A regular immunization schedule for children means quite a few shots in the first year, and this can make even the chillest child lose their cool. But immunizations are hugely important in helping to keep your little one healthy and protected against serious disease.
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to help Baby feel good about visiting their healthcare provider—even when shots are involved—and to feel good about being there yourself.
How you can help yourself feel less stressed
Be prepared. Let’s be honest: a lot of parents get stressed about provider visits. And sometimes this stress can arise because there’s fear of the unknown. So if you have any questions about the visit or the immunizations, ask your child’s healthcare provider. You can be in touch before the appointment (by calling or sending a message online) or write down your questions in advance to ask day of.
Fake it ‘til you make it. If preparation doesn’t help you feel any less stressed, you’ll still want to do all you can to keep your cool so you can best support Baby, help them feel positive about the experience, and make any brief immunization ouchies just one moment in an otherwise nice visit. So if you don’t actually feel calm, it’s advisable to at least act calm and not reactive. Even very small children are incredibly observant, and if they notice that you’re tense, they may start to get worried too.
A note on needle phobia: Some people have a debilitating fear of needles, and this can make provider visits understandably challenging. If this describes you, ask your child’s provider how you can work together to help manage this fear so that you can feel as good as possible about the experience and your little one can still receive their immunizations.
How you can help Baby feel less stressed
- Stay positive! Talk about all of the fun things that will happen at your little one’s visit to see their healthcare provider. Is there a fish tank in the waiting room? Some cool toys and books that you don’t have at home? You can even get excited about what might bookend your visit—do you get to walk past a park on your way there or will you grab some lunch on the way home? Talk about this in advance of the visit and point out all these exciting things while you’re there. And don’t forget to talk about how visiting the provider helps to keep them healthy and strong. All of this can help Baby build positive associations with provider visits.
- Be honest. Speak honestly about what happens at a visit to see their provider, which may sometimes include getting shots. It’s especially great to do this as you play pretend together. Improvise with whatever you have on hand — a crayon can easily be a pretend needle. When you give your child a ‘shot,’ tell them that they’ll feel a quick pinch from the needle, but that it will be over quickly and then they should feel just fine. And be sure to take turns and have them give you a ‘shot’ too—after the quick pinch give them a smile and let them know you feel okay!
- Embrace distraction. It’s totally normal for children to feel afraid when it’s time to get a shot, and sometimes tears are inevitable. Distraction before the shot, when the shot takes place, and immediately after that quick pinch can be helpful. You can sing a favorite soothing song, bring Baby‘s favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or toy to snuggle with or hold during the shot or to play with immediately after. If they use a pacifier, you can offer them that. You can also have them look at, say, the cool giraffe painting across the room or the bright light on the ceiling to have them focus on something other than the needle. Medical professionals are typically pros at helping with all of this, and will behave and speak in a way that doesn’t draw extra attention to any needles, pricks, or ouchies.
- Hold Baby close. The medical professionals at the appointment can help advise you on this too. Depending on how old Baby is, where on their’s body they plan to administer the shot, and on how calm or upset they are about what’s going on, they’ll let you know how to best hold them so that they can remain still while the shot is administered. Sometimes this might mean you hold your little one in your arms, across your lap, or even with their legs between your own. Regardless of how Baby is positioned, you’ll want to aim for holding them much like you would when you give them a calm hug with firm pressure, but not squeeze too tight.
- Soothe Baby after the shot. Even with all the prep in the world, that quick pinch can still leave your little one needing some love. After the shot, snuggle Baby and speak in a soft and calm voice. Smiles and reassuring eye contact can also help. Tell them that they'll be okay soon, did great, and was so brave—even if they were screaming and trying to bolt for the door the entire time.
All of this should help the immunization visit go smoothly. And even if you weren’t both able to be stress-free the whole time, stay positive and do all you can to help your little one feel good about the experience. Remind Baby—and yourself—that they did wonderfully and will have a good visit next time too.