Written by Team ParentCircle and published on 23 July 2021.
Injections are scary to the young and old alike. Here are 6 practical ways to help your toddler cope with the fear of needle shots.
It was a busy Monday morning and three-year-old Raju was due for his vaccination. His mom, Vaishali was tired after clearing up his birthday party mess from last night. She also knew she had to go to work after her son's vaccination. Morning madness was getting to her and somehow her son picked up that he was going to meet the doctor. A nervous Raju became very cranky and clingy. His fear of being injected was increasing with every passing moment. Vaishali tried calming him down but to no avail. She had to forcibly carry Raju to the doctor and the injection experience there was more painful than the injection itself. Her day went for a toss and she was left wondering what could have gone wrong. She wrote to ParentCircle, asking for tips to handle the fear of injections. We then reached out to other parents who've been there, done that before...
Relaxation techniques are helpful in managing many health conditions, including fear and anxiety. While parents, teachers and physicians can all help the child relax, teaching simple relaxation techniques to the child himself will help him for life.
Divya recounts her story: My daughter was timid and shy as a child. When I noticed that she was getting nervous about meeting new people and going through new experiences, I tried to help her relax by distracting her with her favourite books. I called her to my side and, while she snuggled on my lap, I turned the pages of Winnie the Pooh slowly, murmuring words of comfort in her ear. The trick seemed to work. She forgot that she was nervous and she returned to being her cheerful self again.
I used the same trick when she had to get her vaccine shot that week. While waiting at the clinic, I held her close and read to her while she munched on her favourite bar of chocolate. I could see she was visibly relaxed. And, when it was time for the injection, she walked in bravely to get the shot!
Positive reinforcement: During moments of distress, talk to your child about things she likes to do and places you have enjoyed visiting as a family. This will distract her and help her relax. Allow her to carry her favourite chocolate or toy to the clinic. A little bit of indulgence during pain can do no harm. You could also teach your child breathing exercises to calm her.
Pain in all forms is a temporary condition. Most of the time, putting up with pain patiently results in progress or success in life.
Sudhakar recounts his story: My wife and I believed that our 2-year-old daughter must grow up into a self-sufficient and confident adult who picked herself up on falling and moved on with life. We helped her inculcate this habit by letting her fall when she ran and allowing her to cry a little when she hit her head against the table before telling her it was OK and she would be fine.
By the time she was 3, she was a brave little fighter. She did not fear getting injured and knew she would be fine again if she stopped thinking about her pain. This training stood her in good stead and whenever she had to go to the clinic for a shot, she walked in without so much as a frown.
Positive reinforcement: Teach your child that the doctor who would give her the shot is trained and has administered shots many times before. Explain to your child that the doctor can be trusted to make the shot as painless as possible.
One of the best ways to overcome fear is by role playing. Practising a role instils confidence in the child and gives her the strength to handle anxiety.
Rahul recounts his story: My son was a huge fan of Superman, so much so that he believed he was junior Superman. I bought him a Superman costume which he wore happily and strutted about chanting, "I'm much stronger than you think I am". In due course, he began thinking he was as strong as his idol and came to believe that handling fear and pain was "child's play"!
Brave as he was, my son was still apprehensive about the pain an injection would bring him. When the time came for the annual tetanus shot, I sensed a tinge of worry on his face. Immediately, I reminded him of his Superman costume. Wearing that for a while before going to the clinic calmed him and he became his usual brave self.
And, would you believe that he even told the doctor who was going to give him the shot that he was Junior Superman and didn't fear the needle!
Positive reinforcement: Play the doctor-patient game with your child and tell her that doctors are friends. And friends can do no harm. This will go a long way in removing the fear of the injection from your child's mind.
It is important to tell the truth because truth ultimately prevails. Truth rises above all emotions and helps a person understand himself better. All children lie at some point in their lives and parents are the strongest influencers in getting their child to speak the truth. Use age-appropriate ways to communicate to your child that lying is bad.
Catherine recounts her story: I recall an incident that happened when my son was three. He loved punching animal stamps on paper. He continued for a couple of days and when he got bored of doing it on paper, he punched a few stamps on the wall. When I questioned him about it, he put on a puppy dog face and said he didn't do it. Then, I knew I needed to talk to him about telling the truth. So I read Pinocchio to him that afternoon and showed him what lying could do. I also promised a reward of 2 additional stamps every time he told the truth.
In the days that followed, the idea of telling the truth was so engrained in him that I noticed him running up to me with trivial things that he had done wrong, and basking in the love showered on him for being open. Then, he fell sick. The doctor wanted to give him an injection about which he was quite unhappy. That's when the training in truth-telling helped. I told him that the injection was going to be painful, but not taking it would make him sicker. I also explained that I was telling him the truth and he would be better soon. He got his shot without much of a fuss and walked out with the happy thought that he would be fine again.
Positive reinforcement: Talk to your child in such a way that you build a relationship of trust. Do not overreact or shout at your toddler when you catch him lying and soon he'll know he can tell you the truth without the fear of punishment. This trust will build his confidence to overcome fear of any sort.
A coping card is a tool used to reduce anxiety. Children are encouraged to decide what will go into the card and develop it so that they don't consider it a chore. The words on the card serve as encouragement for the child to handle discomfort.
Prakash recounts his story: My 4-year-old son is an energetic and cheerful brat. He is good natured and friendly, and loves talking. The only time I have seen him withdrawn and quiet is when he needs to be given an injection. A psychologist friend suggested a simple technique - that of using a coping card. I told my son that we would play a pretend game-I was getting an injection and he must write on a piece of chart paper words that he would use to comfort me. And, what he wrote brought a smile to my lips, "The injection will pain for a second, and when that's over, I'll give a hug!" This brought in him a transformation. He no longer saw an injection as a painful thing to fear. The next time my son had to go for a shot, do you think he was afraid? Of course not! He was holding on tightly to his card, you see.
Positive reinforcement: Observe your child to find out what comforts him - his favourite food, a long walk, a story or a toy. Tell him that he must write about it on the card and that it would help him feel brave when he was worried about something.
Nursing professionals are often seen tapping or pinching the site prior to injection. Numbing creams are also used to reduce pain, for children over the age of two. This action partially desensitises the area and helps calm children and fidgety patients.
Maria recounts her story: I had seen many friends struggle with their children's reaction to injections. From cajoling to spanking and pleading, nothing seemed to work. After trying these tricks myself when I was at the clinic with my 3-year-old son for injections, and realising that they did not help, I decided that I would get some practical help from the doctor himself. I spoke to him about ways to reduce the pain of the injection.
The doctor suggested that we could apply a numbing cream so that my son would feel less pain. To help him get used to the idea that these creams reduced pain, I let him apply a small amount of antibacterial ointment when he cut himself while explaining to him that the ointment would reduce the pain. The trick worked. When the doctor applied anaesthetic cream at the site of the injection, my son was prepared for it and felt less pain.
Positive reinforcement: Tell the medical practitioner about the words and signs your child uses to express pain and discuss with her what can be done to make your child comfortable.