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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Help Kids Cope with Vaccine Fears

With COVID-19 vaccination eligibility expanding to include younger children, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals sat down with pediatric pain and palliative medicine specialist Stefan J. Friedrichsdorf, MD, to learn tips and tricks for soothing kids’ pain and anxiety when it’s their turn to be vaccinated.

Facts about Immunizations

• Immunizations save lives.

• One in four adults in the United States is afraid of needle pokes.

• Needle fear is one of the main reasons children don’t get their shots.

Vaccination Tips for Parents 

Pick up numbing cream. Apply 4% lidocaine cream at least 30 minutes before your child’s vaccination. You can buy it over the counter in drugstores, at pharmacies, or online. Check with your doctor’s office to find out the exact location of the shot (usually the upper leg for babies under 12 months, and the upper arm for children age 1 and older). Apply the cream to an area of skin about the size of a quarter, and then cover it with a transparent film dressing (sold at drugstores) or plastic wrap. 

Position kids for comfort. Do not hold your child down. Hold babies younger than 6 months swaddled or with skin-to-skin contact. Have older kids sit on your lap. Teens may choose to sit on your lap, or next to you or alone. Let it be their choice. 

Offer age-appropriate distraction. You might want to bring a favorite book, toy, or stuffed animal along in case you have to wait, or for comfort after the shot. An LED changing-pattern spinner wand, pinwheels, and picture books can distract the youngest kids, and apps or books may appeal to older ones. Don’t say, “I’m sorry” or “It’ll be over soon.” Instead, use humor and distract with light conversation. 

During and after the shot. For babies under age 1, breastfeed or give them a few drops of sugar water (24% sucrose) during the vaccination. For kids of all ages, create a positive memory by praising them right after the shot, and again at home. Tell them how well they did, and how it only “bothered” them for a very short time (if it did). This helps them create a positive memory and be less afraid next time. Very young children won’t understand the words, but they’ll sense your encouragement. 

Reprinted with permission from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital,