Do You Tell Your Child: “This Is Going to Hurt”?


Editor’s Note: This was first published July 11th of last year. We had another doctor’s visit this week. Vaccines this time. Four shots. Same feelings.

Today was blood work day. Routine, thank God. I had moved up the appointment a full week to wait for the return of our favorite doctor at the pediatric practice. He also had the steadier hand and the most luck when searching for a tiny two and a half year-old vein.

When I’d take my older daughter to the doctor — two and a half decades ago — I got into the habit of telling her ahead of time the nature of the procedure and, most importantly, wether it was going to hurt or not. I just felt I owed it to her.

She was trusting me and I wanted to be honest. It never lessened the pain but it help build up communication and trust. She’s almost thirty and she knows I don’t lie to her no matter how painful or difficult the subject.

While we waited for Dr. K to come into the examining room, I held my son. I noticed my anxiety level rising. The protective instinct is well developed in most adults and certainly all parents I’ve known. I get into rationalization mode: The blood tests and the immunization shots and the administration of shitty-tasting meds are part of a parent’s duties and responsibilities. It’s part of the protective code we inherited as parents.

So as I’m holding this trusting, sweet and innocent little person I’ve been entrusted with, I hold his hand and on the top, I give a light pinch and I tell him:

“When Dr. K. comes in, he’s going to give you a pinch right here — harder than this, of course — to do a test we need to do. I’m hoping he gets it on the first try. I don’t think you understand me, but I need to tell you. It’s going to hurt and you’re probably going to cry. I am sorry, but we have to do this to make sure you’re healthy.”

There’s a blank stare. I then add:

“After we leave here, we’re going to the playground!”

This he understands. He smiles when I kiss him on the forehead.

When the doctor comes in, he stops smiling. I sense little red flags are going up in his head.

The worst part is holding my son down while the procedure is taking place. I feel like a traitor. While I kiss his tears, I imagine him thinking: “Yeah, you tell me the truth but how come you don’t help me out. I thought you were here to protect me!” My guess is most parents go through this agony, some more often than others. And some with more serious procedures than a blood test.

I don’t breathe until I see blood flowing into the syringe. This time it took three tries. Dr. K. feels just awful about it.

As he’s leaving, my son waves at him and gives him a very emphatic: “BYE!”

I am relieved that we won’t have to do this again for another year. We pray for, and expect, good results. The misery and the joy of parenting.

One of the most amazing qualities I’ve noticed in my son is his ability to live in — and fully experience — each moment. When we run into the playground, I hoist him into the baby swing. I give him a few pushes and he’s flying through the air. It’s clear that no one, in the whole history of the world, has ever enjoyed swinging more than my son.

He’s not thinking about the visit to the doctor anymore. It will take me a little while to recover.