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Helping Kids Who Fear Vaccines

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

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.'"

Give rewards.

Many pediatricians' offices give stickers or lollipops to patients afterward. "It's a way that the doctor says, 'Thanks for being cooperative,' and, 'I'm sorry for doing something unpleasant,'" Bennett says.

You don't need to rely on the doctor for rewards; praise for being brave is often sufficient. Bringing a favorite book or snack from home, or taking your child to the playground on the way home, can also be effective.    

Carly Kuper of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., always has supplies to ensure that her 2-year-old daughter stays calm. "We always bring a snack and a drink for after the shot," she says, "and if she seems really upset, we offer the pacifier, even though it's usually only for sleep."

Reviewed on September 17, 2014
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