Follow These Steps to Handle Your Child's Fears
10 Tips to Ease Your Child's Fear of Shots
If you're stressed by how hysterical your child can get when it's time for shots, try these ideas for taking the sting out of vaccines. From changing the way you talk about shots to planning a sweet distraction, these tips should help you and your children get through the "pinch" with fewer tears.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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The secret to easing your children’s fear of shots often lie in choices you make the day they are scheduled to get their vaccines. How you discuss their doctor’s appointment and the distractions you have planned all affect the level of stress and fear vaccines for children cause for everyone in your household — Mom and Dad included.
Related: Guide to Childhood Immunizations
The most important factor in getting your children through their immunization appointment isyou. How calm you are will affect their anxiety level. If you have a plan in hand, you may be able to tackle the day with enough grace so that your child’s tears and fears will be manageable. Try these 10 strategies for coping with shots:
- Stay calm yourself.Many parents have their own fear of shots to cope with, and the poor choices rooted in that fear can actually make things worse for their children. “The attitude of a parent certainly can increase the anxiety level. I have a lot of parents who are freaked out by shots. A parent should be calm,” says Zak Zarbock, MD, a pediatrician in private practice with Families First Pediatrics in South Jordan, Utah.
- Talk about the shots.Surprising your children with a trip to the doctor for an immunization is a bad idea. But at the same time, you don’t want to forewarn them so far in advance and so melodramatically that they worry all day. Dr. Zarbock advises an age-appropriate, straightforward approach the lets them know they are going to the doctor and why. Also, he says, avoid white lies — everyone (even small children) knows shots hurt a bit, so there’s no point in pretending otherwise.
- Schedule immunizations early in the day.If you or your children fear shots, go for an early appointment. Another advantage to scheduling early is that there will be plenty of time to be active and work off some of the soreness.
- Avoid lines.Depending on where you are going to get the necessary vaccines for children, consider the wait. Try to avoid times and locations where you will have to stand in line or wait in an awkward location (such as a parking lot outside a van providing free vaccines) for a long time.
- Offer a sweet distraction.Giving your child a small and rare treat, such as a lollipop, can keep him occupied. This tactic works for Paul Rose’s 2-year-old son. “We don’t give him candy per se, but he really, really likes suckers. So if he has something to eat that he likes but he doesn’t have very often, that keeps his attention away from the shot,” says Rose, a stay-at-home dad from Illinois. Be careful about the treats you select — even a distracted child will cry, so avoid foods or drinks that he could choke on.
- Take along moral support.Rose and his wife both attend their son’s appointments if they include vaccines. He believes this level of comfort helps his son. Your child may also appreciate having a favorite stuffed animal or blanket along for the doctor visit.
- Don’t spread out shots more than necessary.Getting all the needed shots in one appointment is less stressful than going back once or twice more, says Rose. Vaccines for children are recommended on a set schedule by age, so talk to your pediatrician if you have questions about the timing.
- Offer a fun reward.Your child may do better if he has a fun outing to look forward to, such as a trip to the library to pick out a new picture book or an hour at a favorite playground. “It’s fine to incentivize a little bit, to offer a reward or treat afterwards,” says Zarbock. In his office, young patients can select a special prize.
- Make them laugh.Once you’ve ’fessed up about the plans for the day, distracting kids with funny antics or a laugh-inspiring story or song can be helpful for everyone. Apply the same technique after the shots have been given.
- Sing songs.Music provides a wonderful tool for distraction. Bring a selection of favorite songs on a smartphone or iPod or simply engage in a rousing rendition of family favorites on the way to the appointment and on the way back.
Related: Common Phobias
Comfort your child in the immediate aftermath of the shot and promise him you’ll take care of any soreness if it sticks around, but then move on to other activities. You might be surprised by how quickly he forgets he even had a shot.
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