A parent is holding two things in his arms. One is a stuffed bear that he is explaining something to, and the other is a white box with a black hole and music coming out of it.

Preparing Your Child For an MRI

A part of life with pediatric MS may include MRIs, whether it’s for initial diagnosis or long-term monitoring. Getting an MRI can be a scary experience for children, especially if they’ve never had one before. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, and it uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce high-quality pictures of the body.

Preparing your child for their MRI

If you’re nervous or unsure about what’s going on, your child will feel the same. Educating yourself and calmly preparing your child for their MRI can help reduce fear and anxiety, both before and during the test. Having open and honest, age-appropriate conversations about what to expect and why the test is being done can help ease both you and your child’s fears.

You know your child best and know what information and language they can handle, however, below are some common aspects of the MRI process that may be helpful to talk about with your child beforehand.

Going over the schedule of the day

Explaining the events of the day and who they may meet may help them feel more prepared. You can tell them that they will most likely first meet with a nurse who will do a check-in and ask questions about their health. Then, they will meet the MRI technician. The technician will stay with them during the test and answer any questions that arise. They can also talk to the technician at any time during the MRI using a call button. If there are any additional aspects of the day, such as needing to receive IV contrast or other health appointments, let your child know where these fall into the schedule.

Introducing the environment

Describing the MRI environment can help reduce surprises and anxieties later. The MRI machine is huge and can be ominous, especially for younger children. You can tell your child that the MRI machine looks like a big doughnut or spaceship that will surround them. They may be required to wear a special helmet that keeps their head in place. If this is the case, you can remind them that this is important for getting the best possible picture, and that they will still be able to see and breathe normally.

Keeping your child comfortable during an MRI

It can get cold in the MRI room, so most facilities will provide blankets. Some facilities will allow your child to bring their own blanket or a favorite stuffed animal. You can call ahead of time to find out what your location allows. If they are allowed to bring things, you can empower them pick out what they want to bring. This will help your child feel more in control and secure. You can also contact the facility to find out their parental policy. Some places may allow you to stay in the room with your child or allow you to sit with the technician so you can talk to them. Knowing where you’ll be and letting your child know can also help reduce anxiety.

Warn them about the noise

The MRI machine will be very loud. This can be incredibly jarring for kids who are not prepared. You can tell your child about the noise, but let them know that this is normal and means that it is taking good pictures. Even though it is loud, nothing will be touching them. Most places provide headphones to help block out the noise. Some locations may even allow your child to listen to music. You can let them know that the machine is so loud, they will probably be able to hear it over their headphones, but that this is completely normal.

Reminding them they are safe

One of the most important parts of preparing your child for an MRI is reminding them that they are safe. Even though it is loud, nothing will be touching or hurting them. If they are in a helmet, they will still be able to breathe and see. If they are scared, they can call their technician (or you if you’re in the room with the technician) at any time. Reminding your child that they have some control in the situation and that they are not in any danger will help them become more comfortable about entering the machine.

Talking about the need to stay still

Perhaps the most challenging part about a child receiving an MRI is the need to stay still. You can tell your child that the more still they are, the clearer the pictures will be. If they move too much and the pictures are blurry, the process may have to be started all over again and they may have to stay longer or come back on another day. You may be able to help them brainstorm things to daydream about, such as what flavor of ice cream they’re going to get after the test is over. If staying still is deemed to be a significant issue for your child and they are receiving sedation, you can let them know that they will be given special medicine to help them sleep and stay still.

Going in for an MRI can be an overwhelming process for anyone, especially a child. Helping prepare your child in advance and letting them know they are safe and have some control in the situation may help calm their fears (and yours too!).

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