WHEN psychologist Jennifer Ryan’s five-year-old son had his vaccination in school, the parents weren’t told the exact day of the jab.
“It was just part and parcel of the day, like falling over in the school yard, just normal,” says Ryan.
Normalising injections is important at this stage but some children already have a phobia around needles. Ryan says some children are sensitive and have a big reaction to any form of pain. Some are just very dramatic.
“For others, they’ve had a negative experience and fear of injections is a learned fear,” she says.
“There has been an association with a very traumatic moment when they were completely out of their comfort zone — maybe they found themselves in a very noisy hospital environment or a school injection didn’t go well.”
Parents need to be vigilant around not passing on their own concerns. If the parent frets, it’ll make the child anxious.
Ryan advises worried parents to let an non-fazed partner or grandparent accompany the child. She also recommends being upfront with your child and letting him know beforehand he’s due for an injection. She counsels a matter-of-fact approach — ‘right, off we go’ — and warns against telling any lie around it.
“Acknowledge ‘this might hurt a little’,” she says.
“Be positive about it. Children need reasons for everything, so give the reasons why this needs to happen — ‘so you don’t get sick’ or ‘to find out why you are sick’.”
While many parents urge their children to be brave, Ryan counsels against it.
“Because it’s OK not to be brave when someone is sticking a needle in your arm. It’s OK to cry and to shout. People say to children not to be afraid, angry, or sad — it’s OK to feel all these emotions. And it’s ok to be sore or not brave in the moment.”
If getting an injection is a big thing for your child, role-play can help desensitise the situation. Play a game involving your child’s teddy bear, where teddy has to go to the doctor, wait for the injection and then receive it. Each of these stages — the going, the waiting and the actual experience of the needle — can cause anxiety, so it’s important not to rush the role-play.
“Slow it down — take it at the child’s comfort level,” advises Ryan.
Letting the GP, hospital, or school know ahead if your child has a fear of needles is a good idea. Ryan says distraction techniques can be helpful.
“When it’s a physical effect on the body, give a physical stimulation as a distraction, for example a stress ball to squeeze.”
* Be calm and speak to your child in a calm voice.
* Be positive — use simple words to explain that injections keep you healthy.
* Have younger children sit on your knee — close physical proximity is comforting.
* Use a motivational reward — ‘afterwards we’ll go to the park or have an ice-cream’.
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