How to Prepare My 5-y.o. for Shots?

Updated on October 09, 2011
J.R. asks from Culver City, CA
22 answers

I'm totally regretting not having my son get all his school shots last year when he turned 4, because he got the flu shot then and has since had a year of watching his baby sister getting shots. He has been dreading this next series of shots for the past year. I could actually delay them a few more months or split them up because he only needs them so that I can register him for kindergarten, which he won't be starting until September 2012. But I can't take another several months of him worrying about them.

So he knows that he's going to be getting four shots the day after his birthday, and he's completely built it up in his mind as something that is going to be terrible. The thing is, I know that the DTAP shot in particular is going to be painful, because I remember how painful it was when *I* was 5. It was so bad that I did the exact same thing to my mother that my son has been doing to me - I fretted about getting the booster 10 years later when I was 15. I seriously talked about how much I dreaded the booster on and off for 10 years. My poor mom. I totally understand her irritation now.

Anyway, does anyone have any tips for how I can help my son through these shots? He knows why they're important and why he needs to get them, but he's scared. I told him I would hold him the entire time they gave him the shots. I promised him that we would go for ice cream afterward and have a special date just the two of us. And he wants all that, but he is still worrying himself to tears about the shots.

Also, does anyone have any tricks to make them hurt less? The nurse told me I can choose where to have them administer the injections. Is there a part of his body where it will be less painful? I got mine in the butt, and it hurt. My friend had her son's in his leg, and he limped for at least a couple of days.

My poor boy. I wish I could take these shots for him. It's so sad to see him so scared.

Thanks for any advice.

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So What Happened?

Thanks so much for the advice so far, everyone.

Just a few things in response: I have never ever told him about my experience getting the tetanus shot. I really don't think I'm transferring that much of my anxiety to him, since most of my anxiety is mainly a response to how upset he's been by the whole prospect. I just mentioned my experience here because I remember that it was painful, so I don't want to lie to him and tell him it won't hurt. He has been talking and talking and talking about shots ever since he got the flu shot last year. So it's not something I can just glide past. He talks about it randomly, out of the blue. I'm sure I wasn't the one who brought up when he was getting this current round of shots, but I also don't lie if he asks me things like when will he have to get them.

He is also not a child that I can just spring stuff on. As bad as the leadup to this has been, it would be far worse if I just threw him in the car and zoomed over to the doctor's office with no preparation. We've done it before, and it hasn't been pretty. In fact, I kind of feel that after all the dreading of it, it might end up not being as bad as he fears. At least that's what I'm hoping.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

In my opinion just do them all that day and be done with that group. Why make it drawn out and even more of an issue. Give him some Tylenol or Motrin before if the doc approves and tell him "yes, you'll be getting a shot or two, it may pinch a bit but it is over very quick".

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Chicago on

I think the best thing is to not tell your child about it until the day it's going to happen. You've now made his birthday something to dread, and he's worried himself to death over it.

If you can, move the shots a few months away or at least not right after his birthday. Tell your son you've canceled them for now. If he asks if he still has to have them, you can say "not right now." Don't say anything about the future, just let him relax over it. Don't promise he won't ever get them, just let him know he's not getting them right after his birthday.

Make the new appointment and don't tell him. Don't try to prepare him, you can't really. Take him to the doctor that day and you can let him know where he's going when you are on your way.

He will be scared and nervous BUT ONLY FOR AN HOUR or so. Bring a favorite stuffed animal or lovie for him to hug. Hold him while it's being done. Go out for ice cream afterward.

I know it sounds more cruel not telling him but believe me, it's actually NOT! My daughter works herself up over her doctor's appointments to the point where she can't sleep and she gets more hysterical the closer we get. The night before she didn't sleep AT ALL and she was more crabby and more scared because of lack of sleep.

We now do it this way. It's so much EASIER! She gets nervous on the way there and may work herself up, but I think it's kinder to let her be worried for an hour versus days and days or even weeks on end. She gets a good night's sleep beforehand. We go out for ice cream afterward. And she's 10.

It all started when she worked herself up over an appointment to get her warts removed. We ended up canceling the appointment, letting her know it was canceled and then rescheduling for a few weeks later. She even told us that she APPRECIATED that we didn't tell her because she was so upset last time, and admitted that it wasn't so bad only worrying about it for 30 minutes, then the procedure took a few minutes and we were done.

Good luck!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

what i do with my 4 year old daughter is this. i explain what they will do and that she will get a shot. i tell her it is ok to cry and that because she is very brave she will get a treat afterwards.

try the arm... my daughter gets hers in the legs... she lays on the table and i hold her hands and the nurse her legs and then bam bam bam! done

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Hartford on

Tylenol or Motrin before the injection, and right before ... like RIGHT BEFORE and during the injection itself pinch the top of the hand on the opposite side of the body. The brain can't process pain in two places at once and it's a great distraction technique. It works perfectly with my 11 year old and 6 year old. I have varying degrees of success with my nearly-9 year old, but she has Sensory Integration Disorder so we have to approach things a bit differently with her.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

My son did not want to get his last round of shots, one of which was his polio vax. I took him to work to meet a man I worked with who had polio and lost his leg. After meeting him he was all for his shots. I know most of us don't know anyone like my friend, but some pictures off the internet might work.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

you don't tell them till they see the nurse and the panic is short sweet and over quickly. I never told mine he was going to get shots till we were there. and at 4 they can't spell so if you have to talk about them with daddy you spell it out.


you don't tell them till they see the nurse and the panic is short sweet and over quickly. I never told mine he was going to get shots till we were there. and at 4 they can't spell so if you have to talk about them with daddy you spell it out.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

I think part of the problem is that you've got it in your head that one of them is really going to hurt and you remember it hurting and your friend's kid limped and ... I think you have to really let that go. Yes, it hurts, but just for a minute or two. It might be a little sore for a day or two, but really you've built it up to be so much worse than that.

I would consider calling your doctor to see if you can get the shots earlier than his doctors appointments. At our doctor's office, you can make an appointment just to get shots, since the nurses can accommodate that fairly easily. Find out how soon you can do this before kindergarten and just get it done.

I would definitely do all of them at once. It takes 2 minutes and then it's done. If you do 2 one day and 2 later, he will really be thinking about those other 2 until it's done. Just do them all at once.

It really is over so fast, and there's very little chance he will be bothered by any of them for more than a few minutes!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Ask them if they can put a topical 'numbing' cream on his skin first, before the shots. That is, IF they have this in the office.

My Dad, used to get Dialysis... and had an IV needle. He'd put on the topical numbing cream first. It helps a little. But it was his prescription cream, from HIS Doctor. Used for this purpose.

The hurt from a shot is TEMPORARY.
Tell your son that.
The brain imagining, makes it worse.
But the actual hurt, is only temporary.

Tell him, (and bring with you) a whistle. Count to 3... and on the number 3, have your son BLOW HARD on his whistle...and this is when the Nurse will do the shot. TELL the Nurse this. Blowing on the whistle, will distract him/his brain/and the pain.
The actual shot is only like a split second.

The longer you put off getting his scheduled shots per age stages, then the sequencing and boosters, will be off. And not good to do this.
Always try to get shots, on schedule.

My son, who is 5 now... was a TERROR to take to the Doctor and per shots. Screaming and yelling and kicking.
BUT at home, the day before,... we "practiced" what will happen. We role played it. And described the process. So then, once he was AT the Doctor, he felt better... because we 'practiced' at home.
He is now, REALLY good, about shots. And I never have to put it off.
I am always up front with him, that 'yes' you will be getting shots this time.

Don't make the whole situation overly dramatic.
Nor deposit your fear of it, onto him.

the leg or butt will hurt more.
Just have it in the arm.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I think you're more nervous about it, and you've passed your fear over to him. Don't say anything to him about it. Just say, "we're going over to see the doctor". If he says "am I going to get a shot"? Say, "I don't know, doctor just wants to check you out for school next year." Be cool about it and he'll follow you on it.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

I remember my husband telling my daughter she was getting shots at her physical. And I was pissed! Guess what, he wasn't taking her to the appt and didn't have to deal with the anxiety!! She took them like a champ though, and it was never an issue again.
I think since you are so upset about shots you are passing that on. I would never tell a child they were getting shots. Sorry. Some may not agree, but there is no reason to have a kid tortured about getting them. Let them have that for just a minute or two that it takes.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Orlando on

Every kid is different. My boy frets about such things too. But he tells me he wants to know when going for a shot, I would never spring it on him as then he would not trust me. Is there a favorite toy your son likes? What I used to do at that age and when my son was crazy over Thomas The Train, I would put a brand new train in my bag and pull it out when it was time for the shot. He would be so excited and interested in the train, he would forget about what else was going on. Just a suggestion. It worked for me.
Good Luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Pre medicate him with Tylenol an hour before the doctors visit and tell him this will protect him from the worst pain. When you get to the doctors tell them you've medicated him with Tylenol. Tell them the dose and the time it was administered. I told my kid shots were an awesome gift from scientists that helps give us shields from all the no-see-um buggas that like to get inside us and make us barf. She hates barfing worse than anything so she was ready to practically drive us to get the shots, she was so ready to go.

She was supposed to get three shots then come back in a month and get three more. She was a VERY big girl for the first three and only cried a little. She loved her bandaids and going to the sweet shop in the mall afterwards to pick out a treat. She got a small fever and felt ill after those first shots and I told her that it was the superhero medicine inside her teaching her immune system how to fight off bad bugs and that sometimes the battles got a little heated and make you just a little sick. But it's much better than getting sick for real and being sick for a very long time.

The next month when she had to go back for three more shots, she was a bit trepidacious because she had the memory of the first three fresh in her mind. She started to cry a little when she saw the shots but I was holding her tight the way they showed me how and I kept telling her it was all right and reminding her of the trip to the sweet shop and how much fun it was going to be. I asked her what candy she was going to pick out and she whimpered a little and cried but as soon as the third shot was done and the last bandaid was in place I made a huge fuss about how awesome she was. Clapping and squealing with delight at how good she did, even though she did wail at the last shot.

I think shots are great. The benefit far outweighs the pain. I've outgrown my childhood fear of needles and became a blood donor (O- bloodtype... the blood banks vant to suck mah blood, or at least it seems that way with the amount of phone calls I get to come in and donate...) and I think I've passed my non-concern over needles to my kid. They really are little sponges you know, kids that is. For example, I always fret a few days before I'm about to have company and am an emotional mess when it comes to drop in visits. I hate people to see my house messy and it's a stressor for me. I've passed this little neurosis onto my kid. So the first thing you need to do is get a handle on your own fear of shots before you can expect your kid to be cool with it. Harder to say than do, I know. But at least knowing that it starts with you is a first step in controlling it. =)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

Love the idea of the whistle---gives him "control" and also the necessary distraction!! Sounds like it would be better for your little guy to just "do it and get it over with" (don't spread them out). The anticipation is killing him. Just minimize it and remember, things have changed since we were kids. Even immunizations. I agree with the pain relief med before hand...that really helps them. It's hard to explain explain to them how the pain from the shot is sooo temporary compared to the pain of the actual disease. Got to have that talk today due to an outbreak of chicken pox at my son's school, but he's fine because he's been immunized!!! Kudos for you for getting the immunizations for him!


answers from Dover on

Similar advice to the others: give Tylenol just before going to the appointment & request the booster be given last. My kids get their shots in their arms, 2 in each. The nurses are usually really fast so as long as you're holding him & he doesn't squirm all around, it'll be done in about 2 minutes & he'll realize that he's not actually dead soon thereafter.



answers from Las Vegas on

Children don't have a concept of adults. They don't understand yesterday, today, & tomorrow. I believe you some how transferred your fear and anxiety to your son. I think you should have waited the day he was going to the doctor to tell him. You could also have something planned getting an ice cream cone or going to the park, etc., something pleasant to concentrate on. You are totally stressing out and showing lots of anxiety in your post...I'm sure he can feel your worry.



answers from Los Angeles on

My son is 9 and my niece is 12 and they both still freak out about shots. My son also has to get blood tests and they prick your finger. You would think it was being amputated the way he cries. See if they can freeze or numb the spot first like they do when you pierce your ears. He can get the flu mist instead of the shot so that will eliminate a shot.

Good luck.



answers from Los Angeles on

I totally understand how you feel - my now 11 year old daughter used to be so afraid of getting shots that she had to be restrained by a few nurses. One suggested that a "cold spray" be sprayed on the spot where the shot is going to be injected. Call your pediatrician to see if they carry it. It helped my daughter so much and she is so much better about shots down.
Good luck!



answers from Seattle on

I would split them up/space them out personally, once shot per visit. I just told my daughter that it would hurt but not be the worst hurt imaginable, and bought her ice cream afterward. I think the arm hurts less than the butt or leg. Both of my kids only got one shot at the doctor this year and the little one handled it way better than the older one.


answers from New York on

It really helped my son at age 5 when I read Elmo Goes to the Doctor



answers from Washington DC on

Give Tylenol about 30 minutes before the appointment. Make sure you tell the doctor.

Do not tell him he is getting shots, say no more about it. He has already worked himself into a frenzy because it has been talked about.

Makea couple of consultation appt's with his doctor, no shots.

Go in one day and get two, then make another appointment for the other two.

The DTaP should be last.

Let him have a treat when it is all over, ice cream maybe or go out to lunch. THis is a good time for a bribe.

Take your iPhone or Droid in and put in something funny, download a few videos, or a DVD player and a movie.

Good luck. I have a shot phobic. She will actually faint at the sight of needles.



answers from Los Angeles on

I think you are just as anxious about this as he is.

You really have to downplay the shots. We all go through it. The anticipation of the pain is worse than the actual pain, IMO.

I don't tell my kids they are getting shots until the day before an appointment. I act like it's no big deal. They don't get any special trips to ice cream afterward or anything because it's just a quick prick and not some gigantic challenge. (Not that I think promising him a reward is a bad thing, he obviously needs some motivation at this point since he is so worked up over it).

You can't exactly change your tactic now that the shots have been hanging over his head for a year, and it seems you have been sharing your own feelings and memories about the pain with him. But I think you can begin downplaying it. Tell him he's going to get them in his (but/leg/wherever) because you can barely feel it there. So it's not going to hurt badly at all.

I've never heard of a kid losing total trust in their parent because they said a shot wouldn't hurt too bad and then it did. I think it's better to act like it's no big deal so they can relax ahead of time. As you see now, months of fretting is not worth the two seconds of pain he is going to have.
I usually only do two shots at once for my kids. Partly because the thought of all that stuff going into their bodies, but mostly because more than two pricks at once sounds a little torturous to me. Everyone's different though, some people like to get it all over with at once.

Don't let him dwell on it these next few days. When it comes up, say, "yeah it's only gonna hurt for a second, we all have to get them. It won't be bad." then quickly change subject. When it's happening, hold him and talk about something he can visualize like what kind of ice cream he's going to get.
Good luck.



answers from Dallas on

We did my daughter's 2 and 2 in each leg. That one does hurt more than the others and she remembers that (6 years later). So I recommend that they do that one last, so your son will remember that not ALL shots hurt like that. Other than that, you have done the best that you can...except next time I agree to not tell ahead of time. I always tell my kids that I don't know if there will be shots (after one time when I assured "no" and then she needed an antibiotic injection...making me a big liar!).

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