Kids and Covid Swabs: Top Tips for No-Tears Testing

Covid testing isn’t the most delightful experience for anyone, but if your child gets extra skittish around the swab, there are some easy steps you can take to help make things more comfortable. Here are tips from members to help create a smoother testing experience for your little one.

Talk beforehand about the test and why it’s important. Whether the test is needed to visit relatives, go to school, fly on a plane, or just provide reassurance, sharing the background and talking about how important and helpful the test is can calm kids’ apprehension.


Tell stories. Make up a tale about a kid who was nervous about a Covid test that wasn’t so bad after all—it might just come true!


Provide choices. Asking “which nostril first?” or “whose lap do you want to sit on?” can go a long way. More context on how choices can help from here:


Choices: Provide power in a powerless environment; 

Agenda: Letting the patient and family know what to expect and what is expected of them; 

Resilience: Start with strengths and reframe negatives; and 

Emotions: Recognize and normalize common fears and responses.


Start with an at-home test. Allowing your kid to swab themselves first can help them get used to the sensation and feel more comfortable when getting swabbed professionally.


Or even just a Q-tip. Pass around cotton buds and hold their hand while they swab themselves to get comfortable with the feeling. One parent went a step further and held “Covid Class”: “practicing with a q-tip (tapping first on forehead, then nose, then touching each nostril, inside each nostril, then circles in each nostril) so that he was comfy. Just like 3-5 minutes, low pressure, a few times in the week before the test.”


Test yourself in front of them. "I took the test myself a few times in front of them to show them that the nasal swab just tickles their nose and doesn't go in too deep."


Or involve the whole family. "What finally helped was that we started doing multiple at-home tests with my husband and I and his brother. I think something about knowing that his big brother was going to do it piqued his interest, and he tolerated watching us (I made it clear that he didn’t have to participate if he didn’t want to). We then asked him if he wanted to help swab Daddy’s nose, and he said yes, so they both held onto the swab together. My husband hammed it up, in a giggle-inducing way, saying how much it tickled his nose. Then, of his own accord, my son said he wanted to try it himself. We agreed that he could hold onto the swab along with my husband, so that he could feel more in control. He has since completed another at-home test with no problem! (*Huge sigh of relief*)"


Trim the swab for at-home tests. "One thing that may help also is the length of some of the swabs really scared her. So I cut the longer swabs so that they are more like qtip length."


Test after being out in the cold or in humid air. One parent shares, "Not always possible but I find it's easier to do a rapid test shortly after coming in from the cold outdoors, when noses are naturally a bit runny. Our daughter hates the swab when her nasal passages are dry from indoor air, but she doesn't mind it as much when there's ample mucus going on. She also likes to huff-and-puff thru her nose right beforehand, to get it ready. And yes, little treats/bribes every time. Fruit gummies are good for this."


If you're opting for a lab test, a mobile van or tent might make things more fun. One parent says of their son, "He likes going and getting it done in a mobile van - he thinks it’s exciting and he behaves much better when he’s with strangers - much better than at home."


Saliva testing is less intrusive, if that's an option for you. "Building 92 in the Navy Yard on Flushing Ave has saliva tests, just an FYI. It's a lot of spit to generate but it's out there as an alternative - I've done it but haven't had my kid do it yet."


Practice with a stuffed animal. "Our kid went through a phase where he gave his stuffed animals Covid tests over and over again. We would do the stuffed animals' voices and we would have them really freak out about it, and then our kid would explain to the stuffed animal that it was going to be okay, it would tickle a bit and be over quickly, and this would let us know if they are healthy. Letting him act out how to calm them down from the other perspective seemed to help him get used to getting tested himself. It got a little tedious - I think he gave his bunny rabbit 31 Covid tests in one afternoon once! (All but one were negative ;) )"


Treats during and after the test. If you’re doing an at-home swab, putting on an episode of their favorite show during the test and offering something yummy afterward is easy and can smooth the process out for everyone. Or offer the treat in increments: One parent advised “bite before first nostril, bite before second, rest at the end."

As another parent shares: "The main things that work for us are 1) the promise of candy afterwards, and 2) watching a video on my phone during the test (for some reason our kid likes to watch the scene in Frozen where they're being chased by wolves... ? whatever it takes)."


Gently hold them still. If you’re concerned about a full-blown tantrum and having to hold your kid down, you might try gently and preemptively restraining them with their consent before it becomes a necessity. One parent shared: “[I] calmly say: ‘ok, now mommy is going to hold your body to help you stay still and then it’s done.’ And then I hold her tight, including her head, while someone else swabs. It seems to make everyone feel better when we physically restrain her before she has lost her mind and is sobbing, rather than after.”


Tell them how brave they are!


Further reading on Park Slope Parents:

Covid Vaccines and Kids Ages 5–11: Tips for a Painless Poke

Covid Testing in Brooklyn: Where to Go and What to Know


Further reading around the web:

How To Get Your Nervous Kid To Let You Put A Covid Test Up Their Nose