When I give vaccinations or other injections, I often see parents investing a lot of their energy in distracting their child. The distraction scenario looks big and sounds very loud which 90% of the time, adds to the child’s anxiety. The parent’s louder talking and sudden urgency in their voice will send signals straight to the child’s fight or flight centre telling them to be alert. Danger is lurking.
So here are my 7 tips for distracting and supporting your child when they have their vaccinations or injections.
1. Be calm
I want you to think back to when your child was a baby or a toddler. Did you ever notice how they would look to you to see how they should respond? They would read your body language and decide if they should panic or not. Your child still does this; they’re just much better at hiding it now.
Be calm or at least fake it until you make it as best you can.
2. Choose a distraction toy before you get there
Studies have shown that when the child chooses the distraction toy, it is more effective. So, as part of getting ready for the visit to the doctors, help your child to pick an item or toy that they would like to take with them.
It is OK to suggest the toy, but encourage your child to choose it.
Some great distraction toys I have used in the past include bubbles, smartphones or tablets with a game or favourite show loaded, blowing on a pinwheel, a glitter wand or kaleidoscope.
3. Only use the chosen toy in the Doctor’s room
If your child plays with their toy on the way to the Doctor, in the waiting room and during the initial Doctor consult, the “distract-ability” of the toy wears off. So only pull out their special toy when the nurse is getting the injection ready.
4. Practice your comfort hold with your child
To help you stay cool, calm and collected, try out the comfort hold at home with your child. Your child will become more familiar with being cuddled this way, and your confidence will be much higher.
5. Allow your child to watch if they want to
If your child decides they don’t want to use their toy, and they would like to see the needle go in, then let them. It might not worry them. Usually, this is more about being in control (i.e. knowing everything that is happening as it is happening) than it is about knowing when to run away.
If they do become more distressed, you may need to start again and insist that they look away.
6. Be ready for their tears
It is highly likely that your child will cry when they feel the sting of the shot. If you expect this and prepare for it, you will be less anxious about trying to avoid it. Consider it a given and you cannot go wrong
7. If you forget your distraction toy
Sometimes the best-laid plans just don’t come together for whatever reason. If you find yourself at the Doctor’s, and you are without the toy, try getting them to wriggle their toes or pull out your phone and let them have free reign for 5 minutes.
Wriggling their toes is my secret weapon. It makes it difficult for their brain to register the full extent of the pain because their brain is busy thinking about wriggling their toes.
Brooke Batchelor is a paediatric registered nurse who currently works in an Emergency Department in Far North Queensland. She is also a parent coach, qualified primary teacher and student Play Therapist. Brooke sits on the Board of Directors for the Association for the Well-being of Children in Healthcare, Australia.
For more information on how you can adequately prepare your child, support them, and hold them, check out Brooke’s eBook Supporting A Child Through Injections. Or check out Brooke’s website, The Paed(iatric) Nursetoday or join her on Facebook.