I live in a jurisdiction which requires COVID rapid testing for even a single mild symptom of COVID before attending school, events, shopping, etc, even if masked.

My son is a four year old in a preschool program (soon to be five), and frequently has a minor COVID symptoms like a runny nose or mild cough.

I've had to do a fair number of nose swab rapid tests on him, especially of late given the season.

He's having a fair bit of difficulty with them, to the point where he begins to panic when he sees the swab or we mention it. I eventually get him to cooperate, but he cries the whole time, even though the swabbing is only 10 to 20 seconds. Afterwards, he is a bit shaken, but does bounce back.

None of this behavior is "normal" for him - he's generally a pretty happy and reasonably cooperative kid.

I've tried using positive language with him, "Hey, Dad's just gonna check your boogies okay?", or offering a reward when it's done but it doesn't help. I've tried testing myself first to show him it's not scary. But his anxiety level just skyrockets as soon as he sees the swab or I mention that I need to swab him to the point that nothing works.

Any advice to make him less scared of the swabbing or help make him more cooperative would be helpful. Unfortunately these tests aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

  • 1
    Are you able to get the saliva kits? We have found they are much easier than the nasal ones as they just need a bit of saliva applied to them. Might not be an option but worth checking if any are available.
    – sam_smith
    Mar 27, 2022 at 5:26
  • Good suggestion, but no. Nose swab only. Before Omicron, it was trivial to book him for a "swish and gargle" PCR test which he had no problem with. Alas, that's only available now if you have already test positive from a rapid test.
    – Tronman
    Mar 27, 2022 at 7:42
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    This reminds me of how I didn't like having my nails cut before I could cut them myself. It may make him feel better to have some sense of control over it to assuage any kind of fear of being hurt by it. Either see if you can teach him to swab himself in a sufficient way, or have him put his hand on your hand to help guide it as you swab him.
    – bjb568
    Apr 26, 2022 at 11:02
  • That's not a bad idea! I fear he'll just outright refuse to even try it, but maybe not. He hasn't needed a test in almost 5 weeks now (fingers crossed), but I'll definitely keep that in mind
    – Tronman
    Apr 26, 2022 at 12:14

3 Answers 3


Just wanted to follow-up on this in case anyone else finds themselves in a similar situation.

I followed bjb568's advice (quoted below) and taught him how to do the swabbing himself.

It may make him feel better to have some sense of control over it to assuage any kind of fear of being hurt by it. Either see if you can teach him to swab himself in a sufficient way, or have him put his hand on your hand to help guide it as you swab him.

He has since turned five, and difference is night and day - he has no fear or anxiety anymore about the tests, and is even excited that he can do it himself. He does at least as good of a job at getting a sample as I am capable of.

His biggest issue now is simply trying not to giggle when swabbing.

Thankfully testing requirements have gone down significantly in the last few months anyway. Even so, I probably never would have thought of that solution myself, so thanks again.

  • What a great outcome! Since this a new answer (comments can be deleted), you might be wise to quote the most important part of the comment. Thanks. :) Jul 13, 2022 at 20:17

My honest advice is that it may be time to move or consider homeschooling for a while. This is causing long-term "harm" in the way that he may always be afraid of medical tests. While I understand the need for frequent testing, and I am not trying to speak against it, with kids this young, there are going to be long-term side effects that we just can't see yet.

What we can see is that the rules/system for testing is making your son have very high anxiety. And that you have to put him in that situation a lot. No one was ever calmed down by going "now just calm down". He needs time to adjust, and for the tests to become normal and not scary. Unfortunately, that is hard to do if every time his nose runs they demand a new test. You have to introduce the tests in a less stressful environment.

If moving and homeschooling is not an option (moving is expensive and pre-school is often bundled with child care) then fight back on the tests. Maybe you can work out a way to do them less frequently.

Failing that, your only real choice is to try to mitigate the testing itself. There is not a lot you can do here, but one thing that I find helpful with "scary" things like first aid, is making my son an active participant. Even if it's "Go get the first aid kit. I know you don't want to, but what happens if we don't take care of it. Ok so go get the kit." Then taking the time to explain, for the 100th time sometimes, what I am doing, and why I need to do it. And then answering honestly about the "will it hurt" and "I'm scared" questions.

So to recap my first bit of advice is make it so he doesn't have to take the tests by moving, or home schooling. If that can't be done, then mitigate the tests as best you can.

  1. Careful with the tests. If he's resisting or is scared, it could be because they are painful. You really don't need to insert the swab deep enough into the nose to cause pain.

  2. If your son has a runny nose or mild cough (probably caused by the runny nose) frequently, there's a good chance it's just allergies... especially if you've tested him a zillion times and it's always negative. If this is the case, just stop testing him. If someone asks about his symptoms, tell them he tested negative. His medical condition is really none of their business. Keep those old negative results in case they ask for proof.

Unless you have reason to believe there's a real chance he has covid, just stop torturing him for nothing more than allergy symptoms.

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