Reducing Vaccination Fear and Pain for Children and Youth

Fear of needles is common. Some parents delay or stop vaccinations because of their child’s pain and fear. This can leave children unprotected from serious diseases and may have dangerous consequences for the child, others in their family, and their community.

There are many ways that you can help your child (four years and older) prepare for vaccines:

  • Be honest with your child and explain vaccination using age-appropriate language. Talk to them about: 
    • What happens: “You will get medicine to keep you healthy. The medicine is called a vaccine, and it goes in your arm with a needle.”
    • How it feels: “There may be a pinch or feel like someone is pressing on your arm for a few seconds.”
    • What you do to manage discomfort: Say, “It bothers some children, but other children think it is okay. We will do some things to help so that it is okay for you too”, then discuss what you will do.
    • How your children can help: “You can help by choosing a toy to bring.” Dress your child in a top with sleeves that allow access to the shoulder area.
  • Use topical pain relief (numbing creams).
    • These are available at the pharmacy.
    • You must wait the recommended time for them to take effect. Depending on the product, this can take 30 to 60 minutes. Follow the instructions on the package.
  • Have your child sit upright before, during and after the needle.
    • Your child can be held on your lap.
    • Holding your child too tightly or restraining them may cause distress.
  • Stay with your child, be calm, and use your normal speaking voice.
    • Avoid using reassuring statements like “It’ll be over soon” and statements that increase fear like “This is going to hurt,” as these bring attention to the procedure and can increase distress and pain.
  • Use distraction.
    • Use toys, music, talking or videos to distract your child.
    • Start distracting before the needle.
    • A few children cope better by watching the needle; it is okay if your child wants to watch.
  • Speak to your health care professional or vaccinator, as they may have suggestions that will help.

(Source: Immunize Canada) 

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Last updated: 2024-01-19