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Doctor has solution to making kids less afraid of shots

doctor giving baby shot - kids afraid of shots
Tatevik Bagdasaryan/Shutterstock

As an adult with such severe medical anxiety that I’m prone to fainting during routine blood draws, I empathize enormously with kids and teens who are afraid of getting shots. One doctor is on a mission to help kids overcome their fears, offering up a simple four-step plan that he wants caregivers and clinicians to use for “every child, every time,” and it’s the actionable advice you need before your next pediatrician visit.

Dr. Stefan Friedrichsdorf, a specialist at the University of California San Francisco’s Stad Center for Pediatric Pain, Palliative and Integrative Medicine, knows that needle pokes are a bigger source of pain and discomfort for hospitalized children than even trauma or injury, potentially setting kids up for a lifetime of worry. (Hi, it’s me!)

Acknowledging their fears, Dr. Friedrichsdorf detailed his “Ouchless Jab Challenge,” telling NPR the four easy steps that will help with pain management, in turn making vaccines and blood draws feel far less scary to little ones.

4 steps for helping kids feel less afraid of shots

The steps from Dr. Friedrichsdorf are as follows:

  1. Apply numbing cream, an over-the-counter lidocaine, 30 minutes before a shot.

  2. Breastfeed babies or give them a pacifier dipped in sugar water to comfort them while getting a shot.

  3. Use distractions, like teddy bears, pinwheels or bubbles, to divert attention away from the needle.

  4. No more pinning kids down on an exam table. Parents should hold children upright in their laps instead.

He’s enforcing these protocols for every single pediatric patient at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland, and hopes that other institutions will follow suit in efforts to make routine medical care seem less frightening to young patients. His fellow doctors think the plan should extend to adult patients, too.

As Dr. Diane Meier, a palliative care specialist at Mount Sinai, told NPR: “People with dementia have no idea why human beings are approaching them to stick needles in them,” noting how painful and distressing the experience can be. For these patients, she recommends clinicians provide numbing cream, distraction techniques, something sweet in the mouth, and also music from the patient’s youth that they remember and can sing along to—all of which can help them feel less confused, anxious or distressed.

“This is not rocket science,” Dr. Friedrichsdorf told the outlet. And yep, we’d have to agree.