Preparing children to get vaccinations

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available to children over age 5, many parents are concerned about keeping their children calm for another vaccination.

The child life experts at Mayo Clinic understand this concern. They spend their time caring and advocating for the youngest patients. Jennifer K. Rodemeyer, M.A., CCLS, Child Life Program manager at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, offers caregivers tips for vaccination time.

Speak their language
Rodemeyer recommends explaining to children that vaccines will help their bodies fight off certain sicknesses. Let them know that they will feel a quick poke from the injection but that the feeling will last just a couple of seconds.

Play doctor at home
One way to get kids familiar with medical procedures is to practice at home. Rodemeyer recommends offering children play doctor kits. Let kids play with the toy syringe in the bathtub or use the stethoscope and bandages on their teddy bears.

Give them a heads-up
Tell children they are going to the doctor's office for a vaccine or an appointment rather than surprising them with it, says Rodemeyer. Talking about what to expect can help kids prepare.

Sharing what you know with kids also helps build their trust in you. They'll know that as medical issues come up in the future, they'll be informed.

Empower kids with choices
You can offer your child some sense of ownership over their appointment with limited choices, like:

  • Would you like to bring your blanket or teddy bear?
  • Would you like to hold my hand or sit on my lap?
  • What is something special you'd like to do after the appointment?

Stay close
Having a trusted grown-up nearby is comforting to children. It can also help the procedure go more smoothly. Ask the care team about positions that can help you comfort and still your child while helping the care team get its job done.

Be an advocate
You can also be an advocate for your child. Many pediatrician's offices have pain-relieving options to help kids. Ask about a vibrating cold pack, cooling sprays and numbing creams. If there's something that's worked for your child in the past, don't be afraid to ask for it.

Give kids a job
Tell children the importance of their role to give them a sense of control. For example: "Your most important job is to keep your arm very still to help the procedure go as quickly and safely as possible."

Give lots of praise
Once the procedure is done, tell kids what a great job they did and how proud you are. This will end the appointment on a positive note. It will also help them use the experience to build coping plans for future medical visits.

  1. Rodemeyer JK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Nov. 5, 2021.