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Quick Tips for Parents: Flu Season Shots

by Melvin Oatis, MD

It's flu season again and standard concerns for safeguarding against the illness are being complicated this year by a vaccine shortage. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending that all children aged 6 to 23 months and children at risk be given priority to receive the flu vaccination. Therefore, millions of families will be making trips to the doctor's office or clinic for the annual flu shot and will hear the inevitable kid's complaint "I don't care if I do get the flu—getting a shot is a lot worse!"

The following are some hints for parents who want to make an already stressful situation a little easier for their children and themselves:

For infants and toddlers:

  • The parent should hold the child using rocking, patting or other soothing motions.
  • Use a pacifier or allow the child to suck on your fingers.
  • Distract the child with a familiar toy or cuddly animal toy.
  • Sing or talk with the child, using silly or funny language.
  • Make reassuring remarks such as "you’'re doing great."

For young children (4–9 years):

  • Try some diversionary tactics like bringing a favorite toy or book.
  • Use headphones to play a favorite song or story.
  • Help them learn to relax the muscle where the shot is administered.
  • Let them squeeze your hand and tell them to breathe slowly.
  • Talk with the child, using positive remarks.
  • For some kids, telling them not to look at the needle helps.

For older children:

  • Inform them about the specific disease that the shot prevents.
  • Help them understand that the momentary discomfort wards off greater discomfort.
  • Explain that tensing muscles makes things worse. Teach the child to practice taking deep controlled breaths, likening the motion to blowing out a candle, and to practice other relaxation techniques, such as imagining they are in some familiar and enjoyable place.

For all kids:

  • Realize that all children, even the youngest, actually feel pain. Don't tell them the shot won't hurt.
  • Explain (if you are sure) that some doctors use cooling sprays or creams that numb the injection spot.
  • Plan a special post-injection treat for the child to look forward to—a special game, a special activity, or special time with a significant person.
  • Different strategies work for different kids—use whatever works!