How to make shots less scary for kids

Shots are scary. But the anticipation of shots makes it so much worse. Here are some smart ideas for making immunizations, flu shots, blood draws and other needle-involving procedures as innocuous as possible.

(I tried to come up with a pun using the word innoculate but it wasn't meant to be.)

Choose your terminology wisely

From Jill:

A nurse friend had this advice: she says most kids know the word "shot" as having to do with guns.  Especially if you've warned them about guns a lot, this may seem very scary.  She suggests referring to shots as "vaccinations" so no one worries about dying from the process.

She went on to suggest telling kids they are getting their hair "trimmed" not "cut."  For kids, "cuts" are painful (and possibly bloody) so it makes sense to choose a different word.

I'd never thought of it that way before, but I'll give it a try.

Plan a distraction

From Daniel:

To understand where this hack came from, you have to know that my wife and I got tired of our 3 year-old saying "Oh, man,"  "Oh my God,"  "Oh my gosh" and the like.  So after some experimentation, she started saying "Oh pants!" It was so funny that we've let it stand, and now that's what she says as an exclamation.

About a month ago she was scheduled for a flu shot. Before the appointment, we talked with her about what to expect. First the doctor will weigh you, look inside your mouth, etc. When we said, "Then the doctor will ask you to look away and you'll feel a little sting…"  she replied, "and then I'll say 'Oh pants!'"  After the laughing died down we said that would be fine. 

When the time came, she was working so hard to remember what she was going to say that she missed the shot entirely! And by the time the doctor put the band aid on her arm, she realized that her moment was over!

We've been talking about that with her since: about how she has to come up with something to say for when she gets her shot.  Just this morning, hours before her next shot, she was sitting at the breakfast table, and said, "I'm going to say 'Oh pants!' this time when I get my shot.  I can't wait to get a shot!"

I want to credit my brilliant (and beautiful) wife for recognizing this excellent distraction for the getting shots.  I never thought I'd ever hear a child say "I can't wait to get a shot!"

RelatedTips for reducing terror at the doctor's office


  1. says

    Excellent advice…The only one of my children who has ever needed a flu shot is my youngest son, who has asthma. Unfortuately, a few years ago, something happened where the injection stayed localized and caused tremendous discomfort in his arm for many hours. I mean screaming, crying pain. Needless to say, he now freaks out every time he sees a needle. Just my luck…

    Somewhere I remember reading that the average person only gets the flu every 7-8 years? How could that be possible? Maybe it’s an “old wives tale?”

    Julie for WOW!

  2. says

    My baby is far away from understanding either of these hacks, so he will have to keep suffering from the sudden shock of having a needle stuck into him (any tips for babies?) But the Daniel story was so hilarious it was worth reading anyway.

  3. says

    I had my shot first this year, at the local drugstore–I asked my 3-yo to come along and hold my hand, which she sweetly did. Then I told her we’d be going to see the nurse at her doctor’s office for her to get the same shot, and would she like me to hold her hand for her? She said yes, we went to the flu clinic, and I was surprised to find she was completely calm. No idea if it’s a real hack or not, but it was nice. :)

  4. Lydia says

    My hack is similar to Daniels: I tell my kids to say “Beans!” whenever it hurts the most. They spend a lot of energy deciding when it hurts the most, and usually forget to actually *feel* hurt. Works beautifully.

  5. says

    Yeah, I took my son along when I got my flu jab and he was fascinated and realised it’s not just a cruel torture we put kids through. :)

    We also fibbed a bit and told him at age 4 that the vaccinations are part of getting ready for school, so getting them made him a big kid. These two things combined meant that he was actually happy to sit and get the needle; he moaned but didn’t cry and was so proud of himself. It helps that the nurse has a jar of lollipops handy.

    When my kids were babies I had either breast or bottle ready for the first seconds after the needles were done, and didn’t feed them a bottle for a while beforehand so they’d be hungry enough to settle straight down with a drink. Then between the shock and the feeding, they’d be asleep within minutes. We were lucky and never had any adverse reactions, thankfully!

  6. STL Mom says

    My kids will put up with anything to get a lollipop, but this year our pediatrician’s office had the nasal spray instead of the flu shots. Apparently it has now been approved for kids 6 months and up. It was so easy, I almost didn’t let my kids take their lollipops.
    If you have a child old enough to sniff on command, I highly recommend the nasal spray.

  7. debinsf says

    My husband had my son blow on a tissue, to see how high he could get it to go. Yep, distraction works wonders. Now our ped. office has pinwheels for the kids to blow while they get their shot. No crying at flu shot time, this year. For either of them.

  8. Christy says

    We told our 3 year old that she’d get a lollipop if she got a flu shot, and she spent the next 4 days asking us when she could get her shot.

    Just FYI, flu shots only last about 3 months and heavy flu season hits about January/February.

  9. N says

    Our pediatrician recommended the nasal spray this time. I asked the nurse to give a “dose” to Kitty, the kidlet’s constant stuffed animal companion, to show how easy it was. That made him a little more willing to accept when it was his turn!

    Every time I need a shot, I ask the nurses to count to three before they stick me so I can take a deep breath and exhale – it makes it easier to relax so shots are easier to take.

    I took the kidlet to watch me when it was my turn for the flu shot. He looked a little worried for me, but then was relieved when I didn’t cry. Then the nurses gave him a handful of stickers, and I didn’t get anything for being such a big girl. ;)

  10. rico says

    still scratching my head over the story from jill, with the nurse’s “advice”. It doesn’t really say where they are or how old.

  11. says

    I don’t plan to get flu shots for my baby, but for those of you who do, be sure your child gets the mercury-free version. The flu shot is one of the few that still commonly contains mercury.

  12. Pam says

    For babies – this won’t be everyone’s favourite idea, but the nurse in our Dr’s office has done her master’s in reducing infant crying during vaccinations. The last 2 times (for the 6 month and 12 month vaccinations), we’ve used Emla patches – it’s a topical anesthetic. Basically numbs the skin so the needles aren’t a big deal.