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How can I help my anxious child prepare for the COVID-19 vaccine?

Families/Kids Vaccines

🛑 Stop. 🫁 Breathe. ✨Don’t Panic.

✔️ And then try a few of the tried and true strategies are here (with thanks and appreciation to Dr. Aparna’s former colleagues at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for their guidance and training).

📅 The bottom line: It is all about the preparation!

1. Keep it simple and honest! Use clear and simple language to describe what will happen. Do not trick your child into thinking they are going somewhere else or doing something else. Make sure you use the right words to describe what will happen. For example, some children will not understand the word “shot.” Using the right term like vaccine or injection can help and make it not sound too scary. And tell them how the vaccines work. Kids are curious and videos like this can help.

2. Motivate! Think of what motivates your child and write it down. This might be a catch phrase, like “I am strong.” Or it could be something that reminds the child why they are getting the vaccine like “Visiting my grandparents for a week.” If and when your child is anxious in the moment, pulling out this phrase or statement can help to focus your child on what they are doing and why.

3. Do a dress rehearsal and make it fun! Practice how things are going to go with your child. To help give you some ideas, check out videos that kids are making about the vaccine or Sesame Street’s special on the vaccine. When you are ready to practice, take a calm and relaxed posture to convey to your child that they should also be calm and relaxed. Remind your child that they can do hard things, just like they have done before. Tell your child where they will sit (by your side, across from you) and if/how you will hold them (See here for safe holds during vaccination). Show them pictures of other children getting vaccines so that they know what it will look like. Remind them that it will feel like a lot of other vaccines they have had and that it will just hurt for a little bit. Remind your child that they will have to wait for 15 minutes after they get the vaccine. Some children will have to wait for 30 minutes if they have had a history of an allergic reaction.

4. Boring is the goal! If they are afraid of needles, gradually introduce the idea of needles. Maybe start by showing them a picture of a needle before watching a video of a vaccine being given. Then increase the time that they look at the picture or watch a video or talk about it every day. Once they become bored of watching them, it could be time for the real situation. You may take your child to the place where they will have a vaccine and see if someone will walk you through it or watch another family member get a vaccine. Once the experience is no longer interesting, anxiety will go down. As a colleague once said, “you cannot be bored and anxious at the same time.” The more you do something the less new and scary it seems.

5. Reward the activity! After your child gets the vaccine, make sure you have something to look forward to doing afterwards. It could be a candy, something they have wanted, or simply 1 on 1 time with you. It doesn’t have to be something purchased-it could even be going to a favorite park or playground.

6. Bring comforting items. Does your child have a favorite toy, game, book, or stuffed animal? These are all great things to bring. You can ask the person giving vaccines to pretend to give one to the stuffed animal first, for instance. You can even ask for an extra Band-Aid! If your child is a little nervous usually, call ahead and ask if the site has things like comfort items, yoga mats, and toys. Ice packs, gum, fidgets, and sweets (sugar helps with pain!) can all help your child to stay distracted from the little bit of pain from the needle. If you are worried about your child fainting or needing to lie down, a yoga mat can be comforting for the child.

7. Set yourself up for success. Make sure you arrive calmly. Get there early, don’t rush, and create the ideal conditions to be there (be well rested, drink plenty of water, and minimize other distractions). Try to get there first thing in the morning if your child is anxious around other people. Later in the day and after school times tend to be more crowded. Bring snacks, blankets, and anything else to be comfortable so that you are prepared for all scenarios (waiting, crying, discomfort).

8. Praise, praise, and then praise more! Tell your child what an excellent job they have done! Remind them of how proud you are that they were able to make it through getting a vaccination and that they are helping other people!

🧡 We hope these tips help you talk about the vaccine with your child and prepare for getting the vaccine.

Stay safe. Stay Sane.

With Love,

Those Nerdy Girls

Additional Links:

University of Michigan How to Prepare Your Child

CHOP Needle Fears and Phobias

Watch: Sid the science kid getting a shot

Overcoming Injection Fears

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