How to Help Kids Who Have a Fear of Needles

As a parent or caregiver, it’s not uncommon to dread taking your kids to get vaccines. A majority of children (and a considerable number of adults as well) are afraid of needles. A trip to the clinic with kids can easily turn into a stressful event. However, there are some ways to make getting a shot a calmer experience for kids.

Strategies for Kids Under Two

Breastfeed (if possible).

Breastfeeding distracts your baby and holding your baby close has a soothing effect during vaccines. If breastfeeding isn’t an option, bottle feeding can also provide comfort. Feeding before, during, and after a shot can help reduce baby’s pain.

Hold your child on your lap.

Holding your child can provide comfort and also keep them still during a vaccine.

Stay calm. 

Your child may be able to pick up your own anxiety during a shot and become more upset as a result. Try to use your normal voice and take deep breaths. If you are able to remain calm, your child may stay calmer before and during a shot as well.

Distract your child with videos, toys, or music. 

You can distract your baby to draw their attention away from the needle. Depending on how old your baby is, favorite videos, toys, or music can take their focus off the shot. Some babies may be more distracted by having you sing or talk to them while getting a vaccine, so try whichever distraction you think will work best for your child. 

Talk with your doctor about a sucrose solution if needed.

Talk with your doctor to see if a sucrose solution (sugar water) is appropriate for helping to reduce pain during a vaccine. If so, your healthcare provider can give you instructions on how to prepare and administer the sucrose solution if needed. 

Talk with your doctor about numbing cream if needed.

Another option to talk about with your doctor is a topical numbing cream. Before bringing your child for their next vaccine, you can talk with your doctor about the possibility of using a topical numbing cream on the site where the needle will be. Your healthcare provider can give you information about the process if you decide together that it’s appropriate for your child. 

Strategies for Kids Over Two

Talk about fear or anxiety in advance.

If your child is old enough, talk with them about getting a vaccine before the appointment. If they are anxious, empathize with their concerns. You can also talk with them about the reason why getting a vaccine is important—it keeps them healthy in the future. Knowing the why can help some children with their anxiety.

Read a social story with your child to prepare. 

A social story is a short story that can help children with needle anxiety by letting them know what to expect and how to respond to the situation. Solutions for Kids in Pain (SKIP) has two vaccine social stories for kids. You can search online for other vaccine social stories or create your own story. 

Offer a small reward and/or praise for being brave. 

Having a small reward like getting a lollipop or going to get ice cream after getting a vaccine can help motivate some children. Also, try to remember to praise your child for being brave after the vaccine is over. It can help in the long run by making them feel less anxious for future shots. 

Use neutral language to talk about needles. 

Think about the words you use when talking about getting vaccines with your child. Using neutral phrases like “feel pressure” instead of “hurt” can create a more positive experience. 

Distract your child with videos, toys, music, or talking. 

Distraction can help take your child’s focus away from a needle. If your child is old enough, they can make choices about what would be best to help keep their attention. Your clinic might also have a kit of items kids can play with during a vaccine. 

Get help from a professional if needed. 

Some children with severe anxiety over needles may need more support. A mental health professional or other specialists may be helpful if your child experiences overwhelming anxiety over vaccines. 
For more information about helping manage anxiety and needle pain for kids, check out these resources from Solutions for Kids in Pain (SKIP).