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How to Overcome a Child's Fear of Flu Shots

Tim Boyer's picture
Flumist flu shot

Previous studies have shown that one of the reasons why some children do not get their yearly flu shots is not due to a parent's fear of vaccines; but rather, due to a child’s fear of flu shots. A child’s fear of needles can cause needless pain and anxiety that leads to some parents skipping on the vaccination in preference to treating a sick child later on. However; one nursing student has come up with a study that shows parents and nurses how to overcome a child’s fear of flu shots.

Visits to the pediatrician’s office can cause just as much stress for new parents as it can for a young child. A child’s fear of flu shots and other necessary immunizations can unfortunately affect a parent’s judgment as to whether or not to have their child immunized. And I can sympathize with that.

When my son was three and had to have a flu shot, I remember him sitting on the exam table with a look of mild curiosity on his face as he watched the nurse prep the injection site with an alcohol swab, followed by a gentle pinching of the skin just before she gave the injection. What happened next was a loud shriek from my son accompanied by his actually snatching the syringe away from the hand of the nurse. For a second I really thought that he was going to stab her with it. My kid’s reflexes were quicker than that of Billy the Kid’s.

The nurse was not so impressed.

However, according to a recent news release from Brigham Young University, one nursing student does understand that flu injections do not need to be so traumatic to young patients and their parents. In a study that focuses on teaching parents and nurses how to alleviate some of the stress that comes with receiving a flu shot, she recommends distraction as a solution.

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Amy Pulsipher is an undergraduate in the college of nursing at BYU and is researching effective distraction methods for children during needle injections.

“I remember when I was a kid, and my mom took me to get my shots. I ran outside and hid in the bushes until she had to come find me,” says Pulsipher. “Yes, I was totally afraid, just like every kid.”

Amy recommends that nurses should try anything from singing and reading aloud to playing with a Gameboy to distract a child from the stress of getting a shot. Her recommendation is based on a BYU student research project that finds that any distraction method can effectively reduce injection needle-induced anxiety and pain. The key she believes is that parents (who know their child better than anyone else) get to choose which method their child receives.

Previous research by nursing professor Beth Luthy found that some parents don’t get their children vaccinated because of the pain and anxiety it creates for both children and their parents.

“This idea about ‘I don’t want to bring my child into immunizations because there is a lot of pain’ pointed us to ask how we can relieve that pain and anxiety of the child,” says Ms. Luthy. “Our message is to healthcare providers and nurses, saying these are successful options you can use.”

Aside from distraction techniques such as singing songs and playing games Amy also recommends showing DVDs before or after vaccination or using a vapocoolant numbing spray before injecting a flu shot into a young arm.

Reference: BYU
Image source of Flumist: Wikipedia



DistrACTION cards and Buzzy decreased IV pain by half in a recent pediatric study; we're testing for teens getting HPV vaccines, too. Nice study!