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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Tear-Free Shots?

By Tanni Haas

Let’s face it: Few kids enjoy going to the pediatrician, especially if they’re scheduled to get shots. But shots are a fact of life whether kids are getting vaccinated at annual wellness check-ups, or they’re getting seasonal flu shots or the COVID-19 vaccine. So, it’s best to get your kids comfortable with them sooner rather than later. What can parents do to make trips to the pediatrician, if not a favorite, then at least a tear-free experience? Here’s what the experts suggest.

Give your kids advance warning. Kids don’t like surprises unless you’re offering them a favorite treat, so let them know in advance that shots are on the horizon. “Like so many things in parenting,” says pediatrician Wendy Swanson, MD, “knowing what to expect is essential for your child.” Don’t give your kids too much time to dwell on the shots because this will only make them more anxious—a couple of days is enough. “The waiting and anticipation of shots,” says Swanson, “is far worse for kids than the actual injection.”

Be honest with them. Be honest when you talk to your kids about what the experience is going to be like. Promising them that shots won’t hurt at all may backfire. “If you say it won’t hurt, and then it does,” says pediatrician Amy Stockhausen, MD, “they’re always going to question whether you’re really being honest.” Research shows that when parents say, “don’t worry,” kids become even more anxious because they get the sense that there really is something to worry about. Instead of telling your kids that it’ll be pain-free, tell them, as primary care doctor Maureen Boyd, MD, puts it, “[that] it probably will hurt a bit, but it’ll only hurt for a moment.”

Explain why vaccines are important. Using words they will understand, tell kids why they need to get their shots. Let them know that shots prevent sickness. Pediatrician Melissa Arca, MD, suggests saying that shots keep kids “healthy just like eating healthy foods, getting daily exercise, and getting enough sleep do.” Similarly, Sophia Mirviss, MD, another pediatrician, suggests telling kids that shots keep them “healthy and strong, like eating vegetables or brushing their teeth.”

Stay calm and collected. Once you get to the pediatrician’s office, be calm. Experts agree that your kids’ behavior will mirror yours. “If you act or feel nervous,” Swanson says, “your child may pick up on this.” But, if you remain calm, your kids will, too. If they’re young, have them sit on your lap and hold their hands while they’re getting their shots. It’ll help relax both of you.

Try to distract them. Experts suggest playing fun games like “I Spy,” singing together, telling them a story, reminiscing about a favorite place that you’ve been together, or talking about an exciting thing that you’ve planned to do later in the day.

Praise and reward them. Once the visit is over, pediatrician Laura Marusinec, MD, suggests giving kids lots of positive feedback. This will “make your child feel better about getting shots in the future,” she says. She suggests telling your kids that you’re proud of their bravery; say that bravery means doing the right thing even if it’s scary, and that they did the right thing by getting the shots. Experts also suggest that you reward them for their good behavior. You can take them on a trip to the park, go to the zoo, see a movie together, give them a favorite treat, or let them choose what you’re all going to have for dinner that evening. As Arca puts it (only partly tongue-in-cheek): “getting shots is no fun for anyone and ice cream really does make everything better.” 

Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor.