Generally, kids don’t look forward to getting shots. With a COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer approved for kids ages 5 to 11, parents may find themselves having conversations with their child about getting vaccinated.
We asked two OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois pediatric experts for their advice on how to prepare your child for getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The decision to have them vaccinated could have a major positive impact – not only for their health and safety, but also in terms of the pandemic as a whole.
Describe step by step what to expect
“This helps a child understand, to the best of their ability, the medical treatment that is about to happen,” said Frank Han, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at OSF Children’s Hospital. “It is helpful to decrease any anxiety they may be experiencing.”
It’s important to be honest with your child, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Be honest with your child,” the CDC states. “Explain that shots can pinch or sting, but that it won’t hurt for long.”
Trina Croland, MD, medical director, General Pediatrics at OSF Children’s Hospital, suggests parents review material from trusted sources such as the American Academy of Pediatrics on how to address the topic with their kids.
“It’s important for children to feel informed and included in the decision,” Dr. Croland said.
Listen to and empathize with your child’s concerns
“It is helpful for the family to begin a conversation with a child about their upcoming vaccination. They need to take time to answer questions and provide reassurance,” Dr. Han said. “Use terms and phrases appropriate for their understanding,”
Being prepared before the day of the vaccination helps for a better experience, Dr. Croland said.
Waiting until the last minute to tell your child they are getting a shot can create more stress, so do what you can to alleviate that stress.
Dr. Croland suggests using words to create a positive story about their experience. Avoid using certain words with a negative undertone, such as “pain” or “shot.” For example, parents can use the words “pinch,” “poke,” or “immunization” instead of “pain.”
Most of all, let your child know you hear them and understand any anxiety they may be experiencing. Telling them that “it’s not a big deal” lessens their feelings and may heighten their anxiety, she said.
Also, explain to them why getting a vaccine is necessary. They should know it will help them stay healthy and prevent them from getting sick from a harmful infection. Eventually, once they are fully vaccinated, it means having more freedom to do things they’ve missed doing – play dates, visiting elderly relatives and celebrating with family gatherings.
Have children write out questions to ask the nurse or doctor
“I am a big fan of explaining diagnoses or medical interventions to young children using wording appropriate for their developmental level,” Dr. Han said. “This includes bringing in the whole family on the discussion and allow everyone to understand, in this case, the benefits of getting the vaccine.”
Dr. Croland agrees.
“I love it when patients and families bring questions. It shows they’ve been thinking about their care and mutual decision making,” she said. “We want patients and families to feel empowered and open with their health and well-being. An open honest dialogue is critical.
“There’s no right or wrong way to ask a question. And with kids, it could literally be any question, which is what makes pediatrics fun,” she said. “Typically, they just want to know the truth … what is going to happen and whether it’s going to hurt.”
Let them bring a comfort item – a stuffed animal, blanket …
“This helps make an unfamiliar situation more familiar to them,” Dr. Han said. “If a child’s couple of favorite toys are available during a visit, this can help greatly with their comfort level.”
Also, Dr. Croland said if your child wants to be held by you during the vaccination that can be a huge comfort to them. This could be as simple as holding your hand or sitting on your lap and snuggling against you.
Children should also be encouraged to take deep breaths to calm any nerves. As a parent, you can help by doing this with them as the vaccine is administered.
“Anything a parent can do or a child can bring with them to provide them comfort is ideal,” Dr. Croland said.
Other suggestions are to distract your child by telling them a story, singing a song or pointing out things in the room to talk about.
Stay positive and provide a reward
It’s important that you remain positive throughout the vaccination process. Don’t scold your child if they display any anxiety or cry. Comfort them and reassure them that they are getting medicine to help them stay healthy, just like the rest of the family has done.
And when it’s all done – and receiving the actual shot is truly over in a matter of a second or two – tell them how proud you are of them for doing something to stay healthy. Then, stop for a reward on the way home and let them proudly show off their bandage.
If you still have questions
If you have other questions about kids ages 5 to 11 getting the COVID-19 vaccine, check out what a panel of OSF pediatric experts says on the topic.