Sussex Travel Clinic

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Ouch….tips on how to prepare children for vaccinations

Nurse giving child injection in arm

Nurse giving child injection in arm

Having vaccinations can sometimes be a very scary thing for kids and parents. A little bit of preparation can help to ease your child’s fear and will also minimize the anxiety for both of you.

Whatever the child’s previous experiences of a healthcare setting are, a visit to clinic can be not only a challenge, but also potentially frightening and very traumatic for them.

Preparation, preparation, preparation…

Don’t underestimate the importance of preparation. An unprepared child is a frightened and anxious child. I have been a children’s nurse for many years and have worked in lots of acute settings where I have had to help children overcome their fears during procedures and have witnessed first-hand how important preparation is.

A well-prepared child is less likely to suffer long-term emotional effects, which in turn will make any following visits to a healthcare setting a more positive experience for them.

According to the National Association of Hospital Play Staff (NAHPS, 1987): “Over the years, several controlled studies have been completed and they show that well-prepared children suffer less emotional trauma post procedurally than children who have had no preparation.”

Play preparation helps to improve the child’s ability to cope. It can also give the child some control over the situation, allowing them to participate and possibly make some of their own choices. For example which limb will be used for the injection or who they will sit with?

What should I do before the appointment?

About a day or so before the appointment talk to your child about the injection. Answer your child’s questions honestly and use a straightforward approach. Use plain language that is age appropriate. Discuss the importance of having the injection and how it will help to keep them well. Remember they may need to have more than one, so don’t promise that it is just one needle.

Explain what is expected of your child, that the injection will hurt a little but not for very long. Help your child to choose clothes that are easy to remove because the nurse needs give their injection in their arm. Babies under 12 months of age are given vaccinations into the leg. You may want to start taking off layers before you go into the clinical room to see the nurse.

Try to avoid telling scary stories about injections or making threats about having to have injections if they are not behaving.

We can provide numbing cream or you can call it special ‘magic cream’ called Emla. That can be applied to both arms 1 hour before your child’s appointment. Please call reception to arrange collection of a pack. Emla Packs cost £8 and come with full instructions of use. You can explain that it can help to make the injection hurt less.

Child injecting teddy


You could show your child the syringe used for the injection. You can obtain an oral syringe from a pharmacy for a small cost. Using toys to practice on can help to explain and help to lessen fear.

You could look at a book or pictures that show children who are having an injection.

You could watch a TV programme about injections. CBeebies has a great programme called Get Well Soon with Dr Ranj it is based on children’s experiences of going to the doctor. It features puppet characters that come to visit the doctor and through them children get to learn about common health issues.

This clip is called – How do injections help us?


We can’t promise we can make balloon models but we do have stickers and certificates though!

Allow plenty of time to get to your appointment.

What can I do to help my child during the appointment?

It is natural to be worried when your child is having a vaccination. Try to stay calm and treat the situation in a rational way. If you’re anxious, your child may pick up on this and also become anxious and distressed. If you’re calm then your child will be too.

It is best to sit your child on your lap and cuddle them firmly, the nurse will show you how to hold them. Holding a child close to you helps to keep them calm. Smile and make eye contact with your child, let them know everything is OK and they are safe.

It is better if the injection is given quickly, your child won’t even see the needle or notice that anything has happened. If you’re nervous about seeing your child having an injection, it is better to bring someone else with you that the child knows who can hold the child for you.

Distraction helps during the injection. You can get your child to take a deep breath and pretend to blow bubbles or count. You could use a favourite toy or book or talk about something else to take their mind off the injection.

It is best not to apologise for subjecting them to the injection as it may make the child think that the injection is worse than it is or it is a punishment and will make them feel more anxious.

Comfort your child if he or she cries, and say it’s ok to cry, it doesn’t mean that they are not being brave. Try not to tell a child they are not “being brave” if they cry.

How can I help my child afterwards?

Give loads of praise and cuddles. We’ll be ready with stickers and certificates. You may want to bring a reward for them to have. Or take them somewhere nice afterwards for being so brilliant!

What should I do if I have more than one child that needs to be vaccinated?

The best way to keep children calm is to have one adult reassuring the child having the injection and, ideally, a second adult with the other children in the waiting room. So it is always best to try to bring another adult with you to the appointment to help out. Children will be happier left in the waiting room with someone that they know.

baby and mum

Remember to bring

Please try to complete the registration form and medical history form before you come, it helps to speed up the appointment for you and your child.

Please bring your child’s red book with you, so that the nurse can record your vaccine in the book.

We look forward to seeing you at the Sussex Travel Clinic soon.

Written by Nicki Harrison Lead Clinic Nurse – RGN /RN(Child)



National Association of Hospital Play Staff (1987) Let’s Play: Play Preparation for Surgery and Unpleasant Procedures. NAHPS, Middlesex