How to talk to your children about vaccines

This is something I have been pondering for a while, basically because I’m terrified to have terrified children. I have a one-year-old and another on the way, and I’m already planning my talks on health, the body, and vaccines; playing them out in my head as if they were as daunting as the talk.

Although I hate to do this to you, all of this information is as important as the talk should be. That’s because knowledge can help to eliminate fear.

What can you do to start this process of scaring the scariness out of vaccines? I have some ideas.

  • First, and foremost, never assume it’s too early to start talking. My daughter is only one, but I have been talking to her about getting vaccines from the very first shot (yep, on day one). I know she doesn’t understand everything that I’m saying, but one day she will, and you never know which day that day will be. And in my experience, the talking calms us both long before we walk into the doctor’s office and long after we leave.
  • Once you’ve started talking, put yourself at ease by getting educated. Know your stuff; as I said, education reduces fear, and your lowered stress level will help lower your child’s stress level. The doctor’s visits don’t have to be dreaded days, try to keep them low stress for your children. They most definitely pick up on your cues.
  • Soon your children will be old enough to understand basic concepts, so give them those concepts. Be honest. For example, you may want to say: “yes, shots hurt a little bit. But, they won’t hurt for very long after. And people used to get very sick and sometimes die from horrible diseases, but now we have vaccines to keep us from getting all of the horrible diseases. You’re so smart to get your vaccines and stay healthy!”
  • Reward your children because getting vaccines is hard. It’s never wrong to praise their bravery and take them to do something they love. Maybe spend some time at the park, followed up by a bowl of ice cream and an: “Aren’t you so happy that you got your vaccines so now you won’t get very sick with the flu? A virus that can make you throw up and an even put you in the hospital. Yuck! You’re so smart to get that vaccine!”
  • the_immune_platoon
    Teaching tools, such as this cute new coloring book by Keys To a Healthy Home may be great ways to start the conversation with your little ones. The coloring book can be found at here.
  • And as always, keep the conversation going. Answer all of your little ones’ questions, and if you don’t know the answers, be honest. Say: “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I am going to find out the answer for you.”

Then, come ask me. 🙂

For More:

5 thoughts on “How to talk to your children about vaccines

  1. “It’s never wrong to praise their bravery” … yes it is, because being praised for bravery implies that they faced or will be facing a SCARY SITUATION. And that means vaccines are SCARY!

    Praise them for cooperating, but not bravery. The desired behavior may be the same, but the meaning is different.

    The critical point is that children take their cues from their parents about what is supposed to be scary. If the parent is calm and matter of fact, the child will be calm and maybe curious.

    DO NOT SAY “THIS WON’T HURT”!!!! They can spot the lie and they will be 100% certain that it’s agonizing. They are suspicious creatures. Don’t belabor the point of how good vaccines are, because if you are spending that much time trying to convince them that it’s OK, it must be worse than broccoli and kale. And the thing that lives in the closet.

    I took blood from children – a LOT of children – and the ones whose parents tried the hardest to convince them that it was not scary and wouldn’t hurt at all were the hardest to work with. And aiming for a vein is a lot harder than aiming for an arm.

    I would tell the toddlers it’s not as bad as being lunch for a bear, probably not even as bad as falling off a bicycle, and quickly work my way down to asking “have you ever poked yourself with a sewing needle? It’s not even that bad” … get a giggle, and explain that the blood would grow back faster than fingernails and they were almost always calm.

    I gave permission to cry and say ouch if they wanted to do it, as long as they held still, they usually laughed instead.

    Older children got a more detailed explanation if they asked for it – and some of them were EXTREMELY interested, especially the ones that didn’t realize what the blood really does and how much the lab could tell from it.

    There are some age-appropriate books and pamphlets about vaccinations and the immune system. Most small children understand the concept of “wanted posters” and “lessons” so telling them that the vaccine is showing their body what the disease looks like teaches it how to get rid of it QUICK if it shows up will satisfy them.

  2. A few months ago, my six-year-old daughter had a checkup. I didn’t know if she was going to need any vaccinations or not. I told her our immune system is like an army of soldiers that fights against the bad germs in our bodies, and that shots are how they train and practice and get ready for those enemies. She was able to understand that analogy pretty well. And I had no idea this coloring book existed! It was just something I came up with on the fly.

Comments are closed.