Preparing Young Children for Shots

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Preparing my 13-month old for shots/vaccinations

April 2007

Any suggestions for preparing my 13-month old daughter for shots/vaccinations? I'm not sure what to tell her before we go, or when we're there; how to handle it so she knows the truth about what's coming but that we can deal with it appropriately. Any ideas??? Not-so-calm Mom

I just took my 15 month old in for shots. I didn't do anything to prepare him. The nurse came in and stuck a needle in his leg. He cried for 30 seconds and then stopped. That was it, just like all the rest of the 1st year shots. Is there more? I'm guessing I'll need to do more once he's old enough to remember past experience and have fears....Until then, making no fuss at all seems to work. Bad Parent

It's sweet of you to be concerned, but unless your 13mo is unusually precocious, I don't think you need to do much preparation. I have a 19mo of average intelligence/communication skills, and he certainly never expressed any worry about shots before or after they happened. If it makes you feel better, you can mention that there will be shots, that they will hurt but only for a minute, and that they will help prevent sicknesses that are worse than the shots. But that's the kind of prep I do with my 3yo, not a toddler. It might help to read a picture book about going to the doctor, so she'll know what to expect in general. There are a million of them -- ask your librarian for a recommendation. JP

no prep needed. just distract her when it's happening. mom of 3

I have a 13 month old child and I don't think she would have any idea what I was talking about if I tried to explain shots. You can help her to get through it easier by giving comfort during and after the shots rather than trying to make her understand at this age. If she's anything like my baby, she'll forget the pain within 5 minutes of getting the shots. I find that distractions like a toy or some cheerios or looking out a window helps with getting over the first few minutes after a shot. anon

I suggest NOT talking about shots before a doctor's visit. Kids get soooooo scared about the shots that it overwhelms them and makes them afraid of the doctor's office. I would talk about all the things the doctor might do (not too far ahead of time--maybe in the car on the way there), like listen to her heartbeat with a stethoscope, look in her ears with a special flashlight, etc. A 13 month old is pretty young to even comprehend most of that. As she gets older she might want more information. But the shot issue should be downplayed. You can always say, ''I don't know if you'll need a shot--we'll have to see what the doctor says.'' Later, when she's older (3 or 4) you can explain why we need shots (''to keep us healthy so we don't get very sick''.) Berkeley Mom of 3

there was an article in I believe the Oregonian or Bend Bulletin about some of the techniques pediatricians are using to make shots less painful (similar to this article: They ranged from drinking sugar water just before the shot to using a pressure ring during the shot to applying some sort of topical ointment. Ibuprofrin also works. I don't have the date of the article with me but it may be worth doing a google search or talking to your pediatrician. Why not make it less painful? If it is less painful, they're more likely to dread it less next time. I've also found that talking about the post-doctor treats (toy, ice-cream, something) helped a bit. Otherwise, you just have to get through it.

Preparing my 4 year old for shots

Feb 2006

My daughter needs 4 or 5 shots for her 4 year check up. Is there a way to prepare her for this? I want to avoid physically holding her down. Thanks.

My 4 year old just had her visit and shots...Advice I tried to follow from nurses on previous visits: Don't talk about the shots too much in advance. Don't even bring up the office visit until the day before. Focus discussions about the visit on the ''healthy check-up'' part, how the doctor helps keep us healthy by looking at all our parts--in our ears, mouth, eyes...and feeling our tummies and hitting our knees with her little hammer.

If my daughter asked if she'll need shots, I replied that I didn't know, and we'd have to wait to see what the doctor says (that what nurses in the past have replied in the early minutes of a visit, to my older daughter). Little books about visiting the doctor are good preparation too--they usually include a page on ''the shot'' but play it down, and focus on the exam before, and the reward after --toy or lollipop, or whatever.

You say you don't want to have to hold her down; sad fact is, shots hurt, and kids know it. As mature and prepared as my 5 year old was last year, I had to hold her VERY securely on my lap while she got her shots. (Singing helps calm them down a bit.) The good news: the nurse told her that after that, she would not need any more shots until she was 10! Best of luck, Heidi

I was always honest with my kids and told them the shots would hurt. I didn't scare them , but I just told them it was going to be a small ouchie but it would stop hurting. And that the little ouchie was better than getting really, really sick, which might happen without the shot. I also assured them that I would let them sit in my lap and squeeze me as hard as they could while getting the shot. I also told them that if they needed to cry it was okay. Oh, last thing: I also told them I got shots too when I was little and I was just fine. They like to hear that you've gone through the same thing. A lot of their fear is not knowing what to expect. My kids always got through it pretty well. It was worse when they were infants and had no idea what the heck was going on. anon

When I took my son in for his 4 y.o. check-up, I forgot that he would need shots. I didn't prepare him for the shot just talked about the check-up and said, ''I don't think so'' when he asked about shots. In retrospect that was the best thing for him. I think most kids will build up fear in advance, but be able to deal with it OK when presented with the sitiuation. I don't want to suggest that you should trick your daughter, but sometimes too much ''preparing'' creates dread. Just do it

If you belong to Berkeley Pediatrics they just started offering a topical analgesic cream to use on children (18 mos and up) before their shots. I used it recently with my daughter and I highly recommend it. She didn't feel a thing! They charge $5 for a small container of it. You must put it on 15 minutes before the shots in order for it to take affect.

This cream is also available over the counter for about $30 a tube at any pharmacy.

Other than that, a prophylatic dose of Tylenol doesn't hurt either. And sucking on a piece of hard candy or lolly during the shots is a nice distraction too. Good Luck

Anesthetic (EMLA) cream for shots?

July 2004

A TV show mentioned using anesthetic (EMLA) cream on your child's skin to make immunization shots less painful. (It is available by prescription.) It seems like a good idea to me but a relative told me her physician opposed it (but she can't remember why). Has anyone tried anesthetic cream for shots? Did it help? Is there a good reason not to use it? David

Go ahead and use the cream. We have been using it for 5 years and actually used it this morning for my 5 year old - he had to have three big shots prior to starting kindergarten - only the last one hurt (MMR I think) and it was really no big deal. All my friends had warned me about the 5 year check-up because of the pre-kindergarten shots and it was terrible for the kids - my son sailed through. It works so well that sometime in the past he didn't even know he'd gotten a shot. kristi

EMLA is a topical anesthetic. It will only provide temporary numbing to the skin. Most vaccinations are IM (intramuscular) and thus the EMLA would not reach deep enough to make any difference. The only vaccination that is given SQ (subcutaneously) I believe is the polio vaccine, so you would only potentially get benefit for this vaccine. Anon

I don't think it's the actual needle-prick that hurts the baby that much with shots, it's the medicine going into the muscle (or lack of muscle). I usually just give tylenol 30 min before and it works really well. anon

EMLA will only numb the skin superficially. I think what hurts with a shot is more the medicine going in than the actual prick itself. EMLA is generally used for more lengthy and painful procedures such as lumbar punctures and placing IVs. That said, it certainly won't HURT to try EMLA if you want to. A nurse

We used Emla cream all the time for our one child who hated getting shots. Only difficulties are you have to know where the! shot will be given (easy to find out) and need to apply it with an occlusive (''airtight'') bandage/band-aid, the longer before the shot the better (we did 2 hours). Worked wonderfully and our child was no longer afraid of getting shots. - heavy user

Our doctor prescribed an anesthetic cream for my son's bloodtest (for lead) when he was about 2 years old, 1. I'm not sure I would use it again. The warnings on the directions were terrifying (serious potential side effects) and the timing had to be fairly specific, which didn't end up working that well with staffing at the lab we used. Since shots don't have to be as exact as a blood draw, I myself would not take the risk of using it as a trade off for the pain relief. - Hates shots too, but...