My nine-year-old daughter has been vaccinated since day one. However, sometime in her preschool years, she developed an overwhelming aversion to needles. A phobia, in its rawest form.
If I were to pinpoint the moment when things went from "Ouch… now where’s my lollipop”, to "MOMMY WHY ARE YOU LETTING THEM HURT ME?!!", it was when she ran from the clinic with a bloodcurdling scream while onlookers murmured under their breaths, "control your kid, lady”. Since then, and every year to follow, while other parents dangle their proverbial carrot in exchange for a quick and easy needle appointment, we set up several private clinic appointments behind triple-pane glass doors to ensure we didn't scare all the other kids in the next city, let alone the next room. Let’s just say, we almost broke down one of those triple-pane glass doors during one very memorable visit, and leave it at that…
I’m sure most "sane" parents would flirt with the idea of putting an end to vaccines altogether after traumatic experiences like ours. However, we rely on the hope that distress and needle-related pain decrease as children mature. Just recently, my daughter even acknowledged that the struggle outweighs the consequences of not protecting herself and the immunocompromised in her life. She's wise beyond her years.
One may argue that our seemingly selfish decision to vaccinate our child disregards her needle phobia. However, like many parents, we feel a duty in our community to keep our children (and others) healthy and safe, especially now that the Covid-19 vaccines are on the way. The question is, how do we prevent her from developing even more intense fears for future needle procedures?
We decided that one of the ways to teach our daughter to cope with pain is to allow her to observe how WE as her parents define and respond to pain ourselves. We now get our flu vaccines together as a family. We are honest and open about the momentary discomfort, but we resist any temptation to over-dramatize or even react to the process itself. We use the distraction of smartphone apps and use breathing techniques. We stay close and keep her sitting upright giving her more control. I never like to do anything to/with my daughter without her full consent, so a discussion always takes place well before any appointment, especially one that requires a needle. We plan ahead and use numbing topical patches. And for blood work, we are often referred to the children's health unit at the hospital, where all measures are taken to keep her as comfortable and safe as possible.
This past October, due to Covid-19, we were unable to go in as a family. However, we decided that my own anxiety, hidden under my Oscar-winning performance, rears its ugly head with the mere mention of our dreaded appointment. Turns out I’ve been experiencing the aftermath of my own trauma, and my daughter has since picked up on my fear. From sweaty palms. to frantic texts to friends, I was fueling her phobia. This year, my husband took one for the team, and low and behold, our child not only survived, but the process was less intense, and much less traumatic for all parties involved.
Our job is not to pretend pain does not exist or stop it from happening. Our job as her parents is to protect her in all ways possible, by helping her in the management of physical and emotional pain, holding her hand through discomfort, and paving a path for her as she works through difficult moments in her life - all, while standing by her side.
If you have a child who's afraid of needles, watch this cute video for some tips on how to make it easier on them...and you!
(Photo Credit - Haven & Hawthorn Photography)