Q. My son is 10 and is terrified of shots and needles. When he knows he has an upcoming doctor's appointment, he starts to ask incessantly, "Will I have to get a shot, Mommy? What if they give me a shot?". He often gets hysterical just thinking about the possibility of a shot. I try to calm him down by telling him he's a big boy and that he can handle a shot, but it doesn't seem to help. The last time we went to the doctor, my son was so anxious, I had to pin him to my chest while the nurse administered the shot. He's getting too big and too strong for me and I hate to see him get so worked up. Help!
A. Shots can be a tough issue for some children. Try these strategies:
Have a talk. Along with your spouse, sit down with your son and develop a strategy for dealing with this problem. You and your spouse can share incidents from your own childhoods where you were afraid of something. Be sure to talk about how you overcame your fear as well. Help your son think of ways he can get over this fear. He can try some deep breathing to help him relax or practice saying, "I will not fear, for the Lord is with me," when he starts to feel anxious about a shot.
Talk with your son about other times you've seen him overcome his fear. Let him know you're confident he can overcome this one and that you are there to help him.
End your time in prayer. Encourage your child to ask God to help him let go of this fear.
Prepare for the next doctor visit. Whether your next trip to the doctor is for a routine physical or for an illness, call your doctor's office to ask if any shots, such as a flu, tetanus, or regular immunization, will be part of your visit. If there will be a shot, find out where they will give the shot (in the arm, the leg, etc.) and who will administer the shot. Since fears are often based on what we don't know about a situation, giving your son as much information as you can may help make the experience less frightening. Talk with your son about what will happen and how he can use his coping skills to handle his fears.
When you arrive for your appointment, tell the nurse that your son is severely afraid of shots. Most health professionals have a few tricks up their sleeves to make these things easier. The anticipation of the shot is also a factor in your son's fear, so ask if the shot can be given at the beginning of the visit rather than at the end. Help you son use his breathing or other relaxation techniques when the shot is given.
Set up a reward. Since this fear is great, offer your son a meaningful reward when he manages his fear well. Choose something your child truly enjoys, like an ice cream cone or a new book so that he has a big incentive to handle his fears. Set up specific and attainable criteria for earning this reward. For instance, if he can verbalize, "Mom, I'm afraid," versus physically thrashing, crying, or screaming, that's a significant gain and worthy of a reward.
Praise, praise, praise. Whether he completely conquers his fear or simply becomes less hysterical, praise every aspect of his improved behavior. You can say, "I was so proud of how you used your deep breathing to calm yourself," or, "Fear is a hard emotion to manage. I am so proud of the way you told me how you felt."
The Neighbor Is a Bully
Q. My daughter and a neighbor's daughter are frequent playmates. My daughter's friend is more aggressive and consequently my daughter is often hurt or bullied. She still wants to play with her friend, but I'm worried she'll learn the wrong message about friendship. Am I wrong for letting her play with this child, or should I separate them and risk hurt feelings by the other parents?
A.I remember having a very hard time standing up to a friend about her son's aggressive behavior toward my daughter. But one day, when he was about to hit her, I finally stepped in. I realized that God called me to protect my daughter?that's my job. It was a relief to work through the fear of "what people will think" and to realize that the only opinion that mattered was my daughter's. Still, it's a challenge; so get ready to grow! Here are a few ideas to help:
Have visits at your house for a while. You can supervise the play and correct your daughter's friend when she's out of line. Be sure to explain the house rules: "Belinda, at our house, we take turns deciding what game to play. You decided the last game, now it's Jenna's turn." As you see healthy interaction, allow play time to return to your neighbor's house. If the problems come back, you'll know that your house is the safer place to play.
Teach your daughter to be assertive. Give her verbal tools to use when she starts to feel bullied: "Belinda, I don't like it when you decide all the activities. I want us to take turns." If this isn't strong enough, ask your daughter to shorten the playtime when Belinda is a bully: "I want to go home now because we aren't taking turns." This limit will usually motivate the other child to cooperate.
Talk to your neighbor. If the problem continues, have your neighbor over for coffee to talk things through. You might say, "I really enjoy the fact that our daughters play together so often. Having a neighbor friend was important to me as a child as well. I'm noticing that my daughter sometimes feels hurt when Belinda doesn't take turns (hits, or decides all the games). Can we encourage the kids to take turns so that the playtime works better for both of them?"
Find other friends. Early childhood friendships can set the pace and expectations for future friendships. If you feel that the friendship is just not a good fit for your daughter, get her involved with other playmates or peer activities.
Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy.
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