Almost no one likes getting a shot, but for some people, especially children, it can be downright terrifying. Now that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is available for children ages 5 and older, some might be nervous about getting a shot. If that describes your child, try these tips for easing their fears and getting them vaccinated. (These work for any shot, not just a COVID-19 vaccine.)
1. Don’t talk about the shot for days in advance.
It may sound counterintuitive, but telling your child about an upcoming shot too soon can cause undue angst.
“Sometimes it’s worse to prepare because they’re thinking about it until it actually happens, and it just builds and builds and builds,” says UNC Health pediatrician Edward M. Pickens, MD. “If you have a child who is especially worried, you’re setting them up for several days of worry.”
Instead, wait for the day of the shot to explain why they need the shot. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, you can say it is to keep them, their friends and loved ones safe and will help everyone return to a more normal life, like before the pandemic.
“Explain the importance of why they’re receiving the vaccine,” says Stephanie Duggins Davis, MD, physician-in-chief at UNC Children’s and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine. “They’re going to experience a very brief amount of pain compared to becoming infected with the virus and having to quarantine or experience symptoms. You can also explain to your child that receiving the vaccination will prevent them from infecting someone they love.”
2. Acknowledge their feelings.
Shots may not bother you or your other children, but if you have a child who is scared of them, it is important to validate those fears. Don’t tell them to toughen up or that it’s no big deal.
“Let them know you know it’s not comfortable and it’s scary for them, and then provide a lot of reassurance,” Dr. Pickens says.
3. Plan ahead if your child has a history of fainting.
Let the person who is administering your child’s shot know if he or she has a history of fainting with needles.
If your child has fainted while getting a shot before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends doing the following:
- Have a beverage or snack before getting your vaccine.
- Breathe slowly and deeply before getting the vaccine and think of something relaxing.
- Sit or lie down after you receive your vaccine.
4. Don’t avoid vaccines because of a fear of shots.
It might seem easier to let your child skip shots, but it’s counterproductive. One, they don’t get the immunization they need, and two, you’ll reinforce that avoidance is a way to deal with feared events. If your child faces the shot—not by “toughening up,” but by being honest about his or her anxiety and doing it anyway—that sets a good example for future challenges in life.
Rely on your doctor and nurses for help, Dr. Davis says. They’ve seen it all when it comes to fearful children.
“Your pediatrician’s office is very experienced at administering vaccines and can help you as a parent manage your child’s fears.”