Talking to your child about vaccinations 

It can be common for children to be afraid or scared of needles, and this is okay. For children with anxiety, needle-phobia or behavioural issues, vaccination can be a distressing and challenging process for everyone involved. 

As a parent or carer, there are some steps you can take to support your child and alleviate their fears. Every child copes and responds differently, so taking an individualised approach is recommended.   

Be honest

Telling your child the truth in an age-appropriate way will help your child feel safe and prepared for their vaccine. Saying “It won’t hurt” or “You won’t feel a thing” can be unhelpful and may cause your child to panic or react more to the pain as it is unexpected.

Not telling your child the truth can also reduce their trust in you. Alternatively, saying, “You may feel a pinch, but it will only last for a few seconds”, will assist your child be prepared, manage their expectations, and acknowledge the mild pain that they are likely to experience.

Explain what will happen

Talking to your child about when, where, and how things will happen will assist your child feel prepared. Depending on your child’s age, telling them how long a vaccination appointment will take can help them understand that it is a short process.


If children are engaged in activities that they like, they are more likely to stay calm. 

You can redirect your child’s attention with books, toys, games, bubbles or even by counting to 5 or 10. Be prepared and pack more than one option before the appointment. 

You may like to ask your child questions that they can easily answer and engage them in conversations about their favourite things or something that they are looking forward to. Distraction will help children look away from the needle and reduce fear before the vaccination.   

Stay calm and positive

Your child will often look to you to see if they should be worried about a situation. By staying calm and remaining positive, your child is more likely to be relaxed and feel safe and in control. 

If your child is anxious, you might like to practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises to relieve some worry. Support and encourage your child and let them know that they are doing a good thing to protect themselves and others.  

Give children choices

By giving children options, you are increasing their control over a situation. Questions with two to three options will help your child make a choice within reason. Examples include:

  • “Would you prefer the vaccination to go in the right or left arm?”
  • ”Would you prefer to sit on mum or dad’s lap?”
  • “Would you like to play a game or read a book while you get your vaccine?”

This will help children feel like they have some power over what is happening to them.  

Listen and answer questions

As your child gets older, they are more likely to ask you questions about their appointments. It is important to listen to their concerns and answer their questions. 

It is okay if you don’t know the answers to all their questions – talk to your doctor so that they can explain things in a simple way. 

Consider the language you use

When talking to children, the language that you use should be appropriate to their age. Depending on their age, you can explain that “Some medicine is being put into your arm” or that the vaccination is like a “superhero” that is “fighting bad viruses” that may hurt us. Children are more likely to be brave and strong if you tell them that they are.  

Plan a reward

Planning something fun or exciting, within reason, gives children something to look forward to after their vaccination, encourages good behaviour and can make them less fearful of the situation in the future. It can also act as a distraction from any mild pain that they may be experiencing following the appointment. This may also be another choice the child can make.

Examples of rewards you could offer children include going to the park, watching their favourite TV show or playing their favourite game.  Keep in mind your child's arm may be tender or sore after their vaccination. While they should avoid strenuous lifting and exercise, promoting blood flow to the vaccinated arm is a good idea to reduce tenderness in the days that follow.

Watch Child Life Therapist Janet Burke talk about her top tips to help parents prepare their child, and themselves, for a vaccination visit.  

Last updated Friday 2nd February 2024