Try These 3 ‘Comfort Positions’ at Your Child’s Next Checkup

June 16, 2016 8:00 AM

Calming a frightened child at the doctor’s office could be as simple as a parent’s touch.


Even under routine circumstances, a visit to the doctor can be scary for young children. And a physical reaction — say, flailing arms or kicking — from a frightened toddler on the exam table can put not only the child but also the practitioner at risk.

SEE ALSO: What You Should Know About Safe Swaddling

Parents can play a key role in easing the commotion.

Pediatric specialists from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan recommend a trio of “comfort positions” to help caregivers and their little ones (those ages 4 to 6, in particular) make immunizations and medical procedures less stressful.

Each one bearing an animal theme, the moves were designed to foster a sense of calm and safety during the poking, prodding and not-so-comfy procedures such as vaccinations. In some cases, comfort positioning may even help a child recover more quickly.

Perhaps most valuable, as studies have shown, simple upright holds can have lasting positive effects that extend into adulthood.

“Attitudes toward health care are formed when children are young,” says Julie Piazza, a certified child life specialist and project manager at Mott who helped create the positions. “With these positions, the kids can learn some coping strategies and see their parents in a helper role.”

She explained the finer points of each one:

Totally Turtle

An adult will sit on the exam table with both legs straddling off the table. The child sits in between the adult’s legs, facing away from the adult. Both of the child’s arms should be crossed in front of his chest with the adult giving him a big, secure hug to form a protective “shell.”

The position, Piazza says, “shows a child that they and the parent can do this; they’re in it together.”

Funky Monkey

A similar pose, this one involves the child seated upright while a parent stands adjacent to the table. The child crosses her arms over the chest while a grown-up gently hugs the child as a monkey might hug a banana tree. The arrangement allows a more passive role. Says Piazza: “(A child) can lean on them for support, nestle in and not have to look if they don’t want to.”

Butterfly Kisses

Better suited for use during more severe reactions — or if a child prefers lying down on the exam table — the position features a standing caregiver who leans over to wrap her arms (or butterfly wings) underneath the child. Mild pressure and face-to-face contact, Piazza says, allows youngsters to “feel the support and feel the protection.” It is not meant to be used as a restraint.

Different positions work better for different kids and procedures, Piazza notes.

Just as families might plan in advance for other elements of a doctor visit, the comfort positions are encouraged to first be tried at home. Piazza also suggests talking with your health care team about what will work best for specific procedures and exams.

Eliminating a few tears at a young age, Mott staff members know, benefits everyone.

“If you have a little bit of preparation, a little bit of practice and feeling a little more in control, it’s amazing how much more in control and confident you can feel,” Piazza says.