Sneezing season is upon us. There’s no question that a flu shot can help—the question is, how to get your kids to agree to one ...

First, the good news. If your child is at least five years old, you may be able to score a vaccine via nasal spray. This type of flu vaccine is squirted into the nose, rather than delivered via needle. Unlike the shot version, which is made up of killed viruses, the nasal vaccine is made up of live viruses. Both types of flu vaccine are a combination of three flu types, based on scientist’s estimations about what strains will rear their heads in a given year. Despite conspiracy theories to the contrary, none of these versions cause the flu.

That’s not to say that there are no downsides to the vaccines. Some kids get off scot-free. Others have side effects ranging from runny or stuffy nose, to fever, to achy muscles. Annoying to be sure, but the flu is serious business. Every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, over 200,000 people are hospitalized for complications and 36,000 die. Suddenly, those achy muscles don’t seem so bad ...

Nasal vaccines can be a good alternative, but are often hard to get and expensive. Most insurance companies won’t pay for them. If your child has a shot in his or her future, consider these tips to make things a little bit easier on everyone:

  1. Give notice: Don’t wait until the nurse has a needle in hand to tell your child they need a shot. Let them know in advance. Older children can be given a day’s warning. For younger children, tell them an hour before the appointment—this will give them some time to adjust to the idea, but not so much time that they worry excessively.
  2. Be honest: Don’t tell your child “It won’t hurt” if it will. Instead, let them know that it will be over quickly and that you will be there with them the entire time. Explain that the shot is important, because it will help keep them healthy.
  3. Be calm: Children take cues from those around them. If you act nervous, your child will likely follow your lead. Remember to breathe. And describe things in a neutral way—don’t say “The nurse will poke you with a needle,” say “The nurse will slide the needle into your arm,” or “The nurse will give you medicine through a needle.”
  4. Provide distraction: Encourage your child to exhale sharply, just before the injection. This takes focus off anticipated pain. Talk to them about something positive—a great vacation, a joke, a story. Bring along a favorite toy or book. And let them squeeze your hand during the shot.