Is it nearly time for your child’s checkup, and you’re worried about how to prepare your child (or toddler) for a shot? Want to know how to help your child actually like the doctor (instead of dreading going to the pediatrician’s office)? Helping your child with a shot (especially when you don’t care for them yourself) is a struggle for all of us as parents.
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I know how stressful it is to take your toddler or preschooler for their vaccinations, especially if they’re afraid. That’s why I’ve partnered with Starbright Books, publisher of Show Me How to Visit the Doctor, to talk about how to prepare your child for a shot.
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What to do before you take your child to the doctor
How you discuss getting a pediatrician visit in the days leading up to the event makes a big difference in how your child feels about it. It’s your job to help them feel confident about getting a shot. Fortunately, there’s several ways you can do that.
Talk beforehand about getting a shot
It will help your child if you talk to them about what’s going to happen at the pediatrician. “We’re going to the doctor tomorrow so we can see how you’ve grown. The nurse will measure you and tell us how big and strong you are, and then the doctor will check your belly and inside your mouth. And you’ll get a shot, and then we’ll go to the park!”
If you child wants more information about what a shot is like, just tell them. “The doctor has to help you stay healthy and safe, and a shot helps her do that. It will hurt for just a tiny second, and then it will be all done and we’ll go to the park afterwards.” (Notice we keep focusing on the positive outcome after the shot.)
Read books about going to the doctor
To us as adults, it feels like we’re constantly taking our child to the pediatrician and getting them immunizations. But for toddlers, 6 months is a long time! So they may have totally forgotten what the doctor’s office is like between visits.
That’s why it’s helpful to have a book like Show me how to visit the doctor. I love this book because it has real pictures of children interacting with doctors and nurses, showing what each step is like.
This book shows everything from when your child steps into the waiting room all the way to a cheerful goodbye to the doctor (and yes, it also has a picture of a child getting a shot).
Let your child see you get a vaccination
Just like us, the fear of the unknown is often the biggest thing for kids. So if your child watches you get a shot and sees that you’re okay, that will go a long way towards reassuring them.
So if you happen to need a booster or a vaccine a few days before your child’s doctor visit, take them along with you (Obviously, this tactic only works if you can be cool about getting a shot yourself).
Validate your child’s worries
It’s okay if your child is afraid of shots; in fact, it’s totally normal.
So don’t tell your child that it’s silly to be afraid. All that does is belittle them.
Instead, say something like, “I know, it is a little scary to get a shot. I don’t like them either. But I get them to keep myself healthy. And don’t forget, we get to go to the park after your doctor visit!”
Don’t let your child think there’s any wiggle room about getting their vaccine. If they start begging not to go or not to get a shot, just tell them, “I know it’s scary, but this is something we have to do. We’ll be as quick as possible, and then we can go play.”
For that matter, don’t use a shot as a threat either. No, “Stop misbehaving or I’ll take you for a shot!”
Remember, we want to associate immunizations with a positive experience – cuddles, play time after, and yes, even candy or ice cream.
Prepare your child for a shot at the doctor’s office
While getting ready ahead of time for your child’s shot is a great idea, it’s also important to carry that attitude on inside the pediatrician’s office. Here’s tips to help you and your child be comfortable at their doctor’s visit.
Don’t give Tylenol or Motrin before a shot
It’s tempting to try to prevent fever and body aches before a shot with a little dose of Tylenol. Unfortunately, this pre-inoculation medication may actually make the vaccine less effective in the long run because it interferes with the body’s immune response (interestingly, Tylenol or NSAIDS given 4 hours after a shot doesn’t seem to cause problems).
Instead, take a wait and see approach. If your child develops a fever after a vaccine, give them something afterwards.
Let your child be in charge (where they can be)
Have you ever noticed how feeling in-control of a situation helps you be less anxious? The same is true for your child.
What can your child control when they’re getting a shot? Perhaps they can choose which arm is chosen, or maybe what color of bandage they get afterwards. Any little choice you and/or the doctor give them can be a chance to empower your child.
RELATED: 6 ways to build resilience in your kids
Let your child sit in your lap
Especially for younger toddlers, sitting in your lap and cuddling is a great way to help them feel reassured during a shot. Plus, it makes it easier for you to distract your baby.
You may need to ask the nurse if he or she is okay with your child being in your lap for a shot. Often, those with pediatric experience know how great this strategy is and will let you.
Bring a stuffed animal
Does your child have a favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or other lovey? Bringing it may help him or her feel more confident.
Keep yourself calm
Your mood rubs on your your child. So if you’re stressed out about your child’s shot, they likely will be too. In fact, studies have shown that how you behave during your child’s immunization affects how distressed your child will be.
With that said, over-reassuring your child can increase their distress too (as can apologizing to your child that they have to get a shot). Remember, you want to appear calm and in control to your child.
RELATED: 3 ways to practice mindfulness for moms
Don’t call the doctor or nurse “mean”
Whatever you do, don’t deflect your own worry or guilt about letting your child experience the pain of a shot by shifting blame onto your healthcare provider. After all, they’re helping your child, not hurting.
Plus, you don’t want to teach your child to be scared of the doctor. It’s important that they see him or her as a positive figure.
Help your child relax
Have you taught your child any mindfulness activities? Something simple, like breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth, with you can help them stay calm during a shot.
RELATED: 5 mindfulness activities for toddlers
Distract your child
Alternatively, studies have shown that distraction can really help a young child cope with getting a shot. Give them a simple task, like, “Look for something red,” or “Can you count how many buttons are on my coat?” Getting them into thinking mode moves them out of their panicking “lizard brain.”
How to help your child after a shot
Hooray, you did it! Of course, there are often tears after a shot. Here’s how to comfort your child immediately after.
Emphasize their bravery
Even if they get upset, your child was still brave for going through with the shot (and even if they weren’t very brave, you want to make sure they feel brave for the future).
RELATED: 6 steps to calm tantrums
Tell them, “Wow, you must be so proud of yourself for getting your shot!” Notice you’re not making it about how you feel about them; you’re helping them notice and name their own emotions.
Breastfeed after a shot
If your child still breastfeeds, nursing is a great way to get some cuddles and skin-to-skin in and calm your little one down. Often, the nurse will let you stay in the exam room as long as you need to finish a breastfeeding session before checkout.
RELATED: Benefits of toddler breastfeeding
While I’m not huge on rewarding behavior (we want our kids to grow up with intrinsic motivation instead of just doing things because they want a prize), I think shots are an exception. Heck, I often treat myself to a milkshake after a booster. Why not do the same for my child?
Food, like chocolate or ice cream, are always great bribery. But if you don’t want to use food as a motivator, a trip to the park or another fun play date is also a great option.
Conclusions on preparing your child for a shot
Hopefully after reading this article, you feel better prepared for taking your child to their next doctor’s visit.
Really, it’s all a balance: On one hand, you want to let your child know what to expect, but you also don’t want to let them get too stressed beforehand. So stay calm and introduce the concept of a pediatrician visit to your child (and remember, a book like Show me how to visit the doctor can really help).
Good luck with your child’s next immunization, and enjoy your special treat after!