Kids may be itching to get back to their pre-pandemic lives, but we’re not out of the woods just yet.
As incredible as it seems, the COVID-19 vaccines are actually here and people across the country are receiving their first and second doses. But most families may not be getting their vaccines for months, and children for even longer, since clinical trials of the three vaccines available in the U.S. have been focused on adults and there are currently no vaccines that are approved to use on children. Even for families that have received vaccines, that does not mean that life will return to normal any time soon.
So how do parents and caregivers explain all of this to their children? Many kids may be concerned about their safety as they hear people talking about getting protected from COVID-19.
Dr. Janine Domingues, a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety and mood disorders at the Child Mind Institute; and Dr. Deborah Pontillo, a child diagnostician, developmental and behavioral specialist and therapist at San Diego Kids First, gave their tips on how to manage vaccine impatience and fear in kids.
Talk About How the Vaccines Work and Acknowledge Kids’ Fears
The first questions kids might have are around the new vaccines and how they work. Domingues said she explained this to her 5-year-old son by telling him that “they will give you a little part of the virus so your body knows what to do so you won’t get sick. … Our body uses the vaccine to get strong, like building up muscles to fight it, so it won’t hurt you.”
She added that it’s helpful to draw a parallel to the flu vaccine, and remind kids that we already get vaccinated against the flu every year.
Kids may also be feeling afraid about vaccinations themselves, as well as about how this vaccine is new. Domingues said caregivers should not over-emphasize the newness of the vaccine and instead “only draw attention to the fact that it’s a new vaccine only in that it’s a new virus.”
“With my son, we’ve already talked about that it’s a new virus, so we said, ‘Scientists and doctors are making a new vaccine to help our bodies stay healthy at this time,’” she said.
Pontillo added that it’s completely normal for kids to be scared of shots, but caregivers can remind them why we get vaccines.
“A lot of kids know what a shot is and hate it,” she said. “If they’re scared to go to the doctor, it’s because of a vaccine. … You can say, ‘I know you don’t like this, but it’s going to keep you healthy, it’s going to make your body strong and fight off getting sick.’”
Pontillo said even 3-year-olds know what COVID-19 is and that they have to wear masks, so caregivers can use that prior understanding to explain the vaccine.
“You can say, ‘You know how you wear a mask for your protection? The vaccine is another way of making your body strong to protect you so you don’t get sick,’” Pontillo said. “It’s an easy leap [for kids] to make.”