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.