Needle Fear Is A Big Deal!

At least 50% of adolescents struggle with needle anxiety, most often because of previous bad experiences. This next vaccination could be their chance to flip the script and have an empowering experience learning to conquer that fear…or it could be another chance to reinforce the idea that needles are always terrible and painful. Let’s go for the first option, okay?

Let’s also go for this: no shaming these kids.  This is the age group where providers and parents are more likely to have decided that kids are “too old for this” and they need to “stop being such babies” and “suck it up.”  Let me tell you as a psychologist who has treated medical trauma for a few decades:  PLEASE don’t. These are the types of phrases that haunt people for years to come: the kind that they talk about in therapy sessions, or even worse, don’t talk about…and they just avoid medical care and/or suffer silently.  Giving kids those messages transforms into shame and becomes the barrier to actually finding a solution to what truly is a solvable problem.

Instead, the way to go is to normalize and empathize with their needle fear.  Try something like ”lots of kids and adults have this issue…it’s nothing to be ashamed of in any way.  One in four ADULTS struggle with needle anxiety, and at least half of the other kids you know do too. But we can’t let it stand in the way of making good health decisions, so let’s talk about how we can make things better so you can do what you need to do more comfortably and confidently.”

Making a Plan to Conquer Needle Anxiety

How do you do that? Help them to make a plan. The very act of making a plan is taking action, and action is the enemy of anxiety.  You wouldn’t suggest they go into the math final without having prepared themselves, so let’s not make that mistake at the doctor’s office. 

Understanding What Techniques Work Best For Them

To tackle a big challenge, we all need to plan HOW we want to do it.  We’ve made some tools that can make it super easy:  check out our #HackTheVax Plan Builder for older teens/young adults, and the SuperMeg Comfort Coping Plan Builder for younger ones. The Hack The Vax website is a great resource, and you can encourage them to explore the resources specific to their age on the Meg Foundation website.

What Goes Into Their Poke Plan?

Proven, research-backed strategies that really work to fight needle pain and anxiety. Things like topical anesthetics, vibration, and distraction are phenomenal.  I’m sure you’ve noticed how good they are at tuning out the rest of the world when they stare at their phones. Well, let’s harness that (often annoying) superpower! Now is a fantastic time to let them keep their anxiety at bay and tune out pain signals by watching funny cat videos or scrolling social media. 

Meg Foundation has some great downloadable resources to help you and your kids discover the strategies that keep them calm and comfortable during needle pokes. Check them out below!

Speak Up!

One more thing:  if you’re the parent and caregiver, be ready to use your voice, and encourage your child to use their own.  Despite all the research and best practice guidelines, many providers were not trained in all pain management strategies. You might get some pushback (even though all the strategies are in line with the best practice guidelines of nearly every pediatric organization in the world). Be kind, respectful, and collaborative, but also be ready to stand up for them, and encourage them standing up for themselves. Knowing you have their back does a lot to lower anxiety.

Learn More About The HOW of it all

Want to learn more about how and why these strategies work to get more buy-in? Check out this short but great video from Stanford Children’s Health that teaches kids (and adults) how they can Be The Boss of Their Brain and take control of their experience.

Still have any questions? Reach out and ask us! We are here to help!


Dr. Jody Thomas is a pediatric health psychologist, an internationally recognized expert in pain and pediatric health, and the founder and executive director of the Meg Foundation. She’s also a mom of two known for her fierce sense of justice and inability to stay quiet.