Many parents know that a needle is in their kid’s future — either shots or a blood draw. And kids know it, too.

The mere mention of a needle or, in some cases, simply walking into a doctor’s office, incites panic. This typically involves screaming, kicking, crying and hyperventilating while a nurse or doctor struggles to keep the child still. But, this doesn’t have to be the case.

As schools start to reopen, children fill pediatricians’ offices for last-minute shots and physicals, leaving loads of parents again faced with the dilemma of how to manage the child’s terror.

So, with the help of Detroit pediatrician Dr. Nakia Williams and child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Jacqueline Smith of UNC Hospitals, here are the dos and don’ts of helping a child who has a fear of needles.

Don’t lie. If you say it won’t hurt and it does, they certainly won’t believe you next time. Smith agrees. “If your child doesn’t trust you because you said it didn’t hurt, good luck trying to get them to get their next set of shots,” she says. Instead, let them know that it will hurt, only for a short period of time, and that they will be okay afterward.

Do stay calm and composed (no matter how upset you really are). Children of all ages will look to his or her parents for cues on how to react. If mom or dad is panicking, crying or pacing the room, the child will continue to panic as well.

Don’t threaten kids with shots as a means of discipline. A line often overheard: “If you don’t behave, the doctor’s going to give you a needle,” says the parent. One, this creates a fear if there wasn’t one before. Two, it immediately makes getting a shot a bad thing and something they should never want. Getting shots or stuck with a needle is stressful enough without making something necessary into a punishment.

Do prepare them. “When kids know what’s going on and what to expect, they generally do better,” says Smith. “Truthfully answering any questions they have can be very helpful.” Smith says children should be as comfortable as possible, including recently fed and toileted or in a recently changed diaper.

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