Address the Anxiety of Getting Your Family Flu Shots
Oct 15, 2012

Smiles in abundance, even after their shots.

As a parent, I know how important it is to get my children vaccinated in order to protect them from serious and sometimes deadly preventable diseases.  And contrary to what my teenagers may think, I don’t really enjoy seeing my kids in pain.  Which is why I make sure they are vaccinated according to the recommended schedule – to actually spare them from the pain and dangers of disease.  But, that means they occasionally have to endure the quick pain of a needle in the arm or leg.  So, as a compromise, when it comes time for their annual influenza vaccine, I allow my children to get the FluMist, an inhaled vaccine, rather than the injection.
Unfortunately, this year that will not be the case.  We can’t seem to locate a doctor, clinic or pharmacy in our area that accepts our insurance and offers the flu mist.  So, when I announced that we will be getting flu shots this year, my children seemed a bit surprised, and not at all excited.
Fortunately, I discovered this blog post, entitled How to Prepare Your Child for Getting a Flu Shot, that reminded me of a few things that I typically do when bringing my children in for their regularly scheduled vaccinations.  The author elaborates on specific ways that parents can help lessen the anxiety of shots by following these simple suggestions:

Educate and Explain

While reminding us to keep our explanation age-appropriate, the suggestion is that by “Helping your child understand why a flu shot is important, how it protects him from contracting an illness that could become very serious, and why the flu is dangerous can reduce some of his reluctance to be vaccinated.”

Be Honest

I must say that I’m typically pretty frank with my children.  Yes, the shot may cause some brief pain, but let’s also acknowledge that it’s a quick pinch and by the time you say “Ouch” it will be over.  My kids have heard me say this so often that one time, my five-year old daughter even laughed afterward saying “Mom, it happened so fast that I didn’t even get to say ouch this time.”

Don’t Minimize Your Child’s Fears

The article reminds us that by telling your child there’s nothing to be afraid of, or that he’s being silly, doesn’t change how frightened he is.  Rather the advice given is to make an effort to be sympathetic about your child’s fears and to help him manage that fear.

Bring a Diversion

I am typically my child’s best diversion by making funny faces or telling silly jokes.  Not that they think  the jokes are funny, but when they get annoyed at me they forget that someone is about to put a needle in their arm.  The article also suggests other ways that parents can use electronic devices to divert attention during the shot.

Practice Deep Breaths

This technique got me through the pain of five natural labors so I certainly agree that it can help a child get through the anxiety of a shot.  The author suggests that ‘these exercises can also prove to be useful tools for managing stress and fear in everyday situations, making them ideal for children that struggle with excessive anxiety on a regular basis.”

Consider a Treat After the Appointment

Sure they typically get a sticker, but that doesn’t always cut it for the older kids.  Since I’m usually out running errands anyway, I typically treat my kids to something I know they will enjoy, like a picnic in the park, a stop at the library to pick up the new book they wanted, or a quick milkshake on our way home.
Certainly, what works for one child or one family may not be the best tactic for someone else.
take up to two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection, it is suggested that families get vaccinated early in the fall.  The most important thing is that we don’t let our own fears and anxieties as parents stand in the way of keeping our kids healthy and getting them vaccinated.  For more information on flu symptoms, treatment, prevention and vaccination, be sure to visit
Additionally, one of the best ways to help ease a child’s fear is to be a good example ourselves. So why not make a plan to get yourself vaccinated as well?  Not only will you be protecting yourself, your family and your community from the flu, but your actions will serve to remind our children how important preventive health is to us all. Even if it requires a little bit of temporary pain.
If you should have any additional tips or suggestions for easing the anxiety of shots, feel free to share them in the comments below.  

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5 responses to “Address the Anxiety of Getting Your Family Flu Shots”

  1. Karen says:

    I love the advice in this post! Thank you!

  2. Melody RN says:

    This is a great informative post! The above interventions are great tools to use for older children when they need to receive vaccines or undergo blood tests. The education suggestion is so important- children may perceive situations differently from adults but they understand a great amount, sometimes more than we realize.
    For parents with newborns and infants researchers have found an easy way – actually five easy ways – to help calm a baby’s pain (and anxiety), without any medication. It’s called the “5 S’s”: swaddling (tightly wrapping a baby in a blanket almost like a burrito), side/stomach position, shushing sounds, swinging and sucking. For more information, check out the study from the Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics-

  3. Lara Lohne says:

    There may be times when these particular suggestions don’t work due to communication issues, as with my son who has autism. If I acknowledge his fear or anxiety, it only makes him all the more anxious. He typically carries around a preferred toy or item of the time (right now it’s skeletons) which he does to ease his anxiety by a measure, but just going into a doctor’s office can send him into transports of panic, even if we aren’t there for him, but for me. I always do the treat after shots with him, but by the time we leave the doctor’s office and get to wear the treat is (we don’t have a car so have to take public transportation everywhere, which takes twice as long as with a car) he sometimes has completely forgotten about the shot so isn’t even aware what the treat is for. Granted it’s been two and a half years since he’s had his last vaccines, but eventually he’ll need to get more and he’s going to be much older, bigger and stronger then he already is. At the same time, he isn’t going to be the same developmentally then as he is now so perhaps I’m reading too much into this. Forgive me for being all over the place, I’m a little anxious myself today. I’m gonna go now.

  4. Lawrence says:
    First reported Flu death of a child. Make sure you get vaccinated!!!

  5. lilady says:

    How about this study, presented at the ID Week Conference in San Diego, which analyzed the deaths of children from laboratory-confirmed influenza 2004-2012 inclusive?
    ” “The findings underscore how severe the flu can be, even for children with no predisposing risk factors, and why all families should try to protect themselves against the virus,” Kimberlin said. “School-based vaccination programs are a key strategy in that. The benefits are immediate and, if enough students get immunized, protection can extend to children not receiving vaccine. Public health officials will find these data very useful as they continue to work toward the goal of influenza control throughout the U.S. population.”
    The CDC-supported study reviewed influenza-associated deaths among children younger than 18, as reported by city and state health departments and confirmed through laboratory testing. From Aug. 1, 2004 through Sept. 1, 2012, there were 829 such deaths, most of which were associated with influenza A infection. Of the 793 children with a known medical history, 341 had no high-risk health conditions. Of the remaining cases, more than half were children with neurological disorders, and nearly half had pulmonary disease.
    The median age at death was 7. About a third of the children died in the emergency department or outside the hospital, the researchers found.
    “Children with and without underlying medical conditions can die from influenza, and death can occur rapidly,” Wong said. “Caregivers should be aware of early warning signs of severe influenza virus infection in children- including labored breathing, decreased fluid intake or urination, drowsiness or a lack of interaction- and should seek medical attention for them quickly.”
    Get your children immunized, parents.

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