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How to make shots less scary for kids

Your child’s regular doctor visit doesn’t have to evoke dread. If your child is scared of shots, use these expert tips and tricks to help make shots less scary.

preparing your child for a flu shot
1Prepare your child

A little preparation goes a long way toward a happy doctor’s visit… and it’s not just your child you need to prepare, either. As the parent, you must focus on creating a tension-free environment for your child so that she doesn’t start to worry. “Caregivers must ensure they maintain a positive attitude about the intended procedure to avoid modeling anxiety and instead instill confidence that their child can handle receiving a shot,” says Erin Floyd, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in child, adolescent and family psychology.

Be honest with your child about getting a shot. Explain the procedure and even play doctor with your child to help familiarize her with the process. Floyd suggests using an ink pen as the shot during this type of play to demonstrate the gentle pressure felt during the real thing. You also can practice distraction techniques such as blowing on a pinwheel or playing with a video game during this time.

2Offer Choices

Children love the feeling of control they have when making their own choices, and going to the doctor can make them feel like they’ve relinquished all control. Jodi Bauers, certified child life specialist and child life manager at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, suggests offering your child simple choices to help give him a feeling of control. For instance, try giving your child the choice of a game or stuffed animal to take along. Let young children choose between sitting on your lap or in a chair by themselves.

3Use the art of distraction

“Studies show that kids who can focus on a video game or movie during a shot experience less than half the pain of non-distracted kids,” says Deborah Gilboa, board-certified family physician and mother of four. “So, if you have a phone with a kid game or video, or even a beloved book, kids will perceive less pain and get past the pain faster.”

If you forget your distraction technique at home, try singing a song with your child or pointing out and explaining the various physician’s tools in the room. You may even be able to grab a kid-friendly magazine from the waiting room. Just make sure that, when the moment comes, your child is engaged in something other than the shot itself.

4Congratulate and reward

Even if the shot was a mildly traumatic experience for your child, you can still turn things around. After the shot has been administered, tell your child how brave he was and how proud you are of him. “I always give the child positive feedback and tell him how well he did. Stickers and fun Band-Aids also help some kids,” says Kiera Smialek, N.D., a licensed naturopath with Arizona Natural Health Center.

5Plan for future visits

Many kids are pleasantly surprised by how easy getting a shot actually is, but kids’ memories can be short, and they may remember their fear of the shot more than the shot itself. Rachel Rudman, a mother of two, shared one technique her pediatrician uses to help make future shots easier: “Our pediatrician has my kids sign a statement after they have had their shots. It usually says ‘The shots didn’t hurt as much as I thought they would, and I’m not afraid anymore.’ The next time they’re scheduled for shots, the pediatrician shows it to them. It actually helps!”

You don’t have to rely on your pediatrician for this technique. You can print up your own certificates for your kids to sign, then file them away until the next doctor’s visit.

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