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How Can I Make the Flu Shot Less Painful?

boy sits on his mother's lap to get a shot, he looks uneasy

With a second wave of COVID-19 in our midst, experts are saying it’s more important than ever to get the flu shot this year. But the need doesn’t eliminate the fear that many kids (hey, adults, too) feel when it comes to needles. We rounded up some expert tips to help make the whole experience easier for everyone. 

There are lots of proven ways for parents to improve the needle experience for their kids. Dr. Christine Chambers, Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Children’s Pain, weighed in with six tips for Moms and Dads to ease the pain of a flu jab or other vaccination.

Explain in simple terms why children need the shot
Talk about how doctors and scientists have come up with a way to keep kids healthy, and that the needle will stop them from getting sick and missing out on fun things.

Have a plan for addressing the sting of the needle
Try applying an over-the-counter topical anaesthetic cream to the injection area about an hour before the appointment. This can cut the pain by as much as half for some children.

Distract your child 
Talk about something else or letting them play a game on your phone. (We love the game Would You Rather for keeping a kiddo’s mind off of a difficult thing. Present your child with two options, and have them pick and explain their choice. The sillier the options, the better. For example, “Would you rather eat a cupcake with mashed potato frosting or spaghetti with maple syrup sauce?”)

Encourage your child to take deep breaths
Try getting younger children to pretend to blow bubbles or to blow on a pinwheel.

Pay attention to your own anxiety 
Children easily pick up on when you feel nervous, and this can make them feel worse. Saying reassuring things like “You’ll be okay” actually makes kids feel more pain. It’s better to say distracting things or suggest ways to cope.

After the needle, praise your child for trying his or her best
You can also give your child something to look forward to after the needle, like a special treat on the way home or extra time with Mom or Dad.

 Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2014.

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