Whether you are just a big old baby or a little one in a diaper, let’s face it: no one likes getting a shot.
As pediatricians, we tend to tune out our patients’ crying because we hear so much of it throughout the course of a day. And we empathize with them when they scream (usually at the top of their lungs) at the prospect of getting an immunization or at the sight of a needle. We know that the shot(s) they are getting will safely prevent one or more infectious horror shows that pediatricians otherwise call “vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Practically every parent living in the real world in the twenty-first century knows that also. (While their voices are amplified by anti-science ideologues and trolls on social media, the number of parents who deny the safety and efficacy of modern vaccines is thankfully very small.) Doctors know immunizations are important and so do parents. Kids, though, not so much.
When it’s time for shots — in our clinics during regular office hours or at one of the many seasonal flu clinics pediatricians provide — my best advice to parents is to always be honest, be positive, and don’t talk about shots too much. Dr. Nicole Baldwin captures a few pet peeves of pediatricians in “Do’s and Don’ts When Talking About Shots.” There are three important “don’ts” that so many parents unfortunately “do”:
DON’T TELL YOUR KIDS THAT SHOTS DON’T HURT.
DON’T THREATEN SHOTS FOR BAD BEHAVIOR.
DON’T VILLIFY THE PERSON GIVING THE SHOTS.
Parental honesty builds trust — a commodity parents often do, but never should, take for granted:
[Telling kids that shots don’t hurt] is a lie. Shots DO hurt. Getting a shot consists of a needle breaking the skin. It’s not a pleasant sensation. When parents tell children that it “won’t hurt” and then it DOES hurt, that child feels like they were just lied to by the person they trust most in the world. Don’t get me wrong, it’s 100% OK to minimize their anxiety by saying things like “it’s just a pinch” or “it only hurts for a second” but PLEASE do not tell them that it doesn’t hurt at all.
And because shots hurt, Dr. Baldwin wants parents to “do” this:
DO allow your child a moment to cry and be upset after their shot. Like I said above, shots hurt. More than anything, some kids are just so scared about shots that their anxiety overcomes them, which manifests in tears. What they need at that moment is a comforting adult. Words like “you were so brave” or “I know it hurts, but it’s all done now and I’m so proud of you” will stop the tears MUCH faster than saying “stop crying” or “it doesn’t hurt that bad.”
Taking proper care of children requires teamwork from pediatricians and parents. This advice helps us enormously:
DO be firm in your decision. Occasionally I will see parents waiver about getting their child’s vaccine done that day when the child starts to cry/melt down/beg to do it another day. While no parent wants to do something that is upsetting to their child, if you waiver and let the crying win, it just reinforces that if they cry/whine/beg enough, then they can get you to change your mind (and no one wants a child that whines to get their way).
And now a word about our wonderful, well-trained staff:
DON’T VILLIFY THE PERSON GIVING THE SHOTS. My medical assistants are some of the most caring people I know. They DON’T enjoy holding kids down or seeing them cry when they give vaccines. They give shots because vaccines keep kids healthy. So no more “here comes the mean lady with the shots” talk – instead talk about how vaccines help protect us from bad diseases and keep us healthy.
Read more from Dr. Nicole Baldwin on her excellent blog Confessions of a Type A Dr. Mom here.