Going to the hospital for any reason — or even just going to the doctor for routine vaccinations — isn’t fun for a child. The experience is filled with many things — lack of power, a shortage of choices, pain, fear, strange people and strange experiences. Your child will be looking at how you react in order to gain the answers to the unasked questions she has. She will look at your face to determine how bad things are, reading your masked emotions and your body language.

Don’t Say “This Won’t Hurt” When It Will

All parents put on a happy smile and try to be brave for their child, but how far should you go? I think the better way to handle things is to tell the truth in an age-appropriate way without overwhelming your child. If you smile and tell her “This won’t hurt,” and then it does hurt, your child will have evidence that you lied and begin to wonder what else you’re lying about. You will have lost some credibility at a time when you need it the most.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to keep your child’s spirits up while in the hospital. She needs to smile to heal. What I am saying is try to empower your child within the boundaries of the situation. How do you do that? Tell your child the age-appropriate truth, accompanied by a choice.

Telling the Truth Without Scaring Your Child

Make sure to sound loving and empathetic as you offer these choices or it may upset her even further. Here’s an example:

You: “Sweetie, in a few minutes you have to have more blood drawn. I know you don’t want to, but there are no choices about that. Yes, the needle will feel like a pinch, but we need to get you well. You do have six other choices though.

1. You get to decide if you want to take one, two, or three deep breaths before the nurse begins.
2. You get to tell the nurse when to begin. Do you want her to start on number three or number five?
3. You get to decide if you want to cry or not cry. Either way is fine with me.
4. You get to decide if you want to squeeze my hand or squeeze the sheet.
5. You get to decide if you want to keep your eyes open or closed while the nurse draws the blood.
6. And you get to decide which flavor of ice cream you want when it’s all over. Why don’t we practice the deep breaths now while we wait?” (This keeps her calm until the nurse arrives.)

Depending on the age of the child, you can also be truthful about the body, the medicine and how it heals. You can tell a child that the medicine that’s being swallowed is going down the throat into the tummy and traveling like a railroad train to where the sickness is. Doctors and nurses recommend that adults envision what’s going on in the body and send white light to the problem to heal it. Why not let a child use his or her imagination to do the same? After all, no one is better at using his or her imagination than a child.

Telling the truth and giving many choices allows a child to trust you enough to summon up her courage to better deal with the situation. Once courageous, she’s more likely to be empowered enough to do whatever is needed to get well.

Asking kids to do things they don’t want is much easier when a parent’s choice is clear and gives a child power. Choice that Lead to Cooperation shares a sample conversation showing the difference between limitless choices and parent-approved choices.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and The Authentic Parent Series. Go to proactiveparenting.net to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.