How to Talk to Your Kids about the Flu Shot


While I worked in the Emergency Department, I was required to get a flu shot each flu season. Okay, I could have skipped it and worn a mask each shift, but I’m pro vaccines. So I got the flu shot each year, and our family continues to get it each year. Every year, though, we have a chat with the kids about the whole process. Getting them prepared for what’s coming is an important step in their health care.

How to talk to your kids about the flu shot

It’s important to talk to your kids about what’s in store for them for several reasons. One reason is that, even though you’re the parent, it is their body and their health. They deserve to know what’s going on.

Second, if your child knows what’s going to happen, it can help alleviate their anxiety by giving them a modicum of knowledge (and in some cases, control) over what’s happening. Yes, some deep breathing and relaxation techniques will help, but knowing what’s coming will help them even more. That way, they can learn to remember to use those relaxation techniques.

So, let’s dive into how to talk to your kids about flu shots.

1. Talk about the flu shot in terms they understand

Talk about what’s going to happen in terms they’ll understand.

My youngest is still learning how to speak, so explaining an immunization to her has to be simple. “Buggy, we’re going to get medicine to help you stay healthy and strong. The medicine will go in your arm, and it’ll have a little ouchy pinch. But then it’s all better, and you’ll get a sucker.”

Of all of that, she’ll probably catch that she’s going to get a sucker. *sigh*

As kids get older, they’ll understand more of the words – but they’re also very literal, so be careful which idioms you use.

In other words, skip the ones like, “they’re going to stick you with a needle.” Because my poor kid is going to imagine an actual stick coming at him. That’s scary, y’all.

But really, I tend to stick with a variation of what I tell my toddler. Because it’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s hard to misunderstand no matter what age child you have.

2. Talk about what being brave means

We also talk to our kids about what being brave means, because the expectation of “not crying” during a shot is unrealistic. Getting shots hurts! It’s perfectly fine to cry.

So during our talk every year, we discuss how it’s okay to cry when we’re hurt. And it’s okay to not like getting shots.

Then, we talk about how sometimes we have to do what we don’t want to. And that, when we do what we need to (even when we don’t want to or we’re scared), we’re being brave. Even when we cry.

3. Own the decision – don’t blame the nurse

Finally, we tell the kids that this is something we’re choosing for them. We are choosing for them to get their vaccines. This isn’t something being pushed on them by the doctor or the nurse.

We want them to know that the doctor and nurse are on our team and that it’s not ok to take things out on the nurse. Crying about a shot is ok. Hitting the nurse is not. Crying about our situation is just fine. Blaming others for our choices or choosing victimhood is not ok.

As parents, our goals are to be honest with our kids, teach them autonomy, and to help them become functional, well-adjusted adults. Teaching them to blame the nurse? It undermines every one of those goals.

I’ve been the lady delivering the shot. I didn’t mind taking some of the blame. After all, I was the one delivering the painful pinch (otherwise known as a shot!). I did, however, mind being hit – or blamed for the family’s decision to choose vaccinations. I wasn’t making that decision for them. That was their choice!

So if you’re going to choose to get a flu shot and other vaccinations, own it. And by so doing, you’ll be teaching your kids to own up to their decisions, too.

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Kimberly C. Starr

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos.

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