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Flu season has already begun and, given the ongoing global pandemic of it all, boosting your immunity is as important as ever this year. This means it’s time for a flu shot for you — and your kids. The flu shot is one of those necessary tools we have available that helps us stay healthy, but for some of us, shots are not something we really enjoy dealing with, and for many kids, needles are the worst. But no matter how much you or your kids dread this appointment, getting the flu shot is crucial when it comes to avoiding severe illness.
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As a reminder, the flu is an extremely contagious viral illness that infects your nose, throat, and sometimes your lungs, per the CDC. While most people recover without complications, getting the flu is a miserable experience and one that can, unfortunately, last for a while. Some people are at higher risk of developing complications, including children younger than 5 and adults over 65 as well as those with certain chronic medical conditions, including asthma or heart disease. And as much as we think of the flu as simply a bad cold, it leads to hospitalizations and deaths every year. The CDC estimates that the flu caused between 12,000 and 52,000 deaths every year from 2010-2020.
With all that in mind, here’s what you can do to make the flu shot experience a little easier on you and your kids, because the extra effort truly is worth the protection.
When should my kids get the flu shot?
According to the CDC, everyone 6 months old and up should get a flu shot. As for timing, the CDC recommends that people get their flu vaccines before the end of October. However, some age groups (including children who are age 6 months to 8 years) need two doses. They should get their first vaccine as soon as it’s available so they can get their second dose by the time October ends.
That said, if you or your kids don’t get vaccinated for the flu in September or October, you can and should still get the shot. The CDC recommends vaccination “as long as flu viruses pose a threat,” which in some seasons, can be as late as May or June.
How you (& your doctor) can help your kids get the flu shot
So you know why the flu shot is important and you’re getting ready to take your child in, but you’re still silently stressing out about the whole experience. How can you make the vaccine experience better, especially for those who are young enough to need more than one shot? Here are a few pro tips from the experts themselves.
Read to them
Parents can help prepare their kids before they even hop in the car to go to the doctor’s office, Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatric obesity specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SheKnows. He suggests reading a book about going to the doctor (The Berenstain Bears, anyone?) or getting vaccines, which can make doctor visits a little less intimidating.
Get your shot with them
You can also get your vaccine at the same time to show your kid it’s not so scary after all. “When families come in for the flu vaccines, I give the vaccine to parents first so the parents can model the appropriate response to getting vaccines,” Dr. Ganjian says. Another tip? “I remind parents to smile while getting the vaccine.”
Tell your kids what’s going on
Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows that she has a few tricks that she tries when approaching a child with a needle in hand. “I try to talk with kids that are older about what it is preventing,” she says. “I never lie. I tell them it will hurt for a second and then it will be done.”
Distraction is an amazing tool that parents should absolutely use, says Dr. Posner, especially if their child is young and easily distracted. “I try to have a parent distract them as much as they can — with a video on a phone or a book,” she adds.
Try a Buzzy
Some doctor’s offices carry these, but if they don’t, it may be an investment you’re willing to make, especially since your child will have plenty of flu shots as they grow up. A Buzzy is a device that you place on your child’s arm or leg that vibrates and overwhelms nerves that transmits pain, and while Dr. Posner says that the anticipation may be worse than the actual shot, it still might work for your child.
Try a topical lidocaine
Ganjian says that your doctor can provide a topical ointment, Emla, that you can apply at least 30 minutes before your child gets the vaccine. It can make the shot hurt less.
Consider the nasal spray
If your child is inconsolable and you’re second-guessing your decision to get the shot in the first place, Ganjian says that the nasal spray flu vaccine is better than nothing. However, there is a caveat.
“Remember, that the nasal spray flu vaccine is not as effective as the shot and is only recommended for children who will otherwise not receive the flu shot,” he warns. “The thought process is that it is better to have some immunity with the nasal spray than no immunity at all. Nevertheless, aim for the best option — the flu shot.”
It’s also important to note that the nasal spray is not acceptable for certain people, like kids under 2, people with weakened immune systems and kids with asthma who are 5 years or older, per the CDC.
No, we are definitely not above bribing our kids, especially if it’s to get them some preventative health care. Go out for ice cream afterwards, or promise them some extra playtime at the park. Dr. Ganjian says that the promise of a reward or a treat can make the shot more bearable.
Give them a little love
And even if you don’t give them a physical reward, make sure to give your kid some love and praise after they get their flu shot. It’s a scary thing for some of us and they should be proud of their bravery. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way.
Take heart, moms & dads
You’re not alone with a freaked-out child who is terrified of needles, and your child’s doctor is accustomed to helping kids get a flu shot. Keep these tips in mind as you make your appointment, and it should be a smooth(er) experience instead of one everyone dreads every year.
A version of this story was published October 2018.
Before you go, check out our favorite natural products for relieving your kid’s cold symptoms:
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