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How to Calm Vaccination Fears: 18 to 24 Months

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Updated on Mar 26, 2012

Hooray! You've made it! When you head in for your child's 18-24 month appointment, your toddler is also going in for her last round of shots. And to make it even more of a joyous occasion, she'll probably only need one needle—her Hep A vaccination. It's a complete 180 from the appointments when your little one would have to endure four or five shots all at once.

OK, so taking your toddler for shots isn't exactly cause for celebration, but it's nice to know that this is the last time you're going to have to drag a two-year-old into the pediatrician's office. The next round of needles isn't until before kindergarten, so you'll have a blissful three years before you have to calm your kid through vaccinations again.

You might be in a good mood about this last round of immunizations, but your older toddler's probably a little nervous. She's old enough now to know what "going to the doctor" means, and even though it's only for one shot, there's still going to be pain involved. Quell her fears by talking her through the process and celebrating when it's done.

  • Be honest. Guess what? Telling your toddler that getting shots "won't hurt," doesn't make it hurt any less. In fact, a 2010 study published in Pediatrics found that this type of psychological prep is ineffective in reducing vaccination pain, because not only does the shot actually hurt, but your toddler has also been lied to by her parent, who she trusts. Instead of fibbing, prep your big girl about what's coming. You can practice on a stuffed animal and even time the amount of seconds that the shot will take so your toddler is prepared, not shocked, when she sees the needle at the doc's office.
  • Distract attention. This is the perfect time to whip out your smartphone and watch back-to-back Caillou videos. When your little one knows that pain is inevitable, she's likely to fixate on the shots and make them way worse than is necessary. By heading to the doctor's office prepared to offer distraction, you take the focus off of the impending discomfort and put it somewhere enjoyable. If you really want to score brownie points, distract using something contraband, like a snack you don't usually allow or a cartoon you don't usually watch.
  • Breathe. The Pediatrics study noted that breathing exercise were especially effective in helping young children relieve pain during shots. Have your toddler breathe in deeply, and then exhale while the vaccination takes place. We don't know why this technique works, but it could help your child focus on something other than fear of pain during the actual shot. Practice at home in the weeks leading up to the appointment so your toddler knows the drill when it's go-time.
  • Offer choices. Kids are constantly fighting for independence, which is why immunizations can be so traumatic. Allow your child to choose as much of what happens as possible, including a treat for being brave, or a bandage with her favorite Disney princesses from home. Some docs will even let your kid choose the injection site, but if not, come ready with a backup plan. This way, your independent toddler can feel a little bit more in control.
  • Don't minimize. As your mini-me gets older, immunizations can go from "Oh, poor baby!" to "It wasn't that bad!" Make sure that you don't mistake your child's age for a much higher pain tolerance, because minimizing pain can make her feel even worse. Pediatric developmental specialist Theresa Kledzik warns that while "it seems 'nice' to spare babies from pain... pain is often glossed over by medical professionals, for adults enduring procedures, but especially for children. And the consequences for children enduring frequent painful experiences can be serious." Don't traumatize your toddler by devaluing her tears. Offer sympathy, hugs and kisses and be on your way.
  • Offer a treat. By now, you should know the drill and so does your kid. Shots usually mean a trip to the store for a treat, so keep it cheap—you shouldn't have to break the bank each time your toddler has a doctor's appointment. She'll probably be just as pleased with a small toy from the dollar store and an ice cream cone. Reinforcing her bravery with a reward after the injection allows her to attach some positive feelings with the fact that the pediatrician's office usually means some type of pain.

That's it! One shot and you're done for the next three years. Hard to believe you made it through, but it's important to know that your child is fully immunized and that you've followed your doctor's orders. Say bye-bye to mommy guilt and hello pain-free checkups in the future.

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