This November, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was approved for individuals ages 5-11. While this may be welcome news for many parents, lots of children experience appropriate anxiety regarding receiving a shot. Some children also have sensory needs that can make receiving the vaccine difficult. Becca Mitsos, Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS), shares some simple tips and reminders to help make your child’s COVID-19 vaccine as easy as possible.
Your child has probably been hearing a lot about the COVID-19 vaccine. Even though a vaccination or shot may seem like a minor medical encounter, it is normal for your child at any age to be hesitant or nervous. Lurie Children’s Child Life Specialists encourage you to support your child by first and foremost sharing honest information with them, and reminding them it is okay to feel scared and that you will be there for them. Remember, feelings are for feeling, not for fixing – it is appropriate for a person at any age to cry when nervous or scared.
Your child can make several choices during their appointment to increase their sense of control and understanding during a potentially uncomfortable medical encounter. Empowering your child with appropriate choices supports their sense of control while also setting compassionate boundaries around what choices they get to make.
“Encounters like these can be opportunities for parents and caregivers to validate their child’s feelings by saying, ‘I get nervous before shots, too,’” shares Child Life Specialist Becca Mitsos. “If you know your child has particular difficulties with injections, we encourage you to engage them in a discussion before arrival at the appointment about what they feel can help them during the injection.”
Lurie Children’s Child Life Specialists also recommend being honest if your child asks if it will hurt. “You can share it may feel like a pinch that will last about 5-10 seconds, and then encourage your child to think about what they may want to hold, look at it, or listen to. In the same way you can’t build an emergency plan during an emergency, encouraging a child to develop their coping “tool kit” before they need it helps them feel empowered, in control and builds resilience. This can and will ultimately help them manage other uncomfortable situations in the future,” says Mitsos.
Mitsos explains, paraphrasing a quote from Janet Lansbury- “No one who cares for a child can say they’re unbothered by a child’s emotional distress. While it is easy to feel tempted into trying to distract a child with games, songs, toys, or a screen, to discount their feelings by repeatedly saying, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay, don’t cry!’ discounts their feelings – we need to allow them to express how they feel, listen to understand how they feel, and avoid erasing or invalidating their feeling,”.
For children and adolescents with unique sensory needs, below are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Click on the below links to download our vaccine tip sheets created by our child life specialists.
Lurie Children’s is here to partner with you and your child to help every experience be as positive as possible. We are so proud of our patients that take steps towards not just protecting themselves but their families and communities by getting the COVID-19 vaccine. For more information about finding a vaccine appointment, visit luriechildrens.org/vaccine.