Helping kids prepare for their COVID shots

Nobody likes needles, but following these tips that we use to help kids through chemotherapy may help smooth the way

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Here at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, we’ve done a lot of work to understand more about families’ experiences giving medicine at home to our youngest patients. Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available for children over the age of 5, we believe the tips we have developed to help children take their chemotherapy can be helpful for families preparing for vaccination.

It’s a five-step process to help the child feel a sense of control and empowerment over the situation and reward them for doing a good job, all of which can help manage stress for the child and adult alike.

Here’s how the POWER method works:

Prepare: The morning of the vaccine, talk to the child and make sure they understand what’s about to happen. Ask if they have any questions and how they’re feeling about getting the vaccine.

Open up: If your child has any concerns or questions, answer them in an honest and age-appropriate way. Correct any misunderstandings they might have and use simple, clear language to explain the situation. Acknowledge that their fears are real to them and it’s understandable to have those feelings. You can say things like: “Sometimes you may feel the shot, but it helps if you can keep your arm relaxed and take a deep breath.”

Words of praise: It’s important to boost the child’s confidence by offering words of praise, and being specific is even more powerful. Highlight what you see them doing that’s good and helpful – “You’re doing a great job standing in line!” or “You’re being really patient, thank you.”  Crouch down to their level, make eye contact, hold their hand. This becomes especially important if they’re showing signs of being scared or resisting the vaccine. Find anything at all you can praise them for, even if it’s something as small as taking a deep breath.

Empower: Depending on how the clinic is set up, find something the child can have control over and give them that opportunity. Maybe they can pick the sticker or band-aid they receive after the vaccination or ask which arm they want to receive the vaccine in. Ask if they want to write their name on the form, or if they want to help check boxes as you register. It’s important for them to assert their own control and feel included in this process.

Reward: The moment the vaccine’s done it’s time to turn on the praise. It doesn’t matter how well the process went. Set the tone that your child did something great and important and that you’re proud of them. This is the time to get silly and go way over the top. Whatever you would do if your team just scored the winning touchdown – do it now.  Your child just did a big thing, let them know it.  In my household, we give the child the choice of what song we’re going to have a dance party to, and the minute the medicine’s been taken or the vaccine’s done, we push play and the whole family dances. They feel good and proud of what they’ve just accomplished. If your child tends to have more difficulty with things like shots or taking medicine, over time this can help to make these things feel less scary and more fun.