Helping your child master the fear of shots

View of scared asian girl before vaccine

“Am I getting a shot today? asks your child when you tell him you are taking him to the doctor. How should you answer this question if a shot is in fact on the schedule?

Hoping to allay a child’s fear of doctors and injections is what motivates many parents to deny or to sugarcoat the truth by claiming that there will be no shot or that shots don’t hurt. Truthfully, shots do hurt and having one’s skin pierced by a needle is a frightening event.

If your child is not particularly anxious about going to the doctor and doesn’t ask about the shot, you can avoid telling him in advance and deal with the situation once you are in the doctor’s office. If he does ask, you might say, “I’m not sure, let’s wait and see what the doctor says…”

For a child who worries and questions, it will be more helpful if her feelings are acknowledged and if you articulate the truth in a manageable and reassuring way.

Here are some tips to help your child master the fear of getting a shot:

  • Tell your child about going to the doctor on the day of the appointment. Too much advance notice allows for an unnecessary build-up of anxiety.
  • When asked if she will be getting a shot, say something like, “Yes, I think you will be getting a shot, I know it’s not fun, but it will be over really fast and it only hurts for a little while.”
  • Tell him that when he gets the shot, he will be sitting on your lap, he can squeeze your hand or hug his favorite toy or blanket while you count ‘1-2-3’ and that by ‘3’ it will be over.
  • If your toddler is still very frightened, acknowledge that the shot hurts for a minute and then focus on a fun thing to do immediately afterwards.
  • Do not over-explain or talk about the appointment for too long. If your child keeps going back to it, tell her in a reassuring and firm voice, “It’s going to be OK, I am going to help you.” And then direct her to some distracting game or activity.
  • Children are very attuned to their parents’ state of mind. They look to their parents’ nonverbal language to get cues about the situation they are in. If you are tense and anxious about your child’s reaction to the shot, your child will not be able to remain calm, so try and stay relaxed and remind yourself too that it’s just a little prick and will be over in a couple of seconds!
  • If you don’t already have one, you can buy a doctor’s kit and play with your child, using yourself and/or dolls as the patient. Toddlers usually like to play the role of the doctor or take turns being the doctor. When your child gives you a shot, make sure you say “ouch!”–you can even pretend to cry a little. (Children love that part!) Your child may then comfort you and tell you it will pass quickly. And you do recover quickly of course and tell him that you are “all better now”. Playing a scenario allows the child to master the experience while having fun.

Using these tips in order to present the truth in a manageable form builds trust between your child and you and helps him identify and accept his feelings.

**If you or your child is in or has gone through a complicated or traumatic medical situation, these tips may not meet your specific needs.  In this case, we suggest that you contact us to schedule a consultation so that we can address your questions and concerns on an individual basis.