Preparing Your Child for Vaccinations: Tips to Reduce Anxiety and Pain

A boy smiling and flexing his arm after a vaccination.

Regardless of age, most of us aren’t overly fond of needles. In fact, roughly one in four adults in the United States has a strong fear of needles, which may contribute to overall lower health. If you’re afraid of needle pokes, you’re more likely to delay or forego vaccinations, blood tests, and other medical care which might involve something sharp.

Your child may be terrified of shots, but the truth is that vaccinations are important to their lifelong health. Even though kids can be afraid of shots, working through it helps them establish and foster a positive relationship with their medical team and build their self-confidence.

While there’s no surefire way to make needles not hurt, there are things you can do to comfort your child during and after vaccinations.

Preparing Your Baby for Vaccinations

In the first 15 months, your baby should receive as many as 11 vaccinations, many of which require multiple doses. Thankfully, many of them take place at the same time, which reduces the number of visits and the number of needle pokes. You can’t exactly explain to your infant what’s going on, but you can design the experience to maximize their comfort.

Consider your child’s schedule, preferences, and temperament. If your child struggles in the morning but rallies in the afternoon, you might schedule their vaccinations when they’re most likely to be emotionally equipped. Maybe you know your child will need rest after getting shots, and scheduling an appointment right before naptime or toward the end of the day would be ideal. There’s no right answer here, except what you feel will work well for you and your baby.

Strategies for Calming Baby Before and After Shots

1. Take a minute to make sure your attitude is calm. Babies pick up on parental anxieties.

2. Comfort Positioning:

  • You may want to allow your baby to eat while receiving shots. However, precaution needs to be taken to prevent them from aspirating if they begin crying.
  • Hold your baby close to you to provide a sense of safety and support.
  • Wrap your baby in a blanket for added comfort.

3. Skin-to-Skin Contact:

  • Place your baby skin-to-skin on your chest before, during, and after the shots to promote bonding and comfort.
  • Offer gentle strokes or caresses to help soothe and reassure your baby.

4. Breastfeeding or Bottle Feeding:

  • Feed your baby immediately before and after the shots, if possible. This can help to calm baby and relieve the pain after a shot.
  • Try to incorporate skin-to-skin contact, even if your baby is bottle-fed.

Making Shots Easier for Older Kids

As kids get older, they develop language skills and become incredibly curious. If your child has questions about their upcoming vaccinations, let them ask, and answer their questions in a way which is honest and comforting. UNICEF has a great list of answers to common questions in child-appropriate language.

You might be tempted to minimize the experience by telling your child it won’t hurt or it’s not a big deal. But if your child is anxious about vaccinations, then that fear is real and needs validation. The last thing you want is to make a promise you can’t keep or control, leaving your child feeling betrayed and hurt.

Instead of downplaying their concerns, let them know that you hear their worries. Remind them that you’ve been in their shoes and that you’ll be with them every step of the way. If they’re old enough, explain the benefit to their health. It’s easier to do hard things if you understand why you have to do them and why it’s so important.

How to Help Kids Two to Twelve Years Old Take the Sting Out of Shots

  • If your child has a favorite comfort object, like a stuffed animal or blanket, let them bring it along.
  • Don’t forget about comfort positioning just because your kid is a little older. Wrap your child in a hug and have them hug you in return. Concentrating on squeezing you gives them something else to focus on, keeps them still during the injection, and is innately comforting. It’s a hug.
  • Distraction also works, and with older kids you have infinite options. If playing a game or watching a video on a phone or tablet will help them get through an uncomfortable afternoon, there’s nothing wrong with that.
  • End with something positive. Something as simple as a treat or prize on the way home or even spending time together at a pa can be an effective emotional palate cleanser.
  • Ask about possible pain control measures. It may not be perfectly effective, but for some kids, anything that promises to reduce needle pain can give them a boost of courage.

Before you leave the office ask your pediatric team about any potential side effects your child may experience after the vaccine and how best to prevent those effects. Your child might benefit from a mild pain reliever or a cold compress on the injection site. And once you get back home, if any questions or concerns arise, don’t hesitate to give us a call.


Camie Goff, NP

Camie Goff, NP

Camie practices pediatrics in our Riverton office.

a happy father receives a kiss from his son

Book an Appointment

Our specialists provide comprehensive care for your children, with medical, dental, mental health, and orthodontic services available under one roof.