How to prepare your young child for getting a vaccine
7 tips to help make the moment go smoothly.
Getting vaccinated is a big deal for a small child, and your little one may have lots of questions. Here are our top tips for helping your child’s vaccine appointment go smoothly.
1. Get the latest information
Before talking with your children about getting their vaccines, make sure that you can answer their questions by doing a quick refresher yourself. UNICEF Parenting has plenty of resources to make sure that you are up to date.
2. Open the conversation
Ask your child how they’re feeling about their upcoming vaccination. Listen to their thoughts and any concerns and be ready to respond to their questions. Keep in mind that children look to adults for appropriate emotional reactions to a situation. Even if you are worried for your child knowing that they might be uncomfortable during their vaccination, try not to overshare your fears.
3. Keep responses kid-friendly
Children have a right to information about the vaccination process, but it should be explained to them in an age-appropriate way that is easy for them to understand. Here are some answers to common questions to keep on-hand:
What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is like a shield that protects you from an illness. Vaccines help protect us against dangerous diseases and have saved many people’s lives.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines teach your body how to fight off illnesses. They do that by putting a tiny piece of the germ that causes the illness you need protection from (or something that looks like the germ) inside your body, so your body can learn what it needs to do to fight it off. This way if you ever come into contact with the illness your body knows exactly what to do, which stops you from getting sick.
Are vaccines safe?
Yes, vaccines are very safe! Millions of children (and adults!) get vaccinated every year, which helps protect them from lots of diseases. When we get a vaccine, we might get a temperature or some aches, but this doesn’t last long and is many times better than getting sick from the illness. These signs also show that the vaccine is working and that your body is building up the protection it needs to fight the disease.
4. Validate their feelings
Getting a shot can seem scary for a small child! It’s important to listen to how they are feeling and to empathize with their fears. If your little one tells you they’re scared, try saying something like:
“I understand how you’re feeling, but here’s the thing: It’ll be over in the blink of an eye! You’ll feel a quick pinch and then all done. We’ll practice what it’s like at home before we go to your appointment. That way, you’ll know exactly what to expect and we can plan something nice afterwards to celebrate!”
5. Explain why vaccines are important
Teach your children that by getting vaccinated they are not only helping to keep themselves safe, but people around them, such as grandparents, too. You could say to them, “Vaccines protect you from getting sick, but it also protects others from getting sick because you won’t be as likely to spread the germ that causes the sickness. You are so brave for doing your part to keep others healthy.”
6. Create a comforting distraction
During the vaccination appointment, you can help keep your child’s mind off the shot by creating a comforting distraction. Bring your child’s favourite toy or tell them their favourite story. Reassure them that everything is going to be okay and that they’re being very brave – even if they cry or get upset.
7. Soothe them after the shots
Before leaving your child’s appointment, speak to their doctor about possible side effects of the vaccine and what you can do to help those at home, such as using a cold cloth on the injection site. Pay extra close attention to your child for the next few days to make sure that they aren’t doing or feeling anything out of the ordinary. If so, call your child’s doctor for advice.