Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN
It is normal to be afraid of needles! Whether a child or adult, no one likes getting that stinging poke. However, needles are part of life and healthcare provider visits for most kids.
Kids may experience needles for shots and vaccines, blood draws, medications, and as part of other medical procedures. If your child is afraid of needles, it’s essential to make the experience as calm as possible and avoid unnecessary stress.
What To Do if Your Child Is Afraid of Needles
So, to help you and your child feel more confident at your next healthcare visit involving needles, we’ve put together several tactical tips for what to do if your child is afraid of needles.
Validate Their Fears
If your child fears needles, assure them their fear is perfectly normal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that 2 in 3 kids and 1 in 4 adults are scared of needles.
If your child verbally expresses their fear with words or actions (i.e., crying and screaming when you pull into the pediatrician’s office), let them know they are heard.
However, be careful about your word choice. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains it is important not to apologize and to use positive words about vaccines and shots. The thought behind this is that the reason for the poke is in the best interest of the child’s health, and that’s not something to apologize for.
The AAP also recommends both validating fears and explaining in an age-appropriate way why the needle is necessary for their health.
Provide Coping Mechanisms
Several coping mechanisms exist to help your child through an appointment involving needles. Dr. Steven Goudy, a pediatric ENT and creator of the NozeBot, shares several helpful tips for what to do if your child is afraid of needles. These tips and more include:
- Deep breathing
- Child Life professionals
- Comfort item
- Make a plan
Coping mechanisms will depend on the child’s age. A toddler on up may be able to use deep breathing and affirmations to help. You can practice different deep breathing techniques at home before the appointment so the child feels comfortable using them.
You don’t have to bring up the upcoming needle when you practice deep breathing; just practice deep breathing generally as a coping tool for when your child feels nervous, worried, scared, or anxious.
Affirmations are also great for young kids! Remind them that they are brave and they can do this. These are also great to practice regularly so your child knows them and feels comfortable with affirmations before they need a poke.
Distraction is also another excellent coping mechanism, regardless of age. Distraction can be reading a story, looking at a tablet, or drawing a smiley face on a child’s hand. It can also be through a tool like the BUZZY bee or a professional Child Life Specialist.
If your child needs a shot or blood draw and they are at a children’s hospital, there is likely a Child Life Specialist on staff. These individuals have cool distraction items, such as the BUZZY bee, ceiling light projects, fidgets, stuffies, tablets, etc. They are trained to help children cope with challenging procedures. Make sure to ask if one is available if it isn’t offered!
BUZZY is also available over the counter through major sites like Amazon. This cool gadget, developed by another pediatrician entrepreneur, includes an ice pack and a vibrating sensation. So it both numbs and distracts from pain.
Comfort items such as a blanket or stuffy can also help. And positioning can be crucial, too! Children’s Hospital of Colorado explains lying down can cause more fear in a child than sitting up. So, if you are asked to lay your child down, ask if you can sit them up instead. Several positions can include the child on your lap with you helping to position them if they’re squirmy.
Depending on your facility, if you have a nursing infant, many places will allow you to nurse your baby during shots or immediately after. Pacifiers can also help calm infants and young babies.
If you know the poke will happen ahead of time, it can be helpful to make a plan. A plan allows you to explain to your child what will happen and why and allows them control over what measures they want to use to help them feel better.
Seek Professional Help if Needed
Some anxiety over needles is perfectly normal! However, the AAP explains that if your child’s anxiety significantly impacts them, consider seeking professional help. Professional help may include counseling or therapy options to help your child work through their fears.
One red flag for seeking professional help is if your child’s anxiety over an upcoming visit or previous shot or procedure is regularly on their mind, impacting their daily life, or something they’re worrying about for days or weeks before an appointment.
Looking for more tips on helping kids navigate medical appointments? You’ll find these helpful:
- How to Advocate for Your Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in a Medical Setting
- 10 Things to Do When You Come Home From The Hospital With RSV
- What Can Your Child Eat Before Surgery?
- How to Prepare Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Doctor's
- Questions to Ask When Choosing a Pediatric ENT
As a parent or caregiver, seeing your child feel anxious or scared is hard! Fortunately, there are several interventions you can try if your child is afraid of needles. Also, remember that your child gains confidence from you and your body language!
You may feel nervous going into a procedure (and that’s ok!), but do your best to appear confident and calm to help support your child. Lots of these tips can also work to help calm a nervous parent. Deep breathing and affirmations are great for everyone!
Our goal is that these ideas help you and your child feel more confident heading into their next appointment. And if you have a great tip for what to do when your child is afraid of needles that we didn’t cover, be sure to let us know!
Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN, is a mother of four and a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics. When she's not working, you can find her cooking up tasty family dinners or keeping up with her kids on a hiking trail in her home state of Colorado.
A clear nose means better sleep.
The Nozebot is a battery-powered suction device designed to clear nasal congestion in babies and children.