From the Expert:
Dr. Amy Baxter
Pediatrician Amy Baxter is the CEO of MMJ Labs and the inventor of her own line of pain and distraction products, called Buzzy, that are designed to help children and adults get over their fear of shots. Dr. Baxter shared some information about needle phobia and what parents can do to help their children at their next visit to the doctor.
Why do children develop a fear of needles?
The research shows that most people acquire a needle phobia around age four to six. This is a time when they are developmentally susceptible to fears about body integrity, and it's also when a child will have multiple shots at one time. Needle phobia seems to be classically conditioned, but it's more likely in people who are particularly sensitive to a light touch and sharp objects. Once it's conditioned, it doesn't seem to extinguish spontaneously. It may diminish over time, but many children who have needle phobia go on to become adults who avoid needles.
What should parents do to prevent their children from developing a needle phobia?
It's important to let your children know in advance some of what to expect. Let them frame it in advance as something that will help to keep them safe. The second thing is to use language that is not frightening. When a kid asks if it's going to hurt, don't lie but use positive words. The other things that parents can do is let their child control options to make the [shots] more comfortable. One option is to bring something else to concentrate on when they get the shot. It could be physically stimulating, like a squishy, plush toy that they can touch at the same time as they get the shot.
Another approach is to let the child choose a distraction, like seek and find games or a favorite iPad app. The more sensations you can involve, the better. Finally, a good way to package it all up is to make sure that the shots happen at the very end of the visit, so the child can immediately leave. Make sure they are all dressed and ready to go and praise the child no matter how they did. If it didn't go well, frame the experience as a milestone, and "it's never going to be this bad again."