Use these tips to help your child prepare for their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccinating children against the coronavirus is one of the most important ways to protect them against COVID-19. It can also help protect against multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a condition associated with the COVID-19 virus where body parts can become inflamed.

But getting a shot can be scary for many kids, even if it’s to protect them from an even scarier disease. If kids feel nervous about getting the vaccine, the CARD method can make the experience easier and less frightening.

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The CARD Method

CARD stands for four main parts of preparing for a vaccination:

  • Comfort
  • Ask
  • Relax
  • Distract

Each of these strategies can improve the experience of getting a shot, even for people with a fear of needles or pain. Each step aims to reduce the pain and stress of getting the coronavirus vaccine.

Comfort

The more comfortable a child is, the easier it is to relax and feel less stressed. Here are ways to prepare for the appointment and help your child relax as the healthcare worker gets the vaccine ready:

  • Have a snack before getting the COVID-19 shot.
  • Plan to have a snack, or even a treat such as ice cream, after the shot.
  • Wear a shirt that lets the healthcare worker reach your child’s upper arm easily.
  • Bring along an item that gives your child comfort. This could be a stuffed animal or favorite toy or blanket for younger kids. For older kids and teens, it might be a smartphone or other device that lets them watch a video or stay busy.
  • Tell your child to relax their arm so that it’s loose and jiggly, like a doll’s arm.
  • If your child feels faint or dizzy, tell them to squeeze their knees together.

Ask

Kids and parents both feel more empowered when they know more about what will happen and what to expect. Ask any questions that will help you prepare, and let you child ask any questions they have. Here are possible questions:

  • What will happen?
  • Will it hurt?
  • What will it feel like?
  • Can I bring a friend or family member?
  • Will it be around other people or will it be private?
  • Do you have anything to numb the pain, like numbing cream or spray?
  • How long will it take?
  • Can I lie down?
  • How long do I have to stay afterward?
  • What side effects might happen today or tomorrow?

Relax

Simply telling a child to relax doesn’t usually help because they often won’t know what to do. But, you can give them specific instructions that will help them feel calmer:

  • Take slow breaths into your belly, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Talk to yourself and tell yourself how strong or brave you are and that you can do this.
  • Have someone available to the child who helps them feels comfortable, relaxed, or loved.
  • Be away from other people so it doesn’t feel like others are watching.
  • Imagine peaceful or fun scenes, or think about a favorite place.

Distract

It only takes a few seconds to get the COVID-19 shot. Using distractions can help your child get the shot before they even realize what happened. Here are some possible distraction techniques for your child to do:

  • Talk to someone. Your child can describe what happened at school or tell a story. Or you can ask them questions, such as what their favorite animal, food, and other items are.
  • Listen to someone tell a story, especially one that is funny or calming.
  • Read a book or magazine or look at pictures.
  • Play a game on a smartphone or tablet, or watch a video.
  • Listen to music or to a podcast or audiobook.
  • Daydream about fun things they want to do.
  • Count a certain object in the room, such as the number of tiles on the ceiling or the number of posters on the wall. (But remind them not to move their head all over so that it’s harder to give them the shot!)

Plan Ahead

The CARD method works best for kids, teens, and adults when families plan ahead for the appointment. Go over these strategies with your child before you get to the clinic or pharmacy. Have them participate in choosing what activities will help them the most.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.