Need to talk to someone? Call us at (587) 782-3259 or email us to connect.

Need to talk to someone? 

Call us at (587) 782-3259 or email us to connect.

Decoding Clinical Talk

Recommended Vocabulary for Children for Medical Experiences

As parents, you know your child better than anyone else and have an important role to play in preparing them for their surgery and hospital stay. What you say and the words you use will be determined by your child’s age and level of understanding. You will be able to prepare them best if you know what worries them most. Do your best to be honest, try to know as much as you can about the procedure and encourage a discussion. Sometimes this can be challenging, and it can be hard to remain calm. But remember, your child will sense if you are worried and anxious, so try to lead with confidence.

Here are some words and phrases that you may wish to use, and some you might want to avoid.

You might say this: Try this instead:
Vital signs
Measurements that tell us about your body
Electrodes/ECG leads (too technical)
Small sticky pads, stickers that feel cold, connect to a wire (snap/fit together), helps the doctor see how the heart beats
Pictures of your heart, helps the doctor see the shape of the heart and how it pumps
Blood pressure
Tight hug on arm or leg, snug (fits snuggly), big squeeze
Nothing to eat, your stomach needs to be empty
Big rubber band, a stretchy band around your arm
I.V. (not like ivy the plant)
Intravenous (for older children), into the vein, thin flexible tube, a short pinch (that won’t last long) to get it into the right place, a different way of giving your body something to drink, the quickest way to give your body the medicine it needs to feel better
Stretcher (‘stretch her’ – can be confusing), gurney
Bed with wheels
O.R. table
A special bed just for the operation
Anesthesia, put to sleep (can be confused with putting a pet to sleep or putting a pet down), gas
Sleep medicine/sleepy air, special kind of sleep for surgery, medicine that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep so you don’t feel pain during the surgery
Funny taste or smell (may be confused with comical), bad tasting, bad (try to use softer language)
Odd, different, unusual, yucky
Cut open, incision, make a hole (too explicit), remove (may leave child feeling incomplete)
Small opening so the doctor can fix the heart, closed when the surgery is done, heals the same way as a scrape or cut
Intensive Care Unit (explain), the place we’ll be together after surgery, a place you’ll have your very own nurse to take care of you
Breathing tube, tube to help your lungs breathe during and maybe after surgery, until your body is strong enough to breathe by itself again
Scratchy (may set up negative expectation due to connection with past experiences of scratches), irritated
You may feel it in your throat, tickle, full feeling, rough, sore
Post-op nausea
Your stomach has been asleep and needs time to wake up, the more it wakes up, the more you can eat and drink again
Hurt/Pain/Burn (may be too threatening)
Describe the feeling instead: sore/ache, pinch/sting, squeeze/tight, warm/fuzzy/tingly
Medical and diagnostic imaging, x-ray (unless it’s obvious the child already understands the term), CT Scan & other scans (only if explained to child), M.R.I.
Pictures of the inside of your body, to see inside your body, a big noisy camera, the camera will move but won’t touch you
X-ray dye, contrast dye
Liquid medicine that helps the doctor see the pictures better, makes the x-ray pictures brighter, might make your body feel warm when it goes in
Stool collection (confusing term – do you sit on it? Is it a chair?)
Poop/poo (use child’s familiar term)
Urine specimen
Pee (use child’s familiar term)
Shot (use only if child uses term first indicating he/she understands and relates to this medically), injection, poke, stick (may confuse child), needle
A way to give your body the medicine it needs to feel better, a short pinch that won’t last long

If you have suggestions of what explanations have or haven’t worked for you and your child, let us know. If you need help talking with your child about surgery, ask to speak with your surgical coordinator, nurse, or a child life specialist.

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