How to support kids for flu shots
We sat down for breakfast the morning of their flu shot appointment. It had been two days since Olivia was able to watch her dad and mom get a flu shot. Along with medical play, another great way to help kids cope with flu shots is to allow them the opportunity to observe you or another caregiver getting theirs! Even seeing an adult who is nervous to get their own flu shot is okay. Being honest with your worries, while also verbalizing and demonstrating coping strategies is very normalizing and empowering for kids!
In case you missed the Instagram post I shared earlier this month, Olivia was beaming with pride as she took her supportive role very seriously. She had her pumpkin light up toy ready to go, encouraging words and even a waiting area magazine picked out suitable for Daddy to ease his staged jitters. She can’t read yet, but she picked out one of his favorites, Entrepreneur. She’s already demonstrating impressive child life skills, identifying personal interests and effective coping strategies!
Olivia sat at the table with her brother as I plated their food. I reminded her of the morning plan: visit to the doctor for a flu shot and then trip to the craft store. I asked her again about her coping plan, most often using a simple two choice question format. This is a great technique to use with young children. It also comes in handy with highly anxious older children and teens when you want to be firm that not doing it isn’t an option, but that they do have control in how they cope or get through it.
Do you want to sit in my lap or by yourself?
“I can sit by myself” she declared.
Are you going to watch the nurse or look away?”
“I want to watch...it’s not going to hurt.”
Keeping it honest, I say “It might not, but if it does it will just hurt for a second...and then you will get a band-aid.”
“Oh, that’s right! I will get a band-aid! And if it does hurt...I can just look away.” I have to admit, I didn’t see that insight coming in that moment. They truly grow so fast! It was a beautiful reminder that we can’t underestimate children, especially the young ones! I can’t remember my response, but I know I was beaming with pride.
I continued, “What will you hold in your other hand? Mommy’s hand, Mickey Mouse, or…?
“How about pumpkin light?!” she shout with excitement.
A few minutes later, my 22 month old was requesting the “hot dog” song to play on Alexa. Olivia then says, “how about we listen to the ‘doctor’ song.” This transpired to a plan to play our Mickey Mouse clubhouse CD en route to the doctor’s office and then play the Doc McStuffins theme song at the doctor’s office. Another step in their coping plan was added and I couldn’t have been more proud of my 3-year-old’s insight and critical thinking that gave her the tools to face this commonly fearful experience. Young children learn in doses, so combining play with brief conversations a few days leading up to a potentially scary medical experience can help empower them and develop a sense of mastery and control over the situation.
At the doctor’s office, the kids happily played for about 5-10 minutes in the thoughtfully designed play (waiting) room. It’s filled with pretend play furniture, a Lego wall, books and other toys. The kids think it’s just as great as other play spaces we visit.
I intentionally had Robby go first. While only 22 months at the time, he is more fearless than his bigger sister and I anticipated their coping outcome would fair better with him taking the lead. I sat next to him in a comfort side hug and distracted him with a toy. Momentary whine, but easily redirected and bee lined to the toys in the corner.
Olivia was ready to go with her Mickey Mouse plush in hand for comfort and I stood by ready with her pumpkin light up wand for additional distraction and support. Remember, even if they don’t end up using the items they chose previously, giving the opportunity for control to help create their personalized coping plan is empowering and helps kids process and cope with their medical experiences. The only thing that was unexpected for both of us is that after age 3 they can get the flu shot in their leg, which I didn’t clarify or prepare her for. She had more anticipatory anxiety visible on her face, but remained cooperative holding still and stuck to her coping plan. The other minor slip up is mom forgot to have the song cued up! I have to give it to nurses who give flu shots, they make it quick! Both kids walked out chipper, thanks due in part to the bowl of Halloween candy they got to choose from afterwards. It was in a large decorative statue that couldn’t have been missed or avoided and I was okay with it.
When we returned to the car, Olivia was first to speak up. Feeling upset after she bit her ring pop the wrong way, she muttered “It’s a sad day.”
“I’m sorry,” her younger brother says. “No, Rob. The nurse is sorry,” she quickly corrected him.
“I’m sure she is sorry you feel sad, but know that she is a helper. She helps to keep you and other people healthy and safe.” The conversation ended there, appropriately brief given her age and attention span. Then it was back to lovingly arguing with her brother over a toy.
Every child is different and you know your child best. In the next post, tips will be provided to guide you in providing the best support that works for your children. Incorporate their favorite plush, a saying someone else says to inspire and encourage them to be brave, and so forth.
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