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Managing Your Child's Pain While Getting a Shot

For most children, the mere thought of having a needle inserted into their arms is very upsetting. Anxiety before receiving a shot is common, no matter how old your child is. That worry is often heightened when more than one vaccine is given at a time. In some cases, 4 or more injections are given during a single doctor’s visit.

Yet in most cases, the bark is worse than the bite. The pain associated with the majority of immunizations is minor. By 5 years of age, most children object only minimally, if at all, to receiving a shot. If there are any tears, they rarely last for more than a few minutes.

To make the experience as acceptable as possible, prepare your child in advance for the vaccines that she’ll be receiving, no matter how old she is. Be honest; show her that you care. If your child is old enough to understand, explain how the shots will help her avoid becoming sick. Never describe the shots as punishment or use them as a threat.

In a newborn, you might try placing sugar on her tongue or a pacifier. This can often ease her worry. In an older infant, however, this approach generally doesn’t work. For most young children, you can soothe and stroke them to help them get through an immunization and rock them afterward to decrease their crying. Holding your child on your lap may help calm her.

For older children, it may help to distract them during and after each shot. Try “blowing away the pain” or use soap bubbles, pinwheels, or music to divert their attention. Telling them stories or reading books to them may help as well. Some older children feel better hugging their parent, chest to chest, when the shot is given. If your doctor believes it is appropriate, let your older kids choose the site of the injections, giving them a sense that they have a degree of control over the process.

Afterward, if a mild fever develops, ask your doctor about giving your child acetaminophen to make her more comfortable. Through it all, keep reminding yourself that guarding your child against serious health risks is worth the short-term discomfort and tears that may be part of getting immunized.

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Adapted from Immunizations & Infectious Diseases: An Informed Parent's Guide (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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