How to reduce pain, stress, and anxiety with vaccinations

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Reducing pain, stress, and anxiety with vaccinations.

Vaccines can cause some pain, stress, and anxiety for children of all ages. Fortunately, there are many strategies that can be used before and during the appointment to help reduce pain, stress, and anxiety with vaccinations. 

Parents play an important role in supporting their children during vaccinations. Use the tips below to help your school-age child or teen have a more positive vaccination experience.  


Prepare your child
Children are very aware of the emotions of their caregivers. Although vaccinations may be stressful for you, try to be calm when talking about vaccination with your child. Use a matter-of-fact, supportive approach.
One day of advance preparation is enough for most school-age children. Older children may benefit from longer preparation time, but it can depend on how your child copes. When you discuss the appointment with your child, use the following strategies:
  • Be calm and use your normal voice. Your child is sensitive to your tone and emotions.
  • Use a matter-of-fact, supportive approach.
  • Ask your child if they have ideas for how to manage the pain. This can help them to feel in control.
  • When describing how it will feel, use words that lessen anxiety, such as pressure, squeeze, or poke.
  • You can say, "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 focus the child's attention on the needle, such as "It will be over soon, and you will be okay."
  • Give false reassurance, such as "It won't hurt."
  • Apologize - for example, "I am really sorry you have to go through this." Apologizing before the vaccination may make them think that the injection will be worse than it is. It also frames the vaccination as a bad thing that has happened, rather than something that protects them.
Why it works:  Your child is sensitive to your language and tone. If you speak positively about vaccines, your child is more likely to feel positive about it as well.
Deep breathing
Have your child take deep breaths. Have them breathe in deeply for a count of five, and then exhale deeply for a count of five. Repeat the cycle until the vaccination is over.
Why it works: Deep breathing makes the body relax its stress response. It also serves as a distraction.
Have your child focus their attention on a distraction immediately before and during the injection. They can use books, listen to music, or play games on their phones or tablets to distract themselves.
Why it works: Research shows that the part of the brain that processes pain is less active when children are distracted during vaccinations.
Numb the skin
Medications to numb the skin are available without a prescription at most pharmacies. You will want to purchase the product in advance of the appointment, as they generally need to be applied 60 minutes in advance.
It is important that these products are applied in the right area. For specific information on where to apply numbing creams or patches, ask your healthcare provider or go to this handout.
Why it works:
The active ingredients in these products reduce feelings of pain by blocking pain receptors in the skin.
Recognize the effort

Keep a positive attitude. Say things like: “I’m so happy you got the vaccine!” and “I knew you could do it!” This helps children to feel good about the skills they learned from the experience – skills that will help in difficult future situations.


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Use the CARD system.

Is your child nervous about getting needles? They can use the CARDTM System (Comfort, Ask, Relax, Distract) to have a more positive vaccination experience. Check out the CARD Game for Kids and other activities on Immunize Canada. 


Videos on how to use the CARD system at school.


Improving the vaccine experience at school

School Vaccinations – The CARD™ System: Play your power CARD 

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

Date last reviewed: 
Wednesday, Jun 01, 2022