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Just a poke? Not to a young child. How to smooth out the COVID-19 vaccine process


Watching your young child receive an injection of anything is often an emotionally difficult experience. On the one hand, you want your child to be healthy and receive needed medical care and life-saving preventive services. However, there is something instinctual — a deep and unsettling feeling that occurs when someone, or something, provokes fear and pain in your child.

And that’s just you! It’s not exactly a play date for your child, either.

In reality, receiving an injection for a vaccine may not be perceived as extremely painful for some. But there is certainly some discomfort and pain, especially in the perception of a child. Moreover, it’s often a scary, confusing situation for a child, regardless of the amount of actual pain. How can you make the experience of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine a smoother process?

Mayo Clinic child life specialists Paula M. Hampel, CCLS, and Jennifer K. Rodemeyer, M.A., CCLS, offer the following tips for promoting positive health care experiences:

Educate and Prepare

  • Inform your child before the visit that they will be receiving a vaccine; this helps establish trust between you, your child and the medical team.
  • Talk about the benefits and reasoning behind receiving a vaccine. For example: “Vaccines help your body fight off viruses. “ “Getting vaccinated will help prevent the spread of COVID-19. “
  • Discuss with your child that they will feel a quick poke from the injection but that it will just last a couple of seconds.

Establish a Coping Plan

  • Advocate for pain-relieving options (cooling spray, numbing creams, vibrating ice pack).
  • Offer appropriate choices, when able. For example: “Do you want the nurse to count to three or just do it? ” “Do you want to watch the nurse or look away? “
  • Your role as a caregiver is very important, so advocate for using a comfort position. Have your child sit on your lap or next to you to help secure their body and provide comfort during the vaccine.
  • Help your child understand the importance of their role to give your child a sense of control. For example: “Your most important job is to keep your arm very still to help it go as quickly and safely as possible. “
  • During the procedure, if your child cries, know that crying is a form of coping and validate their emotions.
  • Provide praise and reassurance after the vaccine is complete. For example: “You did such a good job keeping your arm still. I’m so proud of you. “

It is important to help children identify a positive coping plan to use in the medical environment. Positive coping plans can contribute to lifelong coping success throughout medical experiences.

The child life team at Mayo Clinic helps children, adolescents and their families find ways to cope with medical experiences through play opportunities, preparation and education while encouraging supportive relationships in the health care environment.

Paula M. Hampel, CCLS

Paula M. Hampel, CCLS, is the child life specialist who supports children of adult patients at Mayo Clinic.

Jennifer K. Rodemeyer, M.A., CCLS

Jennifer K. Rodemeyer, M.A., CCLS, is the manager of the Child Life Program at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center. She is an instructor in pediatrics at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science for the Child Life Internship and Child Life Practicum.

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