When the Needle Arrives, My Child Dives: Keeping Your Child Calm During Shots

Little boy holding up his sleeve for a shot

Children receive shots often within the first couple years of life and multiple shots if they have a chronic medical condition. These times can be anxiety-provoking for the child as well as for the parent. Here are some tips on how to prepare your child (and yourself) for shots.

  • The truth shall set you free
    • Kids appreciate honesty. Tell your child about the doctor’s visit and the likelihood of getting a shot. Begin this practice during infancy as this will help your youngster know what to expect and trust that you will be there to provide comfort and reassurance.
  • Be prepared
    • Distraction works! Consider bringing a favorite toy or blanket for youngsters. Bubbles or cartoons on a tablet or iPad may help toddlers and school-age children. Music can help older children. Some kids may try to negotiate their way out of getting a shot. When this happens, provide limits with choices. For example, “You have to get a shot. You may sit on the exam table or sit in the chair”, or “Which arm do you prefer, the right or the left?”
  • Gold star
    • Reward your child for completing the task. Stickers, choosing the Band-Aid, and a small toy from a treasure chest are all suitable examples. Focus on the positives such as sitting still, being brave or using a distraction technique such as deep breathing. Don’t focus on the behaviors that we want to decrease such as screaming or avoiding.
  • Anything else?
    • You may consider some over-the-counter topical agents that can be applied to the site prior to the shot. Ask your pharmacist or doctor for the best way to use the product.
    • Remind yourself and your child about the benefits of getting shots. They help you stay strong and healthy or to feel better quicker if sick.
    • One more thing, hugs and kisses from mommy and daddy are by far the best feel good medicine after shots (even for teenagers), so be sure to double the cuddles!

– Carnigee Truesdale-Howard, PsyD, ABPP is a Pediatric Psychologist with Beaumont Children’s Hospital Divisions of Hematology/Oncology & Gastroenterology.

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