Although vaccines are crucial to protect your child against dangerous illnesses, there’s no denying that shots can hurt. It’s no wonder kids are afraid of getting shots — and the hefty immunization schedule during a child’s first few years of life doesn’t help matters either.
The good news is there are things you can do to help lessen your child’s fears.
If you have a toddler or younger child, try taking her mind off the shots by bringing a favorite toy or book to the doctor’s office. You might have her count, sing a song with you or look away (maybe at a picture on the wall). You might even let her wear headphones and listen to her favorite song during the shot.
You also can try holding your child’s hand while she gets a shot, but try not to look upset or concerned. Children can pick up on your anxiety, and it can make them anxious as well. Also, don’t forget to praise your child afterward. A little positive reinforcement can make the next trip to the doctor easier.
“We work hard to build a rapport with patients and families to develop a level of trust and comfort to help lessen their fears,” said Dr. Jennifer Burkam, of Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics Green. “We discuss the shots so there are no surprises and we give the child a choice in placement so they feel they have some control in the process.”
If your child is a teenager, encourage him to bring something — a game, book or music player — that will distract him while he waits.
When it comes time for the shot, he can take deep breaths, focus on something else in the room, relax his arm or cough as the needle is inserted. Research has shown that these techniques can help reduce anxiety and make the shot less painful.
Dr. Burkam and her team also build in time to allow the child to recover in the room.
“Most kids are excited to rush out of the room to pick out a sticker, but others need a long hug or a few minutes to process what happened and realize the pain is gone,” she said.
If your child is nervous, let the doctor or nurse know ahead of time. Medical professionals routinely deal with people who are afraid of shots, and they may be able help your child — and you — relax.
“I think setting clear expectations helps make the vaccine experiences less stressful,” said Dr. Burkam. “I try to let parents know a visit in advance which vaccines to expect at the next visit. When a patient sees his parent is calm and prepared for the visit, they will have less fear than if the parent is upset and scared themselves about the shot.”