Cartoons are twice as effective as mothers at soothing the pain felt by children, a study has shown, reports THE TIMES ONLINE.
The research team at the University of Siena that carried out the study said that many techniques had been tried to distract children during medical procedures, like having a blood sample taken. They included hypnosis, relaxation and desensitisation, as well as toys such as kaleidoscopes, puppets and even virtual reality glasses.
The evidence gathered from all the studies was that distraction is effective, reducing tears and other signs of distress.
Generally a mothers presence helped, although there was always a risk that she could be alarmed on behalf of her child and transmit that fear.
Carlo Belliene and his team from Le Scatte Clinic set out to compare the effects of a mother actively soothing and distracting a child with the passive use of a television set showing cartoons. They divided 69 children, 7-12, into three groups at random. One group was given no distractions at all while a vein was punctured to take a blood sample. In the second group a parent (normally the mother) tried to distract and soothe the child. The third group of children watched cartoons for at least two minutes before the sample was taken.
Afterwards, the team reports in ARCHIVES OF DISEASE IN CHILDHOOD, the children and their mothers were asked to rate the pain on a scale running from 0 to 100, with 0 representing no pain and 100 very severe pain.
They used a measure called the Oucher scale, which was originally developed by an American nurse in the 1980s. For young children, the scale has a series of pictures of children in various states of distress. They were asked to pick the image that matches their own feelings. Older children, such as those in this study, pick a number shown alongside the pictures that best matches the feelings.
The children given no distractions at all felt the pain of the puncture the most, rating it at an average of 23.04. Those soothed and distracted by their mothers gave a rating of 17.39; and those who watched cartoons gave an 8.91.
Mothers were also asked to assess the pain that they thought their children had endured. Their perceptions were slightly different. If they had been trying to distract their children, they felt the pain more keenly, assessing it at 23.04. If they had no involvement at all, they rated it at 21.30. But they agreed that the television cartoons were the most effective, giving the pain a rating of only 12.17.
Dr. Belliene does not suggest that mothers should be discouraged from accompanying their children and trying to help them, even if their presence makes little difference. He said that children would later recall that they were not left alone at a stressful moment, which could be important to them.
Nevertheless, he concludes, watching television may help primary school children more than maternal attempts at distraction.