Pediatric Nursing: 5 Tips to Comfort Patients

Pediatric Nursing: 5 Tips and Tricks to Comfort a Distressed Patient

By Elizabeth Marcant, Contributor

Pediatric nursing can be hard, but it's often a career filled with unique rewards and satisfaction. One of the harder aspects of the job can be working with a young patient who is in distress or upset. That can pull hard on your heartstrings, and it can also impact the quality of the care the patient gets. Sometimes, pediatric nursing is as much about keeping the patient calm and comfortable so treatments and procedures can go as planned as it is about the actual treatment.

If you're looking to increase your pediatric skills, check out the five tips below for comforting distressed pediatric patients.

Get on their level

Catherine Burger, RN, BS, MSOL, NEA-BC and media specialist for, says this tip is literal and figurative. "For younger patients, get your eyes and body down to their level to communicate," she says. "For older kids and teens, use open body language and open communication styles to get them talking about their pain and discomfort."

Ultimately, the goal isn't to become their best friend or fake your way into comforting them. It's to show the patient, in a way that is age appropriate, that you are there to help and you want to work with them as a team to figure out the problem and find a solution.

Provide power where possible

Julie L Lerwick, PhD, of the Northwest Psychological Center in Milwaukie, says providing choices whenever possible can make a huge difference in how a child perceives treatment. She notes that the power differential between the pediatric patient and the adult provider can weigh heavily on the situation, and children are often scared of the unknown.

Lerwick provides some examples of how medical providers can give some power back to the pediatric patient:

  1. Ask where the patient would like to start an exam. For example, you might ask "Would you like me to take your blood pressure first, or your temperature?" You might also ask which arm they would like to present for taking their blood pressure.
  2. Provide small choices about clothing when possible, such as telling children they can choose to take their socks off or leave them on.
  3. Whenever supplies are available in different colors, offer a choice between two.

Always remain calm yourself

Burger notes that it's important in pediatric nursing to remain calm at all times. "Children reflect what they see and feel," she says. "Nurses should bring a sense of calm to the environment, no matter how stressful the situation."

This might seem obvious, but it can be difficult to retain your composure when the patient and his or her parents may be upset, stressed or frightened. Even when children or parents are acting in volatile ways, nurses must remain composed and stable.

Integrate child-friendly visual environmental factors

Decorations, small toys or even music can all provide the distraction a nurse needs to examine a pediatric patient or provide a type of treatment. Music therapy has been shown to be a holistic addition to many types of treatments and therapies for children, and simple decorations on the walls offer something for young patients to look at or discuss during an exam. Nurses might even use these as jumping off points for talking to children.

Make pain a priority for treatment when possible

Burger says it's important to stay ahead of the pain. "This may seem obvious to some nurses, but pediatric patients may go from a zero pain level to 10 in a blink. Advocate for treating the child's pain by collaborating with the treating team."

And it's not just what adults might consider major pain that can be a mitigating factor in a child's distress. Consider offering a topical anesthetic to keep even the twinge of the needle during an injection from being felt. For young children or those with a fear of needles, this can help build trust and show them that you are working for them.

Pediatric nursing requires a lot of unique skills and compassion for younger patients. Keeping some tips and tricks for comforting distressed children in mind is one of the things you can do to enhance nurse-patient relationships and the outcome of treatments.

If your pediatric skills are in order and you're ready to help young patients across the country, check out the travel pediatric nursing jobs at Travel Nursing.


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