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How can I prepare my kindergartener for shots?
Q: My daughter is going for her kindergarten checkup, and she’ll be getting her shots. I don’t know whether it’s better to tell her in advance about them. What’s the best way to reduce her fear?
A: Starting kindergarten and going through the pre-kindergarten checkup is a major milestone in your daughter’s life. The more you can do to help her feel proud about being a big girl, and feel reassured about the check-up and shots, the better she’ll do. Children who know in advance that they’ll be getting a shot usually do better than children who are surprised by it. It’s helpful for your daughter to know she can trust you to tell her important things, and to have some time to prepare herself emotionally. Here are some tips for reducing your daughter’s fear of shots:

In advance:
  • Start talking with your daughter about the checkup a couple of days in advance. (Too much advance notice could give her more time to worry about it.) Explain that the doctor will make sure she’s healthy and ready to start kindergarten. Encourage her to have a positive attitude by talking about how nice the doctor is.
  • Explain what will happen at the check-up: The doctor will ask her about the things she likes doing, and let her draw a picture and play some games. The doctor will also look in her eyes, ears and mouth, listen to her heart and feel her tummy. Also, be honest with her about the shots. Explain that all children and adults need shots to stay healthy. You can tell her that she already got some shots when she was a baby. You might also mention some of the older children she knows who got kindergarten shots already. Explain that the shot is a little needle in her arm and she’ll feel a pinch, but it’ll be over quickly. Let her know it’s OK to cry if she needs to. Show her how it helps to pretend your finger is a birthday candle that you blow out during the shot.
  • Consider reading a children’s book about going to the doctor. You can ask the librarian for suggestions.
  • Consider getting a children’s doctor kit. She can prepare for the medical visit by using the stethoscope and giving a shot to you or her stuffed animals. Talk through the exam with her. “Teddy Bear is asking, ’What are you listening for?’ ’What will the shot feel like?’”
  • Plan to do something special after the checkup. Ask your daughter how she would like to celebrate being ready for kindergarten. It might involve going to the park or for a swim, seeing a movie together, getting a new book or toy, or getting an ice cream cone.
At the doctor’s office:
  • In the waiting room, keep her busy by reading, playing with toys or talking together. Try to stay relaxed and upbeat.
  • Talk your daughter through the medical visit. If she appears nervous, stay close by. You can remind her how you prepared together. “Remember we read in the book about the stethoscope? What is the doctor listening for in your chest?”
  • Right before the shots, tell your child to take deep breaths and blow out the birthday candle, like you practiced.
  • After the shots, give her a hug. Let her know you understand that it hurt, but she did a good job. Finish the day with your special celebration of her readiness for kindergarten.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician