Few things trigger as much anxiety in children — and sometimes their parents — as the words “Time for a shot.” The reason is pretty obvious: Kids don’t like shots (or blood draws or anything to do with needles) because they hurt and can be a little scary.

In reality, shots don’t “hurt” that much. It’s the fear of needles – or pain – that triggers such anxiety. The good news is that there are some surprisingly simple strategies that can lessen the pain — both emotional and physical — for everyone involved, from changing the way you talk about shots to planning a sweet distraction.

We at Weiss Pediatric Care offer 10 tried and true tips to help take the sting out of vaccinations.

1.     First and foremost, stay calm yourself. The most important factor in getting your children through their immunization appointment is you. It’s important to relax yourself, because even babies can sense stress and muscle tension in their parents.  

2.     Prepare your child so it’s not a surprise, but don’t forewarn them so early they worry all day. Use a straight forward approach to explain how necessary immunizations are to staying healthy. Do not say “I’m sorry, but you have to get a shot today.” Instead, say, “We are going to get an immunization to protect you from getting sick.”

3.     Do not minimize or “talk up” getting shots too much. If your child asks if it will hurt, say “only for a few seconds and a lot less than scraping your elbow or knee… or less than if I pinched you.” Practice timing a few seconds to show how brief that really is.

4.     During the visit, help your child relax. Shots hurt less when the skin and muscles around the injection site are relaxed. Find out where the nurse will administer the shots and rub it a little before the injection takes place.

5.     Distract your child with as much contact as possible. For the younger child, if he is on the exam table, stay close to his head and hug his arms, or have him on your lap. Holding him firmly – or with an older child, rubbing his arm or leg – will send reassuring signals to him.

6.     In young children, bring a comfort item or two – a favorite blanket, toy, bottle or pacifier can help soothe them before and after the immunization. You can also sing their favorite song or flip through the pages of a favorite book.

7.     For older children (and even some teens), coach them how to relax by taking deep breaths and exhaling. Encourage them to squeeze your hand and “blow” their worries away.

8.     Encourage them to “count” during the few seconds it may take for the sting to subside. Tell your child to count backwards from 10 and it will be over. In reality, it will be over before your child gets to the number seven.

9.     Bring an ice pack with you to the doctor’s office. Applying an ice pack to the injection site a few minutes before shot time can take the sting out of shots.

10. Finally, be careful how you describe immunizations. Calling an immunization “a shot” or “a needle” brings up negative images. And never use shots as a threat to make your child behave.

Be sure to shower them with after-immunization praise no matter how loudly they might have cried or screamed during the visit. And whenever feasible, do something fun afterward, like a trip to the playground or ice cream shop. Even a small incentive (like a sticker) can give your child something to look forward to while also acknowledging his bravery in a positive way.

To learn more about childhood vaccinations and why they are so vital when children are young, visit the CDC website.