Everything You Need to Know About Kids & the Flu Shot

Oct 20, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. ET
Needles on a background of smaller needles.
Image: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

The flu season is right around the corner (and in many areas, it's already off to a hot start). This means it's time for an influenza shot for you — and your kids. The flu shot is one of those necessary tools we have available that helps us stay healthy, but for some of us, shots are not something we really enjoy dealing with, and for many kids, needles are the worst thing ever. Here's how you can help your kids deal with the flu shot a little better.

Why the flu shot is important

Influenza is very contagious and infects your nose and throat and sometimes your lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While most people recover from the flu without complications, it feels terrible and can last for a while. Worse yet, in some cases, it can be fatal. Some people are at higher risk of developing complications, including children younger than 5 and adults over 65 as well as those with certain chronic medical conditions, including asthma or heart disease. 

Flu shot timing

The CDC says everyone who is 6 months old or older should get a flu shot. As far as when, they recommend that people get their flu vaccines before the end of October. However, some age groups need two doses (children who are age 6 months to 8 years). They should get their first vaccine as soon as it's available so they can get their second dose by the time October ends. 

More: When Is the Best Time to Get Your Flu Shot?

How you (& your doctor) can help your kids

That being said, you are getting ready to take your child in to get their flu shot, but you're silently stressing out about the whole experience. How can you make the vaccine experience better, especially for those who are young enough to need more than one shot? Thankfully, we consulted a few experts who had some amazing tips for us.

More: How to Overcome a Fear of Needles (From Someone Who Has Done It)

Read to them

Parents can help prepare their kids before they even hop in the car to go to the doctor's office, Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatric obesity specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SheKnows. He suggests reading a book about going to the doctor or getting vaccines, which can make doctor visits a little more comfortable.

You get a shot too

Ganjian has another suggestion as well, which would work if you all go to the doctor as a family. "Let them know you get shots too," he explains. "When families come in for the flu vaccines, I give the vaccine to parents first so the parents can model the appropriate response to getting vaccines — I remind parents to smile while getting the vaccine."  

Talk to them

Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows that she has a few tricks that she tries when approaching a child with a needle in hand. "I try to talk with kids that are older about what it is preventing," she says. "I never lie. I tell them it will hurt for a second and then it will be done."

Distract them

Distraction is an amazing tool that parents should absolutely use, says Posner, especially if their child is young and easily distracted. "I try to have a parent distract them as much as they can — with a video on a phone or a book," she adds.

Bribe them

No, we are definitely not above bribing our kids, especially if it's to get them some preventative health care. Ganjian says that a reward or a treat can make the shot more bearable. 

Try a Buzzy

Some doctor's offices carry these, but if they don't, it may be an investment you're willing to make, especially since your child will have plenty of flu shots as they grow up. A Buzzy is a device that you place on your child's arm or leg that vibrates and overwhelms nerves that transmits pain, and while Posner says that the anticipation may be worse than the actual shot, it still might work for your child.

Try a topical lidocaine

Ganjian says a topical ointment called Emla can be applied at least 30 minutes before the vaccine (your doctor can provide this). It can make the vaccine hurt less.

More: How to Help a Toddler Who's Scared of Shots — & Avoid a Meltdown

Consider the nasal spray 

If your child is inconsolable and you're second-guessing your decision to get the shot in the first place, Ganjian says that the nasal spray flu vaccine is better than nothing. However, there is a caveat. 

"Remember, that the nasal spray flu vaccine is not as effective as the shot and is only recommended for children who will otherwise not receive the flu shot," he warns. "The thought process is that it is better to have some immunity with the nasal spray than no immunity at all. Nevertheless, aim for the best option — the flu shot." 

It's also important to note that the nasal spray is not acceptable for certain people, like kids under 2, people with weakened immune systems and kids with asthma who are 5 years or older. 

Take heart, moms & dads

You're not alone with a freaked-out child who is terrified of needles, and your child's doctor is accustomed to helping kids get a flu shot. Keep these tips in mind as you make your appointment, and it should be a smooth(er) experience instead of one everyone dreads every year.  

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