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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.

Get creative.

If one shot per doctor's visit is all that your anxious child can endure, consider the following options.

  • Most children aged 2 and older can get FluMist, a safe, effective, painless nasal spray given annually that's an alternative to an annual flu shot. (One less pinch per year.)
  • Some doctor's offices offer synchronized vaccinations. "If a child needs two shots at the same visit, two nurses give the shots simultaneously, which reduces the anxiety of waiting for the second shot," Bennett says. "There's no reason why parents can't ask for this, if the doctor has enough staff on hand to accommodate the technique."
  • For some children, making an additional trip to the doctor for a second vaccination helps. "We only do one at a time," says Michael Owens of Falls Church, Va., whose 3-year-old daughter rarely cries from shots. "When it's necessary to schedule an extra appointment to get in a required shot, her comfort was well worth the extra $20 copay."

Dull the pain.

Numbing the skin may help to lessen pain. Try placing ice on the skin for a minute immediately beforehand, or Buzzy, a new product that uses a combination of cold and vibrations to confuse the nerves at the shot site.

"Topical creams in combination with distraction are effective for reducing pain and distress associated with needles," Uman says. "Many parents aren't aware that these creams can be purchased over the counter."

Numbing isn't right for every child: The cold from ice may hurt and with the topical treatments, the additional waiting can sometimes add to a child's anxiety, Bennett says.

Enlist your child's help.

Older kids who outgrow the tendency to cry may still worry about pain and won't remember that last year's vaccination only stung for a few seconds.

Minimize next year's worries with a brief letter-writing campaign.

"I occasionally encourage a child to go home and write himself a note," Bennett says. "It should say something like: 'Dear Timmy, This is to remind you that you were really worried about your shot today, but it surprisingly didn't hurt much. Remember this the next time you have to get a shot. Love, Timmy.'"

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