A runny nose. An itchy throat. An irritable cough. A low-grade fever.

If you’re a parent of young children, these symptoms are not unusual, nor would they have raised your internal “parent alarm” other than perhaps a missed day of school or a cancelled playdate. Now, in the age of a global pandemic, any of these symptoms trigger a frightful question: Does my child have COVID-19?

While information surrounding the novel coronavirus continues to evolve and our federal and provincial governments adapt their guidelines to ensure public safety, testing for COVID symptoms will be a common practice for the foreseeable future. The nasal-swab test itself is quick but unpleasant, and some testing centres even offer a less invasive gargle test for school-age children.

I recently walked my six-year-old daughter through the nasal-swab procedure, and I found that I was as anxious about her physical well-being as her mental wellness. How could I support her as she went through a test that I myself haven’t experienced? How can we as a family brace ourselves for inevitable future tests if and when symptoms appear?

No matter the test format, there are four stages between your child’s visible symptoms and receiving their test results, and they’ll need you with them every step of the way. Here are some practical ways you can support your child.

Educate them on the procedure ahead of time

The first thing I wanted to do was to help my daughter visualize what she would soon experience. This video from BC Children’s Hospital demonstrates the procedure, showing that it only would take about five seconds. However, the nasal swab is quite invasive, and my daughter felt some anxiety about this. Even though the experience was less pleasant than the video made it seem, I held her tightly and counted to five while the nurse performed the test, and then it was over.

Your child also may be surprised to see the nurse wearing protective gear; assure them that this keeps everyone’s germs away from other people and that there is nothing to be afraid of with these added precautions. If your child sees what the process looks like ahead of time, it helps eliminate the mystery of the test and it won’t be nearly as surprising to them, even if it is unpleasant.

To add another layer of ease, let your child bring a favourite toy, security blanket or some familiar item that will occupy their hands during the test.

Have something fun to anticipate after

To help ease the anxiety of the test, I gave the promise of ice cream back at home. Choose something small but fun to look forward to after, like a movie at home, ice cream, a toy or book they have been wanting, etc. This small token will give them something to anticipate through the passing of the test, and you can remind them of this when they get nervous about the procedure.

Explain why the test needs to be done, and how it will protect others as well

“But why do I have to get this done?” my daughter asked. To better educate myself, my wife and I referred to Health Canada’s website that explains the reasoning for testing. This context helped it seem less like a punishment or a purely negative experience.

You can explain to your child that it will help reduce the spread of illnesses to their friends, classmates, teachers and neighbours. We even were able to frame the whole experience as a practical way of loving your neighbour as yourself, and putting the well-being of others above your own happiness.

Support them while waiting for the test results

Kids don’t like waiting, and neither do adults, especially when it comes to our health in the midst of a pandemic. While you can’t rush along the news, you can empathize with them. Let them know that you are worried as well, but reassure them that they were brave and that they did the right thing. Pray for God’s peace over them. Let them know that you are all in this together as a family, and that even if the test is positive, that you will be with them every step of the way.

My daughter’s test was negative, but we know there will be more in the future. With these steps, we feel much more confident in helping our children navigate their emotions.


Todd Foley is on staff with Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2020 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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