Now that we’re all just getting back into routine, I was reminded by my paediatrician’s office that we need to get in for a scheduled vaccination. I hate needles (who doesn’t!) but like most, I’ve learned to grin and bear it. But for some kids, one look at a needle will have them running in another direction. Understandable. Some of you may be of the generation that had multiple needles all at once and leaving that circular mark on upper arms. My kids are amazed when they see that mark on me and then see getting one or two needles is no big deal now.
I know I’m not alone in occasionally wondering whether the anxiety and discomfort are worth it. Are our shots really that important? Yes: not only do the vaccinations help protect us and the people we love from diseases, but did you know that certain vaccines are required for attendance at schools in Ontario unless there is a valid exemption?
In addition to all the vaccines recommended in infancy and early childhood, vaccines for school-age children include:
Ages 4 to 6 years old: tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox
Grade 7 (12-year-olds): meningococcal conjugate (Men-C-ACYW)
Between 14 and 16 years old: tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis
Hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV) are provided in schools by local public health units.
Keeping on top of my family’s vaccination schedule is not easy to do on my own. I’m relieved that our doctor’s office keeps track of who’s had what with their own system, but it’s our responsibility as parents to inform the public health unit any time our children get vaccinated. (Once, we somehow forgot to submit an updated vaccination report and the public health unit did follow up as soon as my older one graduated from one school to another. Luckily, the reporting system has been updated so it’s easy enough to do online.)
The best thing parents can do is visit Ontario.ca/vaccines for more information and to download the handy immunization schedule (for parents with young children). There is an easy-to-see immunization scheduler online to help you stay on top of your child’s doctor’s appointments. Know that most vaccines need more than one dose over time to produce full protection—that’s why it’s important to follow the immunization schedule to give your child the best protection with the right doses.
How can parents prepare young kids for a visit to the doctor’s office?
To help reduce overall anxiety, stay calm! That means you! Kids notice when we adults are stressed out or when we’re calm and collected. Deep breaths. In fact, you can work on breathing exercises together. By staying calm gives you and them a sense of comfort and control.
For us who’ve been there with wee little ones. We know how it goes… a prick of the needle. The silent pause. Then the wail. Bring something comforting and soothing like their favourite plushie or blankey. Don’t rush in and out the door.
By the time kids start school they know what needles are and may get scared at the sight of one. Before you go, check with the doctor’s office to see if any after soreness could result from getting a needle. Check with your doctor to see if your child would require some sort of pain relief, when to give it, and what is safe to use. More often than not, the vaccines are tied into the annual check-up anyway along with hearing, eyes, and reflex checks. So no need to focus on the needle part of the visit. Most doctors and nurses will allow you to have your child sit on your lap for vaccines to give them a sense of security and to help gently hold them still. Paediatricians are trained to move carefully and swiftly knowing how children reaction and from our experience, they are experts at the art of distraction conversation even for mere seconds. I admit that when my kids were this age I did bribe them afterwards with their choice of a new Hot Wheels car from the toy store.
For big kids we found there’s no need for distractions—just give them the facts when they ask. No need to lie about it either. Just reinforce that you are there with them. Help them understand that vaccines will help keep certain life-threatening diseases away. Simple explanations that mere milliseconds of pinching or stinging is worth it—the alternative is much worse. Remind them to sit quietly and still so it all will be done fast. At this age, I still caved and worked in a visit to the ice cream shop.
Lastly, I remember my paediatrician saying “It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts a bit. I get needles too when I need them. But the hurt will go away soon and you are strong.” Never dismiss your child’s feelings or make them bad about how they feel. That was an incredible life lesson that I’ll never forget.
While my teenage boys don’t necessarily love needles they can now go into the doctor’s office and get them immunizations without holding my hand but I’ll still hug them afterwards. And yes, we still go for ice cream.
Parents can get more information at Ontario.ca/vaccines.
This post was developed in association with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The opinions are my own.