Needles are feared by many people in society, including up to 10% of the adult population. Children, in particular, share a common dislike of needles, often responding to them with significant objection along with screaming and in some cases, utter despair. So, it isn’t any wonder that taking children for their 4 year old needles is not high up there on a parent’s making-memorable-moments lists.
But I discovered a method that took the stress right out of getting needles for us and believe it could help you too.
This method will help you and your child feel more connected and relaxed as you embark on this important part of growing up. You may even find that the experience is an enjoyable and empowering one for you both.
The key to reducing the traumatic impact of needles is all in the preparation.
With adequate preparation there should be no need to bribe, trick or coerce a child into having their needles.
Children should always be aware of what is going to happen to them during doctors visits. Even through infancy, they have a right to know when someone is going to inflict pain on their body. It is naive to think that a child can be distracted from a task that causes them pain and that they won’t then hold onto a small level of resentment and at the very least, distrust.
By the time they reach the age of 4, children are highly attuned, perceptive and possess an ever-increasing intelligence. It makes a mockery of them to think they will be better off being bribed with sweets and then distracted whilst the nurses do the deed.
Children should be involved in the process from start to finish. They should know what is being injected into them (or in the case of a blood draw, why the blood needs taking), what the process will involve and how it will likely feel.
Many people are concerned about the anxiety their children will feel if they know too much information beforehand. It is normal for a child to feel anxious about their impending vaccinations. Heck, I’m 34 and still pass out when I get injections so why shouldn’t they feel anxious? The anxiety they will feel upon being forewarned and prepared is nothing on what they will feel in future visits if they are not prepared and then are ambushed with a painful experience.
Recently my 4 year old daughter received her vaccinations. Despite being a little anxious myself about how this event would play out it turned out to be an empowering and beautifully bonding experience for the both of us and it all came down to how well prepared she was.
So, what is the best way to prepare children for needles?
Just to give you a little background on my daughter in case you are new to this blog. Lucy is a wonderfully spirited child. She lives life at 100mph. Everything is done with full vigour and all emotion is expressed without reserve. She has a limited pain threshold and screams hysterically whenever she suffers even a minor injury, scrape or bump.
Needless to say, the looming needles were not something any of us were particularly looking forward to.
Lucy’s appointment was made about a month in advance.
The first time I brought up the topic of Lucy’s needles with her was about 3 weeks from N-Day (Needle Day). Every time I spoke with her about her needles, I kept my words measured, confident and matter-of-fact. Although this was a big event, I wanted to convey the message that it was not a big deal. It was important however that I did not use those words (“It’s not a big deal”) because to her it would be a big deal and I was not about to undermine that.
I simply said: “Lucy now that you have turned 4 you will have to have some special medicine at the doctors which will protect you from getting really sick.” She was intrigued. I continued “They can’t give this medicine to you like normal medicine, it has to go straight into your muscles under your skin.”
Whaaaat?” she replied. I pointed to her arm muscles (and showed her my rather non- bulging ones) and talked generally about muscles for a while. She asked how the medicine got into the muscles. I told her they had special needles that could squirt the medicine in.
Immediately, she cried out: “But I don’t want a needle!” whilst clutching her arm. This surprised me somewhat as she hasn’t had one since she was 18 months old. Surely she can’t remember, can she? Maybe she can?
I acknowledged: “I know you don’t, sweetheart. You don’t have to get them right away but when you do, I will be with you and you will be safe.”
That was all I said. I then left it alone for another week or so.
I then, casually brought it up again one day.
“In about 2 weeks, you and I are going to go to the doctors together to get your special medicine in the needles. Is there anything you want to ask me about the needles?”
She blurted “No, I’m not getting needles!” Then whined, “Why do I have to get needles?” I explained to her again about children getting very sick sometimes and that having the needles will help protect her from getting sick.
I again acknowledged that she seemed worried about having them. I let her know with honesty that it was normal to feel worried and that the needles would hurt a little, like a scratch. I then reassured her that I would be right there with her when she got them and that it was okay to cry as loudly as she wanted if it hurt.
This acknowledgement was important not only to her but to me also. Completely accepting that it is okay for a child to cry during needles is incredibly helpful in taking the stress out of the experience. Not having to worry about how to make a sad child happy is a huge burden lifted. Just being there and validating their feelings is enough.
She then ran off to play.
I left it again until about a week before N-Day. At this point, I was on holidays. It was a busy time with my 3 year old’s birthday and Easter and then preparing to go away for 10 days holiday. I was sure to make time to continue preparing Lucy for her needles.
I often chose early mornings or evenings before bed as these are the times she is less hectic and stops long enough to hold a conversation without being too distracted.
I started by saying, “We have a big week this week. There is lots to get done to get ready to go to Granny’s on Thursday. Before we go to Granny’s you and I have our special doctors visit for your needles. Her response was abrupt: “I don’t want to talk about needles.” I respected her wishes and simply said. “Okay, darling. We don’t have to.”
The Day Before the Needles
The day before N-Day, I brought it up again. I continued to convey confidence and use matter-of -fact statements because even though I was apprehensive about bringing it up again when she had asked not to, I still needed to continue to convey confidence and assurity in my voice. There was no room for waivering and she needed to know that although this was not something she particularly wanted, she had to have them and I was confident that she would be okay.
This time I said, “Tomorrow we have to be at the doctors for your appointment at 9:00. When we get there, we will go to the big red desk to check in and then wait in the waiting area for the doctor to call us in.” I then described the general process of what her appointment would entail.
Here, in Australia, children are given a full health check at 4 years with hearing and vision checks, height and weight measures, milestone checks and aptitude testing looking for understanding of colours and shapes and checking for speech-language delays. I went through as much of that as I could (in my limited knowledge of exactly what this experience would be like).
After describing this process I told her we would go to a different room for her needles. She winced at this and I told her again that it would hurt a bit like a sharp scratch on her arm and reminded her that it would be ok to cry if she needed to, that I would be right there to give her a cuddle.
The Day of the Needles
Finally, N-Day arrived. Lucy dove onto our bed in the morning and excitedly asked if we were going to Granny’s today. I told her we were but that first her and I were going to the doctors. I asked her whether she had any questions about the needles. She didn’t and made it clear she was not going to talk about it.
She bounced around on us for a while longer before suddenly lying still. She stated in a small voice “The needles will hurt me.” I said, “Yes, needles can hurt. They feel like a little sharp scratch.” I pointed to the spots on her arms where the needles would go and gently pressed my fingernail into her skin. Then I said. “Would you like to play ‘doctors and Lucy’s?’ I’ll be the doctor and you be the Lucy and we can practice getting your needles.”
Role Playing the Needles
When I suggested role playing the needles, it was like a stroke of genius. This was her all over, role playing is her thing (much like most 4 year olds). I donned a shower cap, a pair of spectacles, and a belt around my neck for my stethoscope. I grabbed a bobby pin from my bedside table to use as the needle and a pen for the ear thermometer and we were all set (can you tell we were still lying in bed with all my props?).
I introduced myself as Dr Harper (her Dr) and asked her what her name was. She smiled as she told me it was Lucy. I asked her how I could help her today and she said she had come to get her needles. I said, “Hmmm, I see. Well, first lets check your heart is beating and take your temperature.”
I went through all the pre-health check information that I could remember then told her it was time for her needles. I told her I would give her one in each arm and pointed to the spots. She watched intently as I then used my bobby pin to gently inject the medicine into her arms, one after the other. I told her that it hurts a little sometimes and that it was okay to cry if she needed to. She just grinned at me.
Then it was my turn, she repeated a slightly abridged version of the doctor experience on me, delighting in jabbing me with the ‘needle’ when the time came.
We switched turns again and this whole process repeated countless times over a period of about 20 minutes.
Eventually, Lucy said, “I am going to get dressed to go to the doctors now.” It was like the appointment couldn’t come quickly enough for her. She was ready.
The health check part of the appointment proceeded without incident and finally the time came for the needles.
As I walked with Lucy to the treatment room, I asked her what colours she thought the needles would be. She suspected they would be the colour of rainbows. She had a spring in her step. She was confident (possibly more than I was), she knew what to expect.
When we got in, the nurse introduced herself and then told me she was going to get the other nurse. I wondered why, thinking they were planning to hold her down. I was ready to explain that they wouldn’t need to do that when it dawned on me that they would be giving both needles at the same time.
I confirmed with the nurse if this was the case and then explained to Lucy this slight change to our preparations. I expected this to put her right off track but she didn’t blink an eye. She just wanted to see the needles to see what colour they were. She was delighted to see that in one of needles the medicine was pink and the other yellow.
I told the nurses that Lucy would like to watch them putting the needles in so could they please let her know when they were about to do it. They seemed surprised but went along with it. I asked Lucy, which needle she wanted to watch and she chose the pink one (of course).
She sat on my lap and I held her steady as I watched with her and quietly held my breath as they gave the warning and then plunged the needles into her arms simultaneously. I waited for the cry, I expected it to be loud and long. But nothing came. The needles came out and still nothing.
I couldn’t see her face so I wondered if this was the longest in-breath before a scream I had ever witnessed. But no. Lucy turned her head towards me and snuggled into my chest for the briefest time. I hugged her and was almost caught off guard by my own wave of emotion. The pride, the sense of achievement I felt on her behalf was all-consuming.
I said quietly in her ear: “You did it! it’s all done! You must be so proud of yourself!” She smiled the biggest smile and then when I said, “I think we should go and have some Jelly Beans to celebrate (not something I had previously brought up), what do you reckon?” She burst into excited laughter.
Yep, laughter! Just moments after having two painful needles injected into her arms.
I honestly feel now, that my daughter has jumped up two gigantic rungs on the confidence scale with this experience. Proud, empowered, confident, self -assured, liberated are just a few of the adjectives I can think of that radiated from her as we headed out to the car that day.
All from just being prepared.
You might also like to read:
Needles Don’t have to be Traumatic for Children ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)
Parenting Made Easier ~ Janet Lansbury (Lanet lansbury – Elevating Childcare)
Or for more ideas for respectfully parenting your children read
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk ~ Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (Affiliate Link)
Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities — From the Very Start Magda Gerber (Affiliate Link)