Ensuring kids are not afraid of needles during ‘injection shots’ can keep them healthy in the long term.
Your child being in pain is one of the worst things to witness as a parent. But many of us, along with our pediatricians, dismiss the anxiety and pain that can come with vaccines. Adults understand that the pain from injection shots will only last few like, but kids don’t care about that when they’re panicking. As a result, plenty of children grow up with fear of needles and doctor visits, which can make routine wellness visits an all-out war.
As children grow up, that unchanging fear may turn them into adults with phobias, who avoid much-needed vaccines and healthcare altogether.
Not all doctors believe that parents and kids should just muddle through the pain. In fact, several clinics offer programs to reduce or eliminate needle-related pain, a practice that’s having a positive impact on kids and adults.
The need for needle pain intervention
Why should trying to reduce or prevent fear of injection shots be a priority? Fear of needles can lead to a decline in vaccination rates, and a lifelong avoidance of proper healthcare.
“We know that there are many immediate and long-term psychological and physical effects of poorly managed pain for needles. Children get scared, don’t want to go to the doctor, and it’s harder for parents to get them there,” said Christine Chambers, Ph.D., a professor in pediatrics and psychology who studies pediatric pain. “We also know that poorly managed pain early in life can make children’s bodies more vulnerable to pain later on and puts them at risk for developing chronic pain. For all these reasons, both parents and doctors should prioritize pain management.”
“The reality is, we have evidence-based solutions to easily manage needle pain in children of all ages, so it just makes sense to use these strategies in practice,” Chambers added.
The following strategies can help reduce or alleviate pain from vaccine and blood draws:
Numb the skin
Using topical anesthesia to numb the area where the needle will be inserted can significantly lower the amount of pain. Doctors can use lidocaine cream, an over-the-counter product that can be used safely in infants. Applying the cream 30 minutes before injection shots or blood draw can reduce or prevent pain altogether. To do this, you’ll want to know ahead of time where the doctor plans on “sticking” the child, so you may have to make a call to coordinate it.
Sarah Clark, MPH, co-director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said calling ahead to inquire about numbing cream, and letting your child know how the cream can help and that you asked for it, can help them feel better.
Allowing infants to breastfeed or suck on a pacifier dipped in sugar water during needle insertion is also encouraged and can help alleviate pain.
Don’t restrain the child
Many people who are now adults were pinned down as kids when it was time for shots. This is illegal at Children’s Minnesota, where the “Comfort Promise” aims to prevent or decrease pain with every needle prick. With the right pain control and distraction, kids should rarely need to be held down.
From blowing bubbles to letting your child play a game on your phone, there are all sorts of distractions that can make getting a shot less anxiety-producing.
Distraction can be helpful, as is engaging the child throughout the process. Good distractions can be singing a song, allowing the child to talk, or encouraging them to cough at the exact time of the shot.
Watch what you say
Parents who tell a child the shot will be over soon, or it won’t hurt much, or it will be “just a little pinch” mean well, but Chambers says those statements can signal to a child that the parent is anxious, something kids pick up on. Instead, use a distracting statement or talk to your child about coping mechanisms when they get shots.
Parents can use a reward, such as visiting the park or getting ice cream after the doctor’s visit, and telling the child the reward will be a way to celebrate that the child growing into such a big boy or girl.
Just don’t promise there won’t be a shot because you may not know if the doctor will recommend it, Clark added. “A reasonable option is to simply wonder aloud, ‘Now I’m not sure if today’s visit will have a shot; we’ll just have to wait and see,’” she said.
Act it out
Role-playing before the office visit can be especially useful with kids ages 2 to 5. You can also use a book or video as a tool to introduce the child to what will happen. Then, when he or she is about to get the prick, you can mention that it’s happening just like it did in the book or video.
Chambers said parents should ask their doctors what can be done to manage needle-related pain. Often, that can start a useful conversation or allow physicians to share their tips on what works.
And finally, Say no to needle pain
Chambers said it’s worth the time to prioritize reducing or eliminating needle pain. “There is a lot of parent can do to help prepare children before needles, support them during them, and help focus on what went well after. All of this helps children cope better not only with that needle, but makes the next needle easier too,” Chambers said.