Children with needle phobia can make otherwise routine trips to the doctor into an absolute warzone, and needle phobia in kids can have real-life health consequences. Moreover, children with untreated needle phobia are likely to grow into adults with needle phobia who often choose to suffer through illnesses rather than withstand treatments involving a needle. If your child is suffering from needle phobia, here’s what to do.
Prevention of Needle Phobia In Children
Needle phobia can have catastrophic health consequences, especially for adults who can choose not to undergo treatments involving needles. Thus a primary goal of parents and pediatricians should be to prevent needle phobia in the first place. The first needle procedure your child undergoes should be the very best of her life, because studies indicate that traumatic first-time needle sticks increase the likelihood of children later developing needle phobias. When your child has to experience the first shot that she will likely remember, at age two to four, make sure an experienced nurse or doctor is administering the needle stick. Asking the doctor to use a numbing cream like EMLA can dramatically decrease or even eliminate the pain of a needle stick. Work hard to prevent the first few needle sticks of your child’s life from being traumatic. If you can succeed in this, you set your child up for a lifetime of good help, and can help prevent battles at the doctor’s office.
Risks to Children of Needle Phobia
Needle phobia is a unique fear in that the phobia in itself (and not just the refusal to obtain medical treatment) can be dangerous. While almost every child dislikes shots, a truly phobic child suffers from actual physical symptoms when having a phobic reaction. Blood pressure may drop dramatically, and your child may faint. Blood pressure and heart rate can also increase to a dangerously high rate. There have been a few isolated cases of people dying from the reactions they have when they are feeling phobic about a needle, so it’s important to take this fear seriously and find a doctor who is willing to be empathetic and accommodating with your child.
The Importance of Avoiding Restraining Your Child
Needle phobia for children is often as much about a need for control as it is a fear of the pain. Your child should never be restrained to undergo a needle procedure. An overwhelming volume of studies indicates that this can be extraordinarily traumatic and is very likely to create a severely needle phobic adult. A much better strategy is to find a way to encourage your child to agree to the shot via rewards, distraction, etc. The only time your child should ever be restrained for a needle procedure is when the procedure is immediately necessary and her life may be in danger. In other circumstances, it’s better to try again later.
Don’t Model Needle Phobia
Many children with a needle phobia actually learned it from a parent who fears injections. If you’re uncomfortable with shots or blood draws, don’t allow your child to see you undergo these procedures. Conversely, it can be very helpful for a child to watch a parent undergo these procedures without reacting and see that the parent is ok at the end!
Find the Right Doctor
A sympathetic and caring doctor who is good at giving less painful injections can make a world of difference, especially in cases of mild needle phobia. If your pediatrician is unsympathetic, find one who is, and enlist your child’s input and assistance in finding a doctor. This will help your child feel more in control. You should actively seek out a pediatrician who is willing to use numbing creams or injection procedures that are less painful, even if these approaches take a bit more time.
Some children’s needle phobia will persist or even worsen despite the best efforts of parents and doctors. This is not simply a case of your child being stubborn or immature; needle phobia is a real illness that can have serious medical consequences. Therefore it’s important to work to get the problem under control. Cognitive Behavioral techniques and other therapies can be extremely helpful in treating needle phobia. Get a recommendation for a child psychologist or psychiatrist who can help your child with her needle phobia.
All children are a bit uncomfortable with needles and injections but this is distinctly different from a true needle phobia. If you’re looking for some tips to ease your child’s discomfort with shots, I’ve written a separate article about that topic here.