scared of shots

If Your Kids Are Scared of Shots

Our concierge primary care doctors have been impressed with so many videos of young children receiving their coronavirus vaccines. Even many adults are scared of getting shots, which may be a reason why so many have declined so far to get one.

But if your kids are scared of shots, we have some tips on how to get them through the process with minimal tears and fears.

Start with yourself

According to one study from the National Institutes of Health, fear of needles (trypanophobia) is quite common among adults and children. It’s even present in those who work in medical settings.

Researchers found the “majority of children exhibited needle fear, while prevalence estimates for needle fear ranged from 20-25 percent in adolescents, and 20-30 percent in young adults.

“Avoidance of influenza vaccination because of needle fear occurred in 16 percent of adult patients, 27 percent of hospital employees, 18 percent of workers at long-term care facilities, and eight percent of healthcare workers at hospitals.”

Some dismiss fear of needles as childish or silly, advising people to just deal with it. Frankly, they don’t know what they’re talking about. If you’re anxious about your child receiving a COVID-19 vaccination—or any type of shot—they’ll pick up on that feeling from you.

Begin by learning all you can about the vaccine. This includes information about any possible side effects, which so far have been minor. If you have a fear of needles, you might be subconsciously communicating to your child. Be sure talk to us ahead of time so we can help you better cope with the situation.

Honesty is the best policy

When you take your child to their vaccination, tell them ahead of time, but not too far in advance. For younger children, that just gives them more time to build up the event in their mind. 

Don’t tell them they won’t feel a thing, of course they will. If you stick a sharp metal object into someone’s arm, it’s going to hurt to a certain degree. But some people have a higher threshold of pain than others, and perceived pain will depend partly on that.

And some things are more painful than others. Ask the child if they remember how much it hurt the last time they fell down on the playground, or stubbed a toe. Reassure them a shot won’t hurt as bad as that (which is true).

Many parents compare the pain of an injection to a pinch, and tell them the shot will hurt about as much as that and be over about as fast. Tell them their arm might be a little sore afterward, but they’ll get ice packs to help relieve the discomfort.

Make sure they know what to expect, and you won’t lie to them. They’ll feel more reassured, and more comfortable with the procedure.

And be sure to explain that, even though a vaccine will cause a little discomfort, it will help keep them healthy and allow them to stay in school and play with their other vaccinated friends.

Put them in control

The worst thing you can do, say experts, is to hold down a screaming child while the doctor or pharmacist gives them their shot.

“The most important thing is that children should not be held down for any medical procedure against their will,” David Becker, a pediatrician, psychotherapist, and clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, told NBC News.

This can lead to lifelong trauma and make them avoid doctors in the future.

“They can be held in a parent’s arms, in their lap, and sometimes hugging them will be enough for them to feel comfortable,” he said.

If your child reacts strongly to even the thought of a shot, ask them why they’re so scared. Just pinpointing the cause of their fears can help you reassure them.

They should know not getting a shot is not an option. You can, however, give them a certain amount of control over the situation. Let them pick which book or video they want to watch while it’s happening or what kind of reward they want afterward.

Ways to minimize the pain

Even though there will be a certain amount of discomfort associated with injections, there are ways to take out some of the “ouch!”

Teach them some progressive muscle relaxation and breathing tricks ahead of time. Tensing up makes any kind of pain more painful, whereas when relaxed, it won’t hurt as much.

We can prescribe a skin-numbing cream or pain-blocking gel ahead of time. Be sure to let us know, because these take about a half-hour to take effect.

The important thing is to emphasize the benefits of the shot. Praise them for their accomplishment afterwards, even if things didn’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped. 

Once kids start to see their friends getting the vaccine, they may be more open—even excited—about the prospect of getting their lives back to something resembling normal.