Fear of the ouch

Strategies for reducing vaccination associated pain for parents and caregivers.

Photo of a doctor using a cotton ball on a young child's arm while administering an injection in a clinic.
Photo: iStock.

Fear is something most adults have experienced throughout our lives in one form or another. As children, maybe it was the monster under the bed, creepy crawly insects, or the scary sharp needles at the dentist or doctor's office. Children and adults can both be afraid of needles. It can also be upsetting or difficult for adults to witness the pain of children when they receive vaccine shots.  

According to a study by The University of Toronto, the majority of children are afraid of needles and report their fear as the worst part of receiving vaccinations. With that in mind, parents and caregivers play a vital role in supporting their child when attending pediatrician or primary care provider visits for routine immunizations.

Thankfully, there are strategies parents and caregivers can utilize to reduce children’s anxiety about receiving vaccines. MSU Extension and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the following techniques:

  • Distraction
    • Tell your child a story, sing to them, and bring their favorite toy.
  • Be honest and calm
    • Prepare your child and explain the reason for the visit, they may feel a pinch, and why vaccinations are important for health and safety.
  • Comfort holds
    • Embrace your child and make them feel safe but not overpowered.
  • Deep breathing exercises
    • Be intentional with your breath, have your child mimic those breaths.
  • Blowing bubbles
    • Together blow some bubbles and make it fun.

All of the listed techniques have been shown to decrease vaccine-associated pain in children. For example, comfort holds allow parents and caregivers to partner with their provider during their child’s medical procedure and appointment. These holds involve embracing your child, allowing them to feel safe but not overpowered or restricted, while also limiting movement during vaccination for safety. It’s important to talk to your pediatrician or primary care provider about their preferred approach during your appointment. 

To learn about other techniques and ways to comfort your child during vaccination, talk with your pediatrician or primary care provider. To learn more about vaccinations and vaccine preventable diseases, visit Michigan State University Extension’s, Michigan Vaccine Project -an educational outreach effort committed to providing evidence-based resources, so you and your family can make informed health and vaccine decisions.

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