All vaccinations have two things in common:
- They protect us from diseases and illnesses, including measles, polio, influenza and now, COVID-19.
- Virtually all of them involve a needle.
For many who fear needles, that fear can interfere with getting the vaccinations that can protect their health. If this sounds like you, you're not alone. Anyone can be afraid of needles, or their reaction to the vaccine, regardless of age, gender or body type. Fear of needles often starts with one bad experience as a child, teen or adult. Maybe the injection hurt, you felt faint afterward or the circumstances were frightening.
That's where a discussion with your child's care team or your own can make the experience more positive. Let them know that you or your child is anxious about needles or vaccinations and work out a coping plan. If your child is old enough, include him or her in deciding what would reduce that anxiety.
There's not one way that's right for everyone. Here are some evidence-based techniques that work:
During the vaccination, there's no rule against your child playing with a toy, watching a video on your phone or for you to give a friend a quick call. Or try playing I Spy with your surroundings, telling whoever is giving the injection a story about your day or singing a song to yourself.
Close your eyes and take deep breaths. Suggest kids pretend they're blowing bubbles. Even looking away, wiggling your toes or squeezing a ball can help you relax. Hold your child on your lap or in a comfort position, which the care provider can demonstrate. Breastfeeding babies for a couple of minutes before and during the poke is a safe and effective way to calm them.
- Pain relief
Relaxing the area where you'll be getting the injection can reduce pain. Coach your child to make their arm wiggly, like gelatin. Your care team also can offer pain relievers, including vibrating ice packs, cooling sprays and numbing creams.
Afterward, praise your child for a specific accomplishment, such as sitting still or doing a good job at relaxing.
Once you've found a technique or combination that works for you or your child, stick with it, and be sure your care team is aware of your preferences. It will set you and your child on a more positive path to receiving a lifetime of health care with less anxiety and a good attitude.
Jessica Wadium is a child life specialist in La Crosse, Wisconsin.