For most children, even the thought of getting a shot is upsetting — and it’s no wonder! Needle pricks hurt, and little ones receive more than their fair share in those early years (sometimes up to four in one visit.) If you have a child who balks at the sight of needles, here are a few tips to help make the next doctor’s visit a smoother experience.
Before the Appointment
Proper preparation is one of the best ways to achieve success. Before your child’s appointment, make sure they’re well-hydrated and, if possible, have them take a shower or bath. This will hydrate veins and make them easier to find.
Honesty is always the best policy. Don’t promise “no shots” when you’re headed to the doctor’s office. If you break that promise, your little one won’t trust you again. This goes for dental visits as well — lying to them will just set your child up for dental anxiety.
Don’t lie to your child about the pain, either. If you tell them it won’t hurt, the pain will come as a shock and they will feel betrayed. Explain beforehand that the shots and immunizations are necessary for their health and assure them the pain will be short-lived.
Under no circumstances should you ever joke about shots being given as a punishment or use them as a threat. This lays the foundation for a fear of doctors and can cause a lifetime of trouble.
During the Appointment
If you can, schedule their appointments to coincide with shots or blood draws of your own. Your child can watch you and see that needle sticks aren’t scary.
You also can give your child a greater sense of control by offering choices. Would they prefer to have you in the room or out? Would they like to have a topical anesthetic applied before the shot? Would they like more information about the immunization they’re getting or how needles work? Knowledge and understanding are crucial to a sense of control.
Distraction is another a helpful tactic. The following are all ways to distract your child and take their mind away from the anxiety:
- Blowing bubbles
- Blowing on a pinwheel
- Playing with Play-Doh
- Listening to their favorite music through headphones
- Reading books to them
- Playing video games together on a smartphone or tablet
Most importantly, keep careful watch on both your attitude and appearance. Young children take cues from their parents. So if you appear worried, tense, or grimace when you see the needle, your child may become even more anxious.
After the Appointment
Feel free to offer a reward for a job well done — an ice cream cone, comic book, trip to the park, etc. Just make sure you present it as such, and not as a bribe. You can say, “When your vaccination is done, we can get a treat,” rather than “You can have a treat if you get this vaccination.”
When the fear of needles becomes so intense it prevents patients from receiving necessary immunizations, injections or blood tests, then it’s known as needle phobia. It’s important to validate your child’s fear and not brush it aside. Talk directly with your doctor about ways to support your child during injections.
Anti-anxiety medications (such as Ativan, Valium and Xanax) can be administered before appointments to help ease stress. Since needle phobia is characterized by heart rate and blood pressure increases, and then subsequent decreases in both, fainting is always a possibility. Have your child lie down with their legs elevated during the injection. Once the injection is complete, make sure your child does not stand up too quickly.
It’s also worthwhile to see a counselor or therapist to help your child understand the root of their phobia and work through it.
Injections and blood draws are a regular part of life — especially for small children. Helping to soothe their worries will go a long way in building a healthy relationship with both needles and the lifesaving medicines they deliver.