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Helping a child overcome their fear of needles

Dear Brooke,
Our daughter is saying she won’t go for her next vaccinations (3 ½ years old). She is strong willed and persuasion isn’t, so far, getting me anywhere. She isn’t going into her reasons. I’d be very interested in any tips you have on what to do, please.
From Bess.

Hi Bess,

Thank you for getting in contact. It sounds like a tricky situation you have there but I think I can offer some insights and suggestions that may help you get on your way.

Firstly, I wouldn’t worry too much about having her go into her reasons for her fear or avoidance. I believe she will eventually share them once she feels comfortable enough. If she doesn’t, I wouldn’t worry too much. She may be withholding her reasons because she is afraid you will counter argue them and she will be left with no ‘out’. I would avoid the debate.

My suspicion is that she has some tension she is holding onto over a previous experience and she isn’t quite sure what to do about it. She needs to feel in control and she is trying to take control by refusing to talk about it or go for her next injections. What she really needs and wants (despite her saying the opposite) is for her feelings about it to be heard, acknowledged and understood.

It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of the Hand in Hand Parenting tools they teach in their starter class. I use them with my own children every day AND I use them at work with the children in my care. So many of my suggestions come from the use of some of these tools.

So… the first tool I would suggest is some play listening. The aim of your play listening times are to make her laugh. Laughter starts the process of healing the tensions we harbour. You want her to loosen up, laugh and release some of this tension by allowing her to feel more powerful during the play.

You could begin play listening by doing something completely unrelated to getting her injections. This will help her get into the ‘groove’ of what play listening is and how it works. It also removes your agenda for play listening and makes it more relaxed and free flowing.

I have a friend who is studying the Instructor Certification program with me who lets her daughter be the boss during play listening. This gives her daughter some power and allows her to play with it in a safe, nurturing environment. In my play listening times, I allow my 4 year old daughter to push me over on a soft mat and then I flail about struggling to get up. I will pretend to be real mad and say, ‘How did you do that? Since when did you get strong? That’s it! I’m not going to let you push me over again! You better not!’ Then she pushes me over again and I act all shocked that she was able to do it again. My daughter ends up in fits of laughter and releases some of the tensions she is struggling with.

Sometimes our play listening time leads to my daughter crying as she begins to work through some deeper emotions. This is where another Hand in Hand tool, stay listening, is useful. Her crying is usually triggered by something pretty insignificant. For example, she wants a purple cup not the pink cup that I just gave her. The crying generally occurs because the laughter during play listening has broken down the emotional barriers and the floodgates have opened. This only happens when they feel safe, loved and connected. So I expect this every time with my daughter (although it doesn’t always happen) so I am ready and prepared to sit and listen as she offloads these deeper emotions.

Once your daughter understands play listening, you can suggest a game. This is where you get to focus on working through having injections. You could say, ‘Hey! Why don’t we play a game where you are the doctor and I am the kid?’ If she runs with it, you have a green light to go. If she isn’t into it, follow her lead and suggest it at a later date but keep suggesting it! Once you finally get to play the game, you want to see how she plays it out. Does she have some misconceptions? Does she avoid certain parts of it or does she not remember? You want to get an idea of what might be her issue without her coming out and directly saying. If she starts to get really into it, she may become emotional at some point. This is where you begin to stay listen.

When you stay listen on this one, let her know you really understand her. You could try saying things like:

  • ‘That was really scary for you.’
  • ’It really hurt you didn’t it.’
  • ’You can look at me, honey. I’m right here with you.’

Remember the tone in your voice. You need to be genuine.
You don’t need to talk much during stay listening. You just need to be fully present both physically and in your mind. Let her feel that you are with her all the way. She does not need to go through this emotional turmoil alone and she does not need to hold her feelings back.

Then I have one last game for you to try with her after she has broken down her emotional barriers AND on a different day. Show her your ‘Magic Glove’…

I wrote a post about the magic glove in more detail here. In that post you will see a video that demonstrates the magic glove going on and coming off. You will also see the child’s reaction when they realise hands feel very differently. It really is amazing! You can practice it with her at home and remind her to pack it before she goes for her injections.

It will take some time before you will be ready to introduce your magic glove so it isn’t immediately important BUT it might help her feel more confident about going for her injections.

Until next time…

P.P.S. Throughout my response above, there are links to some key courses & booklets published by Hand in Hand that you may find useful. In addition to these, I also recommend the following:

Disclaimer: I would like to note that I do not take any financial incentives from Hand in Hand Parenting. I recommend their services and booklets because I feel that they are an invaluable tool for every parent. I personally use their techniques and refer to their articles regularly.