Studies have shown that about 50% of kids between ages 2-5 are afraid of getting shots. If your child has a fear of shots, rest assured that this is normal and there are things you can do to help them before, during, and after the visit.
8 tips for helping a child who is afraid shots
- Be honest but subtle. Instead of using the word “shot,” use words like "pressure," "pinch," "poke," and "immunization.” Explain to them that although they feel temporary discomfort, getting a “pinch” will help them avoid pain and sickness later.
- Give them a toy medical kit. Before taking your child to the doctor, you can have them play with a toy medical kit at home to familiarize them with medical tools. This can make them feel at ease when they see similar things at the doctor’s office.
- Stay calm. If your child senses that you are anxious, they are more likely to feel the same. Stay calm and reassure your child that everything will be fine.
- Distract them during the visit. Kids who are distracted while getting a shot are more likely to cooperate and feel less pain. Give them a teddy bear to hold, a book to look at, a toy to hold their attention and distract them from the reality of the shot.
- Tell them to take deep breaths. The fear of receiving the shot is often worse than the shot itself. If your child is aware of what is to come and is worried about the pain, tell them to take three big breaths to relax or ask them to cough. Make the child cough once as a warmup and again as they receive the shot. This technique has been shown to benefit kids who are nervous about shots.
- Praise them afterwards. Shower your child with praise and positive reinforcement after the shot. You can reward them with a sticker or a stop at the park on the way home. By creating a positive memory of the day, you can help get them ready for their next shot.
- Try numbing medications. Ask your doctor about over-the-counter or prescription topical anesthetic preparations, such as creams, patches, or cooling sprays. You may need to apply them 30 minutes before your child’s doctor visit.
- Let your doctor or nurse know. It may help if you let the doctor or nurse know ahead of time that your child has a fear of shots. They are familiar with techniques that can help your child feel more comfortable throughout the procedure.
Although most children will benefit from these tactics, talk to your doctor if your child still gets panicked about shots due to past negative experiences. In such cases, seeking professional advice can help.
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Becker DK, Thomas J. Taking Fear and Pain Out of Needles—for Your Child and You. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/immunizations/Pages/Managing-Your-Childs-Pain-While-Getting-a-Shot.aspx
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