Don’t Skip the Flu Shot: Soothe Your Child with These Distraction Techniques

As a parent, it’s tough to see our children twist and turn and cry and scream when it’s time for them to get their vaccines. All we want to do is soothe them and keep them healthy year-round, and we never like seeing them in pain.

With the FluMist not being offered by many physicians this year due to ineffectiveness, you may be apprehensive about getting your child – or even yourself – a flu shot. But as a mom and physician, I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Definitely still get yourself and your family vaccinated. Everyone six months and older should get them unless there is a medical reason not to. Vaccines are the most effective way to protect against influenza and other diseases.
  2. There are so many ways to help comfort your child when receiving a shot, and as a parent, you are the key to success!

Our child-life specialists here at Nationwide Children’s break distraction techniques down into age-specific, evidenced-based techniques:

Infants: The smallest of patients just want to be close to Mom and Dad most of the time. Little ones respond well to swaddling, snuggling, pacifiers, and breastfeeding to help calm and distract from pain.

Younger children (2-6 years old): As parents, we find ways to use technology to our advantage, and this is definitely one of those times when it helps! Younger kids like videos and music, singing, and special positioning to keep calm. This age group also likes to have opportunities for choice and control, like choosing whether they want to watch an injection or not, deciding which arm is used, and having a role like holding their bandage.

Older children (6 years and older): School-aged children respond well to relaxation techniques like deep breathing, praise, and guided imagery, like picturing and talking about a favorite place. This age group also likes to know what is happening, so parents should feel comfortable talking with their kids about what is going to happen at their doctor’s appointment. Your child’s physician can also let them touch the alcohol swab, see the needle, and ask any questions they have about what their doctor is doing.

Anxiety or fear related to getting a shot are absolutely normal, and every child will react differently. If you know there is something that works for your child, let your pediatrician know so they can implement that technique during your visit. As parents, we set the stage for how a child will react to what is coming, so being honest and collaborating with your physician is important.

Melissa Winterhalter, MD
Melissa Winterhalter, MD, has been a physician with the Section of Ambulatory Pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital for 10 years. She lives in Granville with her husband – a family medicine doc – and their two sons, Eli (9) and Seth (7).

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