View All Articles

5 Ways to Fight Your Child's Fear of Getting Vaccines

August 03, 2017

A fear of needles is one of the biggest and most common stressors for children in the hospital. Though this fear is very real, support from caregivers and medical staff can help give kids the tools they need to conquer their fears with ease!  

As a Child Life Specialist, it’s my job to help kids feel safe and secure when they’re in the hospital (and, of course, to help them have a little fun, too!). Today I’d like to share with you some of the ways I’ve learned to help children through their fear of needles, and you can use these tools at home or in the doctor’s office when it’s time to get their immunizations.

Be honest and give simple explanations

Kids are very perceptive and know when something is up. Maintaining your child’s trust will help you better comfort them when they are scared. When your child asks you what is about to happen or why, provide simple, but truthful explanations.

For example, tell your child that they need this medicine, which goes under their skin, to help protect them from germs when they go to school or play with their friends. Tell them that all kids get this medicine and that you’ve gotten it too.

Use child friendly terms such as “poke” and “medicine” rather than “shot” and “vaccine.”

Be emotionally and physically present for comfort

Being held still by unfamiliar people can be one of the scariest parts for children receiving vaccines. Often times, children do best if they can sit on a parent’s lap for further support and to help them stay still. For younger children, holding your child chest-to-chest with you can be the best holding position. Work with medical staff to determine the best comfort hold for your child.

Use reassuring language to acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings.

Use fun and distraction

Bring your child’s favorite comfort item or book. Use soft singing, cuddling, blowing bubbles, or playing with your child during vaccinations to help distract them from the fear or pain. Sometimes, it’s the time leading up to the poke that is scariest for kids, and giving them something more fun to think about can make the poke itself easier.

Provide appropriate boundaries and choices

If you have taken your child to the doctor to receive a vaccine, then not receiving the medicine is not a choice. However, providing reasonable choices, such as where they would like to sit, what game to play during the visit, and which character Band-Aid they would like afterward can give the child a feeling of control and safety.

For a child who is having difficulty complying with necessary steps to complete the procedure, telling them the sequence of events can be a helpful tool in decreasing fear.

For example, provide simple instructions such as “first you sit on my lap, and then we blow bubbles together while the nurse gives you the medicine, then we go home and play.” Showing your child that this is not a choice, but that you will be by their side throughout, will help them have the confidence to overcome their fears.

Give specific praise

Tell your child how proud of them you are for doing something that was difficult or scary. And even if aspects of the process did not go as planned, tell them something specific that they did well, such as using their words or taking deep breaths. Celebrating what your child did well will help them feel more successful and willing to participate during future medical experiences.

Immunizations can be difficult and scary for kids and their families, but they don’t have to be. Preparing your child, comforting, and supporting them with validation, play and praise can help them feel successful and overcome their fears.