Going to the doctor can be stressful for children, whether it’s for a regular checkup or something more serious. Children, understandably, can be fearful of the pain caused by shots or medical procedures, but there are ways to help your child through this anxiety.
Inova Child Life Specialists work closely with parents to lessen the anxiety kids have when they are in the hospital or during an outpatient visit. Inova’s Comfort Promise, made by every team member, focuses on minimizing pain during vaccines and procedures for the smallest among us.
With flu season right around the corner, children may be nervous about getting their annual flu shots.
Start with a plan. Having a plan to combat kids’ anxiety about shots can go a long way toward making the doctor visits a more pleasant experience. Give them the confidence they need to ace those shots with these expert strategies.
Why do they need to get a shot? Help children understand why shots are important and how they help keep you healthy, just like sleeping well and eating right. This will help motivate them. If they want to know if it will hurt, simply explain that they may feel a pinch or an ouch but that it will feel better with the help of some positive actions, like moving their arm around, drinking more water, or placing a cool damp cloth on the spot where they received the shot to reduce soreness.
Offer them some choices. Let children make simple choices, like which arm they want the shot in or if they want to count to three before the poke.
Talk to the child about ways to manage any needle pain. There are many ways to help alleviate the pain of a shot like numbing cream from the pharmacy applied 30 minutes before, a Buzzy vibrating device that limits pain, ShotBlocker which confuses nerves, or cold spray which numbs the skin and takes effect instantly.
Let them feel as though they have control over what will happen. Ask them if they want to watch as they get the shot or look away, if they want to be by themselves, if they want a toy to play with, and how they want to celebrate afterwards.
Parents can also help. Here are some simple strategies you can use to get your children through the visit:
- Hold babies and comfort them. Letting a child sit on a parent’s lap can go a long way toward calming the child.
- Make up a positive story about what will happen when they get to the doctor. Focus on how the doctor gives them medicine so they stay healthy and why that is good.
- Help distract the child. Blow bubbles. Give them an appropriate toy to draw attention away from the procedure. Play a game like I Spy to keep their mind occupied.
- Schedule multiple shots in one visit so the fear is not prolonged.
- Teach older kids to blow out like you would blow out a candle to lessen pain.
- Finally, don’t apologize. Keeping children healthy is one of your parental responsibilities. Offer emotional support and tell your children you understand how they feel, especially if they are showing nervousness or anxiety, but remind them why shots or medical procedures are important.
Reducing Hospital Anxiety and Stress
“By making something scary or traumatic a little bit easier, we can help decrease the amount of trauma a child experiences and holds onto,” said Holly Senn, CCLSIII, certified child life specialist who works with patients in the hematology-oncology unit at Inova L.J. Murphy Children’s Hospital.
Earlier this year, Inova took its commitment to pediatric pain management a step further by achieving certification from ChildKind International, a global organization focused on minimizing pediatric pain.
“We try to involve the caregivers when creating pain management plans,” Senn said.
Personalized Pain Management Plans
Small steps can have a big impact when those steps are specific to the child. Successful pain management requires cooperation and commitment from both family members and health professionals.
“We develop a pain management or coping plan based on the child’s age, experiences, developmental needs, and other individual factors,” Senn said. “When we expect discomfort, we do what we think is best based on what we know. It may be an extra dose of pain medication, distracting the child, or a parent bear-hugging their child during a shot.”
It’s Never Too Late to Start
Even if a child has already experienced traumatic pain related to a medical experience, there is still value in reducing future trauma.
“It’s never too late to try a new pain management technique, even if your child is a teen,” Senn said. “We can start fostering positive experiences that may help to offset some of those negative experiences that they’ve had before.”
Feature image by fizkes/stock.adobe.com
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