Your child’s experience with needles in their early years can affect how they feel and react to later vaccinations. Therefore, it is important to reduce the possibility of a negative experience.
But what can parents do to help prepare their child for the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 or other injections?
Most children are afraid of needles. But for some children, this fear is more severe and can be defined as a needle phobia.
Needle phobia is a very frightening and distressing response to the presence or reaction of a needle, for example, to taking blood or getting an injection. Anxiety and fear are disproportionate to the threat, and people will avoid needles as much as possible.
In severe cases, the level of anxiety caused only by the sight of a needle can cause dizziness, nausea, increased sweating, loss of consciousness, and fainting.
Nearly one in five children (19%) between the ages of 4 and 6 has a needle phobia, and it decreases to one in nine (11%) at the age of 10-11. Among adults, about 3.5-10% have a phobia of needles.
Working as a nurse, I still remember Emma, a five-year-old girl, who was petrified with needles. I remember her small face, anger and fear, tears and screams just seeing a needle.
Her growing fear was due to previous blood tests, injections and other medical procedures. And it wasn’t easy until he got professional help from gambling therapy.
Reducing the possibility of a negative experience
When booking vaccination appointments, consider asking the nurse to spend more time getting ready.
When children come to get vaccinated, most nurses anticipate that the child may be worried and nervous, or very scared of an injection.
Nurses can help by asking the child to tense up and relax the muscles to prevent fainting. They may suggest that you take a deep breath, hold it, and exhale slowly. They may also ask the child to move their toes to provide some distraction.
If the child is obviously anxious (e.g., screaming, kicking, and saying they don’t want to), parents can postpone the needle so that the child has a chance to develop some coping strategies. This could prevent a needle phobia from developing.
Parents are the best advocates for their children and know how to support them during their vaccinations.
How can you prepare your child?
The first step is to consider when to give your child information about the vaccine. For children under five, a shorter period of time works best; for example, the same day.
For children ages five to six, you could tell them a day or two earlier; and for those seven years, up to a week before.
But if your child has a needle phobia, he or she may need significant help in a safe environment to put his or her thoughts and feelings into practice and learn some stress management strategies.
Get help from therapists
Qualified play therapists, child life therapists, and child psychologists can help. After building a relationship of trust with the therapist, medical play therapy sessions involve role-playing scenarios to desensitize the child to medical equipment.
This often starts with toy medical equipment and progresses to more authentic medical equipment.
The therapist provides information to the child by showing them how things work.
The child can then develop mastery by injecting their wrist or stuffed animal, while the therapist provides clues for coping strategies and resilience.
Some children need one or two sessions, but those with needle phobia may require up to ten or more sessions.
Therapists can also teach parents the skills to support their child during a needle or other medical procedure.
Use of home therapy game techniques
Introduce some simulated medical equipment toys to your child’s play and see if they are curious or avoid them.
If they are curious and looking for more information, show them and explain their upcoming vaccine and why they need it. You could say, for example, that it helps them, and many others, to prevent the coronavirus, including their grandparents.
The children are aware of the media and the school that COVID has forced people to stay home because it made many people ill and they could not breathe properly. You could explain that vaccine protection will help them stay in kindergarten or school and see their friends.
For the child who avoids playing with medical toys, distraction techniques can help. Consider introducing a new toy or object that may catch the child’s attention immediately before and during the injection. They can be sensory toys, spy books, digital games or applications.
What tools do game therapists use?
For Emma, after developing a therapeutic play relationship, I introduced and practiced the magic glove technique. For children with good imagination, they can learn to relax and pretend to have an invisible magic glove that makes their arm – and themselves – feel calm and relaxed.
For other children, I used Buzzy, a bee-like mechanical vibrating device, developed by American pain doctor and researcher Amy Baxter. It has a cold compress and the vibration inhibits the sensation of pain.
If your child has a negative experience during vaccination and you want access to professional help, ask your GP for suggestions from local play therapists or child life therapists or child psychologists in your area.
Judith Parson, Senior Teacher, Children’s Play Therapy, Deakin University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.