Helping Kids Prepare for a Covid-19 test

If your child needs a COVID-19 test, learn about how tests are done and help them prepare.

The  COVID-19 test is done with a small tipped, long swab (the top of the swab is much smaller than a Q-tip).

  • Under 12 years of age: the swab enters one side of the child’s nose and touches the back part of their throat.  It can feel like a  scratch, so it may be uncomfortable. The test takes less than 10 seconds and has no lasting effects
  • Age 12 and over:  when the child has symptoms such as a cough, fever or sore throat, the tester will use a long Q tip to swab the back of the child’s tonsils and then swab the inside of both nostrils.  The test takes about 10 seconds. It is can feel like a scratch in their throat and nose.  It may make their eyes water.
  • This Q-tip will be placed in a sterile bottle, labeled with your child’s name, health number and date of birth, and will be sent from the testing site to the provincial laboratory.

As a parent or care-provider, you can prepare your child beforehand by telling them that the testers will have masks, gowns, and gloves on and that it may look scary but this is to keep everyone safe.

  • Suggested language: "You will see people wearing gowns, gloves and masks. This is to help keep everyone as safe as possible."
  • Be honest by saying “This is going to feel weird or I know you’re scared.  What can we do to make this less scary for you?”
  • Avoid saying, “We are going to do this now, okay?” or “Is it okay to swab your nose now?” The child will always answer, ”No!” and then the child will be less trustful when the test has to be done. The child cannot control whether or not the test is done. Building trust is very important.
  • Give choice within reason and where possible.  For example, for children under 12 you can ask them:” Do you want to have the Q-tip in your left or right nostril?”  Other options include asking, “Are you going to sit on your hands or do you want me to hold your hand?”  “Have you decided what special treat you would like once you are back home…maybe your favorite movie or reading an extra story?”

Help to keep the child still during the test

  • Gentle assistance may be needed as the child may not be able to keep their hands down as the swab is coming towards their face.  You can help by holding the child’s hand.
  • The child may be asked to sit on their hands to prevent them pulling or grabbing the swab.
  • Be honest with your child. “It is going to feel strange or uncomfortable, but if you stay still the test will be over faster.”
  • Play a guessing game:  “How many seconds (what number will you get to) will this take?”, “Let’s pretend we’ve been frozen like Elsa.”
  • Remind the child that it’s important to keep their head, arms and legs as still as possible.
  • The health care provider may ask your child to close their eyes right before the test to help ease the urge to resist the swab.

Other tips about COVID-19 tests to help your child and family

  • If multiple people in your family need to be test, decide who should be tested first.  The first person tested can set the tone for others. If you are tested before your children, stay calm and try not to flinch.
  • If a child cries, this does not mean the child didn’t handle it well. It’s Okay if they cry.  

Drive-thru testing and Cough & Fever Clinic videos can help prepare you.

More helpful information for parents:

Other useful ways to help children:

Be reassuring

As a parent it is normal to be anxious. But keep in mind your child can feed off of your worry. Reassure your child that the doctors, nurses, and scientific experts around the world are working as hard as they can to keep us all healthy and safe.

Also, tell your child you will protect them and not let anything bad happen to them.

Bring your child into the conversation. Give them appropriate choices

You know your child and their temperament best! Listen to them and talk to them in age appropriate language. Help your child understand and give them opportunities to talk about what they are feeling and thinking.

Help your child sort out fact from fiction

Find out what your child already knows and understands. Correct any misconceptions. Be honest, but positive – let them know that the swab will hurt or may feel funny but it they stay still it will be over quickly.

Help children have some control

Children need to feel in control and able to protect themselves. Help them follow instructions that will keep them safe and healthy.

During testing, a child can choose their left or right nostril. It is best that they stay in their car seat or booster seat, but they can hold your hand or snuggle a comfort item.

*Even if the child cries, they should be praised for a job well done – “thank you for sitting still, I know that wasn’t easy, but you were really brave.”…this will help feel stronger and more in control.

Be mindful of social media, television, etc.

Be aware of what your children hear and see as this could increase a child’s anxiety and affect their ability to cope well during testing.

Be creative and grateful

This is a “new normal” for everyone!

Take time for self-care and screen free zones.

Praise your children and offer in-home rewards based on what they like (for example, child picks what is for supper, have extra bath time, enjoy a family movie night, watch the stars, etc.).

(Adapted from Canadian Pediatric Society -

Published date: 
December 1, 2022
Health and Wellness

General Inquiries

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Phone: 902-368-6414
Fax: 902-368-4121