Needle Phobia: Easing Kids’ Anxiety About Getting Shots

Needle Phobia: Easing Kids’ Anxiety About Getting Shots

Most people don’t just love going to the doctor, but it can be especially stressful for children. Whether it’s a quick visit to get a scheduled vaccination or an overnight stay in the hospital, it’s important to reduce the anxiety children might be experiencing.

Normalizing healthcare settings and the procedures one might encounter helps in the long-term, too. If a child develops a fear or phobia about needles, they may avoid getting the care they need as adults.

Coping Techniques

Specific to needles, the first step is acknowledging that getting a shot is uncomfortable and can be painful.

“Let's recognize that. Let's acknowledge it,” states Jessica Liles, Director of Volunteer and Family Support Services at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. “From there, I think it's about learning healthy coping techniques. What does this person need in this situation to help make that needle stick a little bit easier?”

One such technique is to use topical creams that numb the skin. However, this requires a prescription. Another is called “Buzzy For Shots,” which is a little device that looks like a bumblebee and vibrates. When placed directly above where the needle needs to go, the vibration confuses the brain. Instead of feeling pain, it’s more of a tingling sensation. A device that works in a similar way is called the Shot Blocker. Even something as simple as using an ice cube to numb the area works well.

Distraction is also a great mechanism. Providers might engage the child’s senses, such as using visual aids like a book, iPad, or light spinner or engage in auditory distractions by singing a song.

Give the Child a Sense of Control

Alongside these techniques, parents can help ease their child’s anxiety by being open about those fears—talking to the child and having a plan.

“One of the biggest things our parents can do is to be an advocate for their child and speak to their care team about how their child is feeling, maybe the behaviors they noticed, and talk to them about the ways we can help make this experience a little bit more positive,” notes Liles.

The care team is also instrumental in managing the situation. Oftentimes, giving the child a sense of control reduces the stress they’re feeling. For example, if receiving a shot, the provider might ask the child where they want to sit. On the caregiver’s lap? Or perhaps in a chair by themselves? Giving control may also take the form of providing the child the space to cry.

“Coping does not always mean they are going to be calm and collected. We tell them that tears are okay. What I'm looking for is after the needle stick, how long does it take for them to go back to being their normal self? If they're able to cry when we're doing it, and then quickly bounce back, that tells me they're likely coping well. However, if we do the needle stick and 10 minutes later they're still crying and upset, chances are they're having a much harder time coping,” explains Liles.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

No matter a child’s age, it’s important for parents and caregivers to ask for help if their child has a difficult time coping in a healthcare setting. At Le Bonheur, child life specialists are available to support children and their families through these experiences.

“Even if we're not able to be there for that visit where the needle sticks might be happening, we can be available to answer calls or questions and provide coaching to families about things that may be helpful. I would just encourage to ask what can be done to help make it a little bit easier, because there are things we can do,” assures Liles.

**To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Jessica Liles, Director of Volunteer and Family Support Services at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, please follow this link:

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