Helping Your Child Through Vaccine Jitters

Rachel Payne & Jessica Ralli

Now that kids 5 years and up can get the COVID-19 vaccine, we thought we would pull together a few tips and resources from BPL staff parents and children’s librarians for making it through the shot.

Step 1: Educate yourself

We know every parent wants what is best for their child and all of us have questions about any medication our child takes. Some parents we know got the vaccine the first week and others were more cautious and wanted to wait see. If you feel like you want a bit more information, here are some good sources to check out:

Step 2: Prepare
  • Reflect. Think about a time a shot or medical appointment went well for your child. Some children like to know in advance, but for others it can make them more anxious. Try to replicate what has worked best for your family.
  • Pick a site. To find a location near you, visit the NYC Vaccine Finder. Think about what setting would be the most comfortable for your child. Would the familiar local drug store be the most comfortable? Your child’s school? Your child’s doctor’s office? A large city vaccine site, where they can go at the same time as a friend? If you have choices, ask your child to weigh in.
  • Pick a time. As your child may be a bit tired and have a sore arm after their shot, pick a time that works for you. Try to pick a time of day when your child can take it easy for the rest of the day. Many families we spoke with got the shot on the day before a day off from school.
  • Make an appointment! While some clinics and pharmacies have drop-in hours, most families we’ve spoken with have found it easier to make an appointment. This reduces waiting time and allows you and your child to prepare mentally and physically. Go ahead and book the appointment for the second shot three weeks after your first. Ask for accommodations if you or your child needs them.
  • Read a “Social Story” with your child. Social stories are often created for people with disabilities, but they can be helpful for all children. They describe what will happen in a new situation. Here are some Social Stories you may want to read together:
  • Create a your own social story about going to get the vaccine. Social stories can be digital, drawn or written. Each page or photo should represent a step in the process, so that your child knows what is coming first, next, and last. It’s helpful to end on a positive experience that they can look forward to--like going for ice cream, playing with a favorite toy, or visiting a park they like. Social stories should be as specific as possible. Look for pictures of the steps by using google image search.
  • Read books together. Here is a booklist compiled by BPL staff of titles you can read with your child. Younger children may want to read about a favorite character going to the doctor. Older children may want to read nonfiction about the COVID-19 virus or about the human body.
  • Talk with your child. Talk to your child about how they feel about the upcoming shot. Let them know it will be similar to other vaccines they have had in the past, like the Flu shot. Use the books and social stories listed above as ice breakers. Remind them why they are getting the vaccine and talk to them about all the activities they will be able to enjoy after it is over.
  • Role Play. Play is a great way for children to practice and work through their feelings. Act out the steps listed in one of the social stories listed above. You can use a favorite stuffed animal or toy. You can use a doctor’s kit, band aids, and a dosing syringe from a child’s Tylenol bottle to act as the needle. Pick who will be the nurse, the parent or caregiver, and the child. Let your child lead, but this is your chance to fill in with some accurate information on what they can expect.
  • Give your child something to look forward to. Talk to your child about something they would like to do after they get their shot. It could be right after the shot, like a special treat, or something in the future when they are fully vaccinated, like a sleepover at friend’s house, going to a movie theater, or a special trip.

Step 3: Getting the shot

Wear comfortable clothes. Wear short sleeves under a sweater or hoodie, to make it easy for the vaccine site staff to access your child’s arm.

Pack a few things. Ask them what they might want to bring with them to make it a positive experience. A favorite stuffed animal or toy? A playlist to listen to? A device to play a game, use an app, or watch a video? A favorite book to read aloud? Noise cancelling headphones? Let them know they will have to hang out for 15 minutes after the shot, so suggest that they should bring along something to do.

Let your kids do the talking. Encourage your child to be as involved as they are comfortable and able during the registration process. Let them answer the questions about their name, birthdate, etc. when asked by staff at your vaccine site. Encourage them to hand over insurance cards. This encourages them to be actively involved in their health care and offers some distraction.

Ask for accommodations if you need them. Many vaccine sites will provide accommodations for people with disabilities and others who may need them. Ask for a quiet space if it is a noisy environment, reduced wait time, or extra time for your appointment. See the FAQ for more information.

During the shot... We asked parents what they were going to let their child do during the shot and got some fun answers:

  • Shout a curse word!
  • Hold a stuffed animal
  • Encourage breathing
  • Don’t look!
  • Count
  • Visualize a trip to the beach.
  • Breathe….
Step 4: After the shot

Get your incentive! Folks who get the vaccine are entitled to an incentive of $100, including kids. More details. You can also get a free donut at Kripsy Kreme!

Share your experience! Encourage your child to share their experience with friends, family members, their teachers, and their local librarians! We will make sure to praise them for their doing their part to fight COVID-19!

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