The 12 Best Pediatrician Tips to Help Kids Who Are Afraid of Shots
May 04, 2016
By Dr. Sophia N. Mirviss
For a parent whose child is afraid of going to the doctor and getting a shot, any opportunity to turn the occasion into less of an ordeal is well worth the effort.
Tears, screams and full-blown meltdowns are a part of parenthood, and gearing up for shots during each trip to the local pediatrician’s office with a frightened child can seem daunting and exhausting. However, it’s important to remember that vaccines can help protect your child from as many as fourteen serious, and potentially deadly, diseases. Shots may hurt a little, but disease can hurt a lot.
Fortunately, there are techniques parents can use to keep their child calm before, during and after a shot.
1. A calm attitude starts with the parent.
You may not realize it, but if you are tense or worried, your child can pick up on it and feel those emotions as well, even at a very young age. Additionally, telling your child that everything will be OK when you hope to calm them can actually have the adverse effect because it’s something they’d normally only hear if there was a problem. A trip to the doctor should feel the same as a trip to the grocery store or the post office.
2. Don’t pull a bait-and-switch.
It’s tempting to use a fib in order to get your child off to the doctor’s office or to say that the shot won’t hurt. However, once a lie is used, it can build mistrust that makes future visits to the pediatrician worse. It’s best to be honest about your trip to the doctor and emphasize that the visit is a normal part of growing up.
3. Explain why shots are important.
Sometimes, children are most upset because they do not understand why shots are necessary. Of course, parents will need to tailor this explanation to their child’s age, but explaining that shots keep your child healthy and strong — like eating vegetables or brushing their teeth — can help normalize a doctor’s visit.
4. Practice before the appointment.
Role-playing the experience of getting a shot is an excellent way to demonstrate what will happen at the doctor’s office. Parents often find that using their child’s favorite teddy bear or other stuffed animal to show where the shot will be administered helps introduce how shots work and why a doctor needs to give them. It’s also nice to bring the same stuffed animal with your child to the appointment so they can hold it or the doctor can demonstrate on the toy first.
5. Be honest about what will happen.
Yes, the shot or shots may hurt your child, but you know that the pain will only last for a short second before things are back to normal. It’s perfectly OK to admit to your child that there may be some pain, but reassure them it won’t last long and you can hold your child on your lap or by the hand the entire time.
6. Talk to the doctor about scheduling.
For some children, the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule will call for more than one vaccine per appointment. Most doctor’s offices synchronize these vaccinations in order to cut down on the number of visits needed. Research has shown that spreading out shots across multiple appointments is actually more stressful for children, and leaves them unprotected for longer periods of time.
7. Ask about numbing creams.
Talk to your child’s provider about the possibility of using a numbing cream in order to lessen any pain your child may feel. Most physicians won’t find this necessary because the pain from a shot is so brief, but should your child feel extra uneasy or upset, a numbing cream may be available to help desensitize the area. The knowledge that a “special” cream is being used to lessen pain can help calm a child as well.
8. If possible, bring a sibling or young friend.
Having another familiar, friendly face in an unfamiliar setting can go a long way in comforting your child. Older siblings can calm younger siblings and younger ones can help distract from what’s happening.
9. Keep up any distractions.
Anything that can distract your child while getting a shot may be of great use. Books, games, stickers, coloring, music or videos played on your phone can push focus away from the doctor or the needle. These tactics have the additional benefit of maintaining normalcy and downplaying that a trip to the doctor’s office isn’t a part of your child’s routine.
10. Give praise.
Be sure to give your child a lot of encouragement and praise throughout the doctor’s visit. Letting your child know that you are proud of them and that they are being very brave can help alleviate any stress they may feel, and they’ll know that they’ve accomplished something important.
11. Let someone else take over.
Parents are used to taking control of the situation when their child is upset, but it’s perfectly OK to let the experienced providers take over and help keep your child calm. Nurses and physicians are trained for this exact moment in your child’s life and they are very prepared for every outcome, including tears, screams, tantrums, fear and anger.
12. Rewards work.
There’s a reason many doctors will hand out a lollipop or other small treat after administering vaccinations – it works. Even if you’ve managed to distract your child, they still may be a little worked up, which is why a special but small reward for their bravery is deserved. Some parents like to bring juice or snacks for after the appointment or plan a trip to the park or other fun outing on the way home.
Do you have any advice for vaccinating kids without the drama? What are some tips and tricks you use to help your child who is afraid of getting shots at the doctor’s office? Share your suggestions in the comments below.
About Dr. Sophia N. Mirviss and Pacific Family Practice: Dr. Sophia N. Mirviss has been providing exceptional primary care to patients from San Francisco, Berkley, Oakland, Marin County and the SF Bay Area for over 25 years. Pacific Family Practices (PFP) offers flexible hours, immediate appointments, same-day walk-ins, and even urgent care from its San Francisco clinic location. PFP’s board-certified family doctors provide a full range of medical care, including pediatrics, women’s health, internal medicine and urgent care.
Note: This content originally appeared in Vaccinate Your Family’s Immunization Alerts e-newsletter, sent March 31, 2021. You can sign up for future alerts on our website. April 9, 2021: An update was made to...
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