How to talk to younger children about COVID-19 vaccinations once they become available
TORONTO -- As the vaccination rollout continues among the eligible Canadian population, research is turning towards COVID-19 vaccines in children younger than 12. But how can parents help their children cope with needle distress and anxiety once the vaccines become available to them?
Nearly 79 per cent of the eligible population has been vaccinated with at least one dose as of Thursday afternoon and 53 per cent are fully vaccinated.
With COVID-19 vaccinations in the country well underway, Pfizer and Moderna have started their clinical trials in children younger than 12 and as young as six months old. Pfizer has said that complete trial results will become available in September and the company hopes to start vaccinating young children in 2022.
Immunizations can cause anxiety in many children, however, and the Canadian Paediatric Society suggests that some children may even experience nausea or fainting caused by vaccine stress.
So how can parents help alleviate their child’s immunization distress and anxiety once the COVID-19 vaccines become available to them?
SAYING THE RIGHT WORDS AT THE RIGHT TIME
A study released by Ontario’s York University on Tuesday found that children between the ages of four and five who were distressed before getting vaccinated will likely experience similar emotions after getting their shot. The study also found that reciting coping statements to your child in the first minute after receiving a vaccine causes higher levels of distress.
“What we found is that in the first minute after the needle, the more parents said coping-promoting statements, such as ‘you can do this’ and ‘it will be over soon’ or tried to distract them with talking about something else, the higher distressed the children were,” Rebecca Pillai Riddell, senior author of the study and psychology professor at the university, said in a press release.
Instead, Riddell said that saying these coping statements in the second minute after they’ve received a vaccine proved to help them calm down faster.
She also adds that criticizing the child for their anxiety around vaccines or reassuring the child that they’re fine in the first minute had no direct effect on a child’s stress levels, however it did negatively impact them when said in the second minute after getting a vaccine.
‘GIVE CHILDREN POWER’
Tania Johnson, a registered psychologist, play therapist and co-founder of the Institute of Child Psychology, said that often times when it comes to medical procedures, children are often not directly involved. Instead, she said to explain the vaccines to them in a way that they understand and to listen to their fears and their needs.
“Give children power by explaining in developmentally appropriate ways what the needle is for and why it is important. Explain how the needle will feel, how the parent is going to help them, and how the child can help,” Johnson told CTVNews.ca on Thursday, adding that telling them the needle won’t hurt will make the child more anxious in the long-run.
“Be honest and open… talk to them after the experience and reframe it in a way which emphasizes the child’s courage and strength.”
‘LET YOUR CALM BE CONTAGIOUS’
Johnson said that when a child is experiencing a moment of high stress, they often need their parent to be strong for them. If a child sees that the parent is anxious, they will likely notice their emotions and start feeling anxious as well.
“While anxiety is contagious, our ability to be calm is also contagious,” she said. “Let your calm be contagious. Children need their parent to be an anchor during times of high stress.”
Johnson also adds that on top of this technique, speaking to the medical professional who is administering the needle can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress for the child and can help create the best experience possible for them.