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Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

January 18, 2022
How to Talk to Your Child About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Use these tips from Phoenix Children’s child life specialists and psychologists to talk to your child about COVID-19 vaccinations.

How to Talk to Your Child About the COVID-19 Vaccine

With the availability of a COVID-19 vaccination for children, you may be eager for this highly anticipated protection for your child.

Our team of child life specialists and psychologists at Phoenix Children’s have created a conversation guide to help you have constructive conversations with your child to help understand why getting the COVID-19 vaccine is important, and prepare them for their COVID-19 vaccination.

Start by asking what they know

Ask your child what they know about the vaccine using open-ended questions.

  • Do they know why we get shots?
  • What do they know about COVID-19?

Now is the time to be honest with your child. Children are typically used to getting shots at the doctor’s office, so explain to them that the shots give them medicine to help their bodies fight germs that make us sick. This vaccine helps their body fight COVID-19.

You can answer their questions in an age-appropriate way while still being honest. If you don’t know the answer, don’t guess. There are many credible sources of information regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine. Here are a few trusted sources:

Debunk rumors

Be prepared to clarify any misconceptions that your child may have heard on social media or from peers. Give your child space to air any questions or concerns so you can address them head-on and provide answers that reassure them that this decision is for their health and safety.

The goal of the conversation or series of conversations is to help your child build trust, and part of that is making sure they feel heard. Let them know they can come to you or another trusted adult with any other questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine.

Share your own COVID-19 vaccine experience

Keep it simple, concise and positive.

  • Talk to your child about the importance of the vaccine and why you chose to get vaccinated.
  • Focus on the safety of the vaccine and how by getting vaccinated you are doing something for the greater good. By keeping your bodies protected against COVID-19, you are helping to keep your family, friends, neighbors and community safe.

Prepare your child for what will happen

Explain step by step what to expect when your child gets their vaccine, so you can help them understand, to the best of their ability, what will occur. Talk through where they’ll get it done, how things will work, and how long it could take. For example, will they stay in the car, will they sit in a chair, or will they sit in your lap? Being prepared before the day of the vaccination helps for a better experience.

Use kid-friendly language by choosing words like “vaccine” or “immunization” versus “shot” or other words with a negative undertone. For example, you can use words like “pinch” or “poke” instead of shot.

Depending on your child’s age, you can role play or rehearse what will happen using a favorite toy or a play medical kit.

Reduce the chances for negative experiences

A visit to a clinic or hospital can make some kids nervous or uneasy. Typically, there are two ways kids cope with medical experiences: information seeking or by distraction. You know your child best, but here are some tips to help reduce the chances for negative experiences day-of.

For information seekers:

  • Tell your child when they’re going to get their vaccine and why they have the appointment.
  • Share what they might see, feel, hear, taste, and smell during their visit.
  • Have your child think about or write down questions they might want to ask staff during the appointment.
  • Let staff know your child is an information seeker. Ask staff to describe what they need to do and give your child a chance to ask questions.

For distractors:

  • Be honest with your child about the appointment and answer any questions or concerns they ask.
  • Let your child choose how much information they want staff to tell them. Make sure to tell staff what they’ve decided. For example, your child may not want to see what the staff are doing.
  • Have your child get ready for the appointment by packing their favorite toys or activities so they have something to distract them.
  • If needed, block your child’s view during the procedure to help them focus on something else.

Use coping tools

Practice different ways your child can help self-soothe and calm themselves if they get nervous during the appointment. Maybe it’s bringing a comfort item from home, such as a teddy bear or blanket. Or maybe they find deep breathing, calming music or another relaxation technique helpful.

Stay positive and provide a reward or treat

It’s important to remain positive throughout the vaccination process. If your child is anxious, offer comfort and reassurance rather than reprimanding them. Let them know how proud of them you are for doing something to stay healthy and to help others.

You can also try to plan something special for after the appointment. Maybe it’s a trip to their favorite park.

Talking about COVID-19 vaccinations is just one of many conversations you’ll have with your child as they grow up. If you or your child still have questions about vaccines, talk to your family health care provider or visit the Phoenix Children’s COVID-19 Resource Center for help.

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