The Art of Distraction

Cite this article as:
Sian Spencer-Little. The Art of Distraction, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2018. Available at:

The word distraction, as defined by Merriam Webster, is ….”Something that distracts, an object that directs a persons attention away from something else, a book, a puzzle to provide amusement.

However,  the art of distraction, is a way of helping children and young people cope with a potentially painful or difficult procedure. It can also be a form of continuing therapeutic support over multiple admissions or procedures during visits to hospital and healthcare centres. I would always spend a few moments just observing my patients- I am looking for age and stage appropriate behaviour- and development. Recently there has been a shift in healthcare with more and more clinicans wanting  distraction resources. The DFTB team asked me to  share some of my ideas, based on on my experience at making something out of next-to-nothing.

As always locating and getting to know your highly skilled and trained Play Specialists/ Child Life Practitioners is key when working with children and young people and their families. If you don’t have access to this group of  healthcare professionals then I hope this Top 15 helps.

Here it is, in no particular order. Please feel free to add your ideas on what has worked for you in the comments section below. And as you can see, you don’t always need lots of “Stuff”.


 Bubbles (of course) – There are so many things you can do with them…. You can create showers of bubbles- watching them glide through the air or…

    • How many can be popped by different people?
    • How high can they float competition.
    • How many can be eaten by a bubble eating creature? (using a small animal/dinosaur)

Tongue Depressors– people and animals can be made, as well as stars and craft pieces.

Clinical Gloves – made into chickens, people, glove families, and elephants, especially if you just cut the finger parts away from the hand part- and use a sharpie to draw faces- an instant family of finger puppets but please be very careful as balloons are a choking hazard.

Syringes –  Water fights – squirting competitions, painting.

Stickers – Used on the face and chin of clinician – each time a small part of the procedure is completed – patient removes a sticker to keep – (clinician makes an ouch noise followed by many giggles)They can also be used as a reward for sitting still, good listening, at the end of a tricky procedure or examination.

The Foot/Hand/Knee phone –  a personal favourite discovered when working with children in long leg traction- using the non-fractured foot – having a conversation putting the foot to your ear- use your imagination if your patient loves superheroes or unicorns go with it- be playful.

Drawing Games– These are ageless- HangMan/ Noughts and Crosses/ taking your pen for a walk- what patterns can you create- who will you meet along the way.

Guess Who?/Connect 4– the travel size ones so less space to store and cheaper

Animals and Actions – this distraction technique uses humour, imagination and the practise of slow deep breathing techniques- and no resources – just yourself.

  • “I am going to name 20 animals and actions- but I need your help- we will take it in turns. After each number we will take a big breath in- and slowly blow out- like we are blowing out candles on a cake.
  • 20 Giraffes swimming in the river
  • 19 Hippos sliding in the mud
  • 18 Lions roaring…”

Build a rainbow/Animal using coloured pipe cleaners – (if children and young people are able to use fine motor skills) helps with regulating their breathing especially when they are having nebulisers.

Storytelling – creating characters that travel and do all sorts of different things- the elephant who had a cold, and every time he blew his nose glitter came out!

Find it Tubes these can be made out of plastic containers or bottles that are see through – with a list of about 20 tiny objects- and lots of rice/lentils/tiny pasta to hide them in – make a list of the items and see who can find them first  or Where’s Wally/Waldo/Wookie Books.

Guided Imagery –  There has been a lot of research on this practice – and it should be carried out by a trained practitioner – but it is an outstanding tool to support and empower children and young people to cope with invasive clinical procedures. I use this technique every day for improving the management of procedural pain:  for CYP going to theatre. having bloods, plaster removals, wound dressings, drain removals- and also for symptom management.  For further details take a look at

Wobbly Eyes Always good for sticking on absolutely anything to create a face as demonstrated every Friday by Andy Weatherall.

Create an Elephant –  using Wobbly Eyes and 02 tubing and an oxygen mask.


Let us know your go-to low cost distraction techniques.



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About Sian Spencer-Little

Author: Sian Spencer-Little

2 Responses to "The Art of Distraction"

  1. Avatar
    Tim 3 years ago .Reply

    I usually blow a raspberry when palpating the abdomen in the young kids. Fart gags are timeless.

  2. Avatar
    Raina 3 years ago .Reply

    We have a toolbox that we use– it has stickers, I spy wands, hot or cold packs, kazoos, squeeze toys, animal noise making key chains, etc. We leave it in a handy area to access for any one. The Pain Assessment and Management Initiative (PAMI) has a toolkit you can download and can even request a toolbox of your own! We love the art of distraction!!

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