Shots hurt. But there’s a lot parents can do to ease kids’ pain and anxiety about vaccinations. From early childhood through adolescence, the most important thing is to explain to kids an age-appropriate way that the shots can keep them healthy, says Rita John DNP, EdD, CPNP-PC, DCC, director of the pediatric primary care nurse practitioner program at Columbia University School of Nursing. Other steps to minimize pain and anxiety at vaccination time include:
Before you go:
Give toddlers and preschoolers their own toy medical kit to play with before the visit – letting them give pretend shots to you or to a favorite doll can make them less anxious when the time comes for the real thing, John says.
For school age kids, tell them the day of the appointment that vaccines will be part of the visit and make clear that the purpose is to keep them safe and healthy.
“Children need to know that vaccines aren’t a punishment or something negative, vaccines are something that keeps them from getting sick,” says John. “When parents are anxious, they pass that fear on to their kids. The best way to talk about vaccines is to keep the conversation positive and focused on the benefits of vaccination.”
Time for shots:
Ask if the clinician can use a numbing cream or spray to limit pain, John says. Babies may also be soothed by a bit of sugar water in a bottle or on a pacifier.
Bringing bubbles or a pinwheel for younger children to blow on during vaccinations can reduce their anxiety. Older children and teens might listen to music, play games or text on a cell phone to distract them during the shots.
“If the kids think something is going to reduce their pain, there can be a placebo effect where the technique works because they expect it to work,” John says.
“It doesn’t matter so much what you use to make your child more comfortable so long as you do something that acknowledges that they may experience some pain and that they can do something to make it hurt less.”
Reward and praise:
There’s a reason kids get stickers after a checkup – the treats can go a long way toward removing negative feelings about the exam.
When shots are involved, a sticker is a great way to reward younger kids. By the time children are too old to get excited by stickers, they will still appreciate praise for a job well done.
“You want the final part of the experience to make kids feel like even if they suffered some momentary pain, it was worth it,” says John. “Good play preparation, a positive attitude about immunization, and bringing something to distract kids during the shots can all help make the experience better.”
If your child is in need of their vaccination shots, contact us and schedule an appointment to ensure quality care.