Talking to your kids about getting the COVID-19 vaccine
In many parts of the world, children aged 12 and up can now be vaccinated against COVID-19. Here are some tips for having conversations about the vaccine with your pre-teens and teens - and with younger kids who may feel like they’re being left behind.
Inform yourself and be ready for questions
Make sure you’re up to date with reliable information about what vaccines are, how they work, and why they’re needed. Trusted organizations like UNICEF, National Geographic, and the Mayo Clinic have some good explainers that break down the science into clear language that’s appropriate for kids and teens. Let your child’s questions guide the discussion and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have all the answers - as long as you can promise to get more information and come back to their questions later.
Focus on the benefits - for themselves and for others
Although kids are usually less seriously affected by COVID-19 infection, getting them vaccinated is an important step toward protecting the whole population. Make sure that your kids appreciate the fact that the more people are vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to activities we love, like seeing our friends and family, going to restaurants and fun attractions, and enjoying camps and activities. Many kids and teens will also be motivated by the idea that by getting themselves vaccinated, they can help protect people they might care about who can’t get the shot, like a baby sibling or an immunocompromised grandparent.
Deal with the elephant - or the needle - in the room
Let’s face it, getting a needle probably isn’t anybody’s favourite pastime, but in a lot of kids - and, admittedly, more than a few adults - intense needle phobia can turn a little jab into a major source of anxiety. Thankfully, there are some established tips and tricks that can reduce the pain, both mental and physical. To deal with the physical sting of the jab, creams and lotions that numb the skin are available from behind the counter in many pharmacies. On the psychological side, it’s often helpful to set reassuring but realistic expectations. Don’t tell them it won’t hurt at all, because that can cause distrust when the shot does turn out to be a bit painful. But you can be calm and positive about it while still recognizing that it might hurt a little. You can also try simple techniques like looking away while the needle is being given, or using a game or book as a distraction.
Here are some additional resources for addressing needle phobia in kids:
Be realistic about side effects - and have a plan
We don’t really know yet why one person might feel totally fine after their COVID vaccine, while the next person feels like they’ve been hit by a train. So with kids it’s also important to be honest about the possibility that they might be under the weather for a little while after their shot. You might want to plan their appointment so they have a day or two off school or other activities to recover, and to brainstorm some comforting movies, books, or other activities to enjoy while resting up. And if they end up not feeling crummy afterwards, so much the better!
Let younger kids know their turn will come
As of this writing, the major COVID vaccines are only approved for use in people aged 12 and up. Studies are underway for younger kids, but the results won’t be available until the fall of 2021, with approvals and roll-out to the population happening in the weeks to months after that. If your under-12s are feeling anxious about not being able to get vaccinated yet, you can let them know that their turn will come - the companies just need to finish testing the vaccines to make sure they’re just as safe and work just as well in kids as they do in grown-ups. Then you can re-focus on the things you can do in the meantime to keep everybody safe, such as hand-washing, mask-wearing, and making sure adults and older kids are vaccinated.
Got any tips that have worked with your kids when talking about vaccines? Keep the conversation going by sharing this on your social media!