Tips for Preparing Children for Vaccines

Preparing Kids for Vaccines

Vaccines are quite the hotbed of controversy in our country these days. Some people are for vaccines, some people against, some people are in the middle very confused. It would be wise to remember amidst this controversy that we are all on the same side: the side of healthy kids.

One vaccine-related issue that should provoke no controversy is preparing and supporting children to receive their injections. No one like receiving shots–kids least of all. Here are top tips to help make sure your kiddos are best prepared before their next vaccine (whether that’s “on schedule” or not):

Chat with them beforehand.

Everyone likes to feel that they have a sense of control, especially in potentially stressful situations. Children are no different. Letting them know what to expect will help them feel more control over the situation. Our practice when I worked at a children’s hospital was to prepare kids the number of days before the event that corresponded with their age. Younger children have little concept of time and preparing too far in advance can cause unnecessary anxiety to build up. I talked with little daughter, who was 18 months at her last vaccine, during our daily debrief the night before. For a three-year-old I would start mentioning shots 2-3 days before the appointment.

Discuss a plan for support during vaccines.

As you’re preparing your child, make sure you’re also discussing what you’ll be doing to support your child.

  • For very young children, this might be a pacifier, a bottle, or breastfeeding during the shot. Research supports that the sucking reflex helps reduce infants’ perception of pain. If you ask, most physician offices will allow you to nurse your baby: they made need to do shots one at a time for safety reasons if you are holding your baby vs. lying baby on the table.
  • Pain relief is also helpful for kids who have weaned from pacifier and nursing. Buzzy is a great tool for children of all ages! The use of cold and vibration help confuse the nerves trying to send pain signals to the brain. While not 100% pain reduction, this should definitely reduce a significant portion of pain sensation. It will also likely provide emotional comfort as kids feel like you are doing something to help with the pain.
  • Distraction is a great tool for non-infants; teens (and adults, such as myself) also benefit. Read a book, listen to music, watch a favorite video on YouTube. Give the brain something to think about besides pain!
  • Consider holding or sitting next your child to make sure they feel your support. Do your best to remain calm. Kids can sense when parents are anxious; this will increase their own anxiety.

Offer choices.

Kids who are old enough to have language benefit from having a few choices. Don’t offer too many choices as this will potentially overwhelm them. Only offer choices that are real: It’s tempting to say “ready for your shot now?” If the answer is no (which it likely will be!) then you’re in a weird spot. Choices such as which leg or arm they’d like the shot in, if they want mom or dad to sit next to them, which book they’d like to look at, are all realistic and excellent choices!

Follow up after vaccines.

I won’t be recommending heaping on the praise and rewards after vaccines; this is something they had to do. However, it’s important to provide your support and encouragement! Say things like “You did it! Your shot is over, and you get to snuggle with mama now.” or “It seems like you focused really hard on the distraction you chose and it helped with the pain; what do you think?” These types of phrases show that you are engaged and supportive.

Ask older kids what they felt worked well and if they want to do anything different next time they need a poke. Help your child reframe things if the situation didn’t go well this time. “It looks like you had a hard time sitting still and your tears made me think you were pretty nervous. You also listened really well to what the nurse told you and squeezed my hand! You did such a hard thing, and I be you’re glad we’re done with this now.” We acknowledge the hard parts, but focus on the positive.

Provide books or play medical supplies for kids to process the vaccine afterward. People are often surprised that children love to play doctor, but this is a great way for them to normalize vaccine (and other medical) experiences. Children learn best through play; with great tools and books they will be able to process the experience and the emotions surrounding it.

Whether your child is getting lots of vaccines these days or just a few, I hope these tips will help your child’s experience! I’d love to know if you’ve discovered any great techniques for your child?


The pictures on this post are from this book!
How to Prepare Your Child for Vaccines