How to help your child cope with vaccinations

It was time for booster shots (cue doomsday music).

My daughter was 5 years old and right at that age where many kids tend to have a well-established fear of needles. I remember learning in nursing school that kids of this age have a need to keep their bodies “intact” and the idea of a needle penetrating their skin can be terrifying, not to mention fear of pain.

Doctor vaccinating young girl who looks afraid.

So I rounded up some tips that really helped my daughter cope with her vaccinations:

  • Do you have any vaccinations you need to get? If it’s time for your booster shots, or if you’re getting the flu shot, or need vaccinations before travelling, consider doing them at the same time as your child! I needed a vaccination myself and my daughter loved knowing we were going together. She even said, “I’ll hold your hand while you get yours mommy,” and decided I would get mine first. Scrap this idea if you are not so great at getting shots yourself 😉
  • If your child is worried about pain, talk to your health care provider before the appointment about using a numbing patch or cream. Follow the instructions as they usually need be placed on your child for 1 hour before the needle. We used it for the first time, and while it didn’t make the injection 100% pain-free, it was definitely an improvement. But learn from my mistake – find out where the injections will be done! I had assumed both would go in the upper arm into her deltoid muscle, but my daughter’s second needle was into her lower arm and she found it quite painful.
  • Watch the language you use when talking about the upcoming vaccination. Saying things like “it won’t hurt,” not only is incorrect, it also hints that it will.  Instead we talked about being relaxed and taking deep breaths. If we are tight and tense, things hurt more. If we relax and take deep breaths, things hurt less.
  • Use distractions. We decided together that my daughter would pretend to blow out candles (deep breathing!) while getting her vaccinations. When all else fails, letting your child watch a favourite video can be a helpful distraction. For my daughter’s second and more painful needle, watching a video helped calm her down.
  • Know your child’s temperament. Would your child do better with finding out about the vaccination at the last minute? Or does he need a few days’ warning? Sometimes advance warning only creates unnecessary anxiety. For other kids, advance warning eases anxiety. You know your child best.
  • Have something fun planned for after the vaccinations. I wanted my daughter to have something to look forward to all day instead of worrying about her vaccinations. Worked like a charm!

Keep your child’s yellow vaccination card and OHIP card handy after the appointment.  It’s time to go and report online to the health department! Use the Halton Region app and you’ll be done in 5 minutes 😉

If you have any questions about helping your child cope with vaccinations, or have any other tips to share, connect with us:

For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you’ll find me blogging, tweeting and answering emails. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to blog about! :)
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