How To Do A Covid Test On Your Child

A doctor's advice on giving a Covid test to a baby, a toddler and a young school-age child

Child Covid Test

by Grazia Contributor |
Updated on

For more parenting stories and advice, check out Grazia's parenting community on Instagram @TheJuggleUK

Nobody loves having a Covid test. But if there’s one thing worse than doing a Covid test on yourself? It’s doing a Covid test on your child. We spoke to NHS GP and one of the hosts of The Medic Mum Podcast, Dr Punam Krishan, for advice on how to make the experience as painless as possible (for you and your child).

How to do a Covid test on a baby

Sticking a swab up your tiny baby’s precious nose, and/or down their throat, feels counterintuitive to every fibre of your being that wants to make your baby feel happy and comfortable. But, Dr Punam reassures, the whole process is far more distressing for you as a parent than it is for your baby.

‘You can’t prepare them for it, you just have to get in there and do it,’ she says. ‘They will cry, but they will be quickly reassured with lots of cuddles. Make sure they’re as relaxed as possible to start with, so don't take a hungry or over-tired baby for a test. And they will forget about it as quickly as it happens, so be quick!'

Yes, with every age of baby or child, the trick is to be as quick as possible. 'Don’t drag it out,' she says. 'Pick the parent or carer who is least prone to faffing and will get it done quickly.'

How to do a Covid test on a toddler

'My daughter is 17 months old, so she’s the same age as the pandemic,' says Dr Punam. 'We’ve had to go through it all, including when she had Covid at Christmas. And I would say that this stage, now she’s a toddler, definitely feels harder than when she was a baby.'

First of all, be realistic. It's not going to be easy, particularly if your toddler is feeling poorly, as they will be clingy and emotional anyway. Depending on the age and maturity of your child, do try to prepare them as much as possible.

'Role play is really effective at preparing them for what’s going to happen,' she says. 'Use a cotton bud at home to demonstrate the test on a teddy or doll, or even on yourself or an older sibling. Do warn them that it's not going to be nice, but it will be over quickly.'

Anything that makes your child feel reassured, or distracted, is good so Dr Punam recommends bringing along a favourite cuddly bear, or the trusty iPad.

'Either way, it is a miserable experience for the parent and the child, as they can get quite upset,' she says. 'So, again, do it as quickly as possible. It’s over in seconds.'

How to do a Covid test on a school-age child

While older kids can probably manage to do the test on themselves - which, as we all know, is considerably less unpleasant than someone else sticking a swab far up your nose - children between around four and 9 years old will probably still need help.

‘A lot of these tests rely on the user technique so, with younger children, it’s about: can they get it to the back of the throat and do the ample twirls that we need to be able to pick up the sample,' says Dr Punam. 'And with the nose, even as grown-ups, it’s quite a tricky test to do, since you have to go so far back.'

Again, make sure they're prepared, so explain to them that it’s going to feel a bit uncomfortable. 'It’s all about gaining trust,' she explains. 'My son is eight and, when we took him for a test, we explained really clearly beforehand why we're doing this, what is going to happen, and exactly what will be involved. There are videos that are specifically targeted for children, which can be helpful to watch together [see below]. Also tell them how they can help, by getting them to put their head back and open their mouth as wide as they can. Then reassure them that it will be over really quickly.'

If you can get one of the tests that the parent or carer can do, rather than having a stranger do it, that will help your child feel reassured. And do make sure that you are relaxed about it because, if you're anxious, they're going to pick up on that.

And finally? 'From experience as a mum, promise them a treat afterwards,' laughs Dr Punam. 'That's vital!'

Follow Dr Punam Krishan on Instagram, and listen to the Medic Mum podcast

READ MORE: Back To School And Covid - Here's Everything You Need To Know

READ MORE: What To Do If Your Child Can't Sleep

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us