Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available for kids 5 and up, you may be wondering how to make that poke as stress-free for your little one (and yourself!) as possible.
Don’t be surprised if one of your children handles getting shots easily, while another is grabbing the paper liner, ready to bolt off the table.
“How well a child tolerates needles can vary depending on the child’s age, temperament, past hospitalizations or medical experiences, and how parents talk to their kids about shots,” said Mary Lauren Furlong, CCLS, a certified child life specialist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
Whether it’s time for your child’s routine vaccines (like MMR, chickenpox or the flu) or a simple finger prick, there are things you can do to help ease anxiety.
“It’s important to prepare kids before they get the shots so they will trust you in the moment. It also allows you to develop a coping plan when the time comes,” Furlong said.
For children 4 and under, shortly before or during the visit, try saying something like, “You will get a shot today. You'll feel a little poke that might hurt but then it will feel better. I'll be with you the whole time and we will talk about your favorite things.”
For school-aged kids and teenagers, you can tell them a couple of days in advance and explain why they need the shot or vaccination. For example, you may say, “You have an appointment with your doctor in a couple of days. You need to get a shot during the visit to protect you from COVID-19.”
What about teens who are still terrified of needles? It’s helpful to develop a coping plan.
“This can consist of listening to music, having a conversation for distraction, using a stress ball or fidget toy, and practicing deep breathing before, during and after the shot,” Furlong said. “Prepare and be honest.”
How can you calm your child if he or she is resisting and getting worked up before the shot?
“It’s important to give positive encouragement and remember the coping plan you developed,” Furlong said. “For younger children, you can try a comfort hold, where you hold your child on your lap, so he or she feels safe. You can present a distraction by playing music, watching their favorite movie or show on a tablet, squeezing a stress ball, counting, saying the ABCs, breathing deeply or talking about plans for after the shot. Sometimes the promise of going for ice cream or playing at the park is enough to get them through.”
As well-intentioned as you may be, there are some phrases to avoid, including:
- “It doesn’t hurt.”
- “Don’t cry.”
- “You’re OK.”
- “This could feel like a poke. You can tell me what you think it feels like after.”
- “It’s OK to cry.”
- “I know this is hard for you.”
- “You're doing a great job at holding still.”
- “You are safe.”
Shots can be scary for kids, but vaccines offer protection from preventable diseases. Baptist Health and Wolfson Children’s Hospital are here to help you find a pediatrician to provide routine childhood immunizations. You can schedule an appointment by calling 904.202.4YOU (4968) or requesting an appointment here.