Helping Kids Through Flu Shot Anxiety

February 6, 2020

by Erin Blackburn, MD, FAAP
HSHS Medical Group pediatrician

Flu season is in full swing, and if you’re putting off your child’s flu shot because you’re concerned about how they’ll react, I have about four rules that I think are very helpful for parents when they’re preparing their child to get a shot.

Don’t use shots as a threat

The number one, most important thing is to not use shots as a threat. Vaccines are not a punishment; they are a type of medicine to try and help with your health. If a parent threatens a shot for poor behavior, and then the child behaves, and we still need to give vaccines, the child can feel betrayed and then have mistrust in future visits with their physician.

Stay calm

Children often feed off of your emotions, so the more stressed you are the more stressed they become. So if you can present a very calm and positive manner, then they usually handle the shot better themselves.

Be honest

The third thing I recommend is to be honest, particularly with kids who are older and can kind of understand what’s happening. It’s best to be open and up front about what’s coming. I usually talk to all my kids who are at least four years and up. I explain that it’s a poke and a little bit of a hurt but that it lasts for a short time. I try to explain that there is medicine that they’re getting when they get the poke, and that’s why we’re doing it. But it’s not the kind of medicine that they take because they got sick but the type of medicine to prevent them from getting sick. And then I also try to reassure them to the fact that it’s not a punishment, that this is what we recommend for all kids their age and that other kids their age are getting a similar shot.

Provide comfort, praise and distraction

The last thing that I recommend is that parents provide comfort, praise and distraction after the vaccines. The comfort helps acknowledge that the kid did experience something painful. When you praise them and tell them they were brave and did a good job, that makes them feel proud about being able to overcome this unpleasant experience. Then the distraction helps them not to dwell on the pain or discomfort. At our office, we always have suckers available, but we always check with parents before we give sugar.

It's not too late to get your children vaccinated against the flu. Call your primary care physician to schedule your kids’ flu vaccinations today.

If you’d like to watch a video outlining my rules above, check out Sonya Jones Vlog. Sonya is the outreach coordinator at HSHS Medical Group and has a number of videos available on our YouTube channel.

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