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Published on September 24, 2019

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Ease Your Child Into Immunizations

Some children fear going to the doctor’s office. Even though the worries may vary from child to child the most important thing that parents can do to ease their child’s fear is to provide reassurances.

You as a parent know your child best. Are they slow adapting and need advance preparation or are they the type of child who “goes with the flow”?  For those children who need early preparation, start conversations with, “Everyone needs to go to the doctor once in a while.” “You have an appointment scheduled for ________.”  It’s quite natural for kids to ask questions, but for parents, it can be overwhelming.

Start from a Calm Place

As a parent you should speak calmly, be direct and do not make a promise that there will be no shots (unless you are 100% sure there will not be.) If you child is a worrier, you might talk about past visits, and the easier parts of a well child check-up like the height and weight measurements.

Fear of needles is real. Anxiety before the shot is common, no matter the age of the child. The apprehension is sometimes increased when on a previous visit more than on vaccine was given at once. Do not use “You’re getting a shot” as a threat or punishment for not behaving. Allow your child a real choice to participate. For example: “Would you like to sit on my lap or would you like to sit on the exam table?”

Distractions and Rewards

Providing distraction during the immunization might include looking at photos or playing a game on a smartphone. Deep breathing exercises can be practiced ahead of time. As the child takes a breath in, count 1, 2. Have them hold the breath as you count 1 and 2. Then exhale slowly for the count of 1, 2, 3.

Breathing together can calm the nerves – both young and old.  Physical touch such as hand holding, patting, rubbing or stroking can help your child focus on you instead of what the clinic staff are doing.  

Easing your child into immunizations can be less stressful if you learn as much as you can prior to the office visit. Sharing sensitive yet truthful information with your child may help to put your child at ease. Encourage your child to ask questions, and express fears and feelings. By sharing honest information you can correct any misunderstandings that your child may have. Parental presence is supportive to your child during the visit as well.

Immunizations can be a stressful time for you and your child but with proper preparation it doesn’t have to be.

By Twila Perkinson Certified Child Life Specialist, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.

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