It is natural for children as they get older and understand more to be afraid of shots—it’s uncomfortable to receive vaccines. Here are some tips to help your little one get through vaccines at well visits:
1. Try to stay calm yourself. Even though it is upsetting to watch your little one cry, as an adult you can understand that they are getting vaccines to keep them healthy. Your child will look to you for your reaction; if you are calm and reassuring they will handle things better. Of course, once the shots are over, cuddle your little one and empathize with older children that you know it can be painful. You can also reward them with a small toy or sticker afterwards for doing a good job.
2. Don’t say things like “that mean doctor” or “that bad doctor.” While shots are uncomfortable, the doctor or nurse doesn’t want to make your child cry either. Both you and your pediatrician are doing your jobs to keep your child healthy. For older kids, explain that shots do hurt and you don’t like getting them either, but they are important to keep your body healthy. You can say things like, “Thank you Nurse Stephanie for helping keep Sarah healthy.”
3. Be honest. If your child asks if they are getting shots, tell them the truth. You can tell them it will hurt a little bit and afterwards they will get a small prize. It is important not to lie or your child will not trust the doctor at the next visit. If you know your child will be anxious, schedule the appointment early in the day to get it over with. That way they can move on and enjoy their day.
4. It’s okay to cry. Shots hurt and it’s okay for your little one (or big one) to be scared and cry. If a child is upset, I will often tell them it’s okay to scream even before the vaccines start; the screaming often distracts them during the actual vaccine. Some older kids like to roar like a lion during the shots, which can work too.
5. Give them a choice. While most pediatricians have child-friendly Band-Aids, if you think your child will benefit from having chosen their own Band-Aids beforehand this can be helpful. This allows your child to feel some level of control and ownership over the process.
6. Provide a distraction. This works best for younger children. Sing songs or play a favorite video. If your child has a lovey or a favorite toy, bring that along. Distraction can work for older children as well. Older kids can be told to cough during the vaccines or imagine they are blowing out birthday candles. If you want to get fancy, you can bring along a pinwheel for your child to blow during the vaccines.
7. Play doctor at home. Toddlers love to pretend play. Before the visit invest in a doctor’s kit and have them give you a “check-up.” When you get a shot in this pretend visit say “ouch” and move on from it. You can say thank you doctor for keeping me healthy. Children often work out anxieties and fears through play so this can be very helpful.