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Taking some of the pain out of vaccinations

Taking some of the pain out of vaccinations

Vaccinating children is one of the most important things parents can do to keep their kids healthy. A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report says vaccines have prevented 322 million diseases in the U.S. over the last 20 years. Many of these preventable diseases are very serious and potentially even life-threatening.

But, try telling that to a five-year-old who is brought into the office screaming and kicking, begging you not to give shots. Parents sometimes are even more anxious than the children, as they have been bombarded with conflicting information about vaccines, or they simply can’t stand the idea of seeing their baby in pain.

As a board-certified pediatrician with more than 30 years of experience, I can say that a comfortable and relaxed child is a more cooperative and happier patient.

In my years of practicing medicine, I’ve developed an “ABC’s” and “DE” of vaccinations that can help make shots easier on children and their parents, as well as the medical staff involved.

Before the appointment: Older children may be briefed on the fact that they will be receiving vaccines. However, the younger children may become excessively anxious and frightened if told too far in advance. Parents should avoid threatening their children with shots as a consequence for bad behavior.

During the visit: Our staff is told to never draw up vaccines in front of the patients and to keep needles out of sight as much as possible. Shots should not be the topic of discussion during the examination.

Body Language

Medical staff should smile and be casual. Engage the children with positive and pleasant conversation. Parents should avoid showing anxiety, as this is extremely frightening to the child. Even babies seem to pick up on parental anxiety and seem to cry louder and longer after vaccinations when the parent is in obvious distress. Voices should be kept at normal volumes. Yelling “Be still!” or “This is not going to hurt” does nothing to relieve stress.


There is solid evidence that having kids cough once before or during a shot will relieve anxiety. Having a child hang on to their favorite blanket or stuffed animal can often be quite soothing, also.


We often sing a happy and familiar song while we vaccinate. Smartphones and tablets can also provide effective diversions. We can also have patient look at a pen light or similar engaging object.


It is very important to congratulate babies and children for their cooperation and bravery. Applause, cheering and high-fives all work quite well. All children, however, difficult, should be rewarded for not screaming too loudly or for not kicking, for example.

Avoid saying things like “You’re too old for that sort of behavior. You should be ashamed of yourself.” Or, “It wouldn’t have hurt so bad if you had been still.” Or even, “That needle could have broken off in your arm.” These comments will only serve to ensure a worse experience for everyone during future visits.

One more thing that I caution parents against is the use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) prior to vaccination shots. There is recent evidence that acetaminophen reduces the effectives of many vaccines.

I also work with parents who object to having their children vaccinated, or who wish to use an amended vaccine schedule. It is very important to maintain open dialogue and provide education and guidance. At the end of the day, we all want what is best for the children.

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  1. These are great tips as my youngest son received his 6 month vaccinations today!

  2. When my son was young and getting a shot, I would ask him to take off his shoes and I would squeeze his toe while he was getting the shot. I would ask him to tell which one hurt more; the shot or the squeeze. He never cried, ever, getting a shot because of the distraction. He even had a broken finger reset using this and did not cry when he was 10. The docs were always amazed and they began using this technique with other kids.

  3. Wow, I like the song distraction technique for immunizing a child. #creative

  4. these are great ideas! My niece hates going to the doctor due to the fear of possbile shots!

About the Author

Dr. Judith Savage
Dr. Judith Savage

Dr. Judith G. Savage is a pediatrician on staff at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Illinois, with an office in Tinley Park.