One of the hardest things to handle as a parent is seeing your child in pain. They may have to endure vaccinations, but you can still help calm them even if your inner child hates needles too.
Shots are probably the most fearsome part of a doctor’s visit for a child as young as 12 months until as old as 12 years of age says, Dr. Cheryl Wu, a private practice pediatrician who also moonlights in a pediatric ER.
“The one thing that parents should know is that a child’s fear of shots is completely normal and expected in the pediatrician’s office," she says. “So parents should never feel embarrassed about a fearful child, and should talk to the nurse, assistant, or doctor before the child gets the shot."
Schedule the appointment as early in the day as possible, stay on a vaccination schedule, and don’t spread out shots more than necessary.
You want to prepare for what’s to come, but don’t start this process too far in advance. The last thing you want is your kid worrying weeks before the appointment.
Be straightforward and honest. Explain that shots can pinch or sting, but shouldn’t hurt for long. Avoid telling scary stories or making threats about shots, and enlist family members for support (for both of you!).
Dr. Wu says that many offices have special ways to give shots. If she sees a patient for the first time that is extremely fearful of shots, she may make the first visit a shot-free one.
Then she makes sure to bribe the patient profusely just before the end of the visit, with promises for more the next time. She tells the parent to play up how cool the bribe was in the interim, and how they can’t wait until the next visit.
“That way the child has a positively anticipatory experience for the next visit," says Dr. Wu. “The second visit becomes all about the bribe, rather than about the shot. It works great." Giving your little patient something to look forward to after the appointment might also ease anxiety. This can be a fun outing such as a trip to the library, playground, or even to the ice cream store. Make it a reward for you too!
Pack a favorite toy, book, or blanket that your son or daughter uses regularly for comfort. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also suggests taking deep breaths together to help “blow out" the pain.
Point out interesting things in the room, talk, or read stories. In short, do anything you can to distract from what’s really going on.
The pain will be worse if your child can’t relax. And she will take her cues from you, so you need to maintain an air of calmness as well. Try not to say, “It’s ok," or “Don’t worry," because your child will then feel there’s something to worry about.
“When it’s over, the child usually laughs and says, ‘That’s it?’" says Dr. Wu.
Dr. Cheryl Wu, interviewed by L. Goldstein
10 Tips to Ease Your Child’s Fear of Shots, Everyday Health Media, LLC
Tips for a Less Stressful Shot Visit, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention