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."
Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy.
Have a question for Dr. Maudlin?
Send it to:
"On the Family Front"
Christian Parenting Today
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, IL 60188
fax: (630) 260-0114
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Christian Parenting Today.