Kids and Shots: How to Vaccinate Your Children

Find out how to make those shots as painless as possible for your kids.

September 24, 2009, 11:09 PM

Sept. 25, 2009— -- When it comes to vaccinations, but what do parents need to know before they take their children to the doctor? For children younger than 10, getting fully vaccinated for flu season may mean getting four shots this year.

How much do children know about the flu? And are they prepared for all those shots?

ABC News' senior health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser, sat down with a group of children between the ages of 6 and 8 to talk about getting shots.

Grace Sadim, 7, knows that you go to the doctor "to get the flu shot."

And William Keenan, 8, knows all about the flu: "The white blood cells, they go around and they get to know what weapons they need," he said, but his younger sister doesn't understand.

"She thinks she gets shots to hurt her," William said.

Ryan Zucker, 6, hates going to the doctor for the same reason. "I hate checkups," he said. "Because of the finger prick thing. Really hurts."

When asked if they know why they get shots, Ryan said "to not get the worst disease, diphtheria. ... Diphtheria is a really bad disease. Even more bad than the swine flu."

As young as they are, the children had already developed their own methods for coping with shots.

"I close my eyes ? I close them really tight," said Yamila Frej, 7. "And, then, it doesn't hurt."

It helps when the doctor tells her what's going to happen, "so it just doesn't come out of nowhere and I'm not ready," she said.

All the children agreed that it would help to think about something nice when getting a shot, so it doesn't hurt so much.

"I think about my birthday," William said.

"A dog named Zeke, who eats everything," Grace said.

For Yamila, her happy thought is "my No. 1 dream, which is to go to Paris and turn into a millionaire."

Grace's sister, Sophia Sadim, 8, said it would help if parents "explain why you get it and, if you don't get it, what can happen to you."

Yamila said, "Sometimes they [parents] hug you and they encourage you and they say it's all right. It's just going to be for one second and, then, it's not going to hurt anymore."

"I just want them to do it," Grace said. "Get it over with."

Dr. Besser's Advice for Vaccinating Children

Besser shared his advice with "GMA" on how to get your children through their shots as painlessly as possible. "These kids had so much that they could teach us," he said.

It's important for parents and children to understand why they may be receiving four shots this flu season, he said.

Children will receive two H1N1 shots, three weeks apart. And kids younger than 10, who are getting the regular flu vaccination for the first time, would need two doses.

"If you're under 10 and you've never had a flu shot before, you'll get two for seasonal, two for swine." he said.

"Explaining that to children will help a little," he said.

Besser also acknowledged that parents are concerned about the number of shots. "If we can get parents to understand why, that's the first step," he said.

When it comes to taking your child to the doctor, Besser said, the work you do to prepare them really makes a difference.

"Be age appropriate," he said. "Let them know what's going to happen before it happens."

For toddlers and older children, don't talk to them about it too far in advance. That just gives them more time to worry about it. But let them know what will happen when they get to the doctor, Besser said.

Let children decide which arm and where to sit

Once in the doctor's office, it can help if children believe they have some sense of control, Besser said. You can ask them where they want to sit or which arm they want to receive the shot. You can also let them know it's OK to yell or cry, but not to move.

Offer them a hand to squeeze

A helping hand can reassure children, "or sing a song with them," Besser said.

Stay in the room to comfort them

When he was training as a pediatrician, Besser said, many parents would leave the room because they didn't want to see their children in pain, or doctors wouldn't want to inflict pain in front of parents. But that just makes it scarier for children.

"That comfort, you being there, can really help," he said.

Dr. Besser's Advice for Vaccinating Children

Threaten them

Instead, Besser said, "encourage them when they're staying still."

Say it won't hurt

"You'll lose their trust," Besser said.

Equate shots with punishment

"Every single time they go to the doctor, they'll be afraid," Besser said.

Parents play a big role in making the visit to the doctor as pleasant as possible.

CLICK HERE to find more information on meningitis at the National Meningitis Association.

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