How to Prepare Your Child Before Getting a Shot

My friend's daughter is terrified of needles and getting a shot. When she was four years old, my friend brought her in for her annual flu shot. Everything seemed fine at the doctor's office — until the little girl saw the gloved hand and syringe. With a shriek, she jumped down from the chair and ran from the exam room, then clear out of the office and down the hallway. She was almost on the elevator when her father caught her hand. My friend's daughter is older now, but she still remembers this event. And memories like these, no matter who you are, can cause anxiety that make future visits difficult.

The reality is this: no one, regardless of age, enjoys getting a shot. Immunizations are an important part of keeping you and your children healthy and protected from common preventable illnesses. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that you can use before the shot even takes place to help prepare your child and keep her or him as calm as possible at the doctor's office.

Develop a Great Relationship with Your Doctor

The first strategy, of course, is to choose a pediatrician who is truly good with kids:

Educate Yourself and Your Child

Take some time to speak with your doctor before the appointment to learn everything you can about the upcoming vaccinations and techniques your doctor uses to reduce pain and stress. For example, some doctors may use nasal sprays for a flu vaccine instead of a needle. If your doctor's office is sufficiently staffed, they may also be able to offer simultaneous injections, meaning two or more shots are given at the same time. While that might seem unsettling, two shots performed at once causes significantly less distress than several given one after the other.

You should also ask about your doctor's post-injection routine. Does the practice offer rewards such as stickers or small toys? If they don't, bring a small token along to offer your child or promise to do a favorite activity after the appointment. Either way, it can help to let your child know that there's a reward waiting.

Once you know everything there is to know about the shot and how your doctor goes about delivering vaccines, explain to your child what will happen. This will only work if your child is old enough to understand. Although your inclination might be to tell your child that it won't hurt, that little fib will only work once, and it may create distrust toward both you and the doctor. Instead, be honest and assure your child that the shot will only pinch for a few seconds.

You could also find some toy doctor's equipment to act out the routine at home. This will help eliminate surprises and reduce stress.

Prepare and Distract

Before heading to the doctor's office, pack some snacks and prepare a few distractions to use during the actual vaccination. You could read the child a story or show him or her a movie on your phone, for instance. You may also find that it helps your child to practice deep breathing when you're in the doctor's office.

Your own demeanor and attitude will also have a large impact on your child. Smile and stay calm, and resist any urge that you might have to grimace or tense up when your child is getting a shot. Also, while it might seem counterintuitive, avoid being apologetic and repeating reassuring phrases such as "it's okay" or "don't worry." According to the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, have shown that these well-meant practices can actually increase the amount of stress children feel.

By following these few simple steps, you can help ensure your child is healthy while teaching her or him to be more at ease with their pediatrician. At the same time, don't worry if your child doesn't come around right away. Finding the right doctor, one that makes you and your child feel comfortable, will make an easier back-to-school or flu-shot season for everybody.

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