While the COVID-19 vaccine is now widely available for kids ages 6 months and older, we know that some children might be nervous about taking shots in general.
They might be scared of needles or not sure how they’ll feel after taking the shot. What’s important is for parents and caregivers to comfort them every step of the way. Here are a few expert tips to help you ease your shot-hesitant kids.
Note: To see where vaccines are available for your child, you can reach out to your doctor, local pharmacy or visit vaccines.gov.
Jessica Oswald, whose job as a child life specialist is to help reduce children’s stress and anxieties in healthcare settings, recommends honest communication.
Since “a big stressor for children under the age of 12 is a lack of control in the medical setting,” Oswald says outlining a plan with your child about what to expect and deciding coping methods beforehand is important.
And with a majority of children and 20-30% of adults fearing needles, doctors say it’s vital for parents to have open conversations while also validating the anxiety surrounding the prick.
Pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Andy Bernstein, recommends teaching children the importance of vaccinations, such as protecting their fellow peers at school or their grandparents.
Talking about the reasons to face the dreaded needle should also be done in an age-appropriate way.
“A 5-year-old can still understand it’s better to prevent serious illness than to hope you do OK,” Bernstein notes. “Maybe talking less about hospitalization rates but more about just caring for ourselves and other people around us.”
Consider coping methods
Distraction techniques include toys, videos, games and music. Michigan Medicine even has a 3-minute video of Poke-and-Dot, the comfort dog, explaining the shot to children in an animated talk-show environment.
And to alleviate pain, cold compresses, numbing creams and vibrating devices can also help, Oswald notes.
Oswald also recommends play, such as pretending to poke a stuffed animal, to prepare children.
Whether it be about the level of pain or what’s in — and not in — the vaccine, being truthful includes fixing misunderstandings.
And for Bernstein, explaining the vaccine to those who are hesitant “feels like a win.”
“I like to be able to take the time and explain what is wrong about the things maybe they’ve heard on Facebook or on TikTok,” Bernstein says.
Promote the benefits
Although Bernstein notices less shot-hesitancy when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, endorsing the necessity can help quell fears.
“The more people that we can get vaccinated, kids included, the less spread we’re going to see, the more we’re going to be able to do our normal activities […] and keep kids going to class and going to hockey practice or soccer practice or choir practice,” he says.
The University of Michigan Health recommends promising a small treat afterward, such as ice cream or an outing, to make the experience more positive.
Talk with your doctor and choose what’s best for your child
While it’s not the same procedure as a shot, Bernstein says it’s common to hear kids screaming at his practice for throat swabs. If a child wants to yell during the shot, he notes, “And it makes the shot go better, I would encourage them to yell as loud as they want. No question.”
Looking for even more expert information and advice about COVID-19? Check out our COVID-19 guide. This post was originally published in Sept. 2020 and is updated regularly.
Follow Metro Parent on Instagram.