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How To Talk to Kids About Vaccines

Posted on March 25, 2022
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The following article is guest authored by Dr. Alexandria Yarborough, PharmD. She is a Pharmacy Manager in South Carolina and a Families Fighting Flu Advocate. 

Vaccines save lives, but children may not realize that and have negative emotions because they are scared of needles. The way a parent or healthcare provider talks to kids about vaccines is important. Below, we outline some ideas for how to talk about vaccines.

Explain the entire process
Talk your child through the process from start to finish. For example, say “They may ask us to sit and wait. When it’s our turn, we’ll meet the pharmacist and she will show us where we can sit. Then, the helper will wash an area of your arm to make sure there are no germs. This may feel cold and the wipe might smell like hand sanitizer. Next, you’ll get your vaccine through a small poke – you may feel a little pressure or pinch, but it will be quick! Then, you’ll get a Band-Aid and it’s all done.”

Use kid-friendly language
Your words matter! We suggest using words like “vaccine” or “immunization” instead of “shot.” This is helpful because the word “shot” may have negative associations, either from past experiences or from confusion around the more violent definition of that word. You can also describe the feeling as a “pinch,” “pressure” or “small poke” instead of words like “sting” or “burn.”

Refer to the person giving the shot, whether it’s a pharmacist, nurse, or other staff, as a “helper” to make a connection that they’re there to help them receive their vaccine, not hurt them with a needle.

Listen to what your child has to say without judgment
Validate their emotions. Responding that “it’s no big deal” or “you’ll be fine” doesn’t counter the fear that needles are scary. While it may seem like you’re trying to reassure your child, these statements make your child think their feelings are wrong. Instead, reassure them that what they are feeling is normal, but it’s for the greater good and the small poke is temporary.

Talk about vaccines in a positive way
Focus on how they’re doing something for the greater good. For example, share that “By keeping your body protected against diseases, you are also helping keep friends, family, teachers, and others in the community safe.”

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