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Helping your child during immunization

Learn how to help your child feel more comfortable when they are immunized.

Before the appointment

  • Have your child wear a short-sleeved shirt or loose clothes to free their arm or leg for the vaccine.
  • Talk to your child about what will happen, how it will feel, and how to cope. You can use pictures, stories, and words your child understands.
  • Decide when to talk to your child about getting the vaccine. Give them time to plan, but not too much time to worry.
  • Be positive and honest: "You will get a medicine to keep you healthy. The medicine is called a vaccine. It goes in your arm by a needle. You might feel a pinch for a few seconds."
  • If you have a baby, feed them before, during, or after they get the vaccine. This is one of the best ways to help babies have less pain.
  • Help your child think of things they can do to feel better during the immunization, such as bringing a favourite toy or comfort item.
  • Plan ahead for a special activity you can do together after their immunization, such as playing a favourite game or something else you both enjoy.
  • Be prepared with any documents you need to bring to the appointment. Knowing you have what you need can help you focus on your child.
  • Bring a list of questions you want to ask the healthcare provider.
  • Talk to the school nurse or call your local public health or community health centre if your child is getting a vaccine at school and is very afraid of needles. They will work with you to find the best way to support your child.

For more information about your child’s health checkups, visit Healthy Parents, Healthy Children.

During the appointment

Be calm

  • Remember that your child looks to you for how to act and feel. Be calm to help your child be calm.
  • Speak in a soft, gentle voice. Take slow, deep breaths if you are nervous.

Position your child

  • Have a younger child sit on your lap. Hug them, but not too tightly.
  • Follow your nurse’s instructions on how to hold your child so their leg or arm stays still for the immunization.
  • Teach older children how to relax their arm and hold it still. Relax your arm so that it is loose or jiggly (like cooked spaghetti).

Distract your child

Use distraction to soothe your child and ease their worry. Start distracting early, when they are calm.

Praise your child and plan for next time

  • Give your child lots of praise after they get the vaccine. This helps your child feel good and gives them confidence.
  • Say things like:
    • "I am so happy you got the vaccine!"
    • "I knew you could do it!"
    • "You sat so still for the nurse."
  • Use what you learned to plan for the next time.

Numbing medicine

  • Consider using anesthetic creams, gels, or patches. These are medicines that numb the skin and dull the pain from a needle. You can buy them at a pharmacy without a prescription.
  • Ask the pharmacist to help you choose the right product for your child and show you how to use it safely.
  • If your child is getting a vaccine at school, refer to the product information on when to apply the numbing medicine before immunization.
  • Learn more about using numbing medicine for a vaccine.

Fear of needles

Alberta Health Services’ Commitment to Comfort has ideas and tips to make immunization easier.

Immunize Canada’s Comfort, Ask, Relax, Distract (CARD) is another resource you can use to learn how to make immunization easier for your child.

Current as of: June 30, 2023
Author: Provincial Immunization Program, Alberta Health Services
Our work takes place on historical and contemporary Indigenous lands, including the territories of Treaty 6, Treaty 7 & Treaty 8 and the homeland of the Métis Nation of Alberta and 8 Métis Settlements. We also acknowledge the many Indigenous communities that have been forged in urban centres across Alberta.