By: Amy S. Emmer-Sheldon, MD, Aurora Health Care

Fall is the best time for your family to get your annual flu shots, although they can be given any time during the flu season. I encourage you to schedule influenza shots for your family — the nasal spray (under the brand name FluMist) is not recommended by federal health officials this year because it has been less effective in providing protection from the flu in recent years.

The flu vaccine helps protect against influenza, which causes high fevers, muscle aches, cough and runny nose that typically last at least 5 to 7 days. It does not prevent stomach flu.

Once you decide that you want the flu vaccine for your family, you’ll just need to set up a time to do so.

There are a number of options for receiving your vaccinations. Sources might include:

  • Your health care provider.
  • Retail stores with flu shot clinics (such as many pharmacies).
  • A local walk-in clinic.
  • Local community health organizations such as your county health department.
  • School health resources.
  • An employer flu shot clinic.
  • You can locate other sources for the flu shot online.

When you call to make arrangements, ask how much the shot costs. Prices vary and many locations will submit the charges to your insurance leaving no out-of-pocket fee for you to pay.

The flu vaccine is one step you can take to avoid the flu. There are also a number of other steps you can take to prevent the flu.

What if Your Child is Afraid of Getting Shots?

Some children will not be bothered by getting a shot, but it’s fairly common for children (and adults) to be reluctant to get a flu shot. Everyone is different.

If your child has fears, we have some steps you can take to help reduce the stress a child may have about getting a shot.

Tips for Mom and Dad

Don’t tell too much too soon — If your child is afraid of shots, avoid telling the child about the shot too soon, it can stress them for days.

However, when it’s time to get the shot, you should prepare the child so they know what’s going to happen.

We have some evidence that excessive parental reassurance that the shot won’t hurt isn’t effective and simply results in prolonging the child’s stress.

Tell the truth — When you take your child in for a vaccine, explain that the shot will protect him or her from being really sick. (However, be prepared that the child may not be swayed by that rationale.) Honestly explain that the shot will hurt some, but for just a few seconds. Then the discomfort will quickly go away. Do not tell them it doesn’t hurt because it does. You can explain there will be a pinch, pressure on the arm and then the pain will go away. Explain you’re going to try some things that will help. And do your best to not make a big deal out of the process.

Give your child a hug to help comfort him or her and to help hold the child still for the vaccine. Just seeing a parent’s face will often calm children who are afraid. Keep calm and your child will be more calm as well.

Distraction can help — When it comes time for the shot, distracting the child is a proven effective approach to reduce anxiety and pain. Here are some distracting suggestions:

  • For children under age 1, try offering a pacifier if that’s how you normally calm the child. Being ready to feed the child after the shot can be quite helpful as well.
  • Bring the items needed to blow bubbles or a pinwheel. When it’s time for the shot, have the child blow.
  • Read the child a story or sing a favorite song.
  • If available, have the child watch a little TV. A video on a smart phone or tablet can be distracting.
  • Bring a new toy for the child to play with.
  • For kids over 3, have them imagine it’s their birthday and they’re blowing out candles on the cake.
  • Encourage the child to breathe deeply and count backward from 10.
  • For older children, have them cough before and once during the shot.

 Try a skin-numbing product — Before getting the shot, at the drug store find a product that contains lidocaine and prilocaine. One brand name is Emla. The product is an anesthetic that helps numb the skin and block pain signals. Apply about 20 minutes to an hour before getting the shot (follow the label directions). There will still be pain from the medicine being injected. Ask your health care professional for recommendations. Your pharmacist may also be able to offer options.

Once you’re done — When they’ve had the shot, smile and let them know they’re done and they did well (assuming they did).

You may want to offer your child fun stickers or a treat afterward as a reward. Don’t we all appreciate a reward for a job well done?

If you have questions about this year’s flu vaccines, see your health care professional.

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