August is national immunization awareness month. Of course, it’s also back-to-school season, so there’s a good chance shots and physicals are on your mind right now, especially if you’re a healthcare provider, or a parent. If you’re the latter, you may be dreading that office visit even more than your child.
An oft-repeated saying in the world of child life and child and family-centered healthcare is “Children are not little adults.” It’s a simple premise, but one often overlooked. Adults see a shot or IV for what it is: medicine delivered via needle. It hurts for a moment, but goes away. It’s safe. It’s for our own good. Children, on the other hand, don’t reason the same way adults do. What they see is a needle and they don’t usually understand the necessity of having it stuck in their arm. They also likely remember that it hurt last time, and know it’s probably going to hurt again.
Perhaps you’re one of those very lucky parents with a child that just hops up on the table, sticks out their arm and you’re signing out with lollipop in hand in under 10 minutes. However, if that’s not been your experience, here are some tips that might help next time:
Talk with your child ahead of their appointment and explain that the shot or IV is to protect their health—it’s not a punishment—and that it will only sting for a minute.
Invest in a toy medical kit with a play syringe and let younger children “practice” on themselves, you, a sibling or a toy doll.
Once you arrive at the doctor’s office, request that numbing cream or spray be used.
If possible, firmly hug your child while the injection is given or IV is started, or hold hands.
Encourage your child to take deep breaths.
Come prepared with a means of distracting your child during the procedure. Bubbles and picture books work well, as do games on phones or tablets.
Praise your child afterward for being brave and cooperative and give a small reward.