Feature Article: Talking about Vaccines with Your Kids

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Parents PACK

Probably every parent has experienced that moment when your child publicly mirrors a behavior of yours that you did not expect or realize they internalized. It is a reminder of the fact that children take the lead from their parents. Potentially embarrassing moments aside, this is a good thing.

When parents teach safe behaviors — such as putting on a seat belt, holding hands before crossing the street, or practicing caution while interacting with strangers — they depend on the power of their role to emphasize messages that will keep their children safe. If a parent does not teach their young child to hold hands when crossing the street or while in a parking lot, can we expect the child to know to do so on their own?

The same is important to realize and practice for other aspects of health and safety as well. Modeling healthy eating habits, responsible online and screen time behaviors, and preventative health practices, such as vaccinations, can keep your kids healthy now and into adulthood. For example, how parents approach getting a vaccine lays the foundation for how toddlers, school-aged children and even teens will view getting a vaccine. Therefore, parents can do their children a lifelong favor by accentuating the safety benefits that vaccines offer — protection from sickness and disease — while de-emphasizing the temporary pain or discomfort of a needle. Conversely, if parents treat getting vaccinated as something to be afraid of or to worry about, they are unintentionally promoting negative feelings or behaviors about the experience.

Unfortunately, parents themselves often have negative ideas about vaccinations. Parents may not realize that kids sense their fears and concerns and often internalize them, whether it is a practical fear of needles or theoretical concerns about vaccine safety and effectiveness. This creates a circular situation resulting in escalating stress as parents see their children become frightened or upset and children respond to their parents’ increased tension. So what should parents do?

Parents are best positioned to break the cycle of fear and model positive behaviors. This means finding ways to ease your fears, satisfy your concerns, and reorient your views on vaccines as another tool that keeps kids safe and healthy.

In essence, treat getting vaccines as you would crossing the street, putting on seat belts or talking to strangers — something that may be inconvenient or slightly off-putting, but which prevents dangerous, possibly life-threatening, outcomes.

For specific ideas about how to make your child more comfortable during vaccinations, visit the age groups and vaccines page and then click on your desired age group (birth to 2 years, 4 to 6 years, adolescents, teens and college-aged students, or adults). 

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.