Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

Your child’s experience of needles in their early years can affect how they feel and respond to subsequent vaccinations. So it is important to reduce the chance of a negative experience.

But what can parents do to help prepare their child for the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine or other injections?

Fear or phobia?

Most children are afraid of needles. But for some children, this fear is more serious and can be defined as a needle phobia.

Needle phobia is a very frightening and disturbing reaction to the presence of or reaction to a needle, for example, taking blood or getting an injection. Anxiety and fear are out of proportion to the threat and people want to avoid needles as much as possible.

In severe cases, the level of anxiety caused by the mere sight of a needle can result in a feeling of dizziness, nausea, increased sweating, loss of consciousness and fainting.

Almost every fifth child (19%) aged 4-6 has needle phobia, and this drops to every nine (11%) aged 10-11. Among adults, about 3.5-10% have needle phobia.

When I worked as a nurse, I still remember Emma, ​​a five-year-old girl who was petrified of needles. I remember her little face, the anger and the fear, the tears and the screams just at the sight of a needle.

Her growing fear was due to previous blood tests, injections and other medical procedures. And it did not get any easier until she received professional play therapy help.

Reduces the chance of a negative experience

When ordering vaccination appointments, consider asking the nurse to set aside extra time to prepare.

When children come for a vaccination, most nurses expect the child to be worried and nervous or very afraid of an injection.

Nurses can help by asking the child to tense and relax the muscles to prevent fainting. They may suggest taking a deep breath, holding it, and exhaling slowly. They may also ask the child to wiggle their toes to provide some distraction.

Worried girl sitting on her mother's lap and looking at a tablet.
Image: Distraction can help take the child’s mind away from it / Shutterstock

If the child is clearly worried – for example, screaming, kicking and saying they do not want to – parents can expose the needle so that the child has the opportunity to develop some coping strategies. This can potentially prevent a needle phobia from developing.

Parents are the best advocates for their child and know how to support them during their vaccinations.

How can you prepare your child?

The first step is to consider when to give your child information about the vaccine. For children under five, a shorter time frame works better; for example, the same day.

For children five to six years old, you can tell them a day or two before; and for the seven years, up to a week before.

Little boy playing with stuffed toys wearing face masks.
Picture: Think about timing, based on your child’s age / Shutterstock

However, if your child has a needle phobia, they may need significant help in a safe environment to play out their thoughts and feelings and learn some stress management strategies.

Get help from therapists

Trained play therapists, child life therapists and child psychologists can help. After building a trusting relationship with the therapist, medical play therapy sessions involve role-playing scenarios to make the child insensitive to medical devices.

This often starts with medical toy equipment and moves towards more authentic medical equipment.

The therapist provides information to the child by showing them how things work. The child can then develop coping by injecting their doll or teddy bear, while the therapist gives cues to coping strategies and resilience.

Some children need one or two sessions, but those with needle phobia may require up to ten sessions or more.

Therapists can also teach parents skills to support their child during a needle or other medical procedure.

Use of play therapy techniques at home

Introduce any toy that pretends to be medical equipment for your child’s playtime, and notice if they are curious or avoid them.

If they are curious and looking for more information, show and tell them about their upcoming vaccine and why they need it. For example, you could say that it will help stop them, and many other people, from getting coronavirus, including their grandparents.

Children are aware from media and school that COVID has forced people to stay home because it made many people sick and they could not breathe properly. You can explain that protection against the vaccine will help them stay in kindergarten or school and see their friends.

Child practices vaccinating a doll.
Picture: See how your child reacts to medical toys / Shutterstock

For the child who avoids playing with the medical toy, distraction techniques can help. Consider introducing a new toy or object that can hold the baby’s attention immediately before and during the injection. This can be sensory toys, I-spy books, digital games or apps.

What tools do play therapists use?

For Emma, ​​after developing a therapeutic play relationship, I introduced and practiced the Magic Glove Technique. For children with good imagination, they can learn to relax and pretend they have a magically invisible glove that makes their arm – and themselves – feel calm and relaxed.

For other children, I have used Buzzy, a mechanically vibrating device resembling a bee, developed by American physician and pain researcher Amy Baxter. It has a cold pack and the vibration inhibits the sensation of pain.

If your child has a negative experience during their vaccination and you would like professional help, ask your GP for suggestions from local play therapists or child life therapists or child psychologists in your area.The conversation

Judith Parson is an associate professor of pediatric play therapy at Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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