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Parental Comfort Helps Children Cope With Shots

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Overall, humorous comments and other statements not related to the immunization helped children cope, even those as young as 6 months. But comments that sounded like reassurance, as well as bargaining and explanations, seemed to increase distress. "One parent said, 'I know this is going to hurt.' That didn't help the child at all," Felt says.

Although many of the children in this study were very young, McGrath says he believes honesty is the best policy for those who are old enough to understand what's really going on. "Children need simple, accurate information about what is going to happen," he says. "Lies and threats teach children to distrust and be fearful."

McGrath says parents should tell the child what will happen and what it will feel like. "Explain things slowly, in small bits, and repeat as often as needed. Dolls, puppets, or drawings can be used to explain procedures. Children can also express how they feel using these methods."

Another thing the Michigan researchers learned was that when a child was already crying, a behavioral intervention usually just brought more agitation. As a result, Felt says, she believes an infant's behavioral state may play a role in the effectiveness of methods to reduce distress.

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