8 Ways to Make Shots Easier for Kids

Vaccines save lives, but let's face it: Kids don't like shots. Here are some surprisingly simple things that can make vaccines easier for kids.

Vaccines protect children from dangerous germs. Still, that's little comfort when it's time to get the jab. The good news is that there are ways to ease the pain—or fear of pain, which is the bigger problem.

"In reality, shots don't 'hurt' that much," said Herschel Lessin, MD, pediatrician at the Children's Medical Group in Poughkeepsie, NY. "It's the suffering brought on by the phobia of needles that bring on the pain."

Here are some surprisingly simple strategies that can make your doctor's visit smooth sailing.

01 of 08

Provide distraction

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This time-tested parental trick for getting children to behave can help reduce the pain of vaccinations too. Even the slightest diversions can eliminate problems, according to Dr. Lessin.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), successful distractions include bringing a favorite toy, singing a song, or doing something funny.

02 of 08

Cough it out

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One technique that works for older kids is "the cough trick."

A 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics showed that coughing once before and once during routine vaccinations helped reduce painful reactions among children ages 4 and 5 as well as ages 11 and 12.

Dr. Lessin also tells kids over 3 to imagine it's their birthday and that they're blowing out candles on a cake.

"It works every time," he said. "Or, I'll ask them to blow on a pinwheel."

03 of 08

Sweeten it up

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A 2020 study published in Journal of Pediatric Nursing investigated the effect of giving babies 10 to 18 months old a small amount of a sweet solution—sucrose —before immunization.

In the study, babies given the solution were found to have less pain after getting the shot compared with babies who did not receive it.

"There's no downside to bringing a sugar solution with you to a vaccination," said Dr. Lessin.

04 of 08

Use skin-numbing products

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EMLA cream, a topical anesthetic, may reduce immunization pain in children. Journal of International Medical Research published a study in 2014, which found that children who received EMLA cream experienced less pain from their shots.

The cream blocks nerves from transmitting painful impulses to the brain. "(EMLA cream) works well, if you can find it over the counter," said Dr. Lessin. "And you should purchase cream so that you can apply an hour before the vaccination."

Vapocoolant, which cools the skin, could also numb the area and reduce pain, according to a study published in 2020 in the journal Vaccine.

05 of 08

Turn on cartoons

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What could be more mesmerizing than playful cartoon characters dancing across a screen?

A 2015 study published in Nursing Children & Young People found that children were significantly less distressed during immunizations when they were distracted by cartoons. "Any distraction technique, whether it be cartoons, videogames, or another focal point, will make the experience smoother," said Dr. Lessin.

If your doctor doesn't have a TV in the examination room, ask if it's okay to bring your own portable device.

06 of 08

Stay cool

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Be straightforward about why your child needs to get a shot—but, more importantly, be determined. "Kids don't care that it's good for them, so prepping them will only turn the trip into a bigger deal," said Dr. Lessin. "Parents need to realize it's not the child's choice." There's no reason to escalate the situation.

The best thing parents can do is listen to their child's healthcare provider and take control of the situation. Parents and the healthcare team can work together to keep children calm and get the job done.

07 of 08

Offer a pacifier

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Whether you call it a binkie, paci, or chew chew, a pacifier can help comfort babies getting a shot (if they are used to sucking on one).

One study published in 2020 in Clinical and Experimental Pediatrics found that pacifiers can reduce infants' pain during and after vaccinations. "Pacifiers or any devices used as counterstimulation, competition with the shot sensation, can be effective," said Dr. Lessin.

The same study found that, after the shot, breastfeeding may also help reduce the amount of time spent crying by a baby.

08 of 08

Consider the order of the shots

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It sounds too good to be true, but something as simple as the order in which shots are given can make a difference.

According to a 2009 study published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, babies were less likely to cry if they were given the combination vaccine for diphtheria, polio, tetanus, pertussis, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (DPTaP-Hib, or Pentacel) followed by the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV, or Prevnar).

Children who received injections in this order proved to experience less pain compared to those who were given shots in the reverse order.

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