How to prepare your child for COVID-19 vaccine

  • Matias Parodi Buitron, 11, receives the COVID-19 shot at Lurie Children's vaccine clinic.

    Matias Parodi Buitron, 11, receives the COVID-19 shot at Lurie Children's vaccine clinic. Courtesy of Lurie Children's Hospital

 
By Lurie Children’s Hospital
Posted12/12/2021 7:00 AM

This November, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was approved for individuals ages 5-11. While this may be welcome news for many parents, lots of children experience appropriate anxiety regarding receiving a shot. Some children also have sensory needs that can make receiving the vaccine difficult. Becca Mitsos, Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) at Lurie Children's, shares some simple tips and reminders to help make your child's COVID-19 vaccine as easy as possible.

Even though a vaccination or shot may seem like a minor medical encounter, it is normal for a child at any age to be hesitant or nervous. Lurie Children's Child Life Specialists encourage supporting your child by first and foremost sharing honest information with them and to acknowledge their feelings. "Remember, feelings are for feeling, not for fixing -- it is appropriate for a person at any age to cry when nervous or scared," said Mitsos.

 

"Encounters like these can be opportunities for parents and caregivers to validate their child's feelings by saying, 'I get nervous before shots, too,'" shared Mitsos. "If you know your child has particular difficulties with injections, we encourage you to engage them in a discussion before appointment arrival about what they feel can help them during the injection."

Lurie Children's Child Life Specialists also recommend being honest if your child asks if it will hurt. "You can share it may feel like a pinch that will last about 5-10 seconds, and then encourage your child to think about what they may want to hold, look at it or listen to. In the same way you can't build an emergency plan during an emergency, encouraging a child to develop their coping 'tool kit' before they need it helps them feel empowered, in control and builds resilience. This can and will ultimately help them manage other uncomfortable situations in the future," said Mitsos.

Empowering your child with appropriate choices supports their sense of control while also setting compassionate boundaries around what choices they get to make.

Choices that your child will have look like this:

Decide what you want to see.

• I want to watch the nurse give me the shot.

• I want to look out the window or at my family.

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• I want to close my eyes.

Decide what you want to hear.

• I want to hear someone counting quietly.

• I want to hear my favorite song.

• I want to hear a funny joke.

Decide what you want to hold.

• I want to hold ____'s hand.

• I want to hold my favorite toy or stuffed animal.

• I want to hold a stress ball or Play-Doh.

Other key things to remind your child to help them cope with getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

• Doing something that can be uncomfortable, like getting a shot, can make anyone nervous, no matter how old they are.

• We are working together to help keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe. Getting vaccines is one way we show that we care about each other, just like when we cover our mouth when we cough.

• It is normal for your child to feel nervous. Even people who work in health care get nervous before medical care. Thank them for sharing those feelings with you, remind them that those feelings are normal, and that you will be with them every step of the way. Hearing and acknowledge them, try not to focus on fixing them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Crying is an appropriate way for anyone to express fear, nervousness, confusion, concern, sadness, anger and frustration. Crying does not mean you are any less mature and brave.

• When in doubt, focus on your breath -- feel it come in through your nose, and out through your mouth.

"While it is easy to feel tempted into trying to distract a child with games, songs, toys, or a screen, to discount their feelings by repeatedly saying, 'It's OK, it's OK, don't cry!' discounts their feelings -- we need to allow them to express how they feel, listen to understand how they feel, and avoid erasing or invalidating their feeling," reminds Mitsos.

Lurie Children's is here to partner with you and your child to help every experience be as positive as possible. For more information about finding a vaccine appointment and for vaccine tip sheets, visit luriechildrens.org/vaccine.

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. For more information, visit www.LurieChildrens.org.

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