Supporting Your School-age Child Before, During and After COVID-19 Vaccination

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You may have questions about what the COVID-19 vaccination process will look like for your school-aged child.

CHOP’s child life specialists, in partnership with the Vaccine Education Center, have prepared the following guidance, suggested language and strategies to help you best support your child throughout their vaccination experience.

Things to consider

  • Your child’s age and development will influence the amount of information you provide.
  • Your child’s sensory considerations, communication style and ability to adapt to new situations will be important to consider.
  • Your comfort level with the vaccination experience may influence how your child responds.
  • Consider using strategies that have helped your child relax and cope during previous healthcare encounters. 
  • Your child may have heard things about the COVID-19 vaccine and how they may feel afterwards. If your child appears scared or anxious about feeling sick after getting the vaccine, ask them what they have heard and remind them to come to you with questions.
  • Avoid comparing your child to siblings or other children. While you may think you are encouraging your child, this can have the opposite effect and lead to embarrassment.

Prepare your child for getting their COVID-19 vaccine

Often, withholding information from children can create worry, since what they imagine can be worse than reality. One way to prepare your child is to provide honest, simple information. When talking about the upcoming vaccine appointment, choose a familiar environment and a time of day when you are both able to be fully present in the conversation.

Here are some common questions, as well as suggested responses:

Why do I need the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccines prepare our bodies for germs (OR viruses/bacteria) that can make us sick. If we come into contact with those germs later, our body is ready to protect us, so we don’t get as sick. The vaccine you are going to get will teach your body about COVID-19.

Will it hurt?

Some kids say it feels like a quick poke or pinch. Afterwards, maybe you could tell me what it felt like for you.

Will I feel sick after getting the vaccine?

Everyone responds to vaccines differently. Some people have side effects afterward, like a sore arm or tiredness, but others don’t. If you do feel symptoms, remember that they do not last long (maybe a day or two) and they mean your body is responding to the vaccine.

Validate their feelings

Regardless of how your child responds, validate how they are feeling. Here are three common reactions a child may have and suggested strategies for addressing each one:

  • Your child may become upset, angry, frustrated or overwhelmed. These can all be normal reactions and do not mean you should avoid the conversation. Revisit the topic after they have had some time to process the information.
  • Some children respond to new information by asking a lot of questions. By answering their questions, you can help them feel more in control of the situation. If you don’t know the answer, you can offer to find out or create a list of questions together that you can take to the appointment and ask in advance of the vaccination. If you are seeking answers, be sure you check reliable sources of information, such as this Q&A with answers for school-aged children or the Vaccine Education Center’s COVID-19 vaccines Q&A.
  • It may look like your child is not reacting to what you share. This may be your child’s way of processing the information. You might consider letting them come to you when they are ready, or re-visiting the conversation later.

Give your child tools to help them cope

When children are able to participate in their own care, they often feel a sense of control. If your child appears anxious about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, talk about what has helped them cope previously and what could help in this situation. You can also review these tips for coping with healthcare procedures.

Some additional suggestions that you and your child can talk about or practice together include:

  • Asking your child whether they would like to be told what will happen before and during the appointment or if they’d rather focus on something else.
  • For children who prefer to be distracted, talk about what they might like to focus on. Some examples could include counting slowly to 10, closing their eyes, or humming a favorite song.
  • Doing deep breathing exercises.

Advocate for your child’s needs

You know your child best, so it is important to communicate your child’s individual needs to the vaccine team. If your child is able to and feels comfortable, encourage them to share what will help during the vaccine. Some examples of what you and your child may want to discuss include:

  • Communication needs (e.g., verbal/nonverbal, iPad, sign language)
  • Calming strategies during medical procedures (e.g., preparation, distraction, deep breathing, counting, singing, listening to music)
  • Sensory considerations (e.g., one person talking at a time, calm voice when speaking, dim lights, simple commands)

If your child becomes upset or agitated during the vaccination appointment, provide suggestions on how to help calm your child (e.g., validate their concerns, offer a break, acknowledge efforts, etc.). If your child has a history of physical aggression during healthcare encounters (e.g., hitting, biting, kicking), please let the vaccination team know.  

Additional resources