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Distraction ideas

Distraction can be a very useful way of helping a child to remain calm and not to panic when they are in a stressful situation or about to go through a stressful or painful procedure. Parents and carers can play an important role in helping to ease your child’s fears and worries.

It is useful to practise any distraction techniques with your child before the procedure happens.

There are many different ideas for distracting a worried or distressed child. It must be interactive and involve direct interaction between the child and another person.

Here are some ideas you and your child may find helpful. Try not to use too many at once. Talk with your child beforehand to see which would best suit them.

The environment

Look with your child at the room around you, the pictures on the walls and ceilings, and out of the window. This can be a good visual attraction and a good way to begin.

Breathing techniques

Controlled breathing

Games or exercises that include breathing or blowing in a calm controlled way can be very effective. It is difficult to panic or stays tense when you are breathing slowly and deeply. Help your child to slowly draw in a deep breath, hold it for 5 seconds and then very slowly let it out with you saying ‘relax’ as they do so. Do this a few times.

Blowing a tissue

Hold a tissue about 10 inches away from your child’s face. See how long they can keep the tissue blowing in the air by blowing slowly out.

Blowing a feather

Ask your child to imagine a feather resting on the back of your hand and then ask them to blow it very gently so that it won’t actually blow away but will just quiver gently as it rests there.

Blowing birthday candles out

Have your child pretend there is a birthday cake in front of them with lots of candles on it. Then ask them to blow them all out very slowly so that no wax falls on the icing.

Blowing soap bubbles

These are good fun and visible. As your child blows the bubbles, encourage them to count them and see where they go, see how big they are, and how long they last.

Blowing up imaginary balloons

Ask your child to imagine all their worries and fears turning into or filling balloons which they can let go of one by one. To include calm and controlled breathing, your child could perhaps imagine breathing very gently and slowly into each balloon to blow it up with their worries. As your child lets go of the balloon, they can imagine each anxiety floating away, leaving them feeling comfortable and relaxed.

Muscle relaxation

Tense and relax

This idea involves your child squeezing their muscles so they feel tense, and then relaxing and letting go of the tension. Ask your child to squeeze your hand for a few seconds and then let go and breathe out, breathing away any worries and repeating this.

Stress balls or koosh balls

These can also work well. Squeeze and let go

‘Rag-doll’ or ‘spaghetti’

Ask your child to pretend to be limp and relaxed like an old rag doll or piece of spaghetti.

Interactive books

Pop-up books

Reading a pop-up book with your child and asking them questions about the pictures focuses their mind on something other than the procedure.

Sticker puzzle books

These also work when you look at them together

Where’s Wally? books

These focus your child’s attention on finding a picture on the page and can be especially useful with older children.

Entertainment

Puppets

You can use these to role-play or reassure your child, or just to entertain and distract them.

Telling jokes

It’s always fun to laugh – see if you can take turns telling jokes to each other!

Story-telling

Children often love hearing stories about themselves. You could tell them about a time you were proud of them, or a story about them as a superhero. You can combine telling a story with breathing exercises.

Puzzles

These focus your child on a game rather than the procedure taking place. You could try:

  • I spy
  • Times tables
  • Counting backwards from 100 in groups of 3, 4, 5
  • Saying the alphabet backwards
  • Fizz Buzz. Count upwards from 1. When you get to multiples of 3 say “fizz” and when you get to multiples of 5 say “buzz”. When you get to a multiple of 3 times 5 say “fizz buzz”
  • Hangman
  • Noughts and crosses
  • Connect 4

Letter games

Ask your child to think of as many words as they can in a category beginning with a particular letter

In my bag

Take turns to remember what is in an imaginary bag and add an item each time.

Singing

Sing a fun song or pop song together. Take it in turns to sing alternate lines and sing the chorus together.

Guess a song by tapping out the rhythm or humming part of it.

Be Animals

Each person in the room makes a different animal noise. See who can make the funniest or most realistic noise!

Visualising

Our imaginations can be very powerful. Ask your child to imagine going down steps into a room or to a place where they feel safe, happy, and comfortable. Use your imagination to describe the place in lots of detail such as the sights, colours, sounds and smells. The more vivid, the better. You can use prompts such as photos or familiar objects.

Something to look forward to

Talk with your child about something they are looking forward to. Ask them about it and get lots of details.

Gentle touch

Patting, rubbing, and stroking can all soothe your child and distract them from what is happening with their procedure.

Remember, talking through these ideas with your child and practising the ones they like before they go in for their procedure can be very useful.

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Disclaimer

Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

Resource number: PSY11

Resource Type: Article

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