7 Tips to Help Kids Overcome Fear of Needle Shots

Is your child scared of getting shots? Reduce your toddler's anxiety before your next visit to the doctor's office.

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    Getting needle vaccinations might help protect kids against various illnesses, but they sure do hurt. It's no wonder most children are scared of getting shots -- and it doesn't help that they have to get shots so often. In fact, many little ones rack up more than 20 vaccinations by the time they're 4 years old. Here are seven tips to help make the next doctor's visit a little smoother experience.

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    Tell the Truth

    If a child asks whether or not they're going to get shots, don't brush them off or deny it. "Make sure they know that the shot is something that protects them and explain that they're not being punished," says Margaret Fisher, M.D., recent chair of the Section of Infectious Diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Also, don't say the shot won't hurt because kids will learn you are lying and you can lose their trust. Instead, answer simply and honestly, saying, "Yes, it'll hurt, but just for a few seconds." When it's over, make sure to show them a happy, smiling face to let them know they're all done.

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    Don't Reveal Too Much

    Don't give your child too many details prior to the office visit. "If you tell kids too much too soon, you will ruin their entire week and they will worry up until the day of the appointment," explains Ari Brown, M.D., a Parents advisor and author of the Baby 411 series. Instead, don't mention the shot at all unless they ask. If they do, and you know they won't be getting a shot, of course you should tell them so.

    However, if you don't know, you can say, "It's possible you may need one today, but I'm not sure if you do," suggests Dr. Brown. "Being vague usually works just fine -- when I tell kids I have to check the chart to see if they're getting a shot, I usually get a sigh of relief." If you talk about the shots too much, you will likely make your child more anxious for the doctor's appointment, and his concerns can escalate to the point where he's terrified all the way up to the visit.

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    Prevent the Physical Pain

    Some experts suggest applying an anesthetic cream about 20 minutes before the shot, which can help numb the skin. Ask your doctor which brand she recommends. During the vaccination, help distract your child by squeezing his hand, making funny faces, telling a joke or story, playing I Spy, or simply singing his favorite song.

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    Know When to Let Go

    If your child is in hysterics, it might be best to step back and allow the nurse or doctor to take over, advises Dr. Brown. Kids overreact to shots sometimes, knowing they'll get a response from their parents (which may lead to you refusing to go through with the shot). If your kid is throwing a tantrum, consider leaving the room briefly so the staff can do their job. Or try standing in the corner of the room and maintaining eye contact with your child, which provides support without getting in the way. Doing so can help speed up the whole process and minimize the painful experience for everyone involved.

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    Provide Immediate Relief

    After a vaccination, have your child remain seated or rest in your lap for a few minutes to make sure she doesn't get light-headed or dizzy too fast (this can happen when one stands up too quickly, especially after a stressful event). Then rub the injection site if it's sore and decrease any swelling by applying an ice pack for about 10 minutes. Although many doctors do not recommend giving kids painkillers before the shot because it might interfere with the vaccine's effectiveness, some do suggest giving Children's Motrin or Tylenol afterward if she is complaining of pain. Always consult the pediatrician to see what's recommended for your child.

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    Consider a Reward

    Sometimes even a small incentive (like a lollipop or a sticker) can help ease the pain. A special treat gives your child something to look forward to while also acknowledging his bravery and his boo-boo in a positive way. Or promise your child that after his vaccinations, you'll do something special together, like going bowling or getting an ice cream cone.

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    Watch for Possible Side Effects

    When your child receives a vaccination, ask the nurse or doctor for a list (usually from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) of reactions or side effects that might occur. Common, mild, and moderate reactions from most vaccines may include swelling, tenderness, fever, headaches, and even crankiness and fatigue. If your child seems to be experiencing one of the rare but serious side effects, such as an allergic reaction, a seizure, reduced consciousness, or difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately.

    Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

    Dina Roth Port is the author of Previvors: Facing the Breast Cancer Gene and Making Life-Changing Decisions. She has written for publications such as Glamour, Parenting, and The Huffington Post. Visit her website at www.dinarothport.com.

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