Parents play an important role in supporting their children through immunizations.
Use these tips to help your infant or young child have a positive immunization experience.
PREPARE YOUR CHILD
Generally, it's best to tell toddlers and preschool-age children about the vaccine as close to the immunization as possible. When you are discussing the vaccine and clinic visit with your child:
- Stay calm and speak in a soft tone of voice.
- Use a matter-of-fact, supportive, non-apologetic approach.
- Answer their child’s questions honestly (e.g., “You need the vaccine to stay healthy. The medicine will be put in your arm with a needle. You will feel a quick poke”).
- Use words that lessen anxiety (e.g., pressure, squeezing, and poking).
- Use humour.
- Use words that focus the child's attention on the needle, such as "It will be over soon, and you will be okay."
- Use words that can cause anxiety, such as shot, pain, hurt, and sting.
- Give false reassurance, such as "It won't hurt."
- Apologize - for example, "I am really sorry you must go through this."
Why it works
Children are very aware of the emotions of their caregivers and are sensitive to your language and tone. When you stay calm, it helps your child stay calm. If you speak positively about vaccines, your child is more likely to feel positive about them.
Watch this video from AboutKidsHealth on how your state of mind can help your baby during vaccinations.
Numbing creams or patches
You can buy medications to numb the skin without a prescription at most pharmacies. Supervise your child after applying the product so they don't accidentally eat the cream or patch. Ask your health care provider for specific information on where to apply numbing creams or patches.
Comfort your child
Cuddle your baby or child firmly in your lap in a seated or semi-seated position. You can ask the health care provider how to hold your child. If you are breast/chest feeding your child, hold them in a position that supports feeding.
Why it works
The active ingredients in numbing products reduce feelings of pain by blocking pain receptors in the skin. Being held close to you calms your child and helps keep legs and arms still to give vaccines safely. Sitting upright helps children feel more secure and in control.
Read this handout and watch this video from AboutKidsHealth on how to use numbing cream and patches.
Watch this video from AboutKidsHealth on how to hold your child.
Use bubbles, a pinwheel, a squeaky, a light-up or musical toy, or singing to distract your child immediately before and during the immunization. Ask older children questions about something they are excited about. Older children can also use books, listen to music, watch a video, or play video games to distract themselves.
Deep breathing (children 3 years of age and older)
Have children breathe deeply and blow out during immunizations. Ask your child to:
- Take a deep breath at the time of injection.
Blow a party blower, pinwheel, or bubbles.
Show you how you blow out candles on a birthday cake.
Why it works
Research shows that the part of the brain that processes pain is less active when children are distracted during immunizations.
Deep breathing triggers the body to relax its stress response. It also serves as a distraction.
Watch this video from AboutKidsHealth about how you can distract your baby.
Breast/chest feed your child
Breast/chest feed your baby before, during, and after immunizations. Research shows this is safe and will not cause the baby to associate feeding with pain.
Use sugar water if not breast/chest feeding
For infants not breast/chest feeding before and during immunization, a sucrose solution (sugar water) can be given 1 - 2 minutes before immunization for babies up to and including 2 years of age. You can prepare a sucrose solution at home and bring it to your child's immunization appointment.
Why it works
Breast/chest feeding comforts your baby with your presence. Sucking and the sweet taste of breast milk distract your baby. Breast milk also contains natural calming substances.
Research shows that a sucrose solution, given 1-2 minutes before a medical procedure, causes the release of natural pain-reducing chemicals in the brain.
Watch this video from AboutKidsHealth on breastfeeding your baby during vaccinations.
Learn how to prepare the sucrose solution and watch this video from AboutKidsHealth about giving sugar water before immunizations.
Check out this video on how to improve the immunization experience for babies and young children:
Jesse is going to get a vaccine and is a little nervous. Jesse brought a favourite toy and used belly breathing to feel calm. There was a tiny pinch on the arm, and it was over. That was easy! Jesse is now a vaccine superhero!