How to Prepare Younger Kids for the COVID-19 Vaccine

This post was last updated November 4, 2021. 

Parents and caregivers, this is an exciting time: A COVID-19 vaccine is now available for ages 5 to 11.

Since kids in this age group might be a little more nervous about needles or doctor’s visits, Connecticut Children’s Child Life specialists have prepared some tips to help get your child – and yourself – ready.

(Want tips to keep your child calm at their vaccine appointment? Click here.)

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Planning for the Appointment 

Prepare yourself. Get the information and reassurance you need. If you still have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and kids, reach out to your child’s pediatrician. You can also check out Connecticut Children’s resources like these FAQs: The COVID-19 Vaccine and Younger Kids.

Plan ahead for special needs. If your child has sensory sensitivities or may need special help or support, mention it when you schedule their COVID-19 vaccine appointment.

Use what’s worked before. Did you find a winning routine for your child’s flu vaccine or other big doctor’s appointments? Use it!

Give your child a heads up. How much of a heads up? A good rule is one day for each year of life – so, five days for a 5-year-old. Does your child get very nervous about needles? You may want to wait till the night before, or the day of. At that point, you can talk about the vaccine and make a plan to help them be successful.

Use play to “rehearse” the visit. Depending on your child’s age, you can use a favorite toy or a play medical kit to act out what happens at a vaccine. This is a great time to practice calming exercises (see below).

Pack comfort items. Have your child pick a toy or stuffed animal to keep them company. You might also bring a book, headphones or other soothing items. Here are ideas.

Plan a reward. Give your child something to look forward to! Plan something special to do after their vaccine, like a trip to the park, dedicated play time with a favorite toy, or something else.

> Related: When Will the COVID-19 Vaccine Be Available for Kids, and Will It Be Safe for Your Family?

Child uses medical play to ease her fears of needles

Talking About the COVID-19 Vaccine 

Be honest. Talk about the people that may be in the room, the sounds they will hear, if there will be unusual smells or tastes, and anything they might feel on their body. The big question on many kids’ minds is whether the needle will hurt. It’s best to be honest and end on a positive note: Yes, they’ll probably feel a pinch or pressure, but it will go away quickly.

Use neutral words. Instead of “shot,” say “vaccine.” Instead of “poke,” go for “pinch” or “pressure.”

Focus on the positives. Talk about why the COVID-19 vaccine is exciting, and why you got yours: It helps keep us healthy! If you’re relaxed and confident, there’s a good chance your child will be too.

If your child asks how the COVID-19 vaccine works: Explain that the vaccines teaches their body how to protect itself from COVID-19 germs. Use familiar examples, like the flu vaccine. (By the way: If your child hasn’t gotten their annual flu vaccine yet, schedule it ASAP.)

Clear up any confusion. Some kids may have already heard a lot about the COVID-19 vaccine, both true and untrue. When you talk about their vaccine appointment, listen closely to correct any confusion.

Research answers together. If you have a child with lots of questions, find trusted kid-friendly websites to look at together for answers – like Sesame Street in Communities and KidsHealth. Encourage big kids to write down questions to ask the nurse or doctor at the appointment.

> Related: Can Kids Get the COVID-19 Vaccine and Flu Shot at the Same Time?

If Your Child Is Nervous

Let them know it’s OK to be nervous. Lots of kids get nervous or excited before a doctor’s appointment, or don’t like needles. Reassure your child that it’s normal for them to feel this way too.

Talk about the things that your child can control, like bringing a comfort item or practicing a breathing exercise. When kids discover ways to help themselves, they build confidence and resilience.

Practice a calming exercise. Pick a mindfulness exercise together, then practice at home. In the days leading up to the appointment, take time before bed to do some deep breathing exercises or guided meditation so your child gets used to it.

Reassure your child that you’ll be with them the entire time. Your presence is a big comfort. Would they like to hold your hand? Do a big countdown?

Keep the car ride fun. Have your child pick the music on the drive there and home, distract them with one of these road trip activities, or get them talking about a favorite hobby or memory.

> Related: Mental Health Resources for Kids

At the Appointment 

Model calm. Take a deep breath and smile. If your child sees that you’re relaxed, it’ll help them relax too. (Do needles make you very nervous? Your child may pick up on it – so consider having another trusted adult bring them to their vaccine appointment.)

Distract them. Use the comfort items you packed, play “I spy,” count together, or do a calming exercise. Here are more tips.

Give your child choices. Would they like to get the medicine in their left arm or right arm? Do they want you to count down when it’s time for their vaccine, or not?

Praise your child. Make sure you give compliments for specific reasons. For example, “You’re doing a great job keeping your body calm and taking deep breaths,” or “Thank you for using your words to tell me what you needed.” This helps your child focus their energy, and motivates them to keep up positive behaviors.

No matter how it went, celebrate your child for doing their best. This is an exciting moment: Your child has their COVID-19 vaccine! It’s time for a reward.

 

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