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Fear of Needles: Parents Set the Tone


​​Before you take your child in for a vaccination, it is important to consider how your behavior can influence their reaction to an impending poke. Even small babies are skilled at gauging their parent's behaviors and reacting to their stress.

So, consider ahead of time what your stress level, body language, tone of voice and general demeanor are communicating to your child. Are you speaking sharply to them because you are afraid of shots? Are you dismissive of their fears (i.e., “it's not a big deal"), making them feel unheard? Are you lying to them about not getting a shot when you know they will?

Any of these behaviors can impact how a child feels about future visits to the doctor's office. Especially as they enter the prime years of being afraid of shots, between 5 and 10 years old. So do your best to tame your own fears, don't dismiss their feelings and don't ever lie about what is going to happen at a doctor's visit. It is far better to speak plainly and calmly, letting a child know what to expect, rather than springing something on them. Remember that your facial expression and body language also convey your feelings.

Never Hold Your Child Down for a Shot

Often, when children tell others about getting a shot, they only talk about being held down. Research finds that this is a collective experience for children and they find it terrifying. In fact, children report a greater incidence of pain when they are forced to lie down during vaccinations.

Being seated on a parent's lap provides comfort and when that is combined with pain management, distraction and preparing children for what will happen during their visit, the outcome improves greatly. If a child needs pain management to help make a shot hurt less, make sure to ask the doctor or nurse. There are different creams, cooling sprays and buzzing devices that help lessen (or even block) the pain.

It may seem like a risk to prepare a child for what will happen. But factual, yet gentle, explanations work best while apologizing, empathizing and providing reassurance tends to heighten distress. The words you use can impact a child's experience. Use gentler words like pressure, pinch, poke or immunization rather than pain or shot (for example, “We go to the doctor to get medicine that helps keep you healthy," rather than “We have to go to the doctor and get a shot").

Finally, when the doctor's visit is over, refocusing your child on all the things that they did well (no one cares if you cried, you held still, took big deep breaths, etc.), will help them mentally prepare for the next appointment.

To read the other articles in this series, click on Fear of Needles: Consequences to Your Child's Health​ and Fear of Needles: Helping Children Cope​.​

Health;Immunizations Pediatrics