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Prepping Your Child for an MRI
last updated:
Fri, 5/10/2013 11:25 AM

It is important to prepare your child for the MRI process by communicating with age- appropriate, child-friendly words. Before you prepare your child, you need to learn the correct information. We talked to Lauren Geyer, certified child life specialist at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, who works with families in our Radiology Department. Here's what she had to say.

"MRIs are tests used to detect disease and abnormalities in the body.  Surgery can be accurately directed once the doctor views the results of the scan. An MRI can take up to an hour, and for most children, it’s hard to be still for this long. That’s why you should discuss with your child’s doctor her ability to remain still and calm during the MRI process .

Once you and your doctor have made a plan, it is important to tell your child what to expect.  Use positive words that children will understand. A good example would be to tell them that special pictures will be taken with a “big, doughnut-like” camera so the doctor can learn more about how their body is working. If your child is going to have an MRI without “sleepy medicine” or anesthesia, assure him or her nothing on the camera will touch or hurt and that you will remain close by. Your child will be comfortable with a blanket. There may be a piece of plastic that lays over your child; explain that this helps the camera know what they are taking pictures of.

Once your child is comfortable, the bed will slide into the “doughnut” camera. When the camera starts taking pictures, it starts to make loud noises. Some children describe these noises as knocking or hammering. Your child might benefit from seeing the camera and listening to MRI noises in the comfort of their own home prior to coming for their appointment. Be creative and help your child think of what the noises sound like (ex: “a shoe in a washing machine” or “a person building something”). Remind your child that these noises do not hurt. Earplugs will be provided to protect her hearing.

Give your child jobs to help empower him or her for the MRI. Your child's first job can be to think about something really fun like playing with her favorite character, a dream vacation, or singing songs. Their second job is to remain very still like a statue. Practice lying down and being really still before your appointment. Each scan is different, but they might need to be still as long as one or two TV shows.

If your child is unable to remain calm and still during the MRI process, doctors may suggest a sedative, or “sleepy medicine,” administered through an IV. You can tell your child she will feel a small pinch when the “straw (IV)” goes in. Encouraging your child with jobs of being still and taking deep breaths - bubbles and birthday party horns make this more fun for younger children. Bring a favorite book or stuffed animal to help distract your child during the IV placement, and assure her that you will be there to help.

It is important that you, as a parent or caregiver, stay calm and relaxed. This will help your child stay calm. Encourage your child to ask questions and be honest. Use encouraging words and help children get excited about the MRI adventure. Remember how important it is to take your child to a children's hospital for procedures like an MRI. Distraction methods and specific therapy from a child life therapist make the whole process easier for you and your child!"


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Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center is a leading children's hospital in the Mid South, providing pediatric care to children from 95 counties in six states.
50 N. Dunlap Street, Memphis, Tennessee 38103 • (901) 287-KIDS