Skip to main content
How to Prevent Needle Phobia in Kids

You are listening to Healthy Kids Zone:

How to Prevent Needle Phobia in Kids

Nov 15, 2022

No one likes to be poked with a needle, whether for a vaccine or a blood draw. But for children, getting a shot at the doctor's office can be frightening and lead to some emotional outbursts. Pediatrician Cindy Gellner, MD, explains what she does in her practice to ensure kids are not overly afraid of needles, and shares some tips for parents to get their child the medical treatment they need while avoiding a tantrum.

Episode Transcript

Needle phobia. It's something that as a pediatrician I see every day, several times a day. At least two-thirds of children have a fear of needles. It's hard to tell who is worse with it though, little kids or teenagers.

Unfortunately, vaccines are still given as shots at this time, and kids get a lot of shots to help build their immune system. At the mere mention of being due for vaccines or blood work, some kids will just burst into tears.

So what can you as a parent do to help when your child is due for a vaccine or needs blood work done? I always will tell parents and kids at the well visit before they are due for vaccines that the next time they have a checkup, there are shots involved.

Mainly, I do this to avoid surprises. Often parents will say that they had no idea their child was due for shots. So when I tell the kids, they remember the next time and that actually seems to help them be better prepared. It's the surprise "you need a shot" announcement that catches kids off guard more and their anxiety goes through the roof.

Parents also feel better knowing that they can tell their child that, "We talked about this," and that they can prepare their child in advance, not spring it on them on the drive to the office or once they get here.

One thing we as pediatricians ask that you don't do is tell your kid that if they don't behave, they'll get a shot. I hear that all the time as a scare tactic and it really bothers me. I'm not going to give your child a shot if it's not needed.

If you tell your child in front of me that I will give your child a shot if they misbehave, I will tell your child that I don't give shots for behavior, but I do have time out spots in the clinic.

And for the teenagers, if they get out of hand, we do have security officers who can help with behavior outbursts. And yes, sometimes that has been needed when the teenagers become violent.

Kids often will ask me if the shots hurt. Well, they are shots. They're not fuzzy caterpillars. Same with the needles we use to draw blood. I tell kids that, "Yes, they hurt just a little, but it's over quickly," and, "We have to use the needles, but for a good reason," and it's to make sure that they are healthy.

I try to be upfront and honest with the kids. Even little kids understand when you tell them the truth in a calm manner and explain why we are doing what we are doing.

I had a vaccine one day and I saw a patient later who was afraid of getting a shot. I showed her my Band-Aid and she was so surprised. She was like, "But you're the doctor." And I said, "Yes, I am, and I sometimes have to get shots too." She then said if I was brave enough to get one, then so was she.

I also tell kids when they're old enough what vaccines they're getting and why they're getting them. I ask if they have any questions about the vaccines, and that seems to help them understand the importance of the vaccines.

Same with the blood work. I explain everything to them so that they know I'm not ordering labs just because I want to torture them. It's because I'm trying to figure out what is going on in their bodies and how to make them healthier.

I also have the advantage of telling kids and parents that my medical assistants are who I trust with my own family and who I trust to draw my blood and give me any immunizations. So they know that they're in good hands.

I let them know that I don't like getting needles poked in me either, so they know they're not alone and that I get it.

I talk directly to the kids so they know they're heard and we are doing what we can to make this as easy an experience as we can. And they know that they get a sticker when they're done for being so brave, no matter how old they are.

So while needle phobia is a real thing, there are ways as parents that you can help make immunizations and blood draws less scary, which goes a long way when the kids are here in the office.