab?


I'm glad you're here, though and not letting the anxiety of the test result cause you to forget about preparing your child for testing!

Way to go for thinking about how you'll need to get your child ready for the dreaded swab!

For kids, a simple nose swab can be very traumatic! Lots of kids have never had nose swabs and most kids hate them.Kids need to be prepared for them!

Let's talk about how you can do that.


(adjust based on your child's age/developmental level and anxiety level)

1. Explain Why

As always, the first thing your child needs to know is


Why am I going to the doctor/hospital/drive-thru testing site?

Here's an example of something you could say,

"You've been very sick for a while now. I think it's time for the doctor to do a test to help us know why you're feeling so yucky."

2. Give Sequential Sensory Information

(using soft & minimally threatening language!)

In order for children to understand all the information you're about to give, it's important that you explain everything sequentially, step-by-step, as your child will experience it.

Use pictures and objects that can provide your child with a hands-on learning experience!

Think about

all 5 senses

and how they will be affected during this experience.

Have your child grab a pretend patient (teddy bear, baby doll, Spiderman action figure, etc.) and then start with the beginning!

emergency room and ambulances

(adjust the script to your child's age/developmental level, anxiety level, and to be specific to the COVID-19 testing logistics in your area)

"First, you will see some tents outside the hospital.
There will also be some nurses and doctors outside the hospital in long, (usually) yellow or blue "gown" over their clothes. They will also be wearing masks and gloves.

(show pictures if you can)

Sometimes they will even have a mask over their eyes. This is just to keep their germs from coming to you and your germs from going to them. These clothes help keep everyone healthy and safe!

woman wearing PPE

The nurse will take your temperature and ask us some questions about how you've been feeling.

(pretend to take temperature of your pretend patient's forehead)

child getting temperature taken

Then the nurse will need to get some of your boogers/snot.

The nurse will use a skinny, long q-tip like this.

(have one with you and allow your child to hold and manipulate it)

The nurse will put this q-tip high up into your nose to get some of your boogers that are at the top. Those are the ones they need! They will do this on both sides of your nose."


(you can play this out on your pretend patient or you can use one of these nose pencil sharpeners found on Amazon and allow your child to insert the q-tip into the nose! Thank you Kirsten Black, CCLS for this tip!)

fake nose

"It will probably feel really weird since you're not used to things up your nose! You might feel like you want to pull the q-tip out, but it's important to keep your body as still as you can. It might take about 10 seconds, but maybe we should count to see how long it takes. Sometimes when something goes up your nose it can make you cry, cough, or sneeze a little bit and that's normal, too.
The boogers/snot will be sent to some scientists (for older kids) or a doctor (for young kids) that will learn how to help your body get better.

After the nurse gets some of your boogers/snot, we can go home and you're all done with the test!"

3. Ask Questions

Now that you've laid it on thick, it's time to see what your child's biggest concern is.

Asking your child,

"What questions do you have?"

opens the door for your child to ask about anything he's worried about!

It's also a great way to find out if your child needs some steps repeated or clarified because of misunderstanding.

Rather than, "do you have any questions?"

This question, "what questions do you have," assumes your child has questions and feels more inviting to a child which incites children to actually ask them rather than keep them to themselves.

Discovering what your child is worried about is important to know for when you create your coping plan later (step 5).

4. Validate Your Child's Feelings

You're likely anticipating your child's response to this information.

What kid would be thrilled, right?

child feeling scared at the doctor
photo: Nicole Hill Gerulat

At this point, when your child is complaining, panicking, exhibiting physical, and expressing verbal fear and anxiety, it's important to validate your child's feelings.

Your child needs to feel heard and that his feelings are legitimate.

Here are some examples of how you can validate your child's feelings:

"You don't want to do it."

"I understand it's not something you want to do."

"It's ok that you feel that way."

"It's normal to not want to do this."

"Most kids don't want to do it either."

Allow and create a space for your child to feel heard.

Now that your child has your validation, your child can now talk about how to tackle the upcoming experience.

5. Create a Coping Plan

Don't stay stuck in the "we don't like this" space.

Here's where your cheerleading comes into play.

Don't pretend like it's going to be AWESOME!

But your child does need you to give him the confidence that he can do this!

He also needs to feel control over some of this experience.

Here's where you're going to create his coping plan together.

"This isn't how you wanted to spend your day, but since it's something that has to happen to get you better, let's figure out what we can do to make it a little easier."

child looking at otoscope at doctor
photo: Nicole Hill Gerulat

Here are some ideas of things you can do to help children cope during nose swabs!

  • using a comfort position (some tests are done with the child in a carseat, so mom could sit next to the child and hold his hand. If not, chest to back sitting or laying would be my picks! Of course sitting is preferred but if your child needs more help holding still and you need to lay then that's my second choice)

  • music (let child choose song)

  • counting (in head or aloud or mom counts while child breathes)

  • fidget spinner/toy

  • stress ball to squeeze

  • play-doh to squeeze

  • deep breathing

  • mom talking child through it

  • book on tape

  • comfort items (blanket or stuffed animal)

  • something fun to look forward to after

child on mother's lap with doctor
photo: Nicole Hill Gerulat

I like to give children a few ideas of what we could do during the test and then ask which of those would help them best. It could be a combination of a few!

child on mother's lap at the doctor
photo: Nicole Hill Gerulat

If you have a toddler or preschooler, you might want to hide some extra toys that could help your child calm down after.

Some kids need more help to de-escalate. You could bring some bubbles or a pinwheel to help your child engage in some deep breathing following the swab.

child blowing pinwheel while getting a shot at the doctor
photo: Nicole Hill Gerulat

I hope these tips help you as you prepare your child for something that's not fun for you either!

Breaking the news to your child that he's about to get a nose swab isn't easy, but you can do this!! Honesty is the only way to decrease anxiety and keep you and your child's trusting relationship strong!

You've got this!

Good luck!

- Kara Kimball, CCLS




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