The past couple of years have made the entire planet grapple with uncertainty, fear, and what it means to be human. Now, as Covid-19 cases still rise but deaths subside, we are learning how to live with the virus that had previously put our lives on hold.
Managing Covid-19 would not have been possible without the incredible medical professionals, researchers, and scientists that developed lifesaving vaccines—and now, regulators in the US have cleared the final authorization steps to allow healthcare providers across the country to start vaccinating kids aged six months to five years old.
While this is great news for public health, this probably doesn’t sound very appealing to many young tykes who struggle with trypanophobia: the fear of needles.
According to some studies, trypanophobia affects most kids under the age of 10 and sometimes gets so bad that even just thinking about needles or blood can cause some kids’ heart rate and blood pressure to rise and drop very rapidly, making them faint.
However, the good news is that with some preparation and understanding, parents and caregivers can help their children overcome their trypanophobia and get their shots.
Devise a plan
Before setting up an appointment at the most convenient place, think about the qualities of the location that would help your child feel comfortable. Consider whether the healthcare providers have experience vaccinating kids and if their personalities are patient and pleasant.
You could start with your child’s own pediatrician so that they are already familiar with them, or consider practices that are experienced with pediatric vaccines like school-based vaccination sites.
Finally, when making an appointment, make sure you choose a time when you and your child won’t feel stressed or rushed. So, instead of choosing to go during a short lunch break, schedule the appointment after school and work or on the weekend.
Help them face their fears
If you know your child will have a difficult time getting a needle or shot, try slowly exposing them to needles a few weeks before their appointment. Read them child-friendly books that depict the main characters getting shots to stay healthy, like “The Berenstain Bears go to the Doctor,” or watch cartoon depictions of needles in books or online so that your child can get used to the idea.
If your child has a toy doctor set, this could be a great resource to help them practice sitting for a shot or to have them try giving you a pretend shot.
If you think it would be beneficial, you can even have your child watch someone else (who is good with getting shots) get vaccinated in real life.
Prepare for the appointment
Before heading out the door on the day of the appointment, think back on other times your child has had to get a shot and try to remember if anything you did then worked well. Is there a favorite toy or person that brings your child comfort? Is it best to tell your child that you’re taking them to get a shot or have you found that they prefer not to know until they get there? Each child is different and will have different reactions.
Let the healthcare team know if your child has needle phobia, but also be encouraging to your child. Tell them that you believe in them and that you’ll be right there with them.
If you think it’s necessary, then around 15 to 20 minutes before the needle, ask your healthcare provider if they can numb the area with an ice pack or lidocaine cream (if approved by your child’s physician).
Relax and distract your child during the visit
Be present with your child while the healthcare provider is getting the vaccine ready. Guide them through calming exercises like mindfulness activities or relaxation techniques like deep breathing or positive visualizations.
Distractions are effective in reducing distress and pain related to needles, so consider allowing them to watch a favorite show or play a fun game on a tablet or smartphone during the process.
While all children are different and may need even more intense approaches to overcoming their fear and anxiety, these tips can offer a good starting point to help both you and your child face their fears and protect their health.