It’s difficult to watch your child tense in fear when it’s time for vaccinations or routine shots at the doctor’s office. In fact, nannies and parents often feel helpless as their children cry and squirm at the sight of a needle.
There are ways you can help to ease your child’s fear of shots, though, both before you enter the doctor’s office and once you’re in the examination room. All you need are some creative strategies.
Before the Visit
The key to helping your child cope with the fear of getting shots is to prep him before you even leave your home. Begin by talking with your child about why vaccinations and routine shots are important. Stress the health benefits of preventing diseases by using calm, age-appropriate language. Phrases such as “we don’t want your tummy to hurt, so we are going to get medicine to help you” and “we want you to always feel good, so we get shots to keep the germs away” can help your child identify with why shots are necessary.
When scheduling vaccination appointments, it’s also important to avoid surprising your child when you get to the doctor’s office. Let your child know the day of the appointment that it is time to check in with the doctor to see how much he has grown and to help ward off the germs.
To help ease his worries, make the appointment for early in the morning, so he does not have anxiety and fear throughout the day. According to Madeline Vann, health and medical expert with Everyday Health, another advantage to scheduling early is that there will be time during the day for your child to be active and work off any soreness stemming from the shots.
As you get your child used to the idea of visiting the doctor for shots, avoid white lies. “Everyone, even small children, know shots hurt a bit, so there’s no point in pretending otherwise,” says Zak Zarbock, Utah-based pediatrician.
Make sure, too, that you, as the nanny or parent, stay calm when talking about shots, advises Zarbock. “The attitude of a parent certainly can increase the anxiety level,” he says. “I have a lot of parents who are freaked out by shots. A parent should be calm.”
During the Visit
Even though you may have a fear of needles or shots, too, it’s best to avoid expressing your emotions and fears in front of your child. Instead, if you need to look away, go ahead, but make sure you are comforting your child and holding his hand at the same time. If you need moral support, bring along another adult or spouse to increase both yours and your child’s comfort level.
Comfort is key when easing your child’s fears about shots. Allow your little one to hold on tight to his favorite stuffed animal or toy when he is sitting in the examination room.
A distraction will also help. Possibly give your child a small treat, such as a lollipop, to distract him from the needle approaching his arm. Just make sure that you avoid any type of food or beverage that could cause him to choke if he does begin to cry.
Making your child laugh or smile is a welcome sight during vaccinations. You can tell a silly story, sing a song or use funny voices to take his mind off of the vaccinations. Point out a cute picture or character on the wall to divert his eyes from the needle or ask him to sing the ABC’s with you as the nurse prepares his shots.
As long as your child knows that the shots will be over quickly, it may be easier to bear. When scheduling vaccinations, do your best to schedule as many as possible in one visit so your child does not face the anxiety or fear too often.
After the Visit
It is likely your child will remember the fear he felt before getting the shots – even if it proved to be painless. Praise his courage by offering a fun reward. For example, you can let him know that if he is cooperative during the doctor’s visit, then the two of you can embark on a journey to the park or celebrate with a special lunch.
“It’s fine to incentivize a little bit, to offer a reward or treat afterwards,” says Zarbock. In fact, he allows children to choose a special prize after vaccinations in his practice.