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How to Prepare Your Child for Getting the Flu Shot


The Centers for Disease Control strongly recommends that everyone over the age of six months receive a flu vaccination each year, provided that there are no contraindications or medical conditions that place them in the relatively small group of people that shouldn’t be vaccinated against influenza. The mere mention of a shot, however, can be enough to send even children that are normally docile into hysterics. Preparing your child for his annual flu shot can be a very challenging ordeal, especially if he has a tendency to become more anxious than other children. There are, however, steps you can take to help soothe your child’s anxiety and ease his fears, making the process a bit less trying for everyone involved.

  • Educate and Explain – Helping your child understand why a flu shot is important, how it protects him from contracting an illness that could become very serious, and why the flu is dangerous can reduce some of his reluctance to be vaccinated. Remember to keep your conversation age-appropriate, though. Young children can easily become frightened about situations they perceive to be dangerous and can begin to feel anxiety about the possibility of contracting influenza.
  • Be Honest – It’s almost second nature to tell a child that his flu shot won’t hurt a bit in an attempt to ease his fears, but the fact remains that an injection does cause some brief pain. Rather than telling your child that he won’t feel a thing, focus on the fact that the discomfort is a brief pinch, and that it will be over before he knows it.
  • Don’t Minimize Your Child’s Fears – When your child is legitimately frightened of something, telling him that there’s nothing to be afraid of or that he’s being silly doesn’t change how frightened he is. This approach may actually cause him to feel ashamed or embarrassed about his fears, and make him less willing to discuss them with you in the future for fear of presenting himself in a shameful light. Making an effort to be sympathetic about your child’s fears and to help him manage them is a much more effective tactic.
  • Bring a Diversion – Even if you very strictly monitor and control screen time, allowing your child a momentary reprieve so that he can play a handheld game, watch a video on your phone, or engage in other digital pursuits while his injection is being administered can provide him with a diversion that reduces his anxiety and distracts him from the resultant sting.
  • Practice Deep Breaths – Before your child’s appointment to get his flu shot, help him practice deep breathing techniques that can reduce his anxiety during the procedure. These exercises can also prove to be useful tools for managing stress and fear in everyday situations, making them ideal for children that struggle with excessive anxiety on a regular basis.
  • Consider a Treat After the Appointment – If your parenting philosophy is one that allows for treats and rewards for good behavior or after a particularly trying event, let your child know that there will be a treat after his appointment. Avoid qualifying it with statements like “if you’re good,” as the idea of not living up to your expectations of good behavior can simply introduce the additional fear of losing a conditional privilege if he shows his fear or reacts to the pain of the injection itself.

According to the CDC, children under the age of two are more likely to suffer from severe flu complications than any other age group. They estimate that up to 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized each year as a result of those complications. Kids with asthma, diabetes and nervous system disorders are at an even higher risk of developing potentially life-threatening complications, making it imperative that these children are vaccinated. Discuss any concerns or questions you have about the safety and efficacy of the flu shot with your child’s pediatrician so that you can best protect him from flu-related complications. Also, keep in mind that it’s best to administer ibuprofen or acetaminophen after his vaccination, not before the appointment in preparation. The anti-inflammatory properties of these pain relievers can alter your body’s natural response to the vaccine, which is what creates the temporary immunity. Should your child have a low-grade fever or residual discomfort as side-effects of the vaccination, administering a pain reliever after the procedure is acceptable. If your child is over two, his pediatrician may provide the option of the FluMist, an inhaled vaccine, rather than the injection.

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