Oct 19, 2018, 10:56:25 AM CDT Oct 3, 2023, 7:19:51 PM CDT

5 tips to ease your child's fear of shots

It’s common for children to be scared of shots. Here are some expert tips to help make getting a shot less painful.

Little girl playing doctor giving her teddy bear a vaccine shot Little girl playing doctor giving her teddy bear a vaccine shot

Between standard vaccines and an annual flu shot, kids get a lot of shots. Understandably, they’re not always very excited about them. According to a 2018 survey, half of 2- to 5-year-olds are afraid of visiting the doctor, and 1 in 25 parents have delayed or canceled a vaccination visit because of their child's fear.

As difficult as it can be to calm an anxious child – or stay calm yourself – vaccines play a critical role in protecting children from serious illnesses. Knowing that a shot will only take a few seconds provides some comfort, but how can you reassure your child for the hours before or after?

Preeti Sharma, M.D., pediatric pulmonologist at Children's Heath℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, shares some tried and true tips for making getting a shot a little easier for your child.

1. Be a role model.

"It really helps to make vaccines an expectation," says Dr. Sharma. "My kids know that every fall, the whole family gets a flu shot." If possible, take your child with you to one of your yearly flu shot appointments. If they see you being brave, it could help them want to be brave too.

2. Provide positive reinforcement.

If you stay calm, your child is more likely to do the same. Try smiling at them and have relaxed body language. They want to know that you are there for them. "Positive reinforcement goes a long way in making it a better experience," says Dr. Sharma. "For example, saying 'You did a great job' or 'Look at how strong you are' can make your child feel better almost instantly."

3. Plan a reward.

Associating getting a shot with a special treat can be a good way to ease anxiety, because it gives your child something to look forward to. It can help them focus more on what they are doing after their appointment instead of the appointment itself. "We make a plan in advance," says Dr. Sharma. "We schedule an activity for after the shots, like having a picnic or going to see a movie. By the time the fun is over, often the discomfort of the shot is forgotten."

4. Distract from pain.

The anticipation of a shot is often worse than the actual shot. You can help distract your child if you:

  • Offer to hold their hand
  • Ask them to think about their favorite toy or family pet
  • Tell them a joke or sing to them
  • Try giving them a task like blowing air at your face on the count of three when it's shot time

If needed, you can also ask your child's doctor about pain-relieving options. "Children can be comforted by using ice or numbing creams before shots, but individual doctor's offices have different kid-friendly techniques to ease fears of shots," says Dr. Sharma.

5. Explain the benefits.

Depending on your child's age, you can explain what the vaccination is for and why it is important for their health. "Remind kids that this will keep them healthy and strong and help prevent them from getting sick," says Dr. Sharma. "With my own kids, we talk about that while the shot may be uncomfortable for a minute, an illness like the flu makes you feel bad for much longer." Understanding its importance can make an annual shot an expectation and positive choice rather than something to dread.

Vaccine anxiety varies with each child, and what works one year might change the next. However, we hope these tips make your next doctor's visit a more positive one as you take steps to keep your child healthy.

Getting a shot can be scary for some children. A 2018 survey revealed that 50% of kids under 6 fear doctor visits. Check out 5 tips for easing your child’s fear of shots.

Learn more

Vaccines protect children from getting sick from many deadly illnesses. Get the facts about vaccines and download current immunization schedules.

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