How to calm kids for immunizations

Expert offers tips on how to calm kids Expert offers tips on how to calm kids before immunizations. (Sept. 11, 2007) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Can you suggest ways to calm a toddler so terrified of shots she cries as soon as she steps into the pediatrician's office?

It's typical for toddlers to be frightened of doctor's visits, says Dr. Ronald Marino, associate chairman of pediatrics at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola. "By the time they reach 18 months, they have a good recollection of what goes on," he says. They typically outgrow the anxiety by 3 or 4 years old, he says.

Meanwhile, Marino suggests:

--Between visits, read picture books with the child about visiting the doctor and how the doctor keeps you well. "Try to frame the doctor visits in a happy light," he says.

--Never threaten the child with a shot. Marino says he has heard parents say, "You be good or you're going to get a shot."

--In fact, avoid the word "shot" altogether. "I use the word immunization," Marino says. Even toddlers may associate "shot" with actors being "shot" on TV, he says.

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--Also avoid "hurt" or "pain," even to say, "This won't hurt." Instead, Marino frames it this way: "You're going to get an immunization. You might be surprised; you'll feel it, but it doesn't need to bother you."

--Kids are open to suggestion and magical thinking. Putting ice or "magic cream" where the immunization will be may help diminish discomfort, Marino says.

--If it doesn't go well, still leave with a positive message such as, "You did your best; it will be easier next time."

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