About 476,000 children aged 5 to 11 are now eligible for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.
Dr. Emma Woodward, Director of Psychological Services at The Child Psychology Services, shared some tips for parents preparing to have their child vaccinated.
The child psychologist and mum-of-four said it was important to normalize the conversation about vaccinations and children were encouraged to ask questions.
Parents could start the conversation like a story: describing that mum or dad got vaccinated some time ago to protect themselves and others around them from Covid-19, and reminding them that they have already been vaccinated, she said.
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worries are normal
“Any worry your child might have is normal,” Woodward said.
Having something injected into one arm went against people’s instinct for self-preservation, she said.
While adults could tap into their “thinking brain” and rationalize their actions for the greater good, children’s brains weren’t as developed, meaning they didn’t have the same ability.
Vaccination could be a scary event for some children; talking about the process might help ease some of those fears, she said.
Tell them about the process
Woodward encouraged parents to try to take their children to where they got their own Covid vaccine and talk to them about their step-by-step experience.
Parents could explain how (if you are at a vaccination center) you come to the office to give them your name and wait for your turn. You might receive a sticker with your name on it, and you will be taken to a separate area when called.
Once it’s over, you’ll have to wait a bit to make sure everything is okay, and then you can go home.
She said if the child was younger, the parents could talk to them about what it was like when they had been vaccinated in the past: that they felt a sharp scratch, then got a treat.
If parents come to the center and the child is not ready to be vaccinated, they should not be tempted to do so against their wishes, as this could break trust.
“Children have a very strong need for agency and control,” Woodward said.
Get your child to “buy in”
Woodward said finding your child’s “buy-in” is important.
Some would be motivated by the fact that vaccination would help them be safe, for others it might help others be safe, while others might be motivated by the promise of a McDonald’s or a ice cream afterwards, she said.
Older children may have different ideas or opinions, so it was “really important” for parents to use their expertise in their personality to “maximize” their buy-in.
What if my child has been exposed to misinformation or rumours?
Woodward said it was important to be curious rather than judging where they learned the misinformation from. Parents should talk to them about what they heard, what it meant to them, and what the evidence revealed.
Parents should try not to belittle the child or their ideas – this could make them feel alienated or ashamed, causing them to seek comfort where they found the information.
This is called confirmation bias: a tendency to seek out, interpret, or favor information in a way that supports or confirms prior beliefs or values.
“If you want to help them take a neutral and curious point of view, you have to recognize where they come from.”
You could tell them it was fine to be curious, but they also needed to be aware of the content they were consuming, where it came from and what evidence there was to back it up, she said. .
If the parents are worried
It was normal to have worries and apprehensions about having your child vaccinated against Covid-19, she said, but parents should think about what their child needs know.
Ultimately, if they decided it was the right decision for their child, they should talk about the fact that they were doing it not only for the benefit of their family, but for society.
“You are your child’s expert and primary influencer,” she said.
Anyone who wants more information on vaccinations for children under 12 can read Things recent explainer here, or visit the Department of Health and Immunization Advisory Center websites.