Watching Cartoons Eases Children's Pain

Kids' TV helps distract youngsters from minor medical procedures, study shows

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 16, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Bugs Bunny, Scooby-Doo and the Power Rangers might have a place in the doctor's office, a new study finds.

Researchers in Italy found that cartoons helped distract kids from the pain of minor medical procedures.

"We found that watching TV has an analgesic power, even greater than active distraction obtained by mothers' efforts," said lead author Dr. Carlo Bellieni, from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Le Scatte Clinic of the University of Siena.

His team's report was published online Aug. 16 in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

In the small study, Bellieni and colleagues randomly placed 69 children, ages 7 to 12, in one of three groups to have a blood sample taken. One group was given no distraction during the procedure. In the second group, mothers tried to distract their children by talking to them, soothing, and/or caressing them. The third group of children was allowed to watch a TV cartoon during the procedure.

The children who experienced the most pain were in the group with no distraction. Their pain was about three times higher than the children who watched TV cartoons, the researchers noted.

Children distracted by their mothers had less pain than the children with no distraction, but significantly more pain than the children who watched TV, the researchers added.

"During a minor procedure, children experience fear, pain and stress that must be recognized and overcome," Bellieni said. "Caregivers should make efforts to provide distraction to children during painful events: Parents' presence must be encouraged, and television should be used as a routine tool, together with appropriate analgesic drugs, whose effectiveness it may increase," he added.

Parents should never leave their children alone during minor painful procedures, Bellieni said. "Parents' presence and active distraction efforts are analgesic," he said. "If it is possible to watch a cartoon or an amusing movie, this will produce a greater analgesic effect, but this does not make parents' presence useless."

The effectiveness of watching TV in reducing pain raises some concern about TV's power in the home, he added. "If TV can overcome pain better than mothers do, it can influence children's attitudes and attention more than parents," Bellieni speculated.

One expert thinks that using TV as a distraction is a good idea as long as the programming is suitable.

"It's a good use of television as long as the kids are watching something that's approved, it's reasonable," said Dr. Jess Shatkin, the director of education and training at the New York University Child Study Center. He said more and more doctors and nurses are using TV as a distraction for kids undergoing medical procedures.

However, "it's important for parents to be in the room," Shatkin said. Parents should also be coached on how to distract their child, he added.

Another expert, Brenda Bursch, the clinical director of the Pediatric Psychiatry Consultation Liaison at the University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine, said that, "These interesting findings are consistent with clinical observations and potentially helpful for parents and clinicians."

It may be that the cartoon works best because it captures both the visual and auditory attention of the child, Bursch said.

She said a parent's attention signals concern -- something that can actually make the child more fearful.

"The mom's attempts to distract by talking, caressing or soothing might signal to the child that something bad is going to happen," Bursch explained. "This is not to say that moms should not be present, but the study suggests that additional distractions may be more useful for pain reduction," she said.

More information

For more on children and pain, head to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Carlo Bellieni, M.D., Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Le Scatte Clinic, University of Siena, Siena, Italy; Jess Shatkin, M.D., M.P.H., director of education and training, and child and adolescent psychiatrist, New York University Child Study Center, New York City; Brenda Bursch, Ph.D., clinical director, Pediatric Psychiatry Consultation Liaison, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine; August 2006, online issue, Archives of Disease in Childhood

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