Getting medical shots may be one of the most frightening things that happen to small children.
Child health care workers have developed new approaches to shots, and procedures involving needles, that can make the experience less traumatic.
The specialists at the Children's Hospital at Sacred Heart have been employing these gentler protocols with great success.
Tasean Bell is back to feeling better. He's visiting Child Life Specialist Laura Jones to thank her for her care, and demonstrate for our story.
A month ago, Bell was super sick and had to visit the Pediatric Emergency Department at Sacred Heart. He was severely dehydrated due to a bad stomach virus and needed I.V. fluids.
Jones was asked by Bell's doctor to explain what was about to happen. Jones said that's the best approach for care for little ones. She says that it is far better to tell children what is about to take place and why, using age appropriate language.
Jones explained, "It's moving away from what's best for the physician, what's best for the nurse. What's the easiest way to get this done"? Instead, we really address what's gonna be easiest on the patient. What's the less traumatic approach for the patient."
To do so, Jones has a complete I.V. insertion kit. She demonstrates step by step on a small doll.
If it's possible, Jones lets the patients help her prep the doll for an I.V. She says that gives them a sense of control during a scary experience. If a child asks about the pain factor she says she is always honest and tells them that it will hurt some.
Jones said she always tries to use less threatening language to describe the sensations. For example, she said, "We use "warm." If something's going to sting or burn, we say, 'This is going to feel really, really warm."
Jones stresses that parents should always step in, even in an emergency situation, if they think their child needs extra help. "Always advocate for your child. Ask for the minutes if you need it, if the anxiety is high. Ask for the minute, ask for the explanation," she said.
Other more gentle approaches include the ways children are held or positioned for shots or needle sticks.
Jones said lying a child down and restraining them is the most stressful strategy. In-patient Child Life Specialist Erin Contreras says there are three much better ways; infants can be cradled and a "hugging hold" or parental lap sitting reduces stress hormones for parent and child.
She also suggests deep breathing before and during a needle stick. She said, "Deep breathing in through their nose, or through their mouths, so we will say to them, 'Smell a flower, or blow a candle.'"
For Bell, sitting side by side with Dad worked best.
Jones also used distraction toys with the nine-year-old like bubbles, light up playthings, and word search books.
Jones said it's important to only use one at a time, so as not to overload the patient with too much stimuli. Bell said Jones and her "bag of tricks" got him through his visit.
"It helped me realize how easy it was gonna be and that it wouldn't hurt as much," he said.
Jones said she encourages parents to take comfort items like stuffed animals and a blanket to regular doctor visits. She also suggests getting a toy medical kit for home.
"Practice giving shots and putting on Bandaids and make it play, because play is how children learn," she said.