Getting a jab at the doctors can be a stressful time for kids, especially when they become aware of what’s going on. Now that we’re well into flu season, here are 10 tips from Dr Rhys for how you can prepare for your next immunisation.
1.Prepare in advance
There’s nothing worse than being surprised with a needle. Tell your child that they will be getting a needle. Don’t build it up into a big deal: telling them a week before and the morning of is enough. Treat it like it’s just one of those things that has to be done. Find some YouTube clips or books that talk about getting a needle from the doctor. These stories help normalise that it’s a bit scary, but that in the end it’s all fine. This is a great tactic for the 4-year-old vaccines – often the first age the kids become more aware. By saying things like “Your 4-year-old needles are an important part of turning 4,” it won’t become a big surprise.
2. Be honest
This one is about trust. If your child asks if the needle will hurt, it’s OK to say that it might, but only a little and very quickly. If you promise that it won’t hurt and then it does, the next vaccine will be a lot harder.
3. Don’t bring your own anxiety into the room
As a parent or carer, you have an important role to play. Your confidence can make getting a vaccine so much easier for your child. For example, if you’re getting a flu jab at the same time as your child and are scared of needles, book an appointment for a different day so you don’t have to worry.
4. Have a reward and make it the focus of the event
Every time you talk about getting a needle, put more importance on what they get afterwards for being brave. This could be a treat, some computer/iPad time, a special sticker or a visit to Nan’s. It makes me so happy when a parent comes in and says with the child there, “We’re getting a flu jab today and then we are going to the park for a reward for being so brave!” It means that we can all get involved and get keen for that reward!
5. Be creative with distractions
The main reason that needles are scary is because our brain focuses too much attention on them. I can’t count how many times someone has said, “Is that all?” after I’ve jabbed them. Kids are easy to distract. I like to make lots of noise and have funny things to look at to confuse their little minds, so they don’t even feel it. Watching a Wiggles music video while myself and an older sibling are pulling funny faces or blowing bubbles goes down perfectly.
6. Be prepared to distract afterwards
Some little ones realise afterwards that they’ve been jabbed, and it can quickly escalate to panic. So as soon as that band aid is on everyone needs to go into celebratory mode. I usually yell a lot of “That’s done! Good work!”, start clapping and celebrating and bring out their sticker or lollipop reward. Again, all this fuss can sometimes stop the brain from panicking and let them forget about that little sting.
7. Don’t build anticipation
If you’ve got a few kids coming to get a fluvax together, one thing that can build anticipation is when they all watch each other. This is a recipe for disaster, even when the first few go perfectly. The last sibling is always watching, seeing the needles, getting more and more panicked. I like to take adults or kids in separately (with a parent/carer), get it done and then move on to the next one. You can then give each kid a little pep talk about telling their brothers and sisters that it didn’t even hurt.
I find this really useful for older kids, teenagers and adults when there’s a lot of panic beforehand. Often, we create this idea of how horrible it’s going to be, but once it’s all over feel a little silly and don’t reflect on it. Once everything has settled, spend some time talking about how they felt beforehand and what they were worried about and then compare it to what they felt when it actually happened. Let them explain it in their own words. Doing this after every vaccination will help them become less fearful over time.
9. Is it a phobia?
For older kids and teenagers, feeling a little uncomfortable about getting a needle is very normal. However, for those with a needle phobia, seeing, interacting with or even thinking about a needle can bring on symptoms of anxiety or panic including racing heart, chest pain, hot and cold flushes, dizziness and nausea. Teenagers and adults with needle phobias will sometimes avoid the doctor, dentist or getting blood tests. If this is the case, book an appointment to talk to your doctor. There are great programs and therapies designed to help manage this phobia – you don’t have to suck it up and do it alone.
10. Remember why you’re doing it
At the end of the day, the diseases that we are trying to prevent are pretty horrible. If anyone you know has ever had influenza or whooping cough, you will know that getting a quick needle is much easier! But remember: it’s hard for kids to comprehend this. So even if you try everything above and it still goes horribly, it’s better than the alternative.