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Oregon Family Magazine

Coping with a Fear of Shots

10/05/2022 ● By Ross Newman, M.D., F.A.A.P.
The fear of getting a vaccination can often be worse than the shot itself, but there are things you can do to help make immunizations a positive and calm experience for children.

It’s important to let children know ahead of time what to expect when it’s time for a vaccination. It’s never a good idea to surprise them, because it can bring on instant panic. Instead, be honest about what to expect and reassure them that it’s going to be a short-lived discomfort.

Language tips

The language you use is also important. Use “vaccine” or “immunization” instead of “shot,” which may have negative associations. You can describe the feeling as a “pinch,” “pressure” or “small poke” instead of words like “sting” or “burn.”

Especially with older children, it’s a good idea to help them understand the importance of getting vaccines. Explain that immunizations make it safer for them to participate in fun activities with other kids while helping to protect the community.

Calming techniques

There are some things you can do to try to minimize a child’s anxiety. Here are a few tips:

  • If your child has a special stuffed animal or toy that they find comforting, allow them to bring it with them.
  • Be reassuring and explain that it will “pinch” for just a second and then it will be over.
  • Remain calm, as children easily pick up on emotional clues.
  • Acknowledge any anxiety they may be feeling and let them know you understand without dismissing their worries.
  • Divert their attention to something else in the room or a different topic of conversation.

When the shot is over, give your child lots of praise. By praising your child, you’re reinforcing positive behavior and setting your child up for more success the next time they need a vaccine.

Flu vaccine

While a lot of attention has been focused on the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations for children, we must remember that there are other vaccine-preventable diseases that are also important, including influenza.

Flu causes some of the highest burden of disease in the United States every year, including hospitalizations and deaths. The flu shot doesn’t always prevent illness, but it does significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization, pneumonia or severe infection.

Flu season typically runs September through March, and the flu vaccine is available now.

If you have any questions about vaccines for your child, be sure to talk with your child’s primary care provider.