Have a positive experience: tips for school-age children & teens

Date last reviewed: 
Thursday, Jun 06, 2024
Immunizations can cause some pain. This pain can cause stress and anxiety for some children. Below are some tips to help your school-age child have a more positive immunization experience.
Most school-age children get immunizations at school clinics. If your child is nervous about getting immunized, encourage them to tell the nurse and ask questions. The nurse can provide support and help them relax. If you don't think your child will cope well with getting immunized at school, call your public health unit or community health centre and talk to a nurse about options for having them immunized. 
A Black cartoon parent sitting beside their child and talking in front of a green background.

Prepare your child

For most school-age children, being informed about the immunization one day before the clinic gives them enough time to prepare. Stay calm when discussing the immunization with your child. When you stay calm, it helps your child stay calm and feel like everything will be okay.  Use a matter-of-fact, supportive approach and answer your child's questions honestly. Read more about what to do and what not to do when discussing the immunization with your child.

A cartoon child's arm with a white strip in front of a turquoise background.

Numb the skin

Numbing creams and patches decrease the pain when the needle is given. You can buy numbing creams or patches at your local pharmacy without a prescription. The cream or patch needs to be put on 30-60 minutes before the immunization. If you'd like to use these products at a school clinic, please contact your local health unit or community health centre and speak with a nurse. Read more about using numbing creams and patches for immunizations.

A cartoon teenager reading a book and listening to music in front of an orange background.


Distraction can help reduce your child’s pain with immunization. Help your child choose a distraction to use before and during the immunization. It doesn’t matter what the distraction is — it just needs to be something that will actually distract your child. They can read a book, play a game or watch a video on their phone, listen to music, talk to someone, or daydream about fun things.     

A cartoon teenager deep breathing beside a thought bubble of blowing out candles.

Deep breathing

When your child breathes deeply, it can help relax and distract them. Practice deep breathing with your child before the clinic. Have them breathe in deeply for a count of five, then exhale for a count of five. Tell them to breathe deeply before, during, and after the immunization. Pretending to blow bubbles or a party blower or to blow out candles on a cake can help your child take deep breaths.

A cartoon child sitting with their sleeve rolled up in front of a blue background.

Muscle tension

Does your child feel faint with needles? Muscle tension is a safe technique children 7 and older can use if they get dizzy and faint during needles. Read this handout to learn how to use muscle tension. Make sure the nurse or doctor knows if your child has fainted with needles or other procedures before. Muscle tension increases blood pressure and blood flow to the brain, which helps prevent fainting.

A cartoon parent fist bumping their child in front of an orange background.

Be positive

Keep a positive attitude and recognize your child's efforts. Say things like, "I know that was hard for you, and I'm proud of you for doing it," or "Great job using the strategies we discussed to help you relax while you got the vaccine." Praising your child helps them feel good about the skills they learned from the experience – skills that will help in future difficult situations.

When discussing the immunization with your child

  • Stay calm and speak in an even and soft tone of voice.
  • Answer your child’s questions honestly. For example, say, “You need the vaccine to stay healthy. The nurse will put in your arm with a needle. You will feel a quick poke."
  • Use words that lessen anxiety, like pressure, squeezing, and poking.
  • Praise your child for their efforts. Say things like,  I'm proud of you for doing it," or "I really liked how you took lots of deep breaths while the nurse gave you the vaccine."
  • Over-reassure your child with phrases like, "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, don't say, "I am really sorry you must go through this."
These things can make your child feel more distress.

Use the CARD system

The CARD system (comfort, ask, relax, distract) provides strategies your child can use before and during the immunization to make the experience more positive. The system includes videos, handouts, and activities your child can use to help prepare for immunizations. Learn how your child can play their cards to reduce pain, stress, and worries with immunizations.

Video: Improving the immunization experience at school 

Video: School Immunizations – The CARD™ System: Play your power CAR

For more CARD™ resources go to the About Kids Health website.


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!