Advise Me

Talking to Your Children About Vaccines

As a parent, you’ve been your child’s first teacher. You’ve taught them how to talk and you’ve maybe even had “the talk” with them. Another part of being your child’s first teacher is teaching them how to be healthy and safe. And one method of staying healthy is ensuring they stay on top of their immunizations.

Like most children, they’ll probably have a lot of questions about their shots—especially if they’ve heard anything about the addition of COVID-19 vaccinations. Like with ‘the sex talk’, these questions are not always easy to answer.

“Discussing vaccinations with kids can be challenging due to their level of understanding and all the information they have access to, accurate and inaccurate, can be potentially confusing,” said Srinivas Dannaram, MD, a psychiatrist at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, AZ. “That’s why it’s really important for parents to initiate these conversations early on so kids understand what you’re doing for them is helping keep them healthy and safe.”

A decline in vaccinations

Since the pandemic, doctors across the country are seeing a decline in pediatric vaccinations. For doctors like Ruben Espinoza, MD, a pediatrician with Banner Health Clinic in Mesa, AZ, this is particularly alarming.

“When children aren’t vaccinated, they are at greater risk for getting diseases like measles, polio and hepatitis A and B that can cause lifelong disability and death,” he said. “Falling vaccination rates can lead to new outbreaks of these dangerous diseases. And that’s the last thing we need on top of COVID-19.”

Talking to your child about vaccinations

Dr. Dannaram and Dr. Espinoza put together some tips for how to approach and explain vaccinations to your child or adolescent.

Make sure you’re up-to-date on your shots

Before talking to your children about the importance of vaccinations, make sure you’ve received your vaccinations. Check out this helpful chart to see which you need by age.

Educate yourself first so you’re well-versed on the topic

It’s helpful to do some homework and preparation before approaching your child about vaccinations. Educating yourself can reduce any fears and concerns you may have, and in turn, help lower your child’s fears.

It’s advisable to seek information from reputable websites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Banner Health website to guide you toward reliable resources.

Start with open-ended questions and answer appropriately

Open-ended questions, like what do they know about vaccines and what do they understand about them, can help you gauge their understanding and knowledge, so you have a baseline to build on in an age-appropriate manner. You’ll want to be sensitive to their level of anxiety or uneasiness as well. You know your child best. Follow their lead.

Keep the conversation informal with the option to revisit

Vaccines play a big role in keeping us healthy, but they may not be easy to understand at first. You don’t want to throw too much information at them at once. Keep the talk informal and revisit. This gives your child some space to reflect and digest the information and time for them to share any concerns or ask questions when you revisit.

Be honest about what they should expect during the visit

Always be truthful with them. Accept that they might feel some level of discomfort (a little pinch) but that this is better than getting sick and having to get treated in a hospital or feel sick for a long time. You can also reassure them that they are brave and what they are doing not only helps them but everyone around them. You wouldn’t be allowing a doctor to put something in their body that you wouldn’t think was a benefit. For tips on what to expect, check out the CDC website about what to expect before, during and after their shots.

If your little one is still scared of needles, check out this helpful post for tips to ease anxiety.

Common questions children ask about vaccines

If you can’t answer their questions, don’t guess! Dr. Dannaram and Dr. Espinoza answer some common questions they hear from their patients and parents. Feel free to tweak the language based on your child’s age and level of understanding.

1. What is a vaccine?

Our bodies are in a constant fight against harmful germs. Our bodies have many layers of defense to protect us. This is called our immune system. It works quickly in the background helping to protect us. Most of the time our bodies can fight off new and old germs, but sometimes they can’t. Sometimes we need to teach our body to learn how to defend against germs. This process of training our bodies is vaccination.

A vaccine is a special medicine that stops you from getting sick. Vaccines teach our body to defend against germs that may be new so we can quickly defeat them.

2. How do vaccines work?

Vaccines teach our bodies to fight off illnesses. They do this by either putting a teeny tiny bit of the germ/bug or a dead form of the germ/bug into our bodies. When the vaccine is given, our body’s immune system spots the germs/bugs and fights them off, as they would with any infection. When our bodies do this, we create antibodies, or crime fighters, to fend off the germs/bugs. These antibodies stay in our bodies and react if an actual infection occurs.

3. Why do I need a vaccine?

We need vaccines to help us fight off infections that can make us really, really sick and can even mean we need to go to the hospital. They help make sure we can do the things we enjoy doing, like going to school and playing sports.

We need vaccines to help others as well. They stop you from passing germs to other people who haven’t been vaccinated, such as babies who are too young to have a vaccine or someone who doesn’t have a strong immune system like you.

4. Are vaccines safe?

Yes! Vaccines are very safe and save millions of lives each year—that’s a lot of people. Sometimes you may get a sore arm or have a little fever, but these are signs those crime fighters you have in your body are beating up those germs/bugs. Your immune system is building a defense to protect you from germs/bugs in the future.

5. But I’m scared. Do I have to get one?

It’s normal to feel a bit nervous or scared sometimes. The thing is the shot happens so fast, faster than any superhero, and then it’s done. And now your body is stronger and better able to fight off germs.

We can practice at home what will happen at your appointment and, if you want, we can pick out something to bring with you if that’ll help you feel more comfortable. And remember, I’ll be right there with you.

Keeping up-to-date with vaccines is important for children and adults alike. To learn more about what vaccines are recommended for you or your child, visit bannerhealth.com or visit a Banner Health provider near you.

Check out these additional blog posts about immunizations:

Children's Health Parenting Immunizations

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