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How to Prep Your Toddler For a Vaccine — and Ensure Minimal Tears

I always got a bit nervous a few days before my toddler's doctor appointments where I knew she was going to have to get a shot. As I began exploring why, I tried to recall my childhood experiences with doctors and vaccines. From what I can remember, my mom rarely told me when I was getting a shot and usually responded with "I don't know" if I asked her directly. While it may be true that she didn't know, recalling these memories takes me back to a place of anxiety and nervousness. The fact that I couldn't prepare for what would take place at the doctor's office somehow made the experience much worse, even if I didn't end up getting a vaccine. With my daughter, I decided to help her ease into this experience with the opportunity to feel more prepared about the situation.

Beginning with young toddlers (around age 1), one of the best activities you can do with them is to role play what's going to happen at the appointment and use language that's familiar in your house for little boo boos or ouchies. We got our little one a doctor toy kit and pretended to give each other vaccines and do a general checkup. When I gave myself a shot or my daughter a shot, I would say, "ok, tiny ouch" and then afterwards I would overemphasize the praise and make sure that she felt really proud of herself. Even if her dad wasn't participating in the activity, he would praise her for being brave as well, and we would go over what happened at her pretend doctor appointment as a family. Two days prior to an appointment where I know she will be getting a vaccine, I always explain that we are going to the doctor and will be getting a tiny ouch, but then she will get to pick out a special band-aid and we are going to have a treat afterwards. While she isn't ever happy about getting a vaccine, I could see that preparing her beforehand has made a significant difference in her level of calm before and throughout the appointment.


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