Back to school… buy school supplies, shop for new school clothes and shoes, arrange car pools… the list goes on and on! And then there’s the dreaded back-to-school doctor’s appointment and vaccinations. Not the most exciting event for caregivers… much less the kids getting the shots! “Mommy, is it going to hurt?” What can a parent do to make this scary experience less worrisome for a child?
What can you do to help your child through this highly anxiety provoking experience? Well, that all depends on your child’s age and temperament. Here’re are a few tips and tricks to try with your little one:
- Prior to going to the doctor, purchase a toy doctor’s kit to help your child get familiar with equipment including a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, thermometer, vaccination (“shot”). Allow your child to play freely with items. While you play with her, talk about what each item does and how it feels, “this is a blood pressure cuff – it will give your arm a hug.”
- Use gentle, non-threatening language to encourage positive coping. For example, instead of calling the vaccination a “needle” or “shot,” call it a “poke.”
- Prepare your child for her visit by telling her the truth about what to anticipate. If you don’t know, you can call ahead and ask. Start by discussing the sequence of events for the visit: from checking her weight, height, and blood pressure to letting her know that the doctor will listen to her heartbeat with a stethoscope.
- When talking about the poke, say, “Yes, there will be a poke, but I will tell you when it will happen. It will be over very soon, and I have some ideas to help make it easier.” If your child is young or is extremely nervous, it is best to prepare her for the specifics of the doctor’s appointment closer to the appointment time.
- Bring a familiar item from home to the appointment to familiarize the environment and help pass the time: for younger children, a favorite blankie or stuffed animal; for older children, a handheld gaming system, tablet or music app.
- Reassure your child that you will be with her throughout her doctor’s visit.
There are various ways to help your child cope with difficult experiences like vaccinations. Some children are information seekers and benefit from watching and/ or knowing what’s about to occur in a non-obtrusive manner by using a soft, quiet voice to let her know the injection is about to occur.
- For many other children, a helpful coping technique would include alternate focus – helping your child focus on an alternate exercise or activity such as slow deep breathing, blowing or popping bubbles, counting, singing a familiar song, or engaging with a light up toy, interactive book, tablet or phone app. Some additional coping techniques for older children may include visualization or guided imagery.
- Use comfort positioning to help your child feel more at ease by having her sit on your lap. When a child is in the upright position, she feels less threatened and less vulnerable, therefore decreasing her distress and increasing her cooperation. An effective position for a vaccination involves the caregiver sitting on a stable chair with the child and grown-up in a chest-to-chest hug in which the adult is able to provide maximum physical comfort while also helping the child remain as still as possible. Ensure your child will not squirm away by pushing her feet against the chair or wall.
- Additional supportive resources are also available. Over-the-counter topical creams help numb the surface of the skin. Although some of these medications do not require prescriptions, many require the pharmacy to order them a few days in advance. While these topical anesthetics intend to numb the skin, each child’s skin response varies. It’s important not to promise your child that the injection will not hurt.
- Another tool that helps decrease the discomforts associated with vaccinations includes the use of cold and vibration. (Check out my colleague’s blog on this exciting new device.) Consider making your own cold and vibration tool by simply using a hand held battery operated massage machine and a pack of ice.
- Support infants by remaining in close physical proximity and allowing them to hear your familiar voice. Nursing your child after an injection may also decrease her distress. Sucrose decreases the pain experienced by infants for procedures such as immunizations. Sucrose may be purchased at your local pharmacy or you can make your own mixture of equal parts of water and table sugar. Dip a pacifier or your finger into the sucrose and allow your child to suck for two minutes prior to the procedure. Reapply mixture through the vaccination.
Remember no one knows your child like you do! Advocate for your child and discuss your preferences with your medical team to incorporate techniques that you know will help your child cope best.