Getting a jab at the doctor’s can be stressful for kids, especially when they become aware of what’s happening. Now that we’re well into flu season, here are 10 tips on how to prepare for your child’s next immunisation.

1.Prepare in advance

Surprises with needles are never fun. Inform your child that they will be getting a needle. Keep it low-key: telling them a week before and on the morning of the appointment is sufficient. Treat it like a routine task. Find YouTube clips or books that talk about getting a needle from the doctor to normalise the experience. For the 4-year-old vaccines, often the first-time kids are more aware, saying things like “Your 4-year-old needles are an important part of turning 4” can help avoid surprises.

2. Be honest

This is about trust. If your child asks if the needle will hurt, it’s okay to say that it might, but only a little and very quickly. If you promise that it won’t hurt and it does, the next vaccine will be much harder.

3. Don’t bring your own anxiety into the room

As a parent or carer, your confidence can make a big difference. If you’re also getting a flu jab and are scared of needles, book your appointment for a different day so you can stay calm for your child.

4. Have a reward and make it the focus

Whenever you discuss the needle, emphasise the reward they’ll get afterward for being brave. This could be a treat, some computer/iPad time, a special sticker, or a visit to Nan’s. It’s encouraging when a parent says, “We’re getting a flu jab today and then going to the park as a reward for being so brave!” It gets everyone excited for the reward.

5. Be creative with distractions

Needles are scary because our brains focus too much on them. Kids are easily distracted. Watching a Bluey video while making funny faces or blowing bubbles can work wonders. Often, kids say, “Is that all?” after the jab.

6. Distract afterwards

Some kids realise they’ve been jabbed afterward, leading to panic. Everyone should go into celebratory mode as soon as the band-aid is on. “That’s done! Good work!”, start clapping, and give out stickers. This fuss can help distract from the sting.

7. Don’t build anticipation

If multiple kids are getting vaccinated together, watching each other can build anticipation and anxiety. Take each child in separately with a parent or carer, get it done, and then move on to the next. Each child can then reassure their siblings that it didn’t hurt.

8. Debrief

For older kids, teenagers, and adults, discussing the experience afterward can be helpful. Talk about how they felt beforehand, and what they were worried about, and compare it to how they felt during the actual jab. Let them express it in their own words. This can help reduce fear over time.

9. Is it a phobia?

Feeling uncomfortable about needles is normal, but for some older kids and teenagers, it can be a phobia. Symptoms of anxiety or panic, like a racing heart, chest pain, dizziness, and nausea, can occur. If this is the case, consult a doctor. There are programs and therapies to help manage needle phobia.

10. Remember why you’re doing it

The diseases we’re trying to prevent are much worse than a quick needle. Even if the vaccination experience is tough, it’s better than the alternative. Kids may not fully understand this, but it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind.

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