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7 Ways to Make Shots Easier if Your Child is Scared of Needles

Vaccines, injections, lab draws, and pokes are often common triggers for emotional upset in children. Whether it is in response to the pain experienced itself, seeing the needle, or the thought of being poked, reacting with emotions is common and normal. This does not mean, however, that there are not things parents and healthcare professionals can do to make it an easier experience. Making something "easier" does not mean the child does not have an emotional reaction, but rather, creates an experience that encourages more participation, decreases trauma, and increases the child's ability to return to baseline after the poke is done. Below are some easy tips for you to try next time if your child is scared of shots and has an appointment coming up.

Little girl scared of getting a shot
Getting a shot can be scary, but our team at Hearts Connected can help.

1. Set limits:

  • Remind your child that they must get the poke; this is not negotiable. Provide simple (honest) information as to why they are receiving the shot/injection/blood draw.

  • Set a time limit. Let your child know how long the appointment is so they know the expectation is to complete the poke within that time. Use a visual of a clock or set a timer so the child can visually see what to expect in regards to length of time.

  • Some children do best if they know that they have 1 or 2 attempts to lay still on the bed before medical staff or family assist them.

  • It is helpful when parents remain supportive and calm, but firm in expectations.

2. Offer your child choices when appropriate:

  • Children cope best when they know what to expect. This can increase their sense of control. Create a plan with your child for the poke that provides opportunities for choices that increases their capability to positively cope.

  • Choices to consider: Does your child want to look at the injection, or look away? Do not assume they need/want to look away or force their head in the other direction if they are showing signs that they are wanting to see the procedure. Some children (even young) cope best when seeing! Does your child want a countdown? Does your child want to be told each step of the process? Does your child want to play with a toy, watch something on the phone or iPad, hold your hand, etc.? Does your child want to sit by themselves or be held by you/sit next to you?

3. Offer pain management tools:

  • Ask the nurse what is available.

  • EMLA is a white numbing cream that needs to be placed on the injection site 45+ minutes prior to the injection.

  • Buzzy Bee is a vibrating tool that should be held on the injection site for 30+ seconds prior to the injection. Right before the injection, slide Buzzy so that Buzzy is located in between ‘the brain and the pain’.

  • ShotBlocker distracts the brain from the specific site of where the poke is occurring by adding milder poke sensations surrounding the area that will be poked.

4. Remind your child what their role is:

  • Children cope best when they know what is expected from them.

  • Encourage them to keep their arm or leg still. If your child is receiving a poke in the arm, remind them that they can wiggle their legs or toes, but that they must keep their arm still.

  • Remind your child to keep their muscle relaxed, like a cooked spaghetti noodle.

5. Position for Comfort (and success):

  • Ask the provider if your child can sit up instead of lying flat on backside for the poke. Children are more fearful when having to lie flat since this is the most threatening position a child can be in.

  • Comfort positions immobilizes extremities by offering a secure position with the caregiver through close contact and comfort.

  • Sitting upright promotes a sense of control and if done properly, promotes compliance.

  • The caregiver participates in positive assistance, not negative restraining, while decreasing trauma for both the child and caregiver.

6. Encourage your child to take deep breaths:

  • Use bubbles or the concept of blowing birthday candles out to help encourage your child to ‘blow away the pain’.

  • Model slow, deep breaths for your child before and during the poke. They will look to you for support and guidance.

7. Celebrate the successes:

  • It is important for your child to be recognized when they’ve tried their best.

  • When giving praise, choose something concrete such as “you did a great job holding your arm still”.

  • Giving rewards such as hugs, stickers, or a special treat can help your child feel that their actions are validated.

Keep in mind that how you are feeling has a big impact on how your child will react during a medical procedure. Stress is contagious, but so is calm. Children do better at regulating their own nervous system and emotions if they can sense that your own emotions and nervous system is also calm and relaxed.

If your child has an upcoming injection, poke, shot, or lab draw, and you are concerned about their coping, Hearts Connected is here to help! Connect with us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your options!


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