By Tanni Haas, Ph.D.

Let’s face it: few kids enjoy going to the pediatrician, especially if they’re scheduled to get shots. But shots are a fact of life whether they’re getting vaccinated at annual wellness check-ups or getting seasonal flu shots. So, it’s best to get your kids comfortable with it sooner rather than later. What can parents do to make trips to the pediatrician, if not a favorite, then at least a tear-free experience? Here’s what the experts suggest:

Give Your Kids Advance Warning

Kids don’t like surprises unless you’re offering them a favorite treat, so let them know in advance that shots are on the horizon. “Like so many things in parenting,” says pediatrician Dr. Wendy Swanson, “knowing what to expect is essential for your child.” Don’t give your kids too much time to dwell on it because this will only make them more anxious – a couple of days is enough. “The waiting and anticipation of shots,” says Dr. Swanson, “is far worse for kids than the actual injection.”

Be Honest With Them

Be honest with your kids when you talk to them about what the experience is going to be like. Promising them that shots won’t hurt at all may backfire. “If you say it won’t hurt, and then it does,” says pediatrician Dr. Amy Stockhausen, “they’re always going to question whether you’re really being honest.” Research shows that when parents say, “don’t worry,” kids become even more anxious because they get the sense that there really is something to worry about. Instead of telling your kids that it’ll be pain-free, tell them, as primary care doctor Dr. Maureen Boyd puts it, that “it probably will hurt a bit, but it’ll only hurt for a moment.”

Explain Why It’s Important

Explain to your kids the reason why they’re getting shots, that it’s to keep them healthy and to prevent them from getting sick. Put it in words that they can understand. Pediatrician Dr. Melissa Arca suggests saying that shots keep them “healthy just like eating healthy foods, getting daily exercise, and getting enough sleep do.” Dr. Sophia Mirviss, another pediatrician, similarly suggests that parents say that shots keep them “healthy and strong – like eating vegetables or brushing their teeth.”

Stay Calm and Collected 

Once you get to the pediatrician’s office, be calm. Experts agree that your kids’ behavior will mirror yours. “If you act or feel nervous,” Dr. Swanson says, “your child may pick up on this.” But, if you remain calm, your kids will too. Have them sit on your lap if they’re young and hold their hands when they’re getting their shots. It’ll help relax both of you.

Praise and Reward Them

Once the visit is over, praise and reward your kids. Pediatrician Dr. Laura Marusinec says that parents should give their kids lots of positive feedback. “By offering positive feedback,” she says, “you’ll make your child feel better about getting shots in the future.” She suggests telling your kids that you’re proud of how brave they were, that bravery means doing the right thing even if it’s scary, and that they did the right thing by getting the shots. Experts also suggest that you reward them for their good behavior. You can take them on a trip to the park, go to the zoo, see a movie together, give them a favorite treat, or let them choose what you’re all going to have for dinner that evening. As Dr. Arca puts it only partly tongue-in-cheek: “getting shots is no fun for anyone and ice-cream really does make everything better.”

Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.

Read more from Tanni:

Stress Free Mornings

Know Your Schools: School Choice 101

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