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How to talk to your kids about the COVID-19 vaccine

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How to talk to your kids about the COVID-19 vaccine

Gianna Esposito, 14, said getting the vaccine was easier than she thought after receiving her first dose during DeKalb Pediatric Center’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic on May 12, 2021. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Atlanta, GA — Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds on Nov. 2, parents are beginning to book long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine appointments for their younger children.

But how do you talk to a child who may be feeling nervous about getting the shot?

Decaturish reached out to Jody Baumstein, a therapist and licensed social worker with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, to find out the best way to approach this topic with kids. Baumstein is also developing emotional wellness programming for CHOA’s Strong4Life program.

Here’s what Baumstein recommends:

Start a dialogue

Start by opening up a dialogue with your child. Ask open-ended questions about how they’re feeling, instead of assuming what their emotions might be. 

Avoid putting your own anxieties onto them — instead of asking, “Are you feeling nervous?” simply ask, “How are you feeling?”

It helps to validate your child’s feelings by repeating back what you hear with no judgment

If your child is feeling scared or nervous, remind them that feelings are temporary, and it’s okay to feel whatever emotions they’re feeling.

Facing needle fears

No child particularly likes shots, but for some, the needle is the scariest part of the experience.

In this situation, it’s best to remind your child of times that they’ve gotten vaccines before and that they’ve been OK.

Baumstein said that the COVID-19 vaccine is a good opportunity to teach kids how to cope with their feelings in healthy ways and work through them in real time.

Good coping skills for getting the shot include having your child take slow, deep breaths and naming and noticing things in their surroundings mindfully. For younger children, it may be helpful for them to hold a comfort item, like a stuffed animal, or to listen to calming music.

However, it’s best to talk about these coping skills ahead of time, instead of right at the moment when your child is about to get the vaccine.

Building coping skills 

Ultimately, a good goal to have is to help your child practice emotional coping skills on a regular basis, the same way they take care of themselves in other ways, like brushing their teeth.

As with everything related to the pandemic and vaccines, this moment is a reminder that these are opportunities to build resilience in kids, Baumstein said. Helping to build these emotional coping skills in this moment can help them face other challenges further down the road.

Primarily, this is a good opportunity to let your child know that it’s normal and OK to talk about their feelings, and it’s safe to do so. Encourage your child to name their emotions instead of avoiding them. Parents can help give them the words and concrete skills they can use to build their coping mechanisms for this moment and in the future.

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