How can I help my toddler become less afraid of getting shots? Health & Development

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toddler getting shot at doctor's office
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Whether your toddler is due for 12-month immunizations or an annual flu shot, you know it's preventative but your kid just sees a scary needle. Here's what a pediatrician and moms say may work to help your child through a shot.

Keep It Positive

"Don’t be afraid to give your child a dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen an hour before the shot; that’s fine. Prepping them beforehand can add to hysteria at this age. Bring with them a distraction -- a comforting blanket or toy. This would be a time, as a practical parent, it's okay to give them a little screen time on your phone as a distraction.

"I think at 12 months, it's not a helpful thing to warn them there will be a shot. Once they're older, I find ways to allow kids to have...

"Don’t be afraid to give your child a dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen an hour before the shot; that’s fine. Prepping them beforehand can add to hysteria at this age. Bring with them a distraction -- a comforting blanket or toy. This would be a time, as a practical parent, it's okay to give them a little screen time on your phone as a distraction.

"I think at 12 months, it's not a helpful thing to warn them there will be a shot. Once they're older, I find ways to allow kids to have autonomy and choice. I ask them which ear they want me to look at first or whether they would like a pink band aid or a blue band aid afterwards. Then I praise them for their choice. That has worked like a charm for me. Giving kids a little control can be helpful.

"The child can sit in a caregiver's lap for the shot, and you can give hugs and squeezes, which are always good. Positive language is good. Afterwards, say something like, 'That was hard but I’m proud of you.' You don't want to add to anything, but you don't want to diminish their fear.

"You can say, 'What would you like to have as special treat afterwards?' I don't usually recommend food rewards but maybe you celebrate with a favorite card game or every once in a while, it's okay to have ice cream as a distraction." -- Christina Johns, MD, MEd, FAAP, senior medical adviser, PM Pediatrics, Lake Success, NY

Be Honest

"Honesty has always been my policy. I tell them that yes, it will hurt for a moment, but that it will help keep them healthy. It is the same with any situation though. I do my best to make sure they are informed about what they are facing."

Distraction Works

"I would sing, laugh, and joke with my daughter. She would be pretty distracted when they gave her the shot. And then I would keep very upbeat and smile and say, 'Oh my; that wasn't bad. You laughed the whole time!' Then I kept distracting her until she kind of just got over it."

Show Good Examples

"Every time I brought my toddler to get shots, I brought an older child that wouldn't freak out too. It really helped a lot. Watching Doc McStuffins also helped my children with not being afraid of going to the doctor in general."

Try Counting

"I tell my kids to hold my hands, close their eyes and count to ten. Then immediately afterwards, I give lots of hugs and kisses and they them how amazing they are -- and just like a big kid."

Nurse for Comfort

"If you breastfeed, I recommend nursing directly after or if possible during the shot. And nurse frequently the following 24 hours. If they still breastfeed, it’s the best source of comfort."

Tell Them to Wiggle Their Toes

"A girl told me that when she was younger, nurses would tell her to wiggle her toes.  She would focus so much on trying to wiggle her toes in her shoes that she would be distracted from the shot."

Show Them Your Own Bravery

"I have brought my child with me to get my weekly allergy injections and show him how tough Mommy is. When he sees that Mommy gets shots and that I'm okay, he already knows that he's going to get a shot and that he will be okay also."

The advice on CafeMom aims to educate, inform, and provide a range of solutions to the issues moms care about. It is not a substitute for consultation with a medical professional or treatment for a specific condition. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified professional. Please contact your health-care provider with questions and concerns.