While vaccines keep us healthy, they’re linked to a genuine fear for one out of five people: “needlephobia.” And that can present some unique challenges when it’s time for annual immunizations.

To help your child overcome any fear of needles — or better yet, prevent them from feeling afraid in the first place — try these preparation and calming techniques from Connecticut Children’s Child Life specialists. (Note: Some of these tips are written for younger children, but can easily be adapted for a teen or young adult.)

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Before the appointment

  • Talk to your child about what to expect at their vaccine appointment. Explain that needles are necessary to keep them healthy, that it will hurt just a little, and that it will be over quickly.
  • Don’t promise that the shot won’t hurt at all, and don’t go overboard with reassurances, which can wind up signaling to your child that you’re worried. Be warm but matter-of-fact: Yes, it’ll pinch, but only for a moment.
  • If appropriate, give your child a greater sense of control by giving them choices: Do they want more information? What music would they like to listen to on the way to their appointment?
  • Plan a reward to look forward to.
  • Your child will pick up on your anxiety, so if needles are one of your own fears, do what you can to manage your anxiety. (If your child has another parent or guardian besides you, you may also want to arrange for that person to take them into their appointment.)
  • Let your Connecticut Children’s team know if your child is scared of needles. We’ll work with you to steady them, distract them and help them have a positive experience.

During the appointment

  • Bring a favorite stuffed animal or book as a soothing distraction. Here are 16 ideas for comfort items.
  • Count, play a game or sing together.
  • Listen to music or watch an engaging video.
  • Practice deep breathing: Coach your child through taking three to five deep breaths, inhaling through the nose (“smell a flower”) and exhaling through the mouth (“blow a bubble”). Or have them blow bubbles or a pinwheel.
  • Have your child choose a favorite place or activity to imagine, and keep their thoughts focused on what they see, hear, smell and feel.
  • Encourage bravery! Celebrate your child’s efforts at coping.

> Related: Explaining Anesthesia to Younger Kids

After the appointment

  • Focus on everything that went well. Praise your child for good behavior, and for trying their best.

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