The Offending Statement
"Honey, if you stay still, this won’t hurt at all."
Kids don't like shots, and parents don't like to see their children anxious and in pain, so it's natural that you want to shield your baby from what's about to happen—but you can't. Unfortunately, injections are a necessary part of healthcare. So, how can you confront these situations in a productive way?
Why We Don’t Want to Hear It
False assurances often backfire. Do shots hurt? Yes. Will the hurt be eliminated by patient compliance? No. Although you may be tempted to soothe your child, misleading him can actually be quite damaging. Your child is at the beginning of building a relationship with his pediatrician, and learning that the doctor’s office is a place of deception will just make it that much harder to get him to come back next time. You want to be very careful not to do something that will undermine your child’s trust and faith in you and in his clinician.
What You Should Say
First we must realize that our goal is to help minimize the pain and maximize the comfort. Can this really be done with a shot? Absolutely. Try saying, “You are going to feel a pinch in your arm. This is medicine. The medicine will help you so you don’t get very sick when you get older. It is important. Now listen to the doctor/nurse and hold onto my hand.”
Sometimes choices can be helpful, as they give a child more control over the situation: “Would you like to sit on the exam table or would you rather sit on my lap?” However, keep in mind that for some kids, choice is not a good idea, and certainly avoid, “Would you like a shot today or would you rather do it next visit?” We all know what the answer will be to that!
If your child still reacts negatively or is simply anxious to the point of no return, give him a tight bear hug and speak to him in a quiet, soothing voice. Stay calm and keep the volume of your voice low. (Trying desperately to negotiate with a screaming child is rarely effective.)
If you have a very anxious child, it may be helpful to prepare him fully on the way to the visit. Again, this depends on the child. You can call your doctor’s office before the appointment to see if there are any shots planned (even if your child was told he was up to date last year, there are so many modifications made to the current shot schedule that things may have changed). You may also want to ask your doctor or nurse if there are ways to minimize the pain sensation, like a distraction technique, nerve distracters, or topical anesthetics. Pediatricians typically have a number of these available for the most anxious patients.
Helping Parents Deal
So, why do parents say such things? There are numerous good reasons. All parents wish they could take the pain away for their kids, but saying it won’t hurt isn’t an anesthetic. It is a well-meaning white lie, and although you might catch your child off guard the first time, there is a price to be paid the next time you prepare your child for a new experience, (Just watch what happens when you try “You are going to love your new dentist.”)
Of course you don’t want to see your child in pain, so denying the experience may be coping method for parents, but there will be no denying the tears, or the distrust that will follow.