How to Prepare a Preschooler for Immunisations

Immunisations. Does anyone enjoy them? No. The answer is no. I’ve talked before about my feeling on immunisations before and having dealt with an ill newborn, I’ll always take the required steps to protect my boys from preventable illnesses. And like a lot of parenting gigs, I think immunisations is just as unpleasant (if not more) for the parents as it is for the wee ones. In fact, I remember texting my Aunty whilst in the doctors waiting area before John’s first immunisations; at the time my cousin was fighting cancer (all good now though!) and saying how amazed I was by her strength as a mother, going through what she was whilst I was a nervous wreck over the prospect of a couple of jags! But we do the best by our children regardless of how unpleasant it can be.

The thing with taking a preschooler for their immunisations is that it’s very different than taking a newborn, or even a toddler. By age 3, most kids are pretty savvy and can tell when something’s up. And no parent wants to be consoling a distraught preschooler when they are already feeling illogical guilt about bringing their wee one for their immunisations already. So, how do you prepare a preschooler for immunisations?

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Honesty is the best policy.
I was surprised to find out just how many people lie tip-toe around the truth to their kids about immunisations. In fact, one of my earliest childhood memories is of having my own immunisations, with the nurse & my Mum trying to convince me that the sugar cube with the polio drops on was, “just like what I have on my Weetabix.” Knowing that I myself would like to know in advance if I was going to experience something new & potentially upsetting, it was important that I let John in on the matter too. On the day I also starting using the word, “jag,” as soon as we met the nurse so she too could be aware that John knew what was going on and we asked that she talk him through everything she was doing.

Practice makes perfect.
In my day, Calpol came with a spoon; now though, you get a handy little syringe to make the art of medicine-giving all the more easy. And that little syringe can make preparing for immunisations a fun game. Let your wee one practice on themselves & on you, explaining that they’ll get similar at the doctors but it’ll give them a bit of scratch when they get it there. You could even opt for a toy doctors set but I find the Calpol syringe to be a little closer to the real deal.

Help them understand.
For John, the moment of clarity came when he realised that getting his immunisations were just like his Aunty Holly’s daily insulin jags. However, I know not everyone will have a diabetic relative to make comparisons with but Dr Ranj from Get Well Soon does a great job of explaining why exactly immunisations are important and helps wee ones understand that they’re simply an important medicine to stop them getting ill, just like Aunty Holly’s insulin does for her!

Use positive words.
We referred to them as, “jags,” for no other reason that it was easier for John to say (& in turn ask about) than, “immunisations.” We also made a point of avoiding words like ‘sore’ & ‘painful’, instead explaining them as a ‘scratch’ that might ‘nip’ a little. I also made a the choice to tell John he ‘might get a bit upset’ and if he ‘needed to cry that was ok’ but that ‘being a scratch I was sure he’d be absolutely fine’. I’d also recommend keeping your own feelings under wraps, although I know this can be pretty hard; if your wee ones senses you’re own apprehension, they too will become nervous. Keep it cool, positive and use words they can understand!

Let them see.
Not every wee one has an Aunty Holly who they’ll regularly see injecting insulin but if possible, let your wee one see someone being injected beforehand. Be it a routine flu vaccine for yourself or even a documentary of some sort (just be sure to check the reaction beforehand – nothing like someone freaking out over an injection to make a wee one panic at the very thought!). Similar to my tips on potty training, making something seem normal will do wonders for how well your wee ones handles it.

End on a high.
Regardless of how your wee one gets on with their immunisations, make sure you end the experience on a high. Even if they have a meltdown, tell them they were exceptionally brave and that you’re proud of them. Rewards are always nice too and it doesn’t need to mean a trip to the toy shop; for John it was getting to choose a magazine and a Kinder Egg. Like I say, one of my earliest memories is from my preschool immunisations so you want to make sure that even if it has been a bit traumatic, that your wee one has at least some positive feeling around the event, as well as not having a fear of going back to the doctors ever again!

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Have you gone through preschooler immunisations? What are your top tips to prepare them?


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