Kids and needle-phobia

No one particularly likes needles, but about a quarter of us have a genuine phobia of injections. This number gets much higher in kids. A phobia can result in anxiety, a racing heart, nausea, chest pain and even passing out. The worse consequence is that this fear can actually stop some people getting the vaccinations they need, making them vulnerable to preventable diseases.

It’s good to deal with fear of needles when kids are younger, as a mild fear can turn into a full-blown phobia later in life and becomes much harder to deal with. Because of that, here are a few things you can do to help manage that fear when it comes time for vaccinations. Keep in mind that getting many needles at the same time can be especially difficult for kids.

Timing is important

Think about how much notice you give your child that their shots are coming up. If you tell them weeks in advance, you could be giving them time for their anxiety to build unnecessarily. But don’t surprise them either. In the end, you know your child better than anyone, so use your instinct as to how much notice you give them.

Talk about their fears

If your child is worried about getting a needle, talk to them about it. And make sure you ask them why they are scared. For many kids, their fear of injections comes from previous bad experiences, and talking about it can help stop the fear from snowballing. Work out what parts of the process are most frightening, and what might be different this time.

Help them understand

Fear can also come from a lack of understanding. So, make sure you tell your child the truth about their shots.  Tell them the reasons why they are getting vaccinated and also talk them through the experience. Don’t tell them it won’t hurt; if it does, the shock might compound their fears. Tell your child getting a needle might sting for a few seconds, but it’s over almost instantly.

Having as much info as possible will help you answer any questions your child has about what’s going to happen. You can speak to your immunisation provider or call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) if you want a better understanding of what vaccines are going to be given, why they’re going to be given them and what the process is.

Get the doctor or nurse involved

Doctors and nurses will have their own strategies for dealing with patients who have needle phobias. They’ve spent a career giving injections, so they will know every trick in the book. Let them know in advance your child has a phobia, so they can prepare any strategies and keep the needle hidden.

For young kids, get them involved in the process. Make sure they talk to the doctor or nurse and ask any questions they have. Getting this right when they are young makes it easier every time they get a shot.

If your child is getting vaccinations through the school program, let the vaccine provider know (by writing on the consent form) that your child is worried about being vaccinated. As well as the nurse’s own strategies, they might be able to have an ice pack available to help numb their skin to reduce the sting.

Bring on the distractions

At the actual moment of getting the shot, distraction is almost always the best strategy.

For younger kids, grab their attention by playing games, making jokes or giving them your phone or iPad to watch their favourite show on. Anything that stops them thinking about the needle should work. Always give them plenty of cuddles and physical contact – but don’t hold them down, this can compound their fear for next time.

For kids getting their shots in the school program, talk to your child about what they can do without you there. This includes taking deep breaths to calm themselves or coming armed with a distraction method. Ways to distract themselves could include having a friend there or looking at their phone. Another approach is getting them to try and think positive thoughts. While this won’t be possible for all kids, this can be a very powerful coping mechanism.

Next steps

If your child is experiencing a prolonged phobia or anxiety about needles, ask your doctor for advice and recommendations on how you can help your child. Your doctor may even be able to refer you to an immunisation specialist for children.

Last updated: 28 January 2021