How can I prepare my child for their COVID-19 vaccination?
Preparing your child for the vaccination appointment can result in a more positive vaccination experience for both you and your child. Pain and anxiety do not have to be part of the experience. The following evidence-informed tips have been compiled to help support you and your child before and during the vaccination appointment, in order to help reduce stress, anxiety and pain.
What do I say to my child? What should I avoid saying?
- Be honest by telling your child about the vaccination appointment least a day in advance.3
- Listen to your child, validate their concerns, and answer any of their questions in an age-appropriate way. Explain in simple terms what will happen during the appointment. This can include telling them things such as: “You will get some liquid, called a vaccine to protect you from COVID-19. The vaccine goes into your arm with a needle, and it will help your body to fight off COVID germs”.
- Avoid giving false reassurances, such as “It won’t hurt”. When asked by your child if it will hurt, use words that reduce anxiety, such as “You may feel some pressure, a pinch or a quick poke for a few seconds”.3
How can I help my child have a positive experience when they receive the vaccine?
The Centre for Pediatric Pain Research has produced a 2-minute video called "It Doesn't Have To Hurt" to provide some helpful advice on how parents can support their child in managing their pain and anxiety during childhood vaccination.6 You can watch it here →
The CARD System
The CARD System for Parents and Caregivers provides ways to reduce fear and anxiety about vaccinations. Parents and caregivers can use the CARD system (Comfort, Ask, Relax, Distract) to help reduce needle fear and anxiety, in order to help your child cope with stressful situations like getting vaccinated.
You can help your child identify what they would like to bring to the vaccination clinic to help them feel more comfortable. These comfort measures can be included in a Distraction Kit that you can bring to the clinic for your child's appointment.
- Some examples of what to add to a Distraction Kit include an iPad / tablet / smart phone to play a game or listen to music (bring headphones), books, fidget toys (e.g., fidget spinners, pop-its, squishy toys, etc.). Please note that access to Wi-Fi cannot be guaranteed at the vaccination clinics.
- Bubbles or blowing toys will not be permitted at the clinic due to COVID-19 transmission concerns.
For more distraction tips, download the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre’s Distraction Guide: A Break Down For Different Ages (PDF).
There are several over-the-counter products that provide topical relief from pain, also known as numbing creams, available at pharmacies and other retailers. Maxeline is the product used at Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre. This resource, Numbing Cream for Vaccines (PDF), provides more information about the product. If you have any further questions, please consult a pharmacist. Please note: numbing creams would need to be applied prior to the vaccination clinic appointment in order to allow time for the product to work.
What can I do to prepare for the day of the appointment?
- Make sure to bring your child’s Ontario health card or another piece of identification with you to the appointment; have it ready to show when you arrive at the vaccination clinic.
- Make sure your child wears a short-sleeved shirt or a shirt with sleeves that can be rolled up easily.
- Children under the age of one will receive their vaccine in their leg muscle. Easy to remove clothing would be helpful for access to the area.
- Make sure your child eats before coming to the clinic. This will help prevent them from feeling faint or dizzy while being vaccinated.
- Do not give your child acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (i.e., Advil) before they receive the vaccine.
What can I expect on the day of the appointment?
About the Clinic:
- Parking is free at all clinic locations, including the Western Fair District COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic.
- You and your child will be screened for COVID-19 when you arrive at the clinic.
- Please plan to spend between 45 and 60 minutes at the clinic.
- Washrooms are available on site.
What you can expect from the vaccination process:
- Vaccinators will encourage your child to use something they have brought with them to the appointment to provide some comfort. They may also make use of distraction techniques while you are in the clinic setting.
- After your child receives the vaccine, you will be asked to stay in a post-vaccination area of the clinic for a 15-minutes. During this time, staff members will be available in case assistance is required for potential reactions or side effects.
How can I support and comfort my child during the vaccination appointment?
How you can help during the vaccination process:
- Remain calm, be positive and use your regular speaking voice.7
- Avoid telling your child “it will be over soon” and “it’s going to be ok”.6
- Bring out the Distraction Kit items that you brought to the clinic with you. Depending on what you've brought along, you can play an active role in helping to distract your child.
- If your child has brought headphones to listen to music, you can encourage active listening during the vaccination appointment by asking your child to find the message in the lyrics of the song, when the music changes tempo or volume, or what instruments are being used.10
- If your young child would prefer to sit on your lap during the vaccination, hold your child in an upright seated position. Older children are also encouraged to sit in an upright seated position, as it helps children to feel more secure and in control over the situation.3
- Encourage your child to relax their arm and to take deep breaths.7
- Use neutral language and don’t draw attention to the pain that your child may be experiencing.4
What should I expect after my child's vaccination appointment?
Have a conversation with your child about their vaccination experience.
- Talk to your child about any pain they experienced during the vaccination (i.e., no pain, a little pain, medium, or a lot).
- Use your child's feedback to discuss plans for how to prepare for their next appointment (such as how to lessen any pain the child experienced).4
What about side effects?
Not all children will experience side effects after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine; most side effects tend to be minor and typically do not last for long. Examples of potential side effects include:
- Pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site
- Muscle or joint pain
- Chills or fever
Use a cool damp cloth to reduce soreness and use pain or fever medication if needed after the dose is administered. These potential minor side effects are an indication that the vaccine is working, and that the body is mounting an immune response.
Serious side effects are rare.
If you experience any of the symptoms below, seek medical attention right away or call 9-1-1.5
- Hives (bumps that are very itchy)
- Swelling of the face, tongue, or throat
- Difficulty breathing, or chest pain
- Very high fever (+40°C)
- Blurred vision, or severe/worsening headache
- Swelling or coldness in arms or legs
- Multiple small bruises or red/purple spots on skin
What other information and supports are available?
Talk to your primary health care provider if you have any further questions.
Your primary care provider is a reliable source of information that can help answer your questions about whether or not to vaccinate your child.
Toronto Public Health has also created a helpful list of considerations related to the risks of COVID-19 (see Risks of COVID-19 in Children) and the benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine (see Benefits of the COVID-19 Vaccine).2
SickKids COVID-19 Vaccine Consult Service
If you have additional questions or concerns about your child and COVID-19 vaccines, you may also book a confidential one-on-one phone conversation with a health care provider through www.sickkids.ca/vaccineconsult.
This service provides supports for children/youth who have complex medical histories or conditions, as well as children/youth who may require additional support before they receive the COVID-19 vaccine because of medical complexity, a developmental disorder, or mobility, communication, behavioural or other special needs, including significant fear of needles. This service is also available in many languages, using over-the-phone interpretation.
The Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre
If your child has severe needle anxiety, general anxiety, behavioural or other special needs, and/or sensory needs, there is a vaccination clinic at Children’s Hospital that can provide your child with additional supports.
Book your appointment
519-685-8500 ext. 56918 (9AM to 5PM, Monday to Friday)
Max the Vax
Max the Vax is a child-friendly character who’s working with a team of Canadian physicians, scientists, and health care providers to share trusted, evidence-based content about COVID-19 and vaccines. The campaign is supported by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and is helping children and caregivers to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine for children.