Most children have some fear of needles and may get scared before a vaccination. You might think the best way to handle this anxiety is to avoid telling your child about a vaccination ahead of time. But, like usual, honesty is the best strategy. Here, Child Life specialists offer tips and techniques for preparing your child for vaccination.
Before the vaccination
- Choose a quiet time to talk with your child and speak with a calm and relaxed tone of voice. Use honest, simple explanations that your child can understand. For example, you could say “We need to make sure that you stay healthy. This medicine will help keep you from getting the flu.”
- Avoid making promises you can’t keep, like, “You won’t feel anything when you have the vaccination.” This may be misleading.
- Avoid statements like, “Don’t be nervous,” or “Big boys don’t cry.” These statements could make your child feel ashamed if he/she does feel nervous or needs to cry. Never use threats such as, “You won’t get a prize if you cry,” or “I will leave the room if you don’t sit still.” These comments could make your child feel worse about the situation by adding an additional fear (i.e. fear that mom or dad will leave them alone, or fear of not earning a prize).
- If your child says, “I don’t want to do that!” respond with a firm but reassuring comment such as, “It’s important that we do this, so let’s work together to make it as easy as possible for you.”
- Listen to soothing music in the car, or watch a calm movie on the way to your appointment. Leave plenty of time to get to your appointment. If you are tense in traffic or rushing to arrive on time, your child will feel tense too.
During the visit
Much of the unpleasantness of having a vaccination comes from anticipation and a child’s feeling of helplessness. To help restore your child’s sense of control, try offering him or her these choices:
- Ask if your child wants to sit on your lap, or by him/herself, or even go into the room alone. Parents are always welcome and encouraged to stay and help their child during the procedure. If you can’t bear the sight of needles or would prefer not to stay, ask someone your child knows well (such as an aunt or grandparent) to come and offer your child support. Sometimes, older children prefer to go into the room on their own.
- Ask if they’d like to hold your hand or use a stress ball. Even many adults like to use a stress ball to help keep their hands and mind busy!
- Use distraction. Your child can choose an interesting toy or book to bring from home. Bubbles, light-up toys and look-and-find books can help keep your child’s attention away from the needle. Some families use cell phones as a distraction too.
- Have them count to three. Many children like to know exactly when the needle will go in. If your child would like, ask the clinician count to three, ask your child take a deep breath in, and then exhale slowly as the vaccination is given.
- Tell them to “breathe in the roses, blow out the candles.” Slow, deep breaths will help your child’s body relax. You and your child can practice this at home before your child’s visit and use again in other stressful situations.