Nobody enjoys getting a needle, but getting the occasional needle is a fact of life. Babies, kids and teens get them for immunizations as well as for blood tests and other routine medical care. Some children who have been treated in a hospital have endured intravenous injections as well. In fact, no one knows when they might have to receive a needle for emergency medical care. This being the case, it is highly inconvenient to have an intense fear of needles! Unfortunately, many kids are afraid of the pain that accompanies receiving a needle and some children have an actual needle phobia – a reaction involving irrational terror and panic.
If your child is afraid of needles, consider the following tips:
Use Emotional Coaching
If your child is afraid of getting a needle, try using emotional coaching. Emotional coaching is the naming and accepting of feelings. In this scenario, you can say such things as “I know you’re afraid the needle will hurt,” or “I know you don’t want to have the needle – nobody really likes getting needles.” Acknowledge your child’s fears without minimizing or discounting them. For instance, DON’T tell him the needle won’t hurt or that it’s not such a big deal or that he is being a baby! When you simply accept the fact that he’s fearful, it actually helps take away some of the fear. However, if your acceptance does nothing to minimize feelings of panic, it is still valuable: it shows the child that you take his feelings seriously. This helps develops the child’s emotional intelligence which, over time, helps the child have greater comfort with his own and other people’s feelings. (Emotional Intelligence also leads to success in every area of functioning.)
Be Careful Not to Reinforce Fears
Avoidance makes fears worse – don’t solve the problem by letting your child skip the needle if it isn’t absolutely necessary or if it can be taken on a later date. Moreover, try not to show excessive interest in the fear (i.e. by constantly talking about it). Make your communications and interventions on the topic brief, matter-of-fact and low-key.
Try Simple Techniques First
Some kids can be bribed out of their fear, so if offering a treat or privilege helps to distract the child from fear, then go ahead and do it. Similarly, if distracting the child at the time of the needle with a joke, a funny face, a question or a puppet will help the child get through the moment comfortably, then go for it! However, if your child’s anticipatory anxiety is way too high for such simple interventions, then consider the techniques below.
Teach Strategies to Cope with Fear
Teach your child how to use his imagination to help him stay calm and confident. Right now, your child is imagining his skin being painfully punctured. He is fixated on the moment of pain. You can instruct him to imagine the time period AFTER the needle – he can picture himself leaving the doctor’s office with a nice lollipop in his mouth, or a storybook that you’ve bought for him, or (if he’s older) the new game on his handheld device. (Of course, you don’t really have to get the child anything new; he can just imagine having one of his old favorites with him!) Imagination is strengthened by asking the child to close his eyes and cross his arms across his chest, Indian Chief style. He should then picture leaving the doctor’s office happily while he taps alternating left, right, left, right with his hands on his upper arms or shoulders. Tapping like this for one to three minutes is all that is necessary and can be repeated whenever he starts to feel fearful. Bi-lateral tapping helps the imagination take root deep in the mind where it can affect the emotional centers. Another thing you can do, is teach your youngster breathing techniques to help calm his nerves, particularly when he is about to receive his needle. One simple technique that is easy to teach is to have your child think the word “in” while breathing in and think the word “out” while breathing out. In addition, you might look into a fear-busting technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This is a simple form of acupressure that you can do with your child before his gets his needle. It involves tapping lightly on your child’s body on meridian pathways on the face, chest and fingers. In many cases, the technique causes the fear to completely disappear in a matter of minutes. In other cases, it brings the fear down to a more manageable level. There are many internet resources for learning EFT – a very easy and quick technique to reduce fear and other negative emotions.
A Needle Phobia May be a Genetic Condition
While fears can be acquired after bad experiences, phobic reactions are biological vulnerabilities – a child can inherit the tendency to have one or more phobias. (If a child develops panic around needles because of having had a life-threatening experience involving a needle, then it may be part of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder rather than a simple phobia.) Therefore, if your child has a complete meltdown, cries, absolutely refuses to cooperate with the doctor (or even go to the doctor), it is possible that he or she is suffering from the very common mental health disorder known as Simple Phobia. There is nothing “simple” about such a phobia from a parent’s point of view, however, since the child’s overwhelming reaction makes it extremely challenging to provide the proper medical care. Some children will calm down, however, if given a few drops of Rescue Remedy in water. Rescue Remedy is a harmless water-based remedy – a special type of Bach Flower preparation – that is used for intense upset and overwhelming experiences. It helps turn off the fight-or-flight response. Although it is useful in the moment for a child who must have a needle, proper treatment with Bach Flower Therapy can help prevent the panic from happening in the future (see below).
Experiment with Bach Flowers
Bach Flower Therapy is a naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. It treats every type of emotional disturbance (fear, panic, worry, anger, tantrums, low mood, guilt, perfectionism and so on). When your child worries obsessively (i.e. can’t stop thinking about the needle that he is going to have), you can give him the flower remedy called White Chestnut. For specific fears (like the fear of needles) you can use the remedy Mimulus. The remedy Rock Rose is used for feelings of panic. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child four drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the fear is gone. Start treatment again if the fear returns. Bach Flower Therapy can help melt fears out of the system over time and can compliment any other treatment the child is receiving.
Professional Assessment and Treatment
If your interventions have not helped your child face needles more comfortably, you can have him or her assessed by a mental health professional. A short course of professional treatment may help your child manage this fear much better.