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Children's Health

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Helping Kids Who Fear Vaccines

How to soothe your child when it's vaccination time.

Be honest. continued...

"Saying that shots don't hurt is not a good idea, because shots do hurt, although the amount of pain varies from child to child," says Howard Bennett, MD, author of Lions Aren't Scared of Shots, a picture book to help children feel less anxious about getting vaccinated and a professor of pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine. "A better response is something like, 'It may hurt, but I'll be here with you, and if it does hurt, the pain will only last a little while.'"

Practicing at home helps remind Kira Storch's 3- and 5-year-old sons that shots aren't pain-free. "I say that getting a shot is like getting a pinch on the arm, then I give a light pinch and ask how it felt," says San Francisco resident Storch, whose boys don't cry at the doctor's office. "Five minutes later, I ask how their arm feels, reminding them about the pinch and saying that a shot will be the same."

Try role-playing.

Eliminate the element of surprise by teaching your child what to expect at his appointment.

"At home, parents can read books to their kids about visiting the doctor and encourage them to play doctor," Bennett says. "Sometimes kids who bring stuffed animals to appointments like giving them pretend shots before the doctor gives one to them."

Having a doctor kit on hand helps ease anxiety for the 2- and 4-year-old sons of Sara Sutton Fell of Boulder, Colo. "We play with doctor equipment at home, including a routine of what happens when we go to the doctor's," she says. "And we talk about how everyone has to get shots sometimes, even Mommy and Daddy, because even though they hurt for a quick minute, they can help make us healthier."

Call attention to something else.

When a shot is imminent, distraction may be your best ally. It's been shown to reduce pain and anxiety associated with needles, Uman's research shows.

How you distract your child should depend on her age.

"Babies and toddlers can be distracted with singing, stories, or playing with a small toy," Bennett says. "Older children respond well to watching videos or listening to stories or music. Parents can also use cell phones to show movies or photographs to their kids during painful procedures."

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