Migration Test Article

By Katharine Paljug @kpaljug
January 09, 2018

Teaching children good coping skills can help them feel less pain after getting shots, but many parent behaviors can unintentionally make children feel worse.

Vaccinations keep children safe, protecting them against dangerous, potentially fatal diseases. But any caregiver who has taken a child to the doctor’s office knows that shots are often the worst part of a visit to the pediatrician. From a young age, many children are upset by having to get as many as 20 shots by the age of 4 or 5, and their distress often makes their parents feel anxious and unhappy as well.

But parents, research has discovered, are the best tool available for helping children deal with the stress and pain of getting vaccinations.

A study, published in the medical journal Pain, found that parents play a very specific role in helping children cope with the pain that comes from getting shots. When this role is done well, children actually feel less pain from shots as a result.


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Parents influence children’s feelings about shots

The study followed 548 children through infant and preschool vaccinations. Researchers observed how children dealt with the pain of getting shots at their 12-month vaccinations, then followed up in preschool to see how children reacted to shots at later ages.

Researchers looked at behaviors such as grimacing, tense or scrunched up legs, crying, and how easy children were to console after vaccinations to rate how well they coped with the stress and how much pain they felt after receiving shots. They compared the coping behaviors of parents at the 12-month appointments to the coping abilities of children in preschool.

Most parents will not be surprised to hear that children needed their caregivers to help them deal with shots. What the researchers found, however, was that many parent behaviors actually make children feel more upset about getting shots, rather than less.

Parent behaviors that make shots worse

Professor Rebecca Pillai Riddell, the senior author of the study, discovered that caregivers may be unintentionally causing children more distress by making them anxious before any shots happen. When this happens, children in the study tended to show poorer coping skills and feel higher levels of pain.

"When children were distressed prior to the needle, that made them feel more pain after the needle," said Pillai Riddell in a press release about the study. For example, telling children repeatedly that “it’s okay” or “it’s going to be okay,” often makes them feel anxious because, Pillai Riddell said, “parents only say things are 'okay' when things are not ok.”

Many caregivers, however, were able to teach effective coping mechanisms for dealing with vaccinations. When caregivers displayed better coping mechanisms at the 12-month appointment, children showed less distress and lower levels of pain during their preschool vaccinations.

How to help your child deal with shots

If you want to help your children deal with shots, it’s important to teach them coping behaviors that do not increase their level of anxiety or minimize how they are feeling.

To help children cope with vaccinations:

  • Encourage them to take deep breaths to help them stay calm.
  • Tell them to take a deep breath before and let it out slowly during the shot in order to relax their muscles.
  • Distract them with a game, video, or book during the vaccination.
  • Make funny faces or sing your child’s favorite song.
  • Give them something positive to think about while the shot is happening by discussing what you will do for the rest of the day.

Avoid behavior that contributes to children’s anxiety or distress, such as:

  • Making critical statements like, “Boys don’t cry” or “It’s not a big deal.”
  • Apologizing that the child must get a shot.
  • Acting tense or upset yourself either before or after the shot.
  • Arguing with the staff or prolonging the process.

When children learn effective coping behaviors, it does more than minimize the pain they feel and make visits to the pediatrician more pleasant. Researchers found that these coping skills impact children beyond the doctor’s office, influencing their relationships and cognitive abilities well into childhood.

By teaching children how to stay calm and deal with a distressing event, you are giving them a valuable life skill.


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January 09, 2018

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN