Getting shots: Help your child have a better visit

Time for a vaccine?

How to make the visit less scary for your child.

Preventive care helps us avoid illness or disease. That is why physicals and well visits are recommended for everybody. One essential part of preventive care is vaccination, which starts when we are infants. As children get older, they become aware that the visit often involves a shot. This can be scary and the starting point for a lifelong fear of needles. Here are some tips to help ease the anxiety.

Before the visit

Little girl smiling

Everything is easier when we are prepared. Before the visit, read any information your pediatrician provides and make a note of your questions.

For young children:

  • Bring your child’s immunization record. An accurate record tells the doctor exactly what vaccines are needed next. If your child has seen the same doctor since birth, the doctor’s office should already have it.
  • If your child is sick, call the office to go over symptoms. Decide together if the visit should be cancelled. Usually, a mild illness does not require the visit to be rescheduled.
  • Never use shots as a scare tactic outside of the visit. 
  • Pack a favorite toy, book, or blanket to take along as an extra comfort.
  • Teach your child the importance of vaccines, and how they keep everybody healthy. Using threats and scare tactics will only cause more stress, so focus on the good. 

The above tips are great for older children too. It’s also best to be honest. Explain that shots can sting or pinch, but the pain goes away quickly. Getting support from other family members—especially older siblings—can also help.

At the doctor's office

Try these ideas for a calm and easier visit.

For babies and younger children:

  • Comfort them with a favorite toy or book. A blanket that smells familiar will help them feel more secure.
  • Distract and comfort them by cuddling, singing, or talking softly.
  • Hold your little one on your lap, whenever possible.
  • Smile and make eye contact. Let them know everything is okay.

If your baby is squirmy, scared, or crying, try these soothing techniques:

  • Breastfeed or bottle-feed.
  • If older than six months, offer a sweet drink, like juice.
  • Swaddle your baby.
  • Use skin-to-skin contact.

After the shots have been given, be supportive. Hold, cuddle, and for infants, breastfeed or offer a bottle. A soothing voice, combined with praise and hugs, will help reassure them that everything is okay.

For older children and adolescents:

  • Point out interesting things in the room to help create distractions.
  • Support them if they cry. Never scold them for not “being brave.” Instead, appreciate their fear and let them know it’s okay to be scared, even in that very moment. Tell them, “You’re being so brave!”
  • Take deep breaths together to “blow out” the anxiety and pain.
  • Tell or read stories.

Before you leave the appointment, ask your child’s doctor about using a non-aspirin pain reliever. Also ask for other steps you can take at home to comfort your child.

Remember to schedule your next visit! The best protection against disease is to stay current with your child’s vaccine schedule.

After the shots

Sometimes, children have mild reactions to vaccines, such as pain at the injection site, a rash, or a fever. These reactions are normal and don't typically last long. The following tips will help you identify and minimize mild side effects.

  • Give your child lots to drink. And know that it’s normal for some children to eat less for the 24 hours following vaccinations.
  • Pay extra attention to your child for a few days. If you see something that concerns you, call your doctor.
  • Reduce a fever with a cool sponge bath. If your doctor approves, give acetaminophen (a non-aspirin pain reliever).
  • Take a moment to read the Vaccine Information Sheet typically given to you during the visit. It has helpful information and describes possible side effects your child may experience.
  • Use a cool, wet cloth to reduce redness, soreness, and swelling in the place where the shot was given.

Vaccine schedule

If you’re a Capital Blue Cross member, refer to our preventive schedule and set up your next appointments.

Interested in health and wellness information? Visit Capital Journal for more articles. 

Interested in drug information? Visit our prescription education section.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The information provided is meant for a general audience. Capital Blue Cross and its affiliated companies believe this health education resource provides useful information but does not assume any liability associated with its use.